“In order to help others navigate a major crisis of transition in their life one needs to be educated as to the fundamentals in which it resides.”
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Barbara Winter.
Dr. Barbara Winter is a licensed Psychologist and a Certified Sexologist and Sex Addiction, Group and EMDR psychotherapist trained in Hypnosis, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), Parenting Coordination/Mediation and Discernment Counseling.
An expert in sexuality and relationships, Dr. Barbara Winter has been a leading provider in South Florida since 1988, where she specializes in working with teens and adults with sexual issues, sex and love addiction, infidelity, trauma, divorce and relationship concerns. Her private practice is in Boca Raton.
As a freelance writer and media consultant, she has been quoted extensively in various media outlets and has written for other major blog and media sites as well.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Along the way of my ‘growing up’ things changed; my path was nothing close to linear. As a child I was never the ‘go to’ person to talk to nor was I the one to be voted #1 potential mother yet for both of those they have been and are the most meaningful aspects of my life today. I was a pre-med dropout only to switch to psychology and take every class on Freud that was available; I was stricken by the abnormal psychology bug, an interest that led me down the road to helping others. Initially my work focused on women’s issues and eating disorders with some forensic work and testing interspersed. 23 years ago, when I realized the real need to understand and be able to speak about sex and sexuality with patients, I pursued a training specialized program, which led me into the realm of sex and relationship expert.
While that was certainly not my first specialized program (hypnosis training was) it was also not my last. Learning and mastering current trends and creating a comprehensive package to offer my patients has been at the forefront. As such, I continue to expand my knowledge base in couples therapy, group therapy, EMDR, sex and behavioral addictions, discernment counseling and co-parenting coordination/mediation, most in which I hold certifications. Being able to provide both extensive training and experience in both Western and Eastern philosophies and both traditional and state-of-the-art evidenced based methods is at the heart of my mission.
“Doing things differently, even though you don’t want to, is a choice not a casualty.”
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
In order to help others navigate a major crisis of transition in their life one needs to be educated as to the fundamentals in which it resides. As a psychologist I understand attachment and separation, and relational and developmental trauma. I have a working knowledge of systems theory and a broad foundation in human and personality development.I also have also worked extensively with both adults and children of divorce and have done custody evaluations for both the public and private sector, the former, in 1989, where I was one of a small team that penned and taught the first “children of divorce” program that was soon, and continues to be — yet in a different form, mandatory for all divorcing parents in Palm Beach County. My rudimentary working of the system was fortified in 2010 when I gained first-hand experience, both emotionally and logistically, during my own divorce.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
My most interesting story/experience within the confines of my practice has nothing to do with divorce but my work with past-life-regression therapy. I was working with a 70-year-old successful fit active divorced entrepreneur who was also wanting to write a play on past-lives. As such he wanted to experience the process. During the regression he saw black, jumped up and said he did not want to continue. Strangely, he was a no show-for his next appointment. In a voice mail that day from his ‘spiritual’ friend, I was informed that he had died in a freak accident and in the regression the black was his death. Even more gripping, is the notion that when I shared this story with a newly acquainted couple, they knew immediately of the death (prior to my completing the story, in fact); he was the doctor who was coincidentally at the scene of the accident years prior.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? I will never forget the day I laughed at a patient. She was talking about people at work laughing at her and reaction was to blurt out more than a chuckle. At the time and for some time after, I was horrified; of course, that was about 30 years ago. Today, and in retrospect, I understand that it came from some level of compassion; in fact, the client was not upset visibly in any way. Our reactions can sometimes serve as a lesson.
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. The best revenge is living well. Rather than feel like a victim and stay angry, get proactive and take charge of your life.
I see many couples and individuals in which infidelity is a part of their relationships, whether it is in the past or present and whether the relationship is ongoing or terminated, the latter often for this reason. Most of my betrayed patients are women but a fair size group are men. The women often feel helpless, victimized, frozen and angry. In the case where the infidelity has been ongoing and there is no, or hasn’t been any, move towards acknowledging and owning up to and repair then it’s time to leave. It’s a helpful philosophy for these women to see that there is a life ahead and one way to get them going is to attach to this belief . . . the best revenge is living well. That while it may not be with their current partner, moving ahead, taking charge of their life may fuel their departure from a frozen state.
2. Doing things differently, even though you don’t want to, is a choice not a casualty. People often feel like a victim when they are ‘forced’ to change their routines, favorite hangouts, gyms etc. to avoid their former partner. This is a choice, not a consequence.
I not uncommonly hear from those transitioning through breakups or divorce “Why do I have to be the one to change my gym, I have been going to the same trainer for 10 years?”, or “My friends all go out to that bar on Thursdays, why do I have to deprive myself, why can’t she be the one to not go?”. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. You may see him/her at back to school night or your kid’s games or other places where parenting remains a priority, changing the venue on individual activities may be helpful if for now its triggering to be in the same vicinity. The key here . . it’s your choice. You are not doing this because you have no choice but are doing it because you have a choice. That’s empowering. That reduces depression.
I learned that as a personal lesson early on, and have used it in breakups and divorce.
3. Flirt with the alternative Don’t get involved right away, take a breath, and date with the intent of sitting across the table from a different person to see how it feels, how the experience is different. Experience someone and something new and ask . . . what might a new partner/relationship look like?
So, this was a big one that I lived by as my divorce was being finalized. Having lived in an unhealthy dyad for so long and knowing that there had to be a better option, I took on that philosophy and headed out with the sole intention of learning what it was like to actually have a conversation with someone who perhaps might even be interested in me. it’s important to get out there and see what exists, what other options regarding attachment, relationships, connection there might be as there doesn’t only have to be the one that lived in your house for a while.
4. Take a time out if you need it. It’s not against the law to be alone for a short while, even isolate, cry, be sad/grieve; after the reprieve, get up and be around people who love you, support you and help you grow.
Some people are told. don’t isolate, don’t be sad, don’t feel, don’t complain, don’t don’t don’t. There are no set rules surrounding separation and how one emotionally copes. As a psychologist I acknowledge that if you are sad, angry, resentful its ok for a while. If you have to isolate that’s ok too; we are allowed to have our space. We might even miss a lacrosse game, or a parent teacher meeting or a few days at work. At some point soon, however, we may need to come out of hiding so the space for our pain might lessen. We may come home after a long day at the office and isolate. That too will change. The key is that we can give ourselves permission to do so; we don’t have to feel guilty, or strange, or depressed because we need to be with ourselves and only ourselves.
Most people present with the notion that it’s not ok to be sad or there is something wrong with isolating . . . ‘my mother said I’m alone too much’ or ‘my friends say I need to get out’. Do it in your time, but do it.
5. Don’t speak badly about your ex. Remember you picked her/him. You might wish to acknowledge the differences between you in a non-judgmental way but understand if you put someone down it speaks volumes about you. My father used to say, “if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all”; this applies.
This is particularly important when you have children as for the children to hear you sling words of hatred to half of their genetics can be devastating. Besides, holding onto the venom is bad for you. It only breeds negativity and toxicity.
When Joan came in slurring obscenities with her teenage daughter outside in the waiting room it hit me; is she as out of control when they are in the same room? Yes, she said, only to follow this with talking about her daughter’s recent deterioration in school performance and isolation from her girlfriends, not unlikely a consequence of the divorce trauma. We worked on creating a ‘pause’ button and she learned how she can divert her anger elsewhere and, with time, a sense of compassion for her husband who came from very unstable beginnings. From this she was able to make meaning of his acts of infidelity as not simply a result of her shortcomings, but a continuation of his own developmental trauma. The obscenities stopped and she resumed her role as loving mother as well as someone able to step into a new relationship differently.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
Most people venture out too fast. The famous ‘rebound’ effect occurs when people hook up prematurely. Men in particular are historically known for their need to reconnect immediately to someone as that is often their love language and the empty space is too painful for them to face. Take time, cultivate your children and friendships; reach for those who can support you and help you grow.
Many fail to work on themselves to stabilize, get grounded and find forgiveness, all of which become critical not only to their healing but to their children. Instead of venturing out for a new partner to make them feel whole, it is critical to find their center, a space for themselves that has often become blurred or enmeshed with their former partner or situation.
Parents often overcompensate for the divorce by over indulging their children with things . . gifts, trips, experiences. Giving them things doesn’t fix their pain; being there for them and maintaining a solid base during a difficult time does.
Parents speak badly about their ex in front of their kids-hence denigrating half of their child. This is harmful as not only are you insulting them but you are dismissing the other person who is to be their anchor.
Sharing adult information with your child. Parentifying them. It takes you out of the safe leadership role and puts them on an equal playing field, or even in the role of parent, a place where they lose their parents, their safety.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
When it comes to negotiating divorce, I recommend books like . . Getting to Yes, Getting Past no, Difficult Conversations and some of the others that came out of the Harvard negotiation project. Divorce is about negotiation and in the heat of emotions people tend to lose those skills; these can help.
I also consistently recommend Amy Baker’s book Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex, which is great for anyone with children, regardless of how harmonious it may be at the outset. Her E-book, Beyond the High Road, is invaluable for more difficult situations in which there is parental alienation.
For parental alienation issues I advise on following Craig Childress PhD; I personally viewed every single video online while I was going through the process myself. He comes from an attachment frame and is very informative.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
There are way too many, relevant to divorce and life.
Mahatma Ghandi: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission” That gave me the impetus to get out of the deflated place I was in, a place so common during divorce and legal involvement.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
And one more, homemade . . . . “The only way to be a better parent is to be a better person”, Barbara Winter, PhD
You can read books on parenting, but without working out your preexisting issues you can’t parent from the inside out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The most recent project has been putting together a 10-week group for betrayed women. The group is for women whose partner is or has engaged in (a sexual) infidelity in one form or another (affair, one-night stand, porn addiction, sex-addiction etc.). I would like to take the program online and/or offer it to other practitioners. Simultaneously I am embarking on an ongoing process group for men who have stepped out in some way sexually. Infidelity has been a dominant part of my practice for some time; in some cases the relationship prevails and in some cases it leads to divorce.
Working with sexual betrayal in individual, couples and group therapy provides a platform in which to help the partners heal and opens up a new space for a new relationship, often together.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Restructure divorce in this country; find a forum in which to do that. The legal system, an adversarial win/lose system does not work. In fact, we know in divorce that when one party wins, both lose. Even collaborative divorce is not working as effectively as it needs to be because it resides within the courts. We know that parental alienation, for example, is child abuse and a place where the courts have been useless; As such, it is a mental health issue; . so too might be the divorce process.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
They are all leaders in their own right and inspiring.