Kristal DeSantis of The Austin Strong Relationship Building Center: 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
10 min readJan 19, 2023

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Surround yourself with a healthy support system. You need to be able to have people in your corner to get through tough times. Cultivate and nurture real friendships and support networks who you can rely on when things get tough or lonely.

As part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristal DeSantis.

Kristal DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Austin, TX who specializes in sex, trauma, and couples therapy. She is the author of STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man, a book releasing in February 2023 that provides practical advice, skills and tools for men to be empowered in creating healthy relationships. Connect with her on Instagram @atxtherapist.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up as a “third culture kid” meaning I was raised overseas to a mixed culture family. My Dad is American and my Mom is Asian. I spent most of my childhood in Asia, with periodic visits to the US. When it came time to attend college, I moved to the U.S., and have been here ever since.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up between cultures, I was always very aware of the different rules of relationships between people and the differences in cultural dynamics. I was very curious about how relationships affected the health of people, families, companies, and societies. As I got older,I began to realize that relationships skills are not something we all just “know”, but that they are something that can be learned and taught. This knowledge led me to pursue my Masters’ Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Everything about my career is interesting. I love what I do, and every day I get to learn something new and fascinating about life, love, human nature, the brain, and relationships. Being a therapist is a constant journey of discovery.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

Oh my goodness, I forgot the keys to the office one day when I showed up for a session. I ended up finding a secluded spot in the back garden of the *locked* office and sat on the curb with my clients for their session.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It was a valuable experience because I learned the connection between the therapist and the client is the most important part of the healing work. Therapy work is helped by a safe and secure space, but at the end of the day, it’s not the fancy office that matters when it comes to relational work. I think this also helped prepare me for the changes that COVID brought and the challenges of conducting telehealth in less than perfect environments.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.- Lao Tzu

This quote is always relevant in my life and work. I have had to take many 1000-mile journeys (metaphorically and literally) in my life. I have lived in multiple countries, in multiple states, and have changed careers. I’ve learned that usually it’s that first step into the unknown is the hardest. Reminding myself that one step is the start of a new and interesting journey and chapter of my life is why I like this quote. It’s the little things that end up making a big difference in the long run.

And P.S., I’ve also learned that 1000-mile journeys are not always awesome. Sometimes they are tough, filled with heartbreak, loss, goodbyes, new changes that are uncomfortable. But no matter what, they are always worth taking.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am so excited about my new book. I wrote STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide for the Modern Man, which releases this February because I noticed that many resources and conversations around mental health and emotional & relational wellness are directed mainly to women. In my practice, I work with a lot of men and I wanted to help level the playing field a bit when it came to men having the same level of access to resources. I also wanted to help remove some of the stigma around men’s mental health.

One thing that men can do to improve their lives is to make a commitment to improve his wellness in any aspect of life. My book STRONG specifically focuses on mental, emotional, and relational fitness. I hope this book will help men feel empowered by giving them the skills and tools they need to make positive and healthy changes in their lives and relationships.

Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?

While I don’t have a personal experience to share, as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I do a lot of work with people before, after, and during a divorce.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

There are some common mistakes that I see often with couples and individuals going through a divorce, but one thing that pops into my mind immediately is that many couples try to rush the process.

Going through a divorce can be incredibly painful and sometimes people want to just “rip off the band-aid” and move to the next chapter of their lives. The legal processes around divorce and fear of losing stability can also heighten the sense of urgency to get things done immediately, if not sooner. However, this can lead to a lot of additional pain, costly mistakes, and regret and rumination later on. My suggestions are always to slow it down to get it done well.

Another common mistake is when people don’t set healthy boundaries. I sometimes see people tending toward an all-or-nothing approach when going through a divorce. Learning how to protect yourself and your values by setting realistic boundaries is a really important part of navigating a divorce in a healthy way.

Finally, another mistake that people make is not looking at their role in the relationship dynamic that led to the divorce. Sometimes there is a true “bad guy” in a divorce, but more often, there was a cycle that co-created a dynamic of resentment, stagnation, lack of respect, lack of connection, unhealed wounds, unspoken and unaddressed needs that contributed to the end of the marriage. Taking ownership of your own role in the ending of one relationship is a crucial step in ensuring you will have a different experience in your next relationship.

People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positive that comes out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?

Divorce is not a decision that anyone takes lightly. It can be a very positive step in choosing health and safety for oneself or their children. Taking ownership of your health and choosing not to stay in a relationship that is unhealthy, abusive, toxic, or one-sided is a very positive and powerful choice someone can make for themself. In our society, we often tend to label things that are painful as “negative”, but pain can be a necessary factor in growth.

Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?

It’s true what I shared earlier. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. You might have a few bad dates, sure. But, you will also have the opportunity to meet new people as a new person. You have new opportunities to discover who you want to be in this new chapter. My recommendation is always to lower the stakes and not put the pressure on yourself to find the “next love of your life”, but instead to truly enjoy rediscovering who you are in the world, and how you relate to others.

Enjoy discovering new parks, coffee shops, shows, trying new outfits and restaurants, and meeting new people. And realize that beginning dating again after a divorce is going to be like learning to walk again after being hit by a bus. It’s probably going to be shaky and not as smooth as you remember it being, but give yourself time. You’re doing the thing. You’re embracing life. You’re experiencing the world again. You’re allowing others to experience you! You’re opening the door to new possibilities, it’s ok if you stumble a bit as you go through it.

What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?

Be open to change everything but your core values. If you value being a good parent, continue being a good parent — but realize it might look different now. If you value being a good partner, be a good partner — as you navigate a healthy divorce. Everything about your life and circumstances may change, and the more you are open to embracing those changes- without losing your core self- the more successful you will be.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. 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. Surround yourself with a healthy support system. You need to be able to have people in your corner to get through tough times. Cultivate and nurture real friendships and support networks who you can rely on when things get tough or lonely.
  2. Allow yourself to grieve. Even if divorce is a positive and healthy change, there will still be loss that comes with it. This is the end of a chapter of your life that held a lot of hope, love, dreams, and promise. Many people do themselves a disservice when they ignore the pain that comes with healing.
  3. Devote time to self-discovery. Who are you now outside of your relationship? Your relationship defined a large part of your identity for -potentially- a significant portion of your life. Before jumping into a new relationship, give yourself time to rediscover who you are as an individual.
  4. Take care of your health. Divorce brings a lot of instability and upheaval to daily life and can increase stress dramatically. Stress can lead to loss of sleep, appetite, and take a toll on your mind, body, and spirit. This can lead to loss of healthy routines and an increase in unhealthy habits if you’re not careful. Protect your health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and eliminating any additional stressors from your life.
  5. Practice self-compassion. You are going through a really hard time. Treat yourself kindly. Divorce can bring up feelings of regret, shame, guilt, and other forms of negative self-talk and criticism. Although it is important to have self-awareness regarding your role in the relationships’ end, learning from an experience does not have to be a punishing experience.

The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?

Allow yourself to process it. Ignoring pain never makes it go away. Understand that grief and pain and anger and sadness, and joy and frustration are all part of the healing process. Having a safe space to explore what you are experiencing is one of the most powerful alleviating factors. Also, emotional pain can be evidenced as physical pain. Treat your body with respect and kindness during this time. “Pushing through pain” is a short-term solution, but will lead to more prolonged pain — and possible additional injuries- — in the long run.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Yes, these are the books I recommend on this topic:

Divorce and New Beginnings: A Complete Guide to Recovery, Solo Parenting, Co-Parenting, and Stepfamilies by Genevieve Clapp

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky by Gabriel Cohen

Falling Forward: A Man’s Memoir of Divorce by Chris Easterly

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. :-)

I would LOVE for one day men to talk about going to therapy as casually and as dedicatedly as they talk about going to the gym. If I could inspire a movement it would be a revolution of normalizing men’s mental health as an integral part of strength and wellness in a man. So many men overfocus on physical or financial fitness, but neglect their emotional, mental, and relational health. I would love to see a shift in men’s culture to reclaim what it means to be a strong man as a more holistic way of being that integrates body, mind, and relational fitness.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

LeBron James :) He is a powerful and public man that is on the forefront of spreading awareness of mental health and I think he’s awesome for that!

Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!

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