Happiness on the other side of divorce

By sharing her own divorce story, Renée Bauer is helping others find their way.

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Key takeaways

  • Divorce attorney Renée Bauer has found that talking openly about her divorces can be a powerful way to overcome stigma and feelings of failure.
  • While it can be important to acknowledge and manage challenging feelings during divorce, it’s often best not to let feelings drive financial decisions.
  • If you're going through divorce, know that in the big picture it will only be one chapter in your life (and there's more than one way to write a happy ending to your story).

Despite working as a divorce attorney, Renée Bauer never used to talk about her own divorces. Even as she offered clients emotional support, alongside her legal guidance, she considered her personal story off limits—possibly due to lingering feelings of shame and failure.

Then one day, a friend invited her to come speak on her podcast. Expecting a casual conversation, Bauer was surprised when her friend started asking questions about Bauer's 2 divorces. Even more surprising, Bauer found herself giving open, honest answers, and sharing how her divorces made her feel like a failure and a disappointment to her family. When the podcast episode aired, she was inundated with messages from listeners who connected with her experience.

"That was the moment I realized we have to start telling our stories," Bauer says. "From that point forward, I made it my mission to really speak publicly and vocally about divorce—and start to lift the stigma and shame that goes along with it."

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Today, Bauer is still committed, as an attorney, to guiding people through the financial and logistical challenges of divorce. But she also sees part of her mission as reframing the narrative about this common life experience.

"Sometimes, we feel like divorce is the story of us falling on our face," Bauer says. But in truth, "it's just one small moment. It's just part of our story. And there's such a bigger story to tell."

The power of owning your story

Bauer became a divorce attorney not knowing she would soon experience divorce herself. Her first marriage, to a man she met in college, ended after 5 years as the partners began growing apart. While that breakup was relatively amicable and led to a healthy co-parenting relationship for their child, her second marriage ended messily after 2 years.

Although she knew ending each marriage was the right thing to do, Bauer still experienced the same feelings she saw in so many of her clients, like regret and guilt. She felt alone even as she helped other people manage their own divorces.

"I never talked about my own divorces because I thought it wasn't professional," Bauer says. "But on the other side I was sort of a broken version of myself."

Sharing her story on her friend's podcast helped Bauer realize that she had an opportunity to do more than just handle the legal process of a divorce: By opening up about her own experience, she could help people work through their feelings and imagine a better life for themselves.

Separating feelings from finances

Divorcing spouses often get swept up in their feelings, Bauer notes. While it can be important to acknowledge and work through those feelings, she says, at times they're not the best guides for navigating negotiations and financial decisions.

For example, she says, some unhappy spouses (often women) may feel they need to stay married out of fear and uncertainty over separating financially. "It breaks my heart to see people stay together for that reason, because there's so much happiness on the other side," Bauer says. And in reality, in her experience, "the finances always work out. It starts first with education, and getting organized and really understanding what the full financial picture looks like."

Other spouses may get so caught up in their need to "win," that they end up wasting energy (and money) fighting over trivial items in their negotiations. "When someone's fighting over a Crockpot or an old TV, it's because they're fighting on principle—they want the win."

Her advice? Let the Crockpot go. "The fight isn't worth it," she says. "It makes the litigation last longer. It increases your attorney fees. And most importantly, it prevents you from having peace of mind and moving forward."

She also says that in her experience, the instinct to keep the family home doesn't always make financial sense. She urges divorcing spouses to explore why they want the house, to ensure they aren't simply holding on to the past, worrying about their children's reactions, or falling into other traps that keep them from moving forward.

Lifting up divorce stories

After seeing the reaction to her own story, Bauer started feeling there might be a broader need for open conversations about divorce (particularly among women). So in 2020 she launched her own podcast, Happy Even After, to interview experts on divorce-related topics such as managing debt, retirement planning, and dating—and also to highlight the stories of others who have made it through divorce and are thriving on the other side.

"It's an avenue for connection, a way to say if you're feeling that way, then someone else out there has felt that way too," Bauer says. "I've had so many guests on my podcast who have shared their stories of reinvention. They say, ‘I'm not going to make it out of this.' And they realize one foot in front of the other was all they had to do to keep walking forward."

Bauer knows that divorce will often be a painful experience. But she wants to help divorcing partners see that in the grand scheme of things, it's just one more twist in the journey of their lives. "If you look at your life as a book, like a really big book," she says, "divorce is one chapter."

People don't typically expect, when they get married, that divorce will one day become part of their story. But just because life turned out differently, doesn't mean it turned out badly.

"We all have the power to tell our story in really different ways, and still have a happy ending."

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