In this episode, Holly Herzog and Karen Covy dive deeply into setting boundaries, developing confidence, and understanding the dynamics of a toxic relationship. We also explore the issues involved in deciding whether to get a divorce when your marriage is toxic.
Holly explains how she uses her therapy skills to help people who are in the early or post-divorce stages process their emotions. She provides advice on how to deal with grief, anger, and difficult exes so that you can get through your divorce with integrity, grace, and compassion.
Holly Herzog is a therapist, coach, and writer who has been offering her services for over 20 years. She specializes in relationship issues and has started her own venture, Grace Untethered, to provide support to women in midlife going through divorce.
Where to Connect with Holly
You can connect with Holly at Grace Untethered on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. She is on LinkedIn as Holly Herzog. You can also find her on her website, graceuntethered.com or email her at [email protected]
Stagger, Stumble and Stand is Holly's divorce support e-course. CLICK HERE to check it out.
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Navigating Toxic Relationships and Deciding Whether to Leave
Karen Covy (00:03):
Hello, and welcome to Off the Fence, the podcast where we deconstruct difficult decisions to help us discover what keeps us stuck, and more importantly, how we can get unstuck. My guest today is Holly Herzog. Holly is a therapist, a coach, and a writer who has been practiced a practicing license professional in the US for over 20 years. She specializes in all issues that are relationship oriented, especially the relationship with yourself, and there is nothing more important than that. Um, after ending a, after the ending of a decade's long relationship herself, Holly found herself in need of the tools and a community that she now provides for other women. In her, with her newest VE venture Grace Untethered, Holly offers support to women in midlife going through divorce with encouragement to grow with integrity, grace, and compassion. Holly, welcome to the show.
Holly Herzog (00:59):
Thank you so much for having me, Karen. This is fun.
Karen Covy (01:02):
I, I agree. I can't wait to talk to you because in addition to being a therapist, you are also, um, a coach, a divorce coach, and what I find fascinating, I mean, first of all, people don't know what that means to begin with, and you and I are both coaches, but we come at this from a very different angle. So can you tell our listeners in, in your version of divorce coaching, how do you do it? What do you do, what services do you provide for people who are thinking about or going through a divorce?
Holly Herzog (01:33):
Yes, thank you. You know, when I went through mine, I really realized how few resources there were for people in the middle of a divorce, and this was about eight years ago. And so what I do is bring my therapy skills. Um, I also am a marital therapist. I've done that for almost 30 years. And, um, I know a lot about what healthy relationships look like. And so when I'm working with somebody who is either in the early stages of divorce, um, or post divorce, when they have a lot of emotion, uh, that they're working through around their divorce, that's what we talk about is, you know, how do you deal with the grief? How do you deal with the anger? How do you deal with your ex if they're difficult? You know, there's just so many pieces that go with divorce that are not the step-by-step stuff, which is so important too. Like I love that you do that, um, because people just don't know how to navigate it. They don't even know where to start.
Karen Covy (02:37):
Absolutely. And what you're saying is so crucial. I really want people to hear it because I do, I'm practical tactical strategy, uh, you know, sort of planning the divorce step by step. Um, but I don't have the therapy background that you do. And just so you know, my step number one is go find a therapist and deal with your emotions, because the emotions, so drive divorce,
Holly Herzog (03:04):
Right? Yeah. And as a,
Karen Covy (03:06):
Um, so yeah, I love what you're saying because the emotions are so important. They really drive divorce. Tell me how you, you know, what you would say to people who are just starting the process and are full of emotion, especially in a toxic relationship.
Holly Herzog (03:30):
Yeah. You know, it is, it is normal <laugh> to have a lot of emotion and especially in a toxic relationship as you're exiting, you're really confused because part of one of the signs of a toxic relationship is that you walk away from conversations feeling confused about what, what was said, what was yours, you know, what, what part of this emotion belongs to you or sounds crazy because you become in a toxic relationship, you've become convinced that you're part of the problem or that you are the problem. And so as somebody leaves that, um, they have a mix of emotions, they're often very bonded to the person that has been, um, abusing them. And it's called, you know, it's, it, it is a, a classic thing that happens in toxic relationships. And, um, as you become trauma bonded, you doubt yourself and you begin to believe the things that the other person is saying, and you get less and less sure about who you are and what's yours and what's not yours, and what's healthy and what's not healthy.
Holly Herzog (04:44):
You get used to it. Yeah. And so somebody coming out of a relationship like that needs reassurance. They need to understand that, you know, taking care of yourself is your first priority. And it, and I think so often people coming out of this kind of a relationship are focused on the other person. Like, well, they did this and this doesn't make sense, or they said this to me and yet they did this and it doesn't match and I don't understand. And they spend months trying to make sense of things that don't make sense, you know, because it wasn't healthy.
Karen Covy (05:24):
Holly Herzog (05:24):
It was abusive.
Karen Covy (05:26):
And I'd like to, to to stop you just for a minute and interrupt and just back up a little bit. Can you define what do you mean by a toxic relationship? So people have some way of, of knowing is my relationship that I'm in toxic or not?
Holly Herzog (05:39):
Right? Okay. So here are some things that you might find yourself doing if you are in a toxic relationship. You might walk away from conversations after having apologized for all kinds of things. Uh, if you're frequently apologizing in a relationship, and not that you don't in a healthy relationship, but this is like, I'm always at fault and I'm sorry for upsetting you and you know, I could have handled that differently. If you are finding yourself in that role a lot, you're probably not in a healthy relationship. The other thing that you'll see is that you agree to things and then you feel resent resentment about that. You know, that there's some sort of interruption in the negotiation or the communication process where a person agrees to it because there's no other option to get out of this conversation. I am gonna say whatever I need to say to get the conflict over with. And then you find yourself resentful or angry or hurt, and you might be confused about what was said or, um, again, about what is yours and what's not yours. And so, you know, feeling victimized, feeling angry, feeling resentful, not having things resolved, um, having name calling, um, character assassination, um, you know, those are signs that your relationship is not healthy.
Karen Covy (07:09):
I have to tell you, I hear that from so many of my clients. It's like, we have the same fight over and over and over again. We have a fight or a disagreement or call it what you will. And then at the end of it, um, nothing's resolved, nothing changes. And then the next day we're doing it all over again because nothing is resolved. Right. Um, so I is that, you know, if, if you find yourself in that kind of a position or that kind of a relationship, what do you do?
Holly Herzog (07:44):
Well, I think your, um, comment a while ago is a really great one about, you know, you might need some professional help and getting a couple's therapist, I know, you know, couple's therapy gets a bad rap from a lot of people because by the time people go to therapy as a couple, they're pretty far down the path and often one person is has, you know, either some is partway out the door or has the idea that they've got something else that they want. So, but if you are able to get your partner to agree to go to couple's therapy, um, you'll get somebody else from the outside that identifies the patterns that are happening and teaches you some new skills for navigating it differently. And I, what I see as a couple's therap therapist a lot of times is that people get defensive. And so if their partner says, you hurt my feelings when you did X, Y, z, they get defensive and say, well, I only did that because, you know, instead of saying, wow, okay, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, thank you for sharing that with me. Can you tell me me more about how I can avoid doing that in the future? And so those are skills you learn. You learn to set aside your defensiveness and to listen and to ask questions and to get curious because when you're doing that, you're emotionally attuning to your partner rather than being lost in your own thoughts, putting up defensiveness and barriers and walls to making progress. So those are skills you learn.
Karen Covy (09:24):
Yeah. What do you do though? Like, if you are in the relationship and you realize that, let's say whether you go, whether you get these skills through couple's therapy, through your own individual therapy or just through work that you do, and you're really working on it, and what you see is that you are doing all the work and there's no change on the other side, and you are trying to, you know, practice these new skills, but your partner is not everything is your fault. They, you know, your partner doesn't wanna take ownership of anything then at that point. Is that how you identify that you're in a toxic relationship?
Holly Herzog (10:02):
It could be a toxic relationship. I mean, I think sometimes those things happen for other reasons, like, um, drug or alcohol abuse or unresolved mental health issues. Sometimes one partner's depressed or, you know, something like that. But in general, yes. I mean, I think that there comes a point where if your partner's not willing to work with you, you have to make a decision, is this relationship healthy for me? And a lot of people wait a long time to make that decision until they've kind of lost their own self-worth. And that's painful.
Karen Covy (10:40):
Very painful. So if you were counseling somebody or talking to somebody, working with a person, what would you, how could you help them make the decision about what to do with the relationship or how to handle the relationship earlier or better?
Holly Herzog (10:59):
Yeah, I mean, I think if I were coaching someone, and there's a little bit of difference between coaching and therapy, right? Coaching is about learning skills and looking forward and trying to move towards a goal. And so what I would have somebody do is, um, identify what a healthy relationship looks like for them and what do they need and, and really get honest with themselves about are you getting that here? Or can you get that here? And can you have these conversations with your partner? And if not, then I'd start helping them set boundaries, work on their, their confidence and move towards, you know, making a decision about their future. And, you know, really, like, I don't know if divorce is the right path for anyone, right? I mean mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all get to make that decision. And, and when you're in it, it's really confusing. And so having somebody to talk through that with you and kind of weigh out these things and have an objective and opinion about something that's happening is really helpful.
Karen Covy (12:11):
I couldn't agree more. And I, I work with a lot of my clients are stuck in the same dilemma, you know, of do I stay or do I go, how do I look at the situation that I'm in? Um, especially because someone like you or like me, were, were well versed in pattern recognition and not everybody is. But I wanna follow up and key in on a word that you mentioned that I think is so, so, so important. And that is boundaries. Can you explain in terms of a relationship, what is that, what is a boundary? What does that mean? And how do you know if yours are healthy or not?
Holly Herzog (12:48):
Right. Those, that's really good question. Boundary is a word for kind of a definition between where I end and you begin. And so we have boundaries in relationships that are healthy. You always have boundaries, and that means that, you know, I, I get to define what I take in and, and emotionally feel in any engagement. And I, and I ask myself two things. One, is this about me, and two, is it true? And if it's not, then I get to choose to not take it in and let it hurt me or, you know, push my buttons, right? And then there's the kind of boundary where you are expressing, and it's a communicative boundary, and I decide in every interaction what I share and what I don't. Right.
Karen Covy (13:45):
Holly Herzog (13:45):
How do I do that? Right? And so a relationship has boundaries when it's healthy and they're well defined, like, um, I'm not ever gonna tolerate somebody calling me names or, you know, we don't yell at each other when we're angry. We, if we need to cool off, we take a timeout. Right? Um, or, you know, I will not have a partner that doesn't work or doesn't contribute something to the relationship. I mean, you define your boundaries
Karen Covy (14:19):
Holly Herzog (14:21):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, you know, when you have rules for yourself and or your relationship communication and the other person doesn't keep 'em, then you got a decision to make.
Karen Covy (14:32):
And what, like, how do you go about making this? It's like, okay, let's say that I'm in a relationship and I have a boundary that says, um, you don't call me names, and the person does. And so I called them out on that a you know, after we've had our disagreement or whatever, and I said, Hey, this is not okay. And they say whatever they say, right? And then they do it again, and they do it again, and they repeatedly violate my boundary. Now what?
Holly Herzog (15:01):
Yeah. Well, and when that happens, you're really eroding the trust in a relationship. If somebody says, I won't do this anymore, or Here's what I'm going to do to change this behavior, and then they don't follow through. What you learn with each subsequent interaction is, I can't trust you. And trust is any foundation for a healthy relationship.
Karen Covy (15:26):
Yeah, absolutely. But then, so the trust is eroding, but you're still in a relationship with this person. Let's say you're married to this person mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So now what do you do? How do you learn to enforce your healthy boundaries? Especially if you've got somebody on the other side who's pushing them, who, who isn't honoring what you ask?
Holly Herzog (15:50):
Yeah. I think it's tricky because you can't enforce the other person's behavior. All you can do is have consequences and choices for yourself around that behavior. So if somebody says to you, I will not do this again, and they do it, and you say, this doesn't work for me, you get to make a decision. You can say, if you do this again, or if you won't go to counseling and work on this with me, or if, you know, whatever it is, then I'm gonna need to leave, or I'm going to change my behavior in some way that I can control. But I can't control anyone else's behavior, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I get to say, here are the consequences for doing this with me.
Karen Covy (16:37):
Oh my gosh, this is so key. Because so many people that I talk to, they want their spouse to change. Like, if he would only just do this or if she would only just do that and, and so, and it, they're frustrated because it doesn't work,
Holly Herzog (16:55):
Doesn't never works. We can't make anyone else change. And I tell that to my clients when they come in my office, when I'm working with a couple, I say, what, what you want me to say is, if your spouse would do X, Y, Z, everything will be great. And I'm never gonna tell you that because you each have things that you bring to this relationship that contribute to where you're at, and you are gonna have to both make changes. And you know, that example of what do you do if somebody doesn't respect your boundaries is a good example of that. If you are the partner that is on the receiving end of the disrespect, and you continue to put up with it, you have to change that behavior. That's what you can control is you can say, I'm not gonna tolerate this anymore. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna leave the house for 24 hours, or I'm going to, um, go stay at my mom's for a week, or I'm going to, you know, get as a therapist and if you won't go, then I'm gonna file paperwork. I mean, you get to decide what that is, but that's all you can control.
Karen Covy (18:02):
So, so important for people to hear. Um, and so if you are, do people who are in a relationship with somebody who is, uh, high conflict, you know, they're in a toxic relationship, do those tend to be, have more boundary issues and Okay, tell me about that.
Holly Herzog (18:23):
Yes, I mean, I think that that's kind of the hallmark of a toxic relationship or, or dealing with a narcissist, is that they don't care about boundaries. What they care about is getting their way mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and they care about meeting their own needs. But in a healthy relationship that goes both ways, two people's needs get met, not just one person's.
Karen Covy (18:46):
So that makes so much sense. Yeah.
Holly Herzog (18:48):
I'm not sure if I completely answered your question, but, but that's kind of, you know, that's something that is classic.
Karen Covy (18:56):
So let's say you're, you recognize, you start to see the pattern in your relationship and you recognize this, there's something wrong here. This isn't healthy. Everything is always my fault. I'm the one who's, you know, I'm the one who's always to blame. I'm the one who has to change. I'm like, we're always getting in arguments and it's always about me, right? Or I'm the one, the bad guy all the time, and my spouse never owns any of his or her behavior. Now what to do? Like, how do you start to deal with that? How do you make the decision about what you wanna do?
Holly Herzog (19:35):
You know, it, it's so individual. I mean, people sit on this point sometimes for years. And, um, I think working with someone who, you know, can help you define that would be helpful. I also have a blog on my website that is, you know, do I say stay or go? And, and it, it, it goes through some of these things like, here are some things you might consider if you're making that decision. And you know, I think that, um, you've got, you just have to examine what you're willing to live with and how your relationship is impacting you. And at some point, you know, hopefully your brain goes, you know, this really isn't good for me. It's not good for me to live where I feel like I'm always wrong, or I'm not smart, or, you know, I'm not attractive or whatever. And that, that self-preservation hopefully kicks in and you recognize I need help. And then you begin to focus on your own self care setting, setting boundaries for yourself, um, paying attention to your health, your sleep, your nutrition. You know, really like learning to have compassion for yourself as much as you have compassion for other people. Because this happens a lot to people who are super compassionate to others, but not very good at meeting their own needs.
Karen Covy (21:04):
So, so interesting. So you were talking about how it sounds like having an outside person. Um, if you think that your relationship might be toxic and you need to make some changes, having a therapist or a coach or somebody on the outside to help you, um, could really be a game changer because it's always, it's, it's like the old saying goes, you can't see the forest for the trees, right. When you're the one in it. It's often harder to recognize patterns than if somebody from the outside comes in and goes, Ooh, I see that one really clearly. Right. Um, and I know you work with people in a variety of different ways. You've, you work with them one-on-one, you're a therapist, you're a, you're also a coach, and you've also got, uh, an online program. So tell me a little bit about that and how that works.
Holly Herzog (21:50):
Well, my friend and I went through a divorce at the same time. She's a therapist as well. And we just were appalled at the lack of resources. And so we decided, um, together to create a course on, um, getting through a divorce and the emotional things you need to know about getting through a divorce, it's called stagger, stumble and stand. And it is an online, um, accessible course for anyone who's kind of in that state of, I, I don't know how to cope with all of this grief or anger or whatever it is that you're struggling with. And you can immediately access it and it walks you through the first modules about learning self-care and really tuning into, you know, what kind of a support system do you need? Are you taking good care of your body and your physical, emotional, mental health? Those sorts of things.
Holly Herzog (22:44):
And then the second part is, uh, the second module's all about boundaries and creating more effective communication. And so each module, there's five modules, moves you kind of down that path of healthier communication, um, understanding your thoughts and your, and your thinking and your thinking patterns and kind of the things that you're doing that are keeping you stuck and or unhealthy. And, and then the last piece of it is looking for what do you want in your future? Like, how do you begin to dream about a new future that is healthier and, um, you know, more in alignment with what you want to have in your life? And, um, each module also has meditations and downloads, homework, journaling prompts, which I think journaling is one of the best tools.
Karen Covy (23:38):
Yeah. And so
Holly Herzog (23:38):
We incorporate all of that and, and you can, you know, you can kind of get your own start on the emotional support part of your journey through
Karen Covy (23:49):
The course. That sounds amazing. And it's so interesting because as you know, I also have an online divorce course, and it goes at it, it shows our different backgrounds and you know, what, how we each bring something different to the table. And people going through a divorce needs so many different things, right? So my online course says, go get a therapist, you know, in terms of the emotional support. It's like, go get a therapist and then it's all the practical technical stuff. You know, here's how the court system works, here's how you make decisions, here's, you know, how to work with a lawyer and, and on and on and on and on. Um, and they're both really important.
Holly Herzog (24:29):
Karen Covy (24:31):
I, I can see if people don't deal with their emotions, they can't get, they can't get through the other things as effectively.
Holly Herzog (24:39):
Yeah. Or they repeat the patterns, right. I mean, as a marriage therapist, I see that again and again in my office. People are on their second marriage or they're in a, you know, a later relationship. They've repeated exactly the same. And by the way, that's normal. Like I know for me, when I went through my divorce, I had a therapist and I was working, working on myself, but that next relationship I got into, I had a wake up call and I went, whoa, there are a lot of similarities here that I missed. And I had to like, you know, reexamine that and go back and go, oh, okay. That's not what I want either. Right. And so, you know, I think that, um, I love Karen that your course walks people through the legal, all the legal stuff, because that's the stuff that gave me anxiety attacks in the middle of the night, was thinking about what are they gonna say or do if I have to go to court or, you know, yeah. What's the process? How long does this take <laugh>? You know, there's just, it's, it's baffling and it's a, a huge amount of money, and you're making life-changing decisions at a time when you're really emotionally unstable. Right. I know I was a wreck. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't able think straight. I couldn't make a grocery list. I mean, I was a wreck for months.
Karen Covy (26:05):
Yep, yep. And that's what I tell people. I mean, that's why I think what you do is so important because you've got to start dealing with your emotions and so that you get your head clear a little bit. Because the truth is, when people are going through a divorce, they are going to make more life-changing decisions in a, like a specific period of time than they will in any other similar time period in their life. Right. And so, and they're doing it when they're in a fog. That's never a good thing. That's another reason why having somebody there with you to help you walk you through the process so that you don't make dumb decisions, um, is so important because it's not, it's about, for most people, it's about capacity. And when you are grieving, when you're an emotional wreck, when you're crying all the time, when you can't think straight, you simply don't have the capacity to make the best decisions in a, in a way that you would if you were emotionally on level and everything was going great in your life. You know, it's not a statement about the person, it's just about the situation. And you can either pretend that doesn't exist and hope for the best, or you can deal with it and acknowledge it. And it sounds like that's what you're encouraging people to do.
Holly Herzog (27:24):
Yes. And and I think another piece of this, Karen, too, is I think a lot of people think, well, I initiated the divorce, therefore I don't feel these same things. But that's not true because even if you want to be divorced, you still have grief around the loss of a
Karen Covy (27:41):
Holly Herzog (27:42):
Of the dreams that you had or the, you know, the good memories, I mean, they're not all bad, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So navigating all of that grief and loss and anger and, and all of the emotions that come that are just a soup of yuckiness <laugh> for the most part. I mean, it's challenging. It's really challenging.
Karen Covy (28:05):
I love that. The soup of yuckiness, I'm gonna <laugh>, I'm gonna use this, and I can say, I got it from a therapist <laugh>,
Holly Herzog (28:13):
The soup of yucky,
Karen Covy (28:14):
The <laugh>. So, so yeah. So, so valuable and so important. So I'd like to just shift gears a little bit and, and ask, you know, because this, the, this show is all about decision making in all different formats. So I'm gonna put you a little bit on the spot here and say, what is one of the best decisions or worst decisions that you've ever made? Personal business could be anything, but just pick a decision. But what do you think is the best or worst one you've done?
Holly Herzog (28:47):
The best decision I ever made was to decide to travel for 13 months. I put my life on hold, uh, about four years ago, and my now husband and I, um, walked away from our house and our jobs and traveled for 13 months. And it was phenomenal. And I know I am blessed and very fortunate and very privileged to be able to do that. A lot of people can't, but if you can, oh, my word I to do that while you're young enough to have the energy and to learn the life lessons, there are so many ways to live in this world. We just get this little tiny, you know, maybe American, uh, perspective. But when you travel in Europe and, and the world and see all of the ways that people live, you realize, man, there are just a million options and it opens up your future in an an incredible way.
Karen Covy (29:48):
Okay. So that sounds, first of all, that sounds amazing, and you know, now you've put the bug in my ear and something to think about. But what I wanna know is like, how did you decide that, how did you come to that? Because you're not, like, it's one thing when you're just outta college, you don't have a job, you don't really ha, you're not established. You throw a backpack over your shoulder and you just go, right. But, um, I'm guessing you're, you're a little bit past like 20 <laugh> or 21
Holly Herzog (30:18):
Karen Covy (30:19):
Yes. Yes. So how did you, how did you get the courage to do that? How, what was your process?
Holly Herzog (30:27):
Well, you know, I think one of the beautiful things about a divorce is that it really opens your future in a way that, um, gives you all kinds of options. And as I was, um, thinking about what I wanted more of in my life after I went through my divorce, travel was top of the list for me. And when I started dating, um, that was the thing that if somebody wasn't interested in the world and travel, they weren't for me. And, um, when I met my husband, my now husband, um, he also had a passion for travel. And we started talking about, you know, that we wanted to live abroad. And that's really hard to do if you're not married because you need visas and, uh, you know, uh, but what we did was come up with a way that we could do it. And, um, he took a leave of absence and I rented out my home and my office, and I saw a few clients, uh, once a week, and we figured out a way to do it and, um, make it happen. And I so value that, in fact, um, on my agenda for next week is I'm editing our book that we wrote about it. Um, and it's been sitting three for three years finished, and I just am now getting to the editing. But, um, I'm excited to dive back into it because it was such a positive thing and both of our lives.
Karen Covy (31:56):
That, that's awesome. I, I can't wait till your book comes out. I could talk to you forever. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for agreeing to, to be here. Can you tell our listeners where they can find you?
Holly Herzog (32:09):
Yeah, my website is grace untethered.com and on my website, um, I have a little tab that has programs so you can, uh, take a look at what my offerings are, the courses there and my coaching, um, contact stuff is there. Um, or you can sign up for my blog, uh, or my email. I have a weekly kind of relationship focused email that goes out and, um, you get notified when I post a new blog. So there's all kinds of resources on the website
Karen Covy (32:40):
Too. That is awesome. Holly, thank you again so much for being here. And thank you to all of the listeners out there, if you like what you've heard. Um, go ahead, like, and subscribe and make sure that you, you know, tune in for more episodes of Off the Fence. Thanks so much and we'll talk to you again soon.