St. Paul author talks healing after divorce

For Kristi Skordahl, writing a book about divorce was as much an act of healing as it was a way to help others deal with the painful experience of ending a marriage.

Kristi Skordahl's book cover
Kristi Skordahl's book: "And Then She Was Happy: A Book about Divorce."

For Kristi Skordahl, writing a book about divorce was as much an act of healing as it was a way to help others deal with the painful experience of ending a marriage.

During her tenure as a divorce attorney at a Twin Cities law firm, Skordahl had led many through the maze of the uncoupling process, but when her own marriage imploded, she was stunned, confused and emotionally shattered.

Her book, "And Then She Was Happy: A Book about Divorce," describes the breakdown and eventual demise of her marriage to a successful lawyer who, in the end, took virtually everything including their home and the South Dakota ranch the couple owned.

Skordahl now practices family law in St. Paul, specializing in traditional, cooperative and collaborative divorce, mediation and divorce coaching. Her book, released in January, was, she said, "enormously helpful to me to write down everything and all the pain of what happened."

A crucial turning point, she writes, is the moment she finds herself in an empty condo with a water glass, one place setting of silverware and a litter box for her cat.


But she says she is happy and on her way to recovering the person she had slowly lost touch with in order to appease her husband and preserve peace throughout their nine-year marriage.

'Telling the truth'

Her story -- which recounts her effort to understand what happened and why, and how she rebuilt her life -- resonates with readers.

The response she's received has "all been just so overwhelmingly positive," she said.

Although she had braced herself for criticism of the book, she's fielding "emails and calls daily from people thanking me for telling the truth," she said.

"It's been unbelievable."

After she launched her own law practice a few years ago, she realized her practice was changing "because I was changing," she said. She realized that as she was working her way out of the devastation of divorce, the type of clients who were coming to her was changing.

"I shared bits and pieces of my life with people. It showed that I knew what it was like walking down that path."


She wanted to give them "tools that had really worked for me," she said.

"I was telling clients the same kinds of advice, over and over."

At the end of one such day of consultations, she says she thought "I wish I had a book I could give to people. That night, I went home and started writing it at the kitchen table. It just flowed -- I couldn't stop."

She was writing a book that dealt not with the practical, surface issues of divorce -- spousal support, division of property, child custody -- but with the internal process of psychological and emotional healing.

In the process of creating a resource for her clients, "I asked myself, 'what's different about this book?'" she said.

The answer: she has no agenda and she doesn't tell people what to do, she said.

In contemplating divorce, "you're asking your gut whether you fight or mediate. Everyone has to do what is the best decision for them."

Also, "I didn't want (the book) to contain stats," she said. "I didn't (care) about statistics. I knew I was in pain and wanted some help.


"I was writing for my own eyes, ears and heart at the time."

When the book was completed, she asked another attorney, who specializes in this type of work, to review the manuscript for anything that could provide grounds for a lawsuit.

Although there was nothing of that nature, a challenge could have been brought anyway, she said, but "it would bring more attention to the book."

She was careful in what she wrote, she said, "I wrote enough to paint a picture, but it wasn't about throwing someone under the bus."

Clarity through analysis

Skordahl advises anyone who is contemplating divorce to think about the relationship with as much clarity as possible.

"Before you make a decision, before you start punishing someone, be very clear about what's happening and who's contributing what.

"When you look at the relationship, think about what you're contributing and what you're responsible for. I believe that each of us is 100 percent responsible for 50 percent of any relationship you're in."


This approach was useful in her case.

"I got clarity when I could look at my 'half' and his 'half'. After considering that, if a balance can be achieved, it can help determine whether or not the marriage can be saved."

For her part, she realized that the authentic person she knew herself to be was "disappearing every single day," she said. "I reached a point where I knew that if I didn't stand up, I'd disappear. And, boy, I'm glad I did."

'Best intentions'

Since her divorce became final four years ago, Skordahl began noticing how she reacted to pain, she said. "Something would trigger me -- for example, if I wasn't being seen or heard -- and I'd feel anger or fear."

Her impulse was to flee, she said. "We are so pain-averse in this country. But that pain is trying to tell you something.

"I found that just by sitting with the pain when it arose, and when I gave it a voice, it diminished ... You can notice this and name and tame it."

This approach may seem counterintuitive, but, she said it's effective and important for healing.


"The more I chip away at it, the more I heal and the more I have to give back to the world every day. When I look at how much that is, it's really quite stunning because I've dealt with my own 'stuff'.

Animals saved her

Looking back, she's grateful to the animals in her life that played a vital role in helping her heal from divorce: an Airedale, Henry, "a strong, steady presence on that dark path," she said, and Prickly Pete, a retired barnyard cat.

"I seek out animals for healing all the time."

She had to put Henry down last fall, but "I know he's still with me," she said. "I'm so glad his photo is on the back of the book."

As for losing the ranch in South Dakota, she said, "I don't think people actually knew how devastating that was. I'll miss that every day of my life, I'm sure."

She describes losing her horse, Ted, in the divorce settlement with the words "pain, pain, pain," she said. "It still hurts."

She's gained insight from the progress she's made.


"You can't plan for everything in life. You take one step at a time in the direction that feels true. And day by day, that keeps moving me along the path -- letting the chips fall where they may."

In her law practice, she has found work that "is stimulating, fun, interesting," she said.

"But the need, the fire I have is to help people. The part that really feeds me is being invited on the path to help families heal."

Update: Clarification: Skordahl said in an email today that this article might leave readers with a wrong impression about her divorce settlement. "Although my ex-husband did end up keeping all of our 'stuff' (i.e. house, ranch, horse, furnishings, etc.), I received my equitable share of assets in the form of cash and retirement assets," she said.

"I don't want readers to get the impression that I allowed him to clean me out, because he didn't... (nor) that they have to end up with nothing in order to be free."

Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to .

Kristi Skordahl and her pets
Kristi Skordahl and her pets, an Airedale, Henry (left) and Prickly Pete, a retired barnyard cat.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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