I Believe In Marriage


I tell friends that I’m getting married and I get that look. Like, “What? Are you kidding?” I’m not kidding. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve found my next mate. And should I be as tenacious as I was in my second marriage, I think this one might be for keeps. But it is the spirit and intention that is solid and good. And enlightening.

When my fiancé and I started going out together the pull to be in a relationship rather than dating was immediate. Dating, it seemed, was for younger people looking for entertainment, trying to find ways to kill time. My sweetheart and I were intent upon sorting out our relationship from the earliest hours of our first kiss.

I was quite clear when we started seeing each other that I was not a dater. That I didn’t want to date. I wanted a solid. She was the same.

We are making a mutual agreement, a celebration and affirmation, that love triumphs over all. That the hurts of the past were stepping-stones to get us to this point, this relationship, this massive feeling of love.

Then we talked about our past relationships. In both marriages we had both been the partner fighting to keep things together. If we’re both fighters, we said, what could keep us from working it out in this relationship? And that’s sort of been our mantra. We have disagreements and differences, but we move beyond them pretty solidly with the idea that you don’t sweat the small stuff, and that it’s mostly small stuff. We love the big stuff together. And we don’t spend too much time worrying about the small stuff.

Today we were exercising and I started thinking about how excited I am to be getting married. I announce it with pride. “March 4th, we’re getting married.” It’s almost as if it’s the first time. Of course, it’s not. I have two kids. But together we see the future together, with my kids and without them. She even helps me see the irrationality of my ex sometimes, when she asks for things that seem unreasonable. “It’s all small stuff, baby,” she likes to tell me. And with her by my side, it does all seem like water under the bridge.

I’ve got a good life. I’m still rebuilding myself and my creative empire, but with this woman by my side, I feel invincible. No wait, that’s not a good metaphor. I feel boundless. Hopeful. I feel seen for who I am and who I bring to the relationship. That’s a huge part of being in a loving relationship. You want to feel seen.

So today, I was riding my bike alongside her while she ran seven miles. I was proud of her. I was proud of us. And I was filled with even more pride thinking about getting married. That’s the spirit that you want going into a third (for me) and second (for her) marriage. I am undaunted by the failures of the past. And this time, I am convinced that the proper ingredients and attention to macro-compatibility has been taken care of. We are in love. And it’s love in a big way.

When we are with groups of people we can feel the joy radiating from our bond. We’re not supra-conscious of it, but there is a joy. There is a loving feeling we generate between us that we share with those around us. Our close friends are happy for us. They have seen the transformation of each of us in the basking glow and love of this new partnership.

I believe in marriage, because I know I am done with this woman. I can see a million young gazelles along the running trail, and none of them come close to the love and adoration I have for my future wife. And I am proud, after all I’ve been through, that she will take me. We are making a mutual agreement, a celebration and affirmation, that love triumphs over all. That the hurts of the past were stepping-stones to get us to this point, this relationship, this massive feeling of love.

Marriage is sacred. And in just over six months we will commit ourselves to this new life together. The truth is, we made our verbal vows about six months after we’d started dating. All the rest has just be the interlude before getting married. We wanted to steep in the joy of planning, the joy of telling people, “We’re getting married,” the joy of spreading our love for one another with all of those around us. I know it sounds woo woo, but we’re creating more love with the love between us. And our marriage shows the world that it’s never too late, you are never too broken, and you can find the love of your life.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Dating After Divorce

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What a Divorced Dad Wants in the Next Relationship, Year 3!


Dating is not enough.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you will surely miss it.

My goal in dating, in setting out a dating plan, was to wind up in a relationship. I don’t like dating. I didn’t like dating. And now that I’m set to remarry in March of 2017, I can tell you, while the process was not unpleasant, I prefer being IN a relationship to searching for one. Let’s get caught up.

Dating a Mom
I said this was of critical importance to me in my next relationship. Both the women I dated before finding my fiancé were moms. And I assumed that being a mom was a requisite for dating me, because I assumed that the “mom” gene was required to understand the “dad” gene. I was wrong. My fiancé can accept my dad role along side my mate role. They are not mutually exclusive, but one is not more important than the other. In fact, as I began to date my fiancé it became more and more clear to me that establishing my next relationship was as important as being a good dad. And in several years, my kids will be going off to college and all I will have is my relationship. I determined that getting the relationship right, regardless of kids was more important that if the woman had kids of her own. Date the woman, if she has kids or does not have kids is just part of the equation.

Going Long Term
As I stated early on in my dating adventures, I was not “into dating.” I was looking to be in a long-term relationship. (LTR) My dating activities were focused with that in mind. If chemistry was lacking on the first date, it was also the last date. I wasn’t interested in creating the next relationship. I wanted sparks and fire and excitement right from the start. I wanted spunky, adventurous, creative, and beautiful all wrapped into one package. I was not going to setting for “all right” or “nearly.” I was either all in or all out. I learned to streamline my dating process by using this rule: If I didn’t see a future in the relationship there would be no second date. Sure, people warm up to each other over time. But chemistry and initial attraction were part of my program. And when I went out with my fiancé I got all of my wishes in spades. Even as I was telling her, I was really not looking for a relationship, she was blowing my circuits with her charm, smiles, and wit. She knocked my socks off from the first Facebook text. And things have not slowed down one bit.

Going Too Fast
When you know it’s right, when you both know it’s right, there’s no need to hesitate. Jump into it. If you’re going to blow up, blow up big and soon. Why piddle about and “see” if things are going to work out? We jumped at the assumption that everything was going to work out, and the attraction and compatibility we felt early on was all the signal we needed. Granted we were both in the right position, we were both looking for NEXT, and we were both open to a long-term relationship. As they say, “Timing is everything.” When the timing was right with us, we were planning a trip to New York City together within the first six weeks together. BOOM. Don’t hesitate or you might miss it. Don’t doubt the magic, if you feel it lean into it, and if it goes away or fails, you will know you took your shot.

Sweating the Small Stuff
We’ve always maintained our eyes on the big relationship picture. We can disagree on several things while still maintaining our balanced love for one another. She can irritate me, and I can trigger her anger, and we know we’re bigger than any of the little misses. We have the BIG CONNECTION figured out. The little misses, the irritations, the things left undone and unsaid, can be repaired in the wake of the huge love we feel towards one another. If you’ve got big love, the little details will work themselves out.

About Those Kids
My fiancé does not have to be best friends with my kids. They don’t have to love her like a second mother. We don’t have that kind of relationship between the four of us. She is Martha, they are my kids. We all have a relationship together. Sometimes they are the priority, sometimes it’s Martha, sometimes it’s myself. But it never gets confusing because we are not jockeying for position. We all love each other. She loves my kids because she loves me. They love her because they have seen the transformative effect she’s had on my life. We are all happy. And we are all individuals in a relationship with each other. There’s give and take on the weekends they are with me. There is more flexibility and freedom on the weekends when they are with their mom. What we do have is time. And the time I get to spend with all four of them is of peak value. And when I most feel like a family is when we are driving somewhere in the car together and the kids are rolling their eyes at our overt displays of affection for one another. “I’ll get to be so lucky,” I say, to see you guys in love in the future. They get it. We all get it. We are a family of individuals who come together on alternate weekends to be a family. There’s plenty of flexibility in that and plenty of togetherness.

Looking to the Future
The kids will be moving past high school and moving out sooner than I imagine. I am going to eat up all the together time with them that I can. While I have the opportunity to be with them, I will show up 110% for them. And as they reach escape velocity I can focus even more on my primary relationship. We’ve started talking about retirement, dreams, next big plans. And we’re 100% in sync. Life after kids will not be a lot different that life today, but we’ll have even more time to explore things together. And when possible we’ll invite my kids along for the ride.

As you look to build the long term relationship with a spouse, remember your kids are important, and in some ways they are priority number one, but that will change over time. As you become less of a priority in their lives, as they move on to college and their own lives, you will be left with what’s next. Make sure you are building the NEXT that you want. As I was looking at dating a woman, I was ever conscious of the next I wanted to build together. Today I have that and it gives me great hope and joy for the future.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Dating After Divorce

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Coparenting When the Other Person Wants to Fight


It’s hard to understand where the anger comes from, so I don’t try. Let’s just say she’s still mad at me, six years after the divorce. Hmm. Am I still doing things that hurt her? I don’t think so. Is she remarried to a lovely and loving man? Yes, as far as I know. So how does it work that my requests for clarification come back as rants at my lack of parenting cooperation? How is it that a simple question becomes a war?

This is no way to coparent. The reason we cooperated in the divorce is to lessen the animosity between us. What then has gotten so corrosive in the six years since the divorce was finalized?

  • Things have not turned out as she’d hoped
  • Leaving me did not immediately make her a happier person
  • There are still financial concerns, and some of them are between us
  • The full-time job commitment is exhausting
  • Kids require a lot of food, transportation, and money

In this morass of what is called parenting, somehow, my ex-wife believes I am no cooperating as much as she would like. Sure, she asked for the custodial parent role, she asked to have the 70/30 split rather than 50/50 as I was requesting. So, there is some reason behind the imbalance. But is it okay for her to now be mad about it?

I guess people will be mad. And it’s certainly not my place to take her inventory. But it does impact me, her anger, all the time. I don’t ask for much variance from the schedule, because I don’t want to upset her, or really get involved in a conversation with her about anything. I avoid her as I’m dropping off the kids bags after a dad-weekend. Again, less is more concerning our interactions.

I guess the good news is she’s getting her new husband to intervene and negotiate on  her behalf. And I have to say he’s less angry. Of course, he’s parroting a lot of the same things she says. He’s asking odd questions that she’s asking him to ask. He doesn’t come across as angry as much as confused. He would probably handle things differently. And as we began discussing how to get the AG out of our relationship, at first he was receptive. But then the message came back, her message, the AG is staying, it’s for the best.

Somehow she believes I’m going to try to skip out on my responsibility to my kids. In six years I have gotten behind in child support.  But I was never unavailable to her or my kids, I was never uncooperative when she was asking for a variance from the schedule, I was never withholding money when I had it. But she felt she should use the state’s attorney’s to enforce the divorce decree.

I guess that’s her right. And, in her mind, common practice when the divorce or child support is contested. But I didn’t contest anything. I even let her have the 70/30 deal she wanted, even as it made me very sad to do so. I’ve relented on all my demands. And as she is now the custodial, primary parent, I am asked to behave a bit like a second-class citizen. Even calling the AG’s office, they give you the old “custodial parent press one, non-custodial parent press two.” Why should they split you before they have even spoken to you? Is it because they are mostly working FOR the custodial parent and AGAINST the non-custodial parent? Or so they can provide better service, or shorter wait times for the custodial parent?

Anyway, today I resolved to live my life, and to support my kid’s lives, in spite of my ex-wife’s anger and uncooperative actions. I’ve placed my demands and frustrations in the same box I placed them in when we were going through the divorce and I was being asked to accept things that I knew were not fair. But, divorce is not fair. Coparenting is not fair. And while cooperation is much easier with two parents that are civil to one another, it can also be done when only one of the parents is committed to the positive side of the street. That’s all it takes.

One positive parent can make 100% of the difference. I’m not perfect, and occasionally I want to lash out when she does something that seems unreasonable. I don’t. I never do. I have learned to put my anger and frustration into a different box, one I can use later to fuel my workout or writing session. She’s still able to get under my skin, but it’s up to me to put that energy to use for positive things. That’s where I live, ever-moving towards the positive in all that I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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Meet Your Lover at Their Passion


Today I rode 15 miles with my fiancé. A year ago I could not have ridden half that distance. But she loves cycling. And I learned if I take up cycling it’s time spent doing something she loves, and we’re together. While I would not put cycling in my initial passions, I joined her at the point of her passion.

So she never joined us in our biking adventures, or our tennis “games,” or rough-housing in the pool. She chose to separate from us.

How many times in our lives do we have the opportunity to join another person in doing something they love? Dancing? Biking? Playing tennis? As you long to expand your time and join with this other person you begin to look for ways you can be together. And if that togetherness is bound up in physical fitness activities so much the better.

I remember in the early months of my relationship with the mother of my children, she began taking tennis lessons with one of her best friends. They loved to joke about how they were doing it for the sexy skirts they got to buy and wear. And though I give her an “A” for effort, there at the beginning of our relationship, she didn’t continue beyond the first 6 weeks. I would often ask her to go “hit” with me and the kids, but often she took the time as an opportunity to have some alone time instead.

It seemed that there was always some reason that she wouldn’t join in. Board games. “No thanks.” Swimming. “Not this time.” And tennis. “I’ll just say here.” She often took the opportunity to join as an opportunity to not-join. Odd.

When the kids were riding bikes, I suggested we get her a mountain bike for her birthday one year, so she could join us. “That’s not a great birthday present,” she said. I never quite understood that response. “Um, what is…?” So she never joined us in our biking adventures, or our tennis “games,” or rough-housing in the pool. She chose to separate from us.

In relationships, marriage or dating, we choose what activities we want to join in. And we can either look for ways to connect or we can look for ways to be separate.

As our marriage was winding down, she did try to enter the tennis court again. This time it was just the two of us. And I recall the feeling of sadness as we were entering the court for the first time in 10 years. I thought she looked great in her tennis outfit. And I was encouraged by her openness to “trying tennis again.” But her heart was not in it. She was doing it as a potential bridge between us, one that she chose to shut down years earlier. And the roadblock between us had become too high to pass.

We only played tennis together that one time. It left me feeling empty, as I knew she did not enjoy herself, and would not be suggesting tennis again.

In relationships, marriage or dating, we choose what activities we want to join in. And we can either look for ways to connect or we can look for ways to be separate. I believe my then-wife was aware that she had isolated too much in our marriage and that she was making an effort to come out of her shell and join with me. The effort was appreciated, but the overall effect was lost in the sea of dissatisfaction that was obvious on the tennis court that day. She had never continued her lessons, had never joined the kids and me on the court, and was not very happy being a complete beginner. It was easier not to play tennis.

It’d be easier not to get into bike riding with my fiance. I’ve fallen several times and have the scars to prove it. But we keep getting back on the bike and we keep making dates to ride. Today we’ve got an ongoing Sunday morning ride that we can both look forward to.

Join with your partner in all the ways you can. Time together doing things you both love is time together IN LOVE. That’s how it works. And that’s what you want from here on out, a way to join in more and more of your life.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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Going Positive and Growing Stronger

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-6-22-18-amI’m reminded this morning that I have a choice in every interaction with my ex-wife. As I have written before, there are two levels of healing that need to take place after divorce. (Two Levels of Healing) But this morning I see it’s even more simple than that. I wake up, reset my day, and forgive my ex-wife. It’s as easy as letting her go, letting her be as she is, and wishing her well in her day shepherding our kids from school to activities and such. While she has them 70% of the time, against my wishes, she has also been doing a great job at being an uber-single mom.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways.

I resent her time with the kids some days. I wake up wishing I had my kids to rouse, tussle with, and make breakfast for and get to school. It was a ritual that I used to love. It was my ritual when we were married. From the earliest days of parenthood, I was the early bird, I was the breakfast man, I was the song weaver who would start our day with some new band I had discovered. I literally danced everyone awake. Except my then-wife, who liked to sleep in as much as possible.

Today I dance myself awake most mornings, without my kids. But I’ve begun engaging them in new ways. I text them before they ever wake up (yes, they check their phones on waking like most teenagers) and offer to buy them breakfast and give them a ride to school. Their mom doesn’t mind, because it halves her driving load. And my kids love the extra time, and the alone time with me. Well, I get the feeling they do anyway, as they are starting to ask me to take them to school on off days.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little.

So as I have begun to offer my joy to them in the mornings, I have begun to form slightly different relationships with them. For example, my 13 yo daughter has begun asking if I will hit tennis balls with her after school on Wednesdays. This was her idea. I’m thrilled. Tennis is my sport and we used to play when she was younger. Today, I suspect it is as much about getting time with me as it is about perfecting her backhand. But the cool thing is, she’s getting good at tennis, without even trying. She’s the sporty one.

As your kids get older, perhaps, you can begin moving on from the divorce and moving into something else. Just relating with your kids on a more-adult level. No, they are still kids. But they are reaching an age where they can decide what they want to do, and they can ask for what they want. If they want more time with me, I’m going to make myself available as best I can.

I can bring joy into their lives now as I did when they were little. Yes, there was a period in the middle that I had much less access to them, but we are past that. And for her part, their mom facilitates our connections. I have to be grateful for that. We’ve always cooperated in regards to our kids.

This morning I give thanks for the flexibility and caring my ex-wife shows me and my kids when they ask for some new connection. We’ve both worked hard to get here. And as we work better together everyone benefits. I can’t wake them with song everyday, but I can wake them with an attentive and happy dad looking to support them in any way they can imagine. All they have to do is ask.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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Losing Dads in Divorce


My dad died when I was 21 years old. I was a freshman in college. And the loss nearly took me out too. While our relationship had been tumultuous, losing the opportunity to connect with him, forever, was devastating. The real story is, however, that I lost my dad when I was about six years old. My mom tells the story that she told him he could choose to continue drinking and lose his family, or he could stop drinking. I’m not 100% sure it went down that clearly, but I am sure of the fact that my father was an alcoholic.

He exited my life in a big way when he moved out of the house. Even before his divorce was final he was remarrying another alcoholic and the slide down into darkness was as swift as it was complete. I have no idea what his new wife felt about his kids, but it was clear that neither of them cared about their kids as much as they cared about partying together. I recall this period as one of estrangement. I could no longer get close to my dad. He was either drunk lamenting his divorce, or drunk celebrating his newfound love. But there was not a lot of love to go around. The love was for the bottle. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s more truth than myth.

What my dad missed from my 6’s on was everything. I was a star tennis player (as my dad was a tennis player) but he never hit with me. I was a successful football player but my dad made one game that I can remember, and he brought “her.” I was an awful baseball and basketball player, and today I can see how other kids dads were instrumental in helping them get over the fear and challenge of competitive sports. But my dad was nowhere to be found.

Sure, he was a hard worker. He was a successful doctor. And somehow he kept his schedule and his medical practice even as his vitality was going down the tubes. You’d think after his first heart attack he would start making changes in his life. You’d think. And maybe the second heart attack would really be a wake up call. But, in fact, my dad had three heart attacks before he was forced to quit drinking and smoking due to the chemotherapy that was required for his cancer treatments.

For the first time in my young life, from age 6 on, my dad got sober. It was a glorious and amazingly sad time. As his brain unpickled, he began to speak about “missing so much of your life.” He was dying, and yet he began to understand what he had lost in the 15+ years since the divorce.

I took all the time with him that I could. I spend weekends out at his condo, at the golf course, with him. I even tried to play golf with him, but he was still a tyrant and jerk about losing balls. Well, me losing balls. Him losing balls, no problem. I was satisfied riding in the cart with him and enjoying spending time with him. Even though his body was emaciated, he did his best to enjoy the last year of his life. But the poignancy of the loss was almost too much to bear.

On Sunday as I was about to drive back into town, he said, “I really want to do more of this with you.” We had spent the weekend playing cards, me watching him play golf, and essentially catching up on our lives. The next weekend he was admitted to the hospital for the last time. What glimpse I had of my real dad was short and sweet. He died about three months later, after a protracted withdrawal phase where he couldn’t speak or communicate by more than a squeeze of the hand.

I miss my father. I wish he had been around to see my kids, to know my kids, to enjoy my kids. But not if he had still been drinking. So maybe he did us all a favor, by allowing the alcoholism to cure and then kill him rather than prolong his agony and drunken stupor. I’m pretty pragmatic about drinking these days, I do it some, but more than two beers simply does nothing for me. Why blunt my experience of living.

My father was blunting his experience of loss. In his marriage he made the wrong decision. He chose to leave and lose the best family he could ever have imagined. And even as he tried to grandiosely celebrate his new wife and new adopted daughter, the real love of his original family escaped him. Until he was dying. Then we all came rallying to his bedside. All four kids spent the last few months in town, trying our best to be cheerful and supportive, but quietly crying with each other at what we had already lost and what we were losing.

Today I saw a dad and his kid on the baseball field. I wonder if I would’ve been a better baseball player if my dad had not been an alcoholic. I wonder if I could have played first string basketball if I’d had someone to shoot hoops with. As it was, I was left to playing horse in the driveway by myself. My mom tried, but she wasn’t all that sporty.

Dad’s fulfill a vital role in our lives. When that role is limited or eliminated the children suffer the consequences. Let’s put the balance back in parenting. And when divorce happens, let’s fight to make 50/50 the norm and not the exception. I don’t think it would’ve made any difference in my father’s case, he didn’t want 50/50, he wanted out, in some respect. But the out he was granted was final and absolute. And until he was dying he drank to keep himself from feeling the loss.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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Trying Again to Be 100% Positive


When I set out on this journey, three years ago, to build a 100% positive divorce parenting blog, well… I knew there would be challenges. I knew that I was starting with a chip on my shoulder and another blog, where I could vent. Today things are much the same, I still blog out of both sides of my mouth, and I’m still confused as to how I can keep pissing my ex-wife off so frequently.

I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly.

I know sometimes people need other people to be mad at. My mom, for example, is a worrier. If I don’t give her something to worry about, she’ll be worrying about someone. It’s fine when it’s not me. But it’s always going to be someone. So, perhaps that’s the deal with my ex-wife. She needs someone to be mad at. Somehow the world has done her wrong, or she’s not living the life she’d really like to be living, and somehow I have something to do with it.

I’ve done my best to pull all punches here on The Whole Parent. And I’ve come close to achieving my goal of 100% positive, even when I’m skirting a difficult subject. But I’ve also failed repeatedly. Most of those posts are sitting unpublished in the “drafts” folder, awaiting some revelation or insight that allows me to approach the subject with a better attitude.

That seems to be the name of the game these days: attitude. I could be mad at my ex-wife. There are certainly things she’s done, things she’s doing, things she will do, that can set me off. My first response, these days, however, is to breathe, relax, and let it go. If I can laugh about it later I can laugh about it now.

Let’s take a recent example of miscommunication that could’ve gone two ways. It went the angry way, but let’s look at what happened and see how I fed into the fury rather than diffused the situation, like I normally do. (To be quite honest, I’m a bit tired of being the good guy divorced dad.)

You see, last week my wife authorized braces (not the inexpensive kind) for both my kids who seem to have great smiles, to me, the non-educated non-dentist father. She agreed to some $5,000 per kid with the dentist and had the Invisalign braces put on my kid’s teeth. She never asked me about it. Never mentioned it. I heard about it from one of my kids complaining about them, not knowing why he had to get braces in the first place.

Wait. What? So my ex-wife incurred a $10,000 medical expense and forgot to ask or tell me about it? That’s a violation of our joint-custody rules. Hmm… I suppose I could go about my response in two ways. 1. Anger. 2. Reasoned response.

I sent her one email on the subject.

“I will only say it once. I do not think either of our kids need braces.”

In an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

That was it. Now, I could’ve done better. I could’ve played, the “you must’ve been too busy to call me…” card, but I was irritated and I let my angry side show a bit. I’d have to say I stayed pretty far away from the ANGRY response. And maybe because I didn’t take a more aggressive approach it gave her an opening to rail against me. She went on in a two page email about how disappointed she was in me, in my questioning her decision about this, about how unsupportive I’ve been in the last six years, since our divorce.

Of course, she was defending by attacking. She didn’t answer my question, until I posed it in a second email. Again, very short and to the point.

“I’m assuming that you want me to pay for half of their expenses, even though you did not ask me about it. Why didn’t you ask me about it?”

Now, I knew this would get her fired up. And another hot letter (too hot to excerpt even) came smoking into my inbox. I didn’t even read the entire letter. She knew she was in violation of our agreement. She was taking the FU approach to responding.

I’m curious how my more tempered email would’ve been received? The problem is she knew she had done something wrong. (Getting $10,000 worth of braces put on our kids without consulting me.) And in an effort to cover herself she didn’t respond to my email, she blasted everything about the last six years that made her angry at me.

Well, I’m doing a pretty good job here of keeping it above-board, but occasionally, like today, I have to let a little of the pain show through. Tomorrow I go back to being 100% positive. And tomorrow I will once again show the fully loving response to her angry missives. It’s all about the kids these days. Our anger, our emotions towards each other, shouldn’t even come into the equation. I do my best. But I can do better.

Have I failed?

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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Responsible Separation Is Harder than it Sounds

My ex and I tried to have a low-conflict cooperative divorce. Only problem is, she got an attorney, I didn’t. As cooperative as we were, when it came time to draft the decree we left it up to her attorney to set up the fair separation of our financial and parenting duties. It wasn’t fair and balanced. It was “responsible” for sure, because we agreed not to sue each other, but I was given the SPO (standard possession order) and the child support payments, just like 80% of other men getting a divorce with children in the early 2010s.

What she was doing was going outside the marriage, and outside our therapeutic relationship with our counselor, and consulting a divorce attorney to see what she was going to get should she choose to take further action.

What my then wife did, by seeking counsel before she mentioned it to me, by consulting with an attorney to understand her options, was she loaded the deck in her favor. By the time the “idea” of divorce was broached to me, she already knew what she wanted, she knew how it would likely go down, and she was fine with the consequences of her actions. Regardless of how those actions affected my kids and me, she was prepared for her “best case scenario” and I sort of gave it to her.

Again, let’s step back and take a snapshot of the days before my then-wife let me know she’d consulted with a lawyer to understand her options.

  1. We were not happy.
  2. We were not having sex.
  3. The money coming in from my full-time job was adequate, but we’d really need to discuss both of us working to get ahead.
  4. We focused on the kids as a way to not focus on our relationship.
  5. We were both seeking support and comfort outside the marriage. (Not an affair on either side.)
  6. We were living like roommates.
  7. I was beginning to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo and asking for changes.

And while I was doing my best to be an adoring husband, the lack of intimacy was wearing on my soul and my physical joie d’vivre. We were in couple’s counseling, but it always seemed the focus was on something I’d done wrong, like not tell her about a speeding ticket I got over the summer.  We never got around to talking about the relationship, or the lack of intimacy. Always some crisis of faith, some test of my “trustworthiness” was on the line each week as we meet and attempted a joining of the hearts and minds.

There was no join to be had. The sessions were cold. She was very guarded and withdrawn. She used the word “cynical” to describe our therapy at that time. I’ve never considered it any other way, but perhaps she was using the therapy to let me down easy. Anyway, she didn’t come out and tell me, I had to grill it out of her.

“Are you telling me you’ve been to see an attorney?” I asked during our penultimate session.

“I was just gathering information.”

Actually what she was doing was going outside the marriage, and outside our therapeutic relationship with our counselor, and consulting a divorce attorney to see what she was going to get should she choose to take further action. I was stunned in the session. I was hurt. I was furious.

“How could you not bring that up in here BEFORE going to see a lawyer?”

I was lead to believe that the kids needed their mom more than me, that a mom’s love is somehow superior, or more comforting than a dad’s love.

I pounded her via email over the next few days asking her for a decision. I had been in the cuckold box long enough. This moment of truth was either a time for us to regroup and join together again, or for us to work out the details of our divorce. While I was fighting during those first few days, I believed I was fighting for my marriage. What I didn’t know at the time, is I was fighting against the divorce more than for anything. See, I wasn’t happy either.

Responsible separation in the case of Laura A. Munson meant fighting for her marriage. Fighting against her husband’s depression and mid-life crisis, and fighting FOR the relationship. She simply didn’t buy her husband’s claims of being bored in the marriage. “Nope,” she said. “That’s not good enough.”

I wish I had been stronger. I don’t know that the outcome would’ve been any different. We would probably still be divorced. But I wished I had been able to question her about her motives for breaking up our marriage. Was it greener grass she was seeking? Was she asexual because she was no longer attracted to me? Was there someone else in her life that gave her joy?

What her move did, by going to see an attorney before discussing it in therapy, or talking to me about it, was it put the divorce into action before we had a chance to really map it out. She’d already done her due diligence. She knew what to expect from the court system in Texas. And she knew, like any mom in Texas filing for divorce knew, the mom usually get’s the kids, the child support, and the house. BINGO.

It’s unfortunate that the Bingo, or win for my ex-wife, had to be such a simple open and shut case. In several forums I was told that my ideas of 50/50 parenting were simply not realistic. I was made to question whether I could provide the love and care for my kids half the time. I was lead to believe that the kids needed their mom more than me, that a mom’s love is somehow superior, or more comforting than a dad’s love.

I lost 70% of my kids life in that split second in the therapy session when she said she’d seen an attorney. She knew she’d get the custodial parent role and approximately 70% of the custody. She knew she’d get the house, nearly paid for. And she knew she’d get a healthy monthly stipend that would allow her to keep the house without too much stress. She also knew she had to get a full-time job to divorce me. So she did.

It’s odd how the entire year leading up to the big fail in therapy, she’d been “looking for a job” that suited her sense of self. We’d been down several career changes together. I was supportive even as the bills were threatening our house, because I wanted her to be happy. The last year before we got divorced her income was actually a negative number. She was demanding I get the full-time job again, and she was apparently unable to get a job herself. Until she wanted the divorce.

Responsible separation would be 50/50 parenting, just how we did it when we were together. Responsible separation would mean not attacking the dad for being a second-class parent so the courts would rule in favor of the 70/30 standard possession order that is common in most states.

She knew what she was going to get. She placed her bets and altered the course of all of our lives to meet some new agenda she had cooked up alone. Or, if she had counsel, it wasn’t from me, or our couple’s therapist. He was as shocked as I was that she had seen an attorney.

The business of divorce took place over the next few months. I gave in on most issues. I was too depressed to fight. At that point I wanted to end the fighting and pain and get on with whatever was next in my life. I’m still sorry she chose the course she did. And I’m sorry the state of Texas still rules in mom’s favor 80% of the time, rather than in the favor of the kids by granting 50/50 custody.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: couple, creative commons usage


What I Wish My Ex-wife Knew

I’m not writing this blog to my ex-wife, but there are times when I wish she would read my words. I still love her, because of our connection and history with children, but she makes it difficult to remain objective sometimes. One of my outlets is to work it out, alone, right here. Again, I’m certain she’s NOT reading me, but these posts could help our relationship. Soften her up a bit, perhaps. And then again, I’ve given up imagining that my words or actions can change her in any way. We’d like to think we can make another person happy, or comfortable, or secure. Unfortunately, we cannot.

If I could give my ex-wife a quick list of posts to read, this would be the shortlist.

As it is, we’re supposed to have moved on from the charged feelings towards our significant, but no longer spousal, other. When the anger and defensiveness is quick to surface there may still be some emotional work to do. Somedays I’d really like to send her a link to my prayer for her. I don’t. Again, I’ve learned it’s not for me to change her, but really learn to love and adapt to her as she is today.

She’s remarried. She’s got money again. She seems to be enjoying her job and the job of parenting, but she still complains a bit too much for me to buy the slick surface. I’m not taking her inventory here, I’m releasing her. I just wish my loving words could reach her some days. And I hope, everyday, that my loving actions will soften her heart enough to give her peace.

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: red flower, creative commons usage


Staying Positive, Resetting, and Getting Positive Again

I try to stay positive with the mother of my children at all times, I really do. But she continues to do things that would get her divorced in any other relationship. Well, it worked out that way for her and me in the first place, but she doesn’t need to keep being difficult and self-righteous. I do a ton of things to keep the peace, but it’s tiring. When is someone going to offer me the merit badge for good friend and father? Never.

I would’ve thought marrying a man with money (her new husband) would relieve some of her stress, but it seems to have made her even more intolerant of my situation.

I know not to expect anything from my ex-wife. I mean, she really doesn’t owe me anything. In fact, I still owe her. But it’s a contract between us, my child support, and something I would not try to, nor could I ever get out of my obligation to my kids. Full-time employment in my field of social media marketing, can sometimes be a more hit or miss routine. I’m in for 10 months, have a good roster of clients, and then nothing.

About three years ago I hit a “nothing coming in” period and I reached out to her to explain the situation. Three years into the divorce, and still there was only flak and anger coming back at me. I shared my income, my prospects, and my business hunt on a weekly basis, trying to temper her need to press the whole “divorce” thing over the Attorney General’s office. For 45-days it worked. While I wouldn’t call it cordial, she was at least willing to give me a bit of time to figure it all out.

“Meanwhile,” she said, “I still have bills and I’m still forced to pay for things that we should both be paying on.” I was ashamed and motivated to increase my efforts.

She went ahead and filed on me. It’s the equivalent to sending your loved one (former loved one) to a collections agency. Suddenly my credit score fell through the floor, and I became listed as a deadbeat dad. What? How did all that happen? How did we get from coparenting, to answering to case workers and “pressing 2” for non-custodial parent?

And today she’s still certain that the 10% we pay to the AG’s office is some how worth her piece of mind, that she will be paid. I try to remind her that she get’s paid from every dollar I make. She doesn’t want to hear excuses. She wants to hear commitment dates.

I don’t see how having the state’s child support team clamping down on me is going to help. There is nothing they can do but threaten (which they do) and freeze my bank account

She’s always been very spreadsheet oriented, and she’s obviously paying close attention to her balance sheets. And any dip or change in the plan causes unwelcome drama all over her prospects for a better future. I would’ve thought marrying a man with money (her new husband) would relieve some of her stress, but it seems to have made her even more intolerant of my situation.

And, the bottom line, she is entitled to all of the money. And in the best case scenario, my current work search will provide a renewed steady stream of income for her and my kids real soon. But again, I don’t see how having the state’s child support team clamping down on me is going to help. There is nothing they can do but threaten (which they do) and freeze my bank account (which they’ve done twice – causing more than $1,000 added expenses and hardships for me, along the way.)

“But you owe her the money,” the AG representative told me, hours before he froze my account.

“Don’t you see that I’ve just gotten a new job and have registered this new employer with your office?”

“Fine, but what about right now? I’m going to take half the money in your account to go against the debt  you are obligated for.”

“But I need that money for the kid’s health insurance premiums.”

I don’t think she’s ever considered what it’s like on this end of her authority stick. But it didn’t need to go this way, and the 10% she’s giving the AG’s office for staying involved, is money that would be better spent on our kids.

I’ve proposed a few scenarios for securing her debt while removing the AG’s office from my backside. So far, she’s stalled and said she won’t have time to think about that for a few months. Wait, what? “It’s just a conversation I want to have, not a decision.”

She’s in control this time. Much more in control than she was in the marriage. Having the angry hammer over my head, must give her some satisfaction, knowing she could precipitate my financial shut down with one phone call.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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