The Money After Divorce Manifesto; A Neverending Story

WHOLE-beachfam

Money, if you don’t have an abundance of it, can be a hardship for a lot of us.

Driving your ex to bankruptcy might feel like a “told you so” moment, but it’s not. You are bankrupting half of your family, and your kids will see this.

Marriages can come apart as a result of money woes. And if there’s anything more stressful than not being able to pay your survival bills, I’m not sure what it might be, except perhaps terminal illness. But money after divorce can be a nightmare. Even when you are hurt and grieving you have to continue the painful negotiations and discussions about money. If you’ve got kids, you never escape the money matters meeting, but now you have to do it under duress and potentially adverse interests.

But let’s get a few things straight about money and divorce.

1. Money has to be about the kids, and not you.

2. You don’t get to divorce your money obligations.

Even the debts you get assigned to your ex’s account, are part of your financial picture, even if they have gotten removed from your credit report.

3. What was hard to negotiate when you were married becomes nearly impossible when you are divorced.

4. The divorce courts are set up, by legal precedent, to give the mother primary custody and the man the burden of child support.

(In Texas this represents 80% of all divorces.) While this was helpful 40 years ago when my parents go divorced, today it’s not a fair or balanced starting point. But even in cooperative divorce negotiations this is often the suggested starting point.

5. If you want 50/50 custody and a full split of the expenses, you will probably have to fight out your divorce.

If you can agree early on to split the co-parenting responsibilities, just as you agreed to 50/50 parenting before you even had kids, your life and the life of your kids will be easier. If one of you wants 50/50 and the other person wants “primary custody” there might be more negotiations. But when you fight everyone loses.

6. The health and well-being of your kids is still dependant on BOTH parents doing okay.

If one of you is unduly burdened with a binding contract, and yet suffers a job loss or extended illness, taking the matter to court is likely to hurt both of you and the kids. Driving your ex to bankruptcy might feel like a “told you so” moment, but it’s not. You are bankrupting half of your family, and your kids will see this.

7. Conflict over money is 90% of what you will argue about after divorce. The other 10% is scheduling, school, and transportation for the kids.

8. Fighting your ex about money is a no-win situation.

And even in divorce you are still a family with your ex. When they are struggling with money, that is the time to help not to attack.

You may win a financial victory, but you are likely to score an emotional defeat, or potentially damage your kids right along with your ex. Their lives overall, will not be better, by you getting more money if it means your ex has to take a second job to pay for it. Negotiating the little things, like school supplies, or clothing budgets is manageable, but even these little things might spark resentment and angry reactions. Try and find a simple and amicable way to discuss the little things.

9. Survival obligations ALWAYS trump wants and needs.

Both parents need food and shelter. If one of you is doing well while the other person is facing foreclosure or bankruptcy… Well, your family, and thus both of you are facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. Driving an ex to this point will have a grave impact on your kids. For the kids, you need to stay on the same side of money woes. You are in this together until your kids are out of college and successfully launched in their own careers and lives. Until then, an attack on one of you is an attack on both of you. An attack on your ex is essentially shooting yourself in the wallet.

10. How you deal with money is exactly what you are teaching your kids about how to deal with money.

They are watching you. They are listening when you are complaining to your friends about your ex or about the bills. The healthier you can be about your attitudes towards your ex, and specifically about the money, the better example you are setting for your kids.

11. Money isn’t everything, but it’s a huge part of what is still left of your relationship to your ex.

You don’t get to opt out. Just as decisions are jointly decided, money decisions and money troubles are equally shared.

12. The more money you spend on attorneys and fighting, is less money you have for your kids and yourselves.

13. If the money is imbalanced and unfair, you might have to fight to change things.

The relationship you formed with your partner to get there, to have these wonderful beings, is still your partner, even if you have moved on and are with someone else.

And while this seems contrary to every point above, suffering under massive financial hardship due to the initial divorce decree, can be important for your survival and ability to thrive in your new life. Sure, you’re going to court, but you had to do this in some form before to get divorced, and if it’s absolutely necessary, at least make it as non-confrontational as possible.

14. Unless there is a huge abundance of wealth, we are often caught in the trap of feeling there is a lack.

We want it for our kids. We want to keep our car running and our AC in the house working properly during the summer months. And you will always spend what money is available and thus you will always feel like you need more money. And you might. But you need to be aware if both households are doing okay, before raising petty money issues.

15. Think first of the kids.

The relationship you formed with your partner to get there, to have these wonderful beings, is still your partner, even if you have moved on and are with someone else. From a loving perspective, realise the post-marriage is still a tight relationship and every move you make, every transaction, has an effect on the entire family. Pressing the money matters in order to punish or damage your ex, because you are still angry, or feel justified or entitled, is still a bad idea. It’s as if you were attacking your kids. You might fight them over buying the $150 sneakers vs. the $50 sneakers, but you wouldn’t fight them about having sneakers in the first place.

16. Everyone needs a safe place to live, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families.

And even in divorce you are still a family with your ex. When they are struggling with money, that is the time to help not to attack.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: family, ruthanne reid, creative commons usage

We Have So Few Chances to Feel Loved

WHOLE-redshoe

This is about my family of origin, and my willingness to try and out-grow, out-love, out-inspire, some deep wounding in the other person. I don’t look for the wounded person, but when I find them, I should run like the hills. I need a whole person for my whole person.

I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what kind of woman, or what a healthy relationship really looks like. I mean, I’ve read books. I’ve imagined. I’ve written posts and poetry about it until I’ve created my own surreal ideal. But I am clear, I have no idea what I’m talking about.

And since my divorce, I’ve had ONE connection. A few relationships, but one connection that lifted all of my hopes and ideas. And from this wonderful infusion of energy and hope I constructed pyramids and offerings to the gods of love. Because there was something, some little glimmer, that really turned me on about this woman.

I guess I can say this now, because it’s gone. Her fears and objections have finally won out over my optimism, regeneration, and attempts to repair the breakups that kept happening. Okay, so that was a clue that something was not right between us. And the further I launched into “being okay” with her constantly not being okay, the more I moved away from my core truth. The flow has to go both ways.

I must’ve learned in my family of origin, as a little boy, how to repair and attempt resuscitation for bad relationships.

And how did I get fooled into thinking a woman, who had done very little “work” on herself post-divorce, was going to heal in my light of love. What a crock. The work ahead for her, is for herself alone. And unfortunately, now we both get go move on alone, and heal without the rubbing and joy that our “relationship” was causing. The joy was apparent in both of us. The chemistry was hot. The sex… Well, I’ll use discretion and not talk about that.

Coming out of a failed marriage, both partners often feel damaged and depressed. In my case, I was certain that I would never love again. Of course, that was my depression talking, but when you are Sad, you can get pretty dark. So there’s this concept, from a divorce recovery class I took, called the Healing Relationship.

I was determined not to be this woman’s healing relationship. And I worked hard to make myself as flexible as possible. To recede when she needed space. To not share the poems and inspirations I was feeling about her, so that she wouldn’t get freaked out.

But you see, the freak out was the problem. And I was not going to be able to fix it, no matter what I did, or how well I behaved. There would simply be another freak out, regardless of how it started, and we would hit the rocks.

During my failing marriage, I got very good at listening for the sirens of destruction (I had done something wrong) and looking for escape or some heroic journey to fix the problem. Both in my marriage and in this relationship, that was not the right approach. But I didn’t want to accept the warning signs I was being hit over the head with. I didn’t want to accept defeat in my marriage, and in some microcosm of the same role-relationship, I didn’t want to accept that this woman, who I was “crazy about” was going to toss me out because she was afraid.

Again, it was more than her fear. It was everything.

She was hungry for affection and love. But she recoiled from what she needed soon after she began getting it. She was overly protective of her son, but that’s what single moms do. She was/is still deeply angry at her ex, and is continuously upset by the dickish-ex he has become. And for sure, he is a dick, both to her, and their son. He has no excuse.

On the other hand, she has no excuse either. And actually, I have no excuse. I have no excuse for continuing a relationship that I could see was full of “holy shit, what’s wrong now” moments. But the chemistry was on. And I had not felt chemistry for a long, long time. I might be addicted to hot chemistry, or sex, but not getting either for years and years was a harsh form of torture, for someone like me who thrives on touch.

And we touched, but she pushed me off sometimes. And she told me constantly how we would eventually break up, and she mused occasionally about what it would be that would finally do it.

I must’ve learned in my family of origin, as a little boy, how to repair and attempt resuscitation for bad relationships. I tried and tried to keep my parents together. I excelled at school. I excelled in football and tennis. I was a childhood magician. I worked hard as the mascot or hero child to keep everyone happy. And when my parents split for the first time, because of my dad’s drinking, I was the one who brought them back together.

I had moments of hope, “wow, this is amazing, she is amazing, we could be amazing.” And then the red flag, more like a red bazooka would blow a hole in my theory of love in the time of recovery.

I’m not making this up. That’s what I was told, by my alcoholic father. And when the “try” didn’t work and my mom left for Mexico with everyone but me and my dad, I again went into hyper-performance mode to try to make things better. But there was no fixing my dad. And over the next two years he fought to win me. I think it was more about the money than me, but he liked to tell me he was doing it for me. Of course, he was drunk when he was telling me this, but that didn’t keep it from registering deeply in my 7 year-old heart.

I can’t repair a broken person. No one can. And my first “love” post-divorce was no different. And even as I bucked against the breakups, and saw the signs that this was a deeply wounded person, I was addicted to the … What?

Was I enjoying the suffering? I don’t think so. Was it familiar? Very. Did the dramatic breakups feel familiar? Yep, right out of the last 4 years of my marriage.

But she would not be healed by me or anyone else. She would only recover from her anger and sadness about her divorce, by going through it, in some sort of therapeutic setting. And I was not that path. I didn’t fantasize that I was the healer, but I DID try to be big enough to contain her thrashing against the feelings towards and against me. These feelings were more about her and her ex than anything I brought to the relationship. It’s sad to see it happening. And I was soooooo connected to her physically. But of course, that’s my obsession.

Well, ultimately the book of poems wasn’t enough. Even with the crowning poem being direct plea to her, or protestation, or warning… it’s hard to tell sometimes. But the poems were definitely me expressing MY wants and HOPES regardless of what I was seeing in her actions.

In recovery of any kind it is not for us to fix each other. The support is so that we can find our own path to fixing ourselves. And as we find ourselves in relationships with unhealthy people, it’s is our responsibility to do what is best for our health. And trying to be supportive and loving is one of those things we can do. Trying to be loving enough to get them to change, well that’s the trap right there.

So I wanted to change her. No doubt about it. I could say it with a straight face, full-well knowing that I was nuts. I wanted to blow her wide open with stability and love poems and clarity of intention. But… As the story goes, every. single. time. there is no fixing the other person. And the more we work towards or wait for them to change, the further we get from our own integrity.

The chemistry, while essential to the growth of a real relationship, is only a small portion of what is required to develop a relationship. And that’s really what I want. I want a relationship.

At the core, it is my healing that is at stake with the break up of this relationship. I felt deeply for the first time since my divorce. I had moments of hope, “wow, this is amazing, she is amazing, we could be amazing.” And then the red flag, more like a red bazooka would blow a hole in my theory of love in the time of recovery.

For someone to be loved they have to love themselves. And that loving cannot come in the form of caring for another person (a child, for example) or by going through it while IN a relationship. No, in my understanding of recovery, in general, the recovery has to take place in the individual, regardless of the support or lack of support in their surroundings.

There was simply no way I could love this woman enough. She was not mine to fix. And I knew this. I still know this. But the pain of losing a “loving feeling” is also hard. I would’ve continued to heal, retry, reset, over and over to keep the physical connection. But I was covering up the disconnection that had nothing to do with me. And that disconnection is what was my own healing that still needed work. I wanted to be loved. I wanted things to be ecstatic. And I was willing to toss my own instincts and knowledge down the tube for a while, in order to feel or not feel this sense of being loved.

I don’t believe we have a soul mate. I believe we have connections. And for me, for a connection to occur there has to be chemistry. But the chemistry, while essential to the growth of a real relationship, is only a small portion of what is required to develop a relationship. And that’s really what I want. I want a relationship. I don’t want a recovery project. I don’t want to fix someone. I want them to come to me healthy, happy, energetic, and done with a good portion of their baggage.

Well, that’s not who struck my heart with a warm glow. But that’s who I now recover from myself, as I return to working my own issues out, again. I have to walk away from my own issues in this relationship, in hopes of being a whole and ready man when the next potential shows up.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: put your red shoe on, albert huffstutter, creative commons usage

Forgiveness (guest post by Michelle Roman Higgins)

WHOLE-mom-son

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~ Buddha

In this present moment I realize that life is good. Actually, my life is great! How long did it take me to get here…to realize what everyone around me already knows? Forty-five (almost six) years, one marriage, a divorce, and five years “alone.” It’s been an epic journey.

I remember being five years old, alone in my room. I was standing in front of my mirror, brushing my hair when I said aloud, “I’m so ugly.” Since the dawn of (my) time I have struggled with insecurities, demons, and a sense of never being good enough. I grew up thinking everyone was prettier than me, cooler than me, and happier than me. I survived anorexia and bulimia. I survived deep, dark depressions. I resisted plastic surgery even though I had wanted new boobs since the age of 15.

I believe I married for security. I struggled financially even as teenager, foregoing trying out for the dance team because I knew my parents would never fork out the cash for the uniforms. I was attracted to men that were not good for me and ended up marrying a man who was as bad for my self-esteem as my father at the time. I strived so hard to be beautiful and thin but I never gained the praise I so desperately needed. At 35, I had never been so miserable.

In searching for what I thought I needed I found the one thing that brought me true inner peace and, for the first time in my life, unbelievable happiness. I discovered forgiveness.

After my son was born things started to change. Age and a child had begun chipping away at my wounded, stone heart. I drew my family closer and pushed an emotionally abusive husband away. At 40 years old, I was a divorced single mom scared of what my future would hold.

Initially, I was on the husband hunt. I felt so naked and alone out there all by myself. It didn’t help that I was laid off four times in three years. How could I keep surviving? Could I do this all by myself? I felt I needed a man, a partner, to support and take care of me. I dated…and dated…and dated. And then one day, I stopped.

In searching for what I thought I needed I found the one thing that brought me true inner peace and, for the first time in my life, unbelievable happiness. I discovered forgiveness. It washed over me like a hot, viscous liquid penetrating every crevice of my heart and mind. The anger I felt towards the men in my life, past and present, disappeared. I wrote my ex-husband a letter apologizing for everything I did that caused him pain during our marriage. He, in return, apologized too. I made peace with my father and enjoy a relationship with him to this day. I dug deep into my inner psyche through yoga and meditation and confronted the demons and the pain I had been carrying around my entire life; and then, I let it go. It felt like a two-ton weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The days became brighter and the air, crisp and refreshing.

I became present. Present in every minute of every day, accepting and honoring how and what my life was at each and every moment. I stopped asking and began being grateful for what I have. I became present as a mom, turning out the rest of the world and technology during our evenings together to learn with each passing moment how to be there for my son…how to treasure each tick of time. I immersed myself even deeper into yoga and meditation. I read. I took time to be alone. I learned to be my friend.

I finally realize that I am pretty enough…that we’re all pretty enough in our own unique and amazing ways. I am happy.

All this took time – forty years after the first day I told myself how ugly I was and five years after my divorce. But what I found radiates from me; it has made me truly beautiful. I now look in the mirror at my less than perfect self and realize that I am beautiful. This is me right now, in this moment and it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m the perfect me; a kind, patient and giving person. I feel proud of my journey and where it has brought me.

Now, I’m okay with being single. I don’t “need” a man. I can do this on my own and I’m doing a damn good job! I do desire a partner one day, but my standards are much higher along with my patience. I love my life just as it is and I’m relishing this moment.

I finally realize that I am pretty enough…that we’re all pretty enough in our own unique and amazing ways. I am happy. And the toxic, drama-filled people that used to take up residence in my life have been evicted. There is no drama in my life whatsoever, just peace and tranquility. I have achieved a state of equanimity.

I do it all. Alone. As a single mom. But, of course, I’m not really alone. I have my family, my friends, and all of you. We have each other and we must love, forgive, and support each other. Because without those things, life just isn’t what it should (and can) be.

Check out Michelle’s blog Scarlet Mom for more stories and insights.

image: distant distance, rennett stowe, creative commons usage

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

WHOLE-prayer

“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.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage

Get Into Your Divorce, Because You’ll Never Get Over It

WHOLE-tango

If you have kids with someone you’re never over your divorce. The fracture that changed everyone’s lives, is something you will be a part of forever. And while even in the most cooperative divorce things are tough, fighting against you ex is never a good idea.

I read a business book once called You Can’t Win a Fight with Your Boss. The point was, you might WIN the argument but it would be a loss for your career. So the idea was to not argue directly, but to use more indirect and subtle methods to get the results you want. Divorce is the same way. A direct confrontation is never fruitful, but you will have disagreements. And even as it might feel justified or righteous to lash out when you’ve been wronged, it’s NEVER the right idea.

I know I don’t live by this ideal all the time. And in the earlier years of my divorce I was less patient. I prided myself on my witty cutting responses. But they never solved the issue. I might’ve scored a few bitter points, but the recoil was always coming.

Your kids are the connector that keep you bound to that person forever. And while emotionally you are DONE with the other person, the new role within the divorce, the role of the co-parent, is essential.

As you move further away from your ex-partner and begin to form a new life without them, the interactions and transactions become easier. Once the heart is out of the relationship, you can deal with them like you would a cousin, or coworker. They don’t need any of your feelings, they just need to negotiate clearly and cleanly about things like school projects, dentist appointments, and what sports you’ll cover during the coming year.

You don’t get a clean break in divorce. You get your time back, and you get to coordinate your kid’s lives together for the rest of your lives. As much as you’d like to run the other way, and get the hell out of dodge, if you’ve got kids… Well, that’s not an option.

It’s not always a pleasant transaction, but the more business-like you can approach your ex-partner, the easier it will be to clear the BS and get to the parenting tasks or decisions at hand.

Often the reasons we got divorced had to do with poor communication. And as things degraded for me, our listening skills suffered greatly. I am just as guilty of this as she was. I simply did not want to hear any of her pain any more. I couldn’t hear it. And thus we both began to shut down the intimacy and connections. It was hardly noticeable at first, but as the emotional distance grew, our ability to negotiate also became strained.

So you got divorced, in part, because your communication and trust with the other person broke down. In divorce you have the same issues, the same decisions to make, and you still have your fractured communication skills. AND, now you don’t even care for the person very much. It is dangerous waters. And the littlest things can give rise to heated exchanges and escalations until both of you are back in the “dysfunctional marriage” again. This is where you DON’T want to go.

You have to do the anger and pain work outside the primary relationship. Once you get yourself healed, you can open up hear what the issue is and work to solve the problem. That’s what parenting after divorce is about: making joint decisions with as little drama as possible, and not stirring up the anger or hurt of the divorce for you or your kids.

You both have the same goals for your kids and as a team, you still have to shine and show up for them 100% of the time.

So you’re not getting “INTO” divorce, but you’re getting into co-parenting. How you deal with your ex is a good indicator as to how whole you have become. If you are still triggered into anger, or fuck-yous, you might have more work to do outside the relationship with your ex.

We’re going for a relationship with our ex that approximates going into a convenience store, you go in and take care of your transaction. You don’t really need to know about the clerk’s day or feelings. In the same way, you want to conduct business with your ex without any of the other stuff. Sometimes, for me, it’s helpful if I imagine her in a Burger King uniform, maybe with a Burger King Halloween mask on. I chuckle and release the tension and try to pay attention to the issue or decision we need to make.

So when I’m asked, “Are you over your divorce?” I suppose the real answer is, “No, I never will be.” Because your kids are the connector that keep you bound to that person forever. And while emotionally you are DONE with the other person, the new role within the divorce, the role of the co-parent, is essential.

I have heard stories of divorces going very differently, and I can’t really offer any experience around the vindictive ex, or the parent who is trying to keep the kids from having a healthy relationship with the other parent. And I know, as a man, there are a lot of stories where the men are sidelined through some dirty politics and legal shenanigans. But I did not have that experience. And I am doing everything I can to be a present dad for my kids. And being courteous to their mom is 100% part of that deal.

I’ve seen and heard the divorces where the ex rants about their asshole partner  in front of the kids. It’s awful. There is never any good reason to slam your former partner in front of the kids. Never. If it’s a legal issue, or money issue, take it to the counselors or to the court, if necessary, but do not act it out in front of your kids.

I don’t want to return to an intimate relationship with my ex-wife, but the intimacy we share in raising our kids is more important and deeper than any of our feelings of loss or anger. We have to get OVER our emotional divorce in order to get INTO healthy divorced parenting roles. There’s nothing more important. Heal yourself. Heal your relationships with your kids. And never let your ex become the enemy. You both have the same goals for your kids, and as a team you still have to shine and show up for them 100% of the time.

You can’t win a fight with your ex.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

image: tango couple, pedro ignacio guridi, creative commons usage

The Dilemma of the Feeling Man: Stoic vs. Romantic

WHOLE-romantic

A while back I had the problem. A woman who was “dating” me didn’t want to admit to dating or even having a relationship. Something about that commitment, even saying the words, bothered her. Scared her. And yet we continued on in a “relationship” for a while. We limped along, in fits and starts and breakups.

She would break up with me when she felt things were getting too close. If I wrote a love poem, she broke up with me. If I said something too close to home, she broke up with me. So, with her anyway, I learned to be more circumspect. More withdrawn with my feelings and joy at being with her. I didn’t want to scare her off, but I was also a bit compromised in my expressions. Okay, so what was going on?

A recent post, brought some of this issue to light for me. From SkinnyandSingle blog:

Why did the chick cross the road?
To get away from the wonderful man who is falling in love with her.

I think most of us are afraid of this. We say we want it, but we sure throw our boots on and run like hell when it’s happening, don’t we?

Okay, so she’s talking about married men being more attractive to her. I think the issue is, the married man, is unavailable and that makes him safe and more alluring.  So what about the stoic man makes him more attractive than the deep-feeling romantic?

Perhaps at some level we are not willing or ready to “fall in love.” It’s an intoxicating feeling, and out of control. When love is in full bloom your senses and sensibility at taking a free fall. Both of my marriages were the result of a drugged-state of lust and love. Often it is hard to separate the two feelings. Sexual heat, and long-term compatibility do not necessarily go hand in hand, and in my case I’m 0-for-2 on that count. It might actually be the love-drug that is most frightening. At risk is the heart as much as the mind. If it’s just sexual, and just stoic then we can bypass the risk. Well, at least we think we can.

For a feeling person that running away is the biggest fear. If we allow ourselves to go deep into the passionate heart and we are left holding it in our hands as the partner runs away, it’s devastating.

But at some level we are skipping the depth of feeling that comes from opening up fully to the good as well as potentially negative effects of falling in love. I think the romantic believes in love, and believes and craves this intoxicated bliss. And I’m certain it can also become an addiction, preventing long-term and solid relationships, when the drug wears off, the addict will go searching for the next “high.”

And while I crave the high, I’m okay with the buzz too. And sobering up enough to assess the core of the relationship. At least that’s my hope. But what is so attractive about a man who stays aloof? With this previous relationship, I almost felt like the more I ignored her texts, the longer I waited to respond to a request, the more alluring I became to her. If I was too available, too eager, it frightened her off.

For a feeling person that running away is the biggest fear. If we allow ourselves to go deep into the passionate heart and we are left holding it in our hands as the partner runs away, it’s devastating. So we learn to curb our enthusiasm. We learn that love poems are for “later.” Or maybe for “never.” Is there value in the love poem? Am I really writing to the woman I am with, or am I writing to the woman I imagine, the ideal woman?

In another early dating negotiation, I met a woman who seemed interested, and who was highly attractive to me. But when I reach for the second date, she mentioned this other person, “she was seeing.” What? Um, why did she reach out to me?

As we emailed over the next few weeks, me in the friendzone, she complained about this man who was unable to express his feelings. Stoic. Maybe he was playing the aloof card to manipulate her, in some attempt to keep her interested. It sure killed my “romantic” play. As this woman and I communicated over the next few months, he broke her heart. And I continued to profess, “Well, we could go out,” and to no avail. When she also showed up on the dating site I have a profile on, I was again confused. “What’s happening?” I asked.

Even though the chemistry seemed to be good for me, and she said it was for her, something about the timing, or the risk of my overtly “romantic” personality was a turn off to her. And she continued to wax poetic on Facebook about her lack of companionship. Oh well, seems like she was continuing to hunt for the stoic. Of course, she was romantic herself, and perhaps that was the risk. Two romantics together, might make for some uncomfortable projections and unrealistic fantasies.

When she continued to push and pull, I began to feel a bit scraped up by the pushes. While my romantic heart is resilient, and my “casual” commitment was in place, I wanted someone to fall in love with.

At is goes, the stoic or fearful woman, eventually wore me down. And my squelched romanticism was too much to bear. I had to go on looking, even though she was who I wanted. I learned that if the HEAT is not reflected, or if the “run-away” response is too  pronounced it begins to be a buzz kill. There’s a lot of passion, but if you have to moderate all the time, perhaps it’s not a fit.

So what is it about my silences that kept her wanting more, and my love songs that freaked her out? Do women want romantic love? Or was it just too soon for this woman, to be ready for the heady fall? After a while the jokes, I’m “just teasing,” began to feel like distancing techniques. And I got tired of always having to let the jokes roll off my back. If I rose to the occasion, and bantered back, the results were ALWAYS BAD. She loved to dish it out, but couldn’t stand to have some of her “teasing” tossed back at her.

So when she continued to push and pull, I began to feel a bit scraped up by the pushes. While my romantic heart is resilient, and my “casual” commitment was in place, I was wanting someone to fall in love with. I guess I still am. And if that object of affection is freaked out by the very idea of love…

Okay, so how is a stoic man attractive? Because he is unavailable? Because he needs winning? It’s not me, but I could learn to be more reserved. If I wanted to. I don’t. Moving right along…

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

reference: All the good ones are married - Skinnyandsingle

image: romantic moment in amsterdam, monique broekhuisen, creative commons usage

time might change everything

WHOLE-time-poem

i waited for her to change her mind
tossing random love messages and poems
rubbing her back and praising her tan lines
i could not predict her next move
or escape act

so we travelled along
side by side
bodies in transit
bodies in heat and proximity
and i tried to change my mind
interviewed other candidates
browsed the profiles
flirted furiously

changing my mind was my only option
changing her mind
wasn’t for my to-do list
and waiting for the change
always felt like a sabotage
we know what happens there

and a week
moved into the summer
and her kisses relaxed a bit
as she spread herself
and her mind
ever darting away
ever returning
in smiles

her smile is what took my breath away
even when we met
that first moment
and that first
wow, she’s cute
and that smile
lighting up my closed room
calling me to change myself

timing is everything they say
and time together is a potent agent
of mystery and joy and bumpy rides
there are always bumps
hiccups and fears
that is no wonder
and no matter that isn’t dissolved
in time

so the timing thing
is about patience and peace
it is about pause
and enjoyment of the skin
and touch of the neck
time doesn’t run away
people do
and time is our currency
and payment

i told her
i have what i want
nothing could be better
at this moment
you are here
i am here
you are smiling
i am alert and attentive
and time is, in fact, on our side

if i listen to myself, now
i can hear how crazy it all sounds
how full of it, i am
she is here and she’s not
reaches out and is gone
responds with a strange jab
and i come back to the skin
of the present moment
and not waiting
for either of us
to
change

6-18-14

see also:

image: wet, john morgan, creative commons usage

Does Poetry Matter? Be poetic. Love deeply. Keep going.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 7.02.04 PM

I am the poet of the hashtag #desire. If you Google “#desire” you’ll see my poems, or me, on the first page or two of results. So what. I can almost hear you saying it. So the-fk what. Tell me how poetry changes anything? Tell me how disconnected words and images can do anything but confuse? And maybe you’re saying, “I hated poetry in school, I probably hate it now. Much less write it.”

Okay. I’m going to start slow and build up to my poetic manifesto. Or Manifesto of #desire.

POINT ONE: We think in words. We often don’t think in sentences. So saying to someone

“I love her.”

While plainspoken and straight-forward lacks the energy to convey what you’re hoping to say. By saying something like:

“her smile made me feel a whole wave of yes, yes, yes”

Well, something about the image, the smile, the washing of the yes, yes, yes, like waves. So in this example the words have become sounds, and abstract ideas of why we find this person so attractive, we’ve even got feelings in there. Because “love” is pretty over-used. We even say it about people we don’t care for.

POINT TWO: Sometimes when sentences fail us, we can break it down into ideas, thoughts, random bits of information. And since this scattering of ideas is more like our natural thinking, we can build up, additive language, a wash of words that represents how we are feeling, or what we want to express without the care of a comma, or the persnickety period. We can let the whole thing rush out in a flurry of abstract letters and concepts, and give no care to the meaning, and thereby get closer to the meaning than if we had tried to explain it.

she touched my chest
with a finger
lit up by the closing rays of our last day together
and whispered how she didn’t want to leave

I love the flow of punctuation-less writing. I like keeping the “I” to its diminutive friend “i.” Something feels more personal about it, more vulnerable, less proud, more exposed.

POINT THREE: By giving in to the rush of words in your head and giving them voice on the page you become more familiar with your thoughts. Your connection between the head-filled-with-words and the heart-filled-with-emotions becomes more fluid. You begin thinking in love poems. What a wonderful by-product. Flood your brain with love poems and you spend more time thinking about love, and objects of affection, and feelings of love. Ah, is there any better reason?

POINT FOUR: Poetry is rare. The poems you wrote on Valentine’s Day to your 5th grade crush are quite different from what you are capable of today. The rare part is we are taught what bad looks like, and at some point we got the idea that our poetry was bad. We lost the imagination for losing the words without thought to structure or form, just letting the letters rip, see where it leads us. And perhaps we went down some dumb paths. We tried some poems and they sucked. Well, that’s also the point. When you write sucky poems, you get to feel what that disconnection feels like. You begin to understand how far you have gotten from feeling your authentic feelings. And then, even putting them down on paper. Sharing them is even more difficult. Because in 5th grade the girl laughed rather than swooned. And the afternoon’s study at the rhyming dictionary was crushed by her smile.

“I liked it,” she might have said. Ug. Death to a poet’s heart.

POINT FIVE: The poetry has got to be for you first. Unloosen the belt, unhinge the mind a bit if you like, and let the random thoughts flow onto the page, or into your favorite writing program. Don’t give any mind to the form or function. This is more about building up a relationship between your heads stream of consciousness and your heart’s desire to be understood. At first the poetry is for you. It can be a part of your “journaling program” or your “morning pages” (see The Artist’s Way). What we are going for, initially is the slow methodical death of the internal editor that says to you, “Poetry is dumb. And your poetry is awful.” There is no time to share it in these early days and weeks of expression. Don’t rush to share your newfound gift. You may feel it coming on, you may write a poem that is sure to make your partner or mom or girlfriend smile, but I advise you to keep the early poems, the early poetic experience to yourself. As you are learning to run, and learning to be vulnerable with yourself, it might be easy to get discouraged by the missed or ill-tempered complement.

POINT SIX: Finding your poetic voice. If you stay with the writing and releasing your inner inhibitions you may find yourself starting to think more about language, and the expression of words. And there’s a lot more to write poetry about than love. Hate sometimes finds a clear expression in the unfettered verse. As you strip some of your writing of form and punctuation, you might find the process becomes easy. You might find yourself composing lines as you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Or texting lines to yourself for later. This is a huge victory. As your world becomes more poetic, so does your life.

In Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul, he explores the experience of people going through very difficult times. Death of a loved one, divorce, depression. And one of the ways he frames the healing process is to know that this “dark night” is transformational, you are being transformed by the pain and suffering. AND… he goes on, if you can see the “poetic” or better yet, “express the poetic” of the situation by writing some of the experience down, you may find the beauty in the pain even before you are out of the pain. By making the experience poetic, we join the thousands of great writers who have expressed their struggles. And we see that our struggles are not unlike theirs. And that there is poetry, even angry poetry, to be expressed as part of our healing process.

If you can find the poetic voice of your soul, you can begin to unweave your pain, see it in an artistic and fascinating light. Be amazed at how hateful your anger poems can be. [IMPORTANT NOTE: Don't ever send them out. Anger poems can be really wounding to others. And if they are not received as "beautiful" you might be shamed into not releasing this most unpleasant and yet poetic voice.]

POINT SEVEN: Completing the mind-word-body-write connection will give you more tools to express yourself. Getting out what your feeling is a lot of the process of getting over it. Falling in love is a lot about deciphering the abstract notions of love and the actual person who might be much less poetic. But by enhancing the creative and poetic heart, you are beginning to live more passionately. Or at least more linguistically attractive. Again, this about you and your writing. Not about what you get from it, or if you get praised for it.

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke suggested that the young man only write if he could not prevent himself from writing. Only to write for his own passion and enjoyment and not get caught up in the trap of “is it good enough” or can I call myself a poet.

The Poetic Mind is a strong mind. Finding the way to access your thinking at a more abstract level, I think, gives you access to more pure and direct expression. It’s hard to say “I love you” in a new way. But it’s easy to begin with little things that make you say, “Yes,” and go from there.

Be poetic. Love deeply. Keep going.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

a few other posts of interest:

references:

Father, My Father: Forgiving My Dad and Myself on Father’s Day

WHOLE-fathersday

My father was an alcoholic and it broke my family in two. And over the course of his short life (he died at 55) I struggled to gain, or regain, some form of relationship with my father. He left and struggled to win me in the divorce between my 5th and 7th years. It was a very unhappy time for all.

I stayed with my mother. And over the course of the next years until he died, my father attempted to win me over with offers of a “room above the garage” that was never built, and other opportunities to come live with him and his new wife. I never accepted his offer, but I did continue trying to establish some connection with him.

We didn’t see eye to eye. I remember one evening in the hot Texas Summer, I had run up the mile-long hill to my dad’s castle-like house on the hill to have dinner with him. My first year of college was done and I was excited to tell him about my writing.

“I don’t understand what you’re going to do with an English degree.”

He had ideas for me. If I would get a medical degree as well as a law degree I could be a medical legal lawyer. You see, money was quite important to my father. And fortunately for us, then and even now, he made a significant amount of money during his lifetime. He was certain that I could make a lot of money with two advanced degrees.

I wrote stories and poems. And I shared, or tried to share them with my father. He simply didn’t understand what I was trying to say. But more importantly he didn’t understand how my writing was preparing me for the future. And he was right. Being an English major did not point too directly towards a career. But I’m glad I didn’t follow in his footsteps or take his advice on the 12+ college degree plan he had in mind.

How could my father not get his life together after his first heart attack. In my life, after the divorce there were moments when I was not certain I was going to be able to survive.

A major turn in our relationship occurred when I was in my 20th year. My dad had his third major heart attack. And within weeks of returning home from the hospital, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The restored blood flow had caused his melanoma to bloom. It was a horrific moment for all of us. He never quite got over the shock. “How could lightening strike twice in the same place, in my life.”

Over the last nine months of my father’s life, he was forced to sober up because the chemo caused him to get radically ill when he drank. For the first time in my just beginning twenties, my father came to his senses. We didn’t have much time, but we made up for our loss by spending a lot of time together.

In the last weeks we forgave each other for a lot of our transgressions. ‘Im sure he never understood my writing, but he did appreciate my presence in his life. It was a sad prodigal moment, and as he died, we were absolved forgiven.

Today there are still a lot of things about my father that I can’t possibly understand. A few of the things I DO understand are things like: stress, the working-man’s blues, the sadness of divorce and the loss of your family.

And things that I didn’t understand: how could my father not get his life together after his first heart attack. In my life, after the divorce there were moments when I was not certain I was going to be able to survive. And at once I understood a deep sadness, perhaps the deep sadness that must’ve haunted my father as he struggled to win me back from my mom. I’m sure it didn’t occur to my father that he was trying to buy me, but it came across differently to me. I saw the consequence of his drinking every time I was with him and his new family. I wanted no part of that life. I wanted my dad, but not the alcoholic dad.

This father’s day I celebrate my fatherhood, and the father I have become. Different from my father in so many ways, and similar in some ways as well.

As my marriage began to fail, the hauntings of that pain and the little boy ache that was still inside me  for my father, literally tore me apart. I was not sure how I would survive the divorce. I was most sad for my son, who I projected my own sadness on, imagining how hard my parents divorce had been on me. I was sad for them, both my kids, more than I was sad for myself. And somewhere, deep down inside, I understood for the first time, how my father might have continued drinking and smoking even after his first heart attack. I could understand wanting to blot out the pain with something.

But I didn’t exit my kid’s lives. I didn’t fight their mom to win money or custody. I went easily, sadly into being a divorced dad. The good part is, I survived the depression. I recovered my self-esteem and rebuilt my own life so I could stand strong and proud beside my kids.

Their mom and I have been through some hard times. And we still have disagreements from time to time. But through it all, we’ve always put our kid’s interests above our own. And for that, on this father’s day, I give thanks to my ex-wife and mother of my children.

And as I forgive my father for his loss of control and family, for the divorce, and for not taking care of himself long enough to see me and my kids. Today, I forgive him, but I am also learning to forgive myself for the failure of my marriage.

This father’s day I celebrate my fatherhood, and the father I have become. Different from my father in so many ways, and similar in some ways as well. There are more connections between my father and I then I can understand. But with each year that passes, each father’s day, I get more opportunities to be a better father, and understand myself and my kids better.

Learning to be a better father on father’s day, that is my ongoing mantra each year.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

image: me and my dad

Sexual Power, Sexual Prime, Sexual Freedom After Divorce

kiss here - sexual desire after divorce

Sex can go off the rails in a marriage, or any relationship. But it’s important to reclaim your sexual energy. And after divorce that challenge is both difficult and enlightening. Liberated sex between consenting adults is pretty cool. Figuring out what you want, what you need, and what you crave are distinctions that you now have time to examine. And what better way to understand yourself that in action, in relationship, in sex?

First let’s just talk about sex for a minute. Sex may not be everything, but it is *a lot* of what makes a relationship work. Something about that connection, the oxytocin, the skin time, the gaze into your partner’s eyes, gives most of us the boost to return to the world and conquer our fears and enemies.

Are we reaching our new sexual prime as we are liberated from painful marriages and back into the dating pool of partners who may also crave skin time?

As sex begins to fall into a routine in your marriage, there are things you can, and should, do to enliven the passion. However, if there are troubles in the relationship, often sex is one of the first places it shows up. When you notice, for the first time ever, that your partner of 9+ years is waiting for you to finish, it’s a bit heartbreaking. Something else was on her mind.

It is true that sex is one of the experiences that strips you of your armour and defensiveness, if you let it. When you begin protecting, or hiding some part of your emotional life, sex is the place you will be found out. Or you will show signs of disinterest, which could be worse. I can’t say what it was the first time my then-wife checked out during sex, but I recall the moment exactly.

And in the months that followed, I began noticing her entire attitude towards sex was changing. Not only was she less likely to take me up on my offers for affection, she was irritated (and this was entirely new) with some of my attempts to please her. She complained once with such anger, that I was discouraged and hurt. Where normally she might guide me to a better angle, or type of rub, she was just mad. I tried to leap over the hurt with enthusiasm, but I now see that she was exhibiting her frustration at something a lot bigger than my technique.

So… As it happens, sex went south on us, and eventually we got divorced. Of course, we didn’t get divorced because of the downhill momentum of our sexual relationship, but the sex, or lack of sex, was a pretty clear indicator of how we were losing touch with each other.

Divorced. All is new again. We get a chance, or chances to do it all over again. We have an opportunity to be with new women, where we once imagined our horizon only contained one. It’s not all that easy to get back into the swing of things, a lot has changed, but when we do, when we begin to feel sexual again, all kinds of good things happen.

And even as the act of sex has changed, and often orgasm is not the goal nor the end-point, the benefits of a newly rejuvenated sex drive cannot be underestimated.

Once I began having sex again, I was amazed how much energy I got from it. Sure, there was the post-sex drowzies, but my ego and self-esteem began to show signs of life again. I remember walking around a new woman’s house, completely naked and proud. Happy we were connected and connecting. Sure, this one was not for the “relationship” books, but it was an awakening nonetheless. Sex began to remind my brain of all the good things that come from being in “relationship.”

Lot’s of good chemicals are released during sex and even during simple touching and cuddling. If you are a touch-based person (see Love Languages) you’re well-being and joy comes from skin-to-skin contact, or SKIN-TIME. It’s important.

And even as the act of sex has changed, and often orgasm is not the goal nor the end-point, the benefits of a newly rejuvenated sex drive cannot be underestimated. So can we get addicted to sex? Can the euphoric chemicals associated with orgasm become a necessary craving that disables us when it is taken away? Maybe. I don’t know the science around it, but losing my skin time with my wife was the saddest part of the drifting apart for me.

Nowadays, the online dating sites give hope for more relationship opportunities on the horizon. The navigation of them can lead to a lot of misses, but if you understand yourself and what you are looking for, the effort can be worth the hassle.

Are we giving away some of our power, some of our access to the tonic resources of sexual connection by limiting ourselves in our old world thinking?

And wouldn’t being single then be a preference? Wouldn’t having opportunities to be with more different partners, be better than trying to find the ONE again? Are we reaching our new sexual prime as we are liberated from painful marriages and back into the dating pool of partners who may also crave skin time?

Knowing yourself better, you can begin to form some ideas of what you are looking for. Are you looking for the NEXT relationship? Are you looking to date or find several women who are interested in FWB or NSA-sex?

I would have to say, my inclination is to go for the ONE. Not necessarily the NEXT ONE, the ONLY ONE, or the NEXT WIFE, but I’ve had a hard time in the past, keeping my dating life sorted out if it involved more than one woman at a time. But I’m being challenged on that concept. Why? There ARE other women. There are plenty of women and plenty of time. And when my kids fly the nest, in 6 – 7 years, I’ll have even more time. So what’s my need to jump back into an exclusive relationship again?

I don’t know. A lot of things are lined up against that idea, or at least, in favor of multiple experiences, multiple partners, and multiple boosts in the old chemical cornucopia of good and joyful sex. I mean, think about it. We’re kind of back to safe sex as older folks, we don’t have to worry about birth control. We have some ideas of what we like and what we don’t like. And perhaps a new partner would introduce us to some ideas we hadn’t ever thought of.

So why the serial monogamy? What’s so great about marriage that we would do it again, either actually or in practice? Are we giving away some of our power, some of our access to the tonic resources of sexual connection by limiting ourselves in our old world thinking? Or is sex with someone you love, or real-connected-sex something different and desirable?

Today it’s hard for me to know the answer. But I do know that the power of sex is back and I don’t want to give it up now any more than I did when my marriage began to falter. This time, I don’t have to suffer when things go off the rails, I can just pack up and move along to another potential mate. Is this bad? Is this more animal? Or is this the modern version of dating after divorce?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

reference:

image: kiss here, roddy keetch, creative commons usage