Category Archives: depression

The Single Dad and His Teenaged Kids

Well, it’s official. My kids are both in the separation phase of growing up. My son, 16, is driving, has a girlfriend and it not responding to my texts about 75% of the time. Get used to it. It’s not about you. My daughter, 14, is a true social butterfly and stays over at friend’s houses every night in the summer, and on the weekends during the school year. She’s better at responding to texts. And always responds to SnapChats.

The kids I once knew as “kids” are gone. The easy planning has become a stretch for me. If I don’t put plans together (not my strong suit) then plans don’t happen. I’m asking them for more interactive feedback these days, and I’m getting mixed results. At least we’re trying. Well, I’m trying and they are trying to figure out what kind of relationship they want with their dad.

I miss the little kids. I miss the years that I’ve missed by being a single dad. They are much closer to the 75% parent. MUCH. And that’s okay, she’s done a terrific job a parenting them. And she’s been solo up until a year ago. I keep thanking her for the job she’s doing.

You can see it in your kids when they are thriving. They have ideas of their own. They do respond when the offers are made, and they often respond in the “Yes, I will be there on Saturday.” And I’m learning, again, to be alone in a new way. The primary relationship I’m working on at the moment, given recent events, is my relationship with myself.

And to get the elephant out of the room, my kids are very aware and sensitive to my depressive episodes. I’m sure their mom has had numerous chats with them about “What’s happening with your dad.” That kind of makes me sad to think about, but when I’m in a DOWN I’m in no position to try to explain what’s going on. When I’m doing well, like right now, I’m happy to update them with more information. But they’ve learned, from experience, not to fully trust my moods. Heck, even I’m not fully trusting of my own emotions.

I’m getting better at that too.

When you lose your kids to divorce and then to teenagehood, you really have to begin letting them go. It’s only two years before my son will be heading out on his big adventure. What can I do with him in the next two years? How can I show up for both of them?

Those are the challenges ahead for this single dad. I’m up for it. And I’m in a good place to pick up the pieces, again. And fortunately they are resilient. We all are. May you spend as much time as you can with your kids, and find ways to connect in real-time non-phone ways. It’s a journey.

How are you keeping in tune with your kids? Let me know in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: happy family, creative commons usage allowed

Refinding Yourself After a Breakup

It’s easy to lose yourself in a committed relationship. And for those of us inclined towards codependency, it’s too easy to get overly wrapped up in your significant other. It’s not like I made a conscious effort to skip other activities or turn down invitations from friends to go do stuff, but I’d rather be with her. I don’t care if we’re cleaning the house, watching tv, or reading in bed. Being beside your girlfriend, fiancé, wife, is more comforting and rewarding than almost anything.

There’s something else that happens as a result of this dependency. You begin to cling to that person. You begin to lose touch with other friends. You stop reaching out. Because you think you’ve hit your happy place, you sit and wait for your bestie to get home so you can be together doing “whatever.” But it’s not the most healthy choice for a growing and evolving relationship. And I got into this trap, big time.

This was one of the hardest lessons of my recent break up. I had no one once she was gone. I had 3 close friends. And I spent a lot of time alone wondering what went wrong. I did get on the process of building up a support network by going to Al Anon meetings and asking for phone numbers. And I attended a lot of Al Anon meetings, just to be with people rather than being alone.

Then something amazing happened. I started reaching out via Facebook and people started reaching out to me via Facebook. What? Facebook? I know, it seems contradictory to most people’s complaints about Facebook. Still, I reconnected with some high school buddies and started having conversations.

Yesterday after work, I drove an hour out into the Texas Highland Lakes area and went fishing with one of my good friends, one of my hanging buddies, from high school. We’d spoken a few times over the last year. But it was this man who reached out to me a month ago to “check-in” and make sure I was okay. He noticed my usual bouncy and over-sharing self had gone quiet on Facebook. And he just wanted to check-in and make sure I was doing okay. I was not.

At the time I reassured him that I was just taking some time away from social media. But I was lying. I was dying. I knew the relationship was in serious trouble. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was miserable. But we don’t usually reveal these things to friends. “I’m fine,” is usually the answer.

A few weeks ago I reached out to him and let him know his “check-in” had really touched me. I let him know what was going on in my life and that I was not doing well. His response, “Well, the least I can do is have you out to go fishing.”

And last night I went and met this friend of 35+ years and it was like we’d been friends all along since high school. We had a lot of stories to share, catching up. But it was as if we’d never missed a beat. And then we hit the fishing hole and floated around in bright green kayaks and caught quite a stringer of bass.

It was a perfect afternoon and evening as the sunset drew long red lines across the fishing hole and we floated and chatted and cause a cooler full of fresh fish. It was the most fish I’d ever caught in a day. I understood for the first time why men who know how to fish love to fish.

The friendship, however, was the most important and healing part. Here was a selfless and giving friend. A spiritual friend. An example of a happy marriage. And a man who had seemed to put the pieces of work, love, and play together in his life.

Losing my consuming relationship was critical to finding this loneliness and then finding the way to reach out to people who cared about me. Even if I didn’t really understand how they cared about me, I could not deny his check-in on Facebook.

Give in to the invitations. Reach out when you need help. And return the favor when you have the ability. I don’t know what I can give my friend at the moment, except excellent friendship. But he has given me more than he knows. He’s given me a new hope. A hope for connecting with another person at a deep level. Hope for just learning to live life to its fullest. And hope for finding a mate to spend the rest of my 50 years with.

Thank you my friend. And oddly, thank you Facebook.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: a stringer of fish, creative commons usage allowed

Don’t Wait and Don’t Settle

You are worth it. You should be with someone who makes you feel special every day. Sure there can be disagreements and dark periods (most relationships go through some trials) but as long as both parties play by the rules and never do anything to hurt the other person, relationships go on. Mine dragged on. And I realise after the fact that I was settling. And I’m worth more. I am loving and loveable and I deserve the same in a partner. Not sometimes, not mostly, but all the time, even when things are bad. I deserve that and so do you.

So, if you’ve been following along you know I’m single again. Not by my choice, but I think this wonderful woman did us both a favor. I’m also conflict averse and I was never going to say uncle. And after a glimpse into the online dating pool, I’ve decided I’m not ready for a relationship yet. Not with anyone but myself. I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else.

I had fallen out of love with myself. I was the most negative voice in my head. All the time. I hated myself. Imagined offing myself. And I knew I was pathetic and worthless. All because I lost a job. A job that was not right from me from the beginning. The problem is, this was the 3rd job in a row like this. Miserable. But this last miss crushed more of my spirit than I could handle. I mean, when you’re imagining that you’d be better off dead, you’re in a seriously fucked up place. That’s where I was.  And in this relationship we were hanging on, both wondering where the relationship and magic that we started with had gone.

Now, I’m working on finding out more about myself. I’ve been on a weight loss journey that has given me the healthiest body I’ve experienced since my 20s. And for the first time since I can remember I don’t have love handles. I’m not down to my 16 yo swim team weight, but that’s where I’m aiming. Why not? I should have that body again. Would I be more attractive and loveable? Probably not. Have I gotten a huge self esteem boost from losing all this weight? Yes. And it feels good to feel a bit hungry. That’s my body working on becoming a better machine. A leaner machine.

And the biggest part I’ve got to work on is loving myself. I know I’m repeating myself but I’m saying it for me. I need to hear it. My friend texted me one day while I was feeling particularly down, “You are loveable and you are loved.” It hit me with some force. I didn’t feel lovable at that moment. Far from it. But this phrase has become somewhat of a mantra. imagining myself lovable is a task. It’s a practice. It’s my journey towards loving myself. Not losing more weight. But just accepting and believing that I am loveable just as I am. I still don’t believe it, but I’m working on that issue right now. A am. And you are loveable too.

And you deserve to be loved fully and unconditionally. I know that sounds like a stretch. Like who really believes that woowoo shit? But it’s true. Even 2% out of sync is not what you need. You need 100% loving or you’ve got to pass. Miss almost, no matter how appealing she might appear, is not the one for you. Sometimes we call them red flags. And at this time in your life, you should not settle. Not one iota. I know this means it will take longer to find that match, but it’s going to be worth it. And you are worth it. I believe in you. And I believe in this Real Love.

So I’m staying out of the dating pool for a while as I reset my own self worth. My esteem was at an all-time low because of my job loss, which turned into one of the most protracted depressions I can remember. And while I’m no longer depressed (thank god) I’m also not about to start thinking about another woman. I’m not ready. I feel it. Sure, I feel the desire and longing to be with someone. And sure, I desire sexual connection with someone other than myself. But I’m not ready, and I’m worth the wait.

But I also said don’t wait. And what I mean by that is GET ON WITH YOUR PROGRAM. What do you need to improve about yourself. What kinds of non material things, what types of activities would make you feel happier? Seek those out. Learn again what YOU want to do, not attached to anyone but yourself. Only when you show up 100% for yourself can you really be ready for the next relationship of your life.

That’s what we’re talking about here. THE ONE. And if you see the signs at any point along the relationship journey, any red flags, the deal is off, the person is not the ONE. The person does not deserve you. And I’m sorry to say, they don’t get a second chance. Once you’ve seen someone’s true colors and you know in your heart that their behavior was hurtful or at best unthoughtful, it’s time to move on. “Let them walk,” as T. D. Jakes would say.

I’m walking my path alone right now. And I can say I’ve missed me. All that time in a chemical depression showed me, once again how bad it can be, and I’m grateful to be vibrant again. I’m developing a relationship with myself and I will eventually believe that I am loveable. And so will you. And anyone that takes that glow away from you is not worthy of your gifts.

So get on with it. Get on with yourself and your program to find the ONE. Anything less would be unfair to the awesome you that you are continuing to become.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: couple, creative commons usage allowed

Avoidance Never Works

When I was little my dad was a rageaholic and an alcoholic. And I learned to run and hide. Sometimes as an adult this is still my reaction to conflict. I’m a chronic avoider and it’s hurting me and my relationships. The coping mechanism that served me when I was 5 no longer works, it actually makes things worse. And sometimes, even when I know I’m doing it I can’t stop myself. Later I can look back and see the foolishness of my non-action, and if I really examine the behavior I can begin the process of undoing my childhood trauma and become a better adult. That’s my theory, anyway, and I’m ready to explore it.

Avoidance can show up in my life in the simplest of ways. Like sometimes I don’t open my mail for a week. If it’s from the IRS or my insurance provider, I might go longer. But it’s not working for me, it’s actually doing self harm as I worry about what the IRS wants. Turns out it was a letter letting me know my tax refund was once again being delivered to my ex-wife for child support. Oh joy. Not bad considering I was sure it was an audit. A simple act of opening the letter would’ve spared me a week of pointless worry. That’s how it starts. That’s a little sign of my dysfunction.

At work this type of behavior has actually cause a lot of chaos and worry. It’s not really procrastination as much as it’s fear of hurting someone’s feelings, asking them to stay late, holding them accountable for delivering on a project. It’s called conflict avoidance. And while I am a people pleaser at heart, this is more about my fear, my worry, and my avoidance. It never helps and always makes my job harder. I try to toughen up, I try to get more organized and still I find myself avoiding unpleasant conversations, unpleasant tasks, and the unpleasant task of managing other people. You can see how this might be a problem.

In relationships the stakes are even higher. Love is the emotion I crave, perhaps to an unhealthy extent, but I’m willing to roll with that. The avoidance that comes along with always trying to keep your partner happy, now that’s another story. And a big problem for me. If I can blow off the conflict by not responding, sure I don’t get in a fight, but really I’m giving up my part of the argument before it begins. I’m lessening myself worth in some way so the other person gets their way and remains happy with me. This is a formula for disaster.

What other ways to I avoid things? Setting up dental appointments is always a struggle. Paying bills never comes first, heck I used to leave letters in the mailbox for days. And then I met someone who was exactly the opposite. She attacked the mailbox, the bills, the chores, the unpleasant discussions. I was in awe. I was also pretty shut down by her direct action. I admired her, I was amazed at her energy and resolve to just “do what needed to be done.” Whether she wanted to or not. She was never lazy. And she was rarely avoidant.

So I’m looking at my avoidance with a more clear perspective. It’s not a flaw in me or my personality. It’s something that I learned at a very early age that I also need to unlearn. I need to be a bit more like my friend and  just do things. Like take out the trash when the bin is full. And here’s the kicker: without being asked. Filling up the water filter in the fridge. Changing the air filters. It’s not that I mind doing the tasks, I just tend to not do them when I see they need doing. I tend to think, “Oh I’ll do that in the morning.” Not my friend. Not ever. She just does the dishes at 10pm even when she’s tired and would rather get in bed. She just does stuff. I just avoid doing stuff.

Now I have a saying I use when I feel myself doing this. “Just do the right thing. And do it now.” It works well with chores and minor tasks. It’s a bit more complicated with relationship discussions or opening the IRS envelope. It’s a trait that I’m learning how to unlearn. Avoidance never makes things better, in fact, it causes me to worry and ruminate over all the possible awful outcomes. Those worries are better confronted in the moment. Open the bill, open the letter, tell someone they are hurting your feelings. I’m getting there. But it’s not a linear process. While I know this information well, I’m still avoidant.

I could be mad at myself for this behavior. I could beat myself up, and do, when I finally open the letter and realise all that worry was just wasted precious time. A lot of time not being fully present. Sometimes it gets so bad I freeze up and stop communicating at all. And that’s when things get really bad. But I do recover. I am conscious of when I’m avoiding. I still do it, but I’m doing it less. And I’m learning to take the uncomfortable feelings or worry by the horns and looking the damn bull in the eye and saying, “To hell with you, fear, I’m going in!”

What kinds of things do you avoid?

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/portrait-of-boy-256714/
creative commons usage allowed

 

relationships, breakups, divorce, single dad

What My Breakup and Recovery Have Felt Like

4 weeks ago I lost my best friend and lover. I moved out of her house and promptly fell apart. But then again, I didn’t fall apart like I thought I would. I was certain that deep depression was in my near future. I was certain that I would give into the pull of isolation and shut everything down and everyone out. That didn’t happen.

Here’s what I did. I put my mind on the next step. Heal. Grieve. Get my shit back together. And move on. I kept my exercise routine in place, every single day. And I found support in Al Anon. I did not isolate. In fact, I was less isolated than I had been in my partner’s house. I kept my chin up and felt the overwhelming sadness and kept going.

I also shut down 100% of the communication between us. This was advice from a brilliant book Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliott. They called it NC, no contact and I believe it was essential to push me into the longing and loss I was feeling. I tried to find things to make me cry and I cried. I tried a new therapist along with my current therapist. I knew it was going to take some time for me to even feel normal again, much less able to consider a new relationship. The NC was key for me. Everything I wanted to tell her I wrote in letters I knew I could never send. I found my anger. I found out how much I missed the little things we did together. I dug into the tears and kept saying, “Goodbye” over and over until I believed she was gone.

I’m not saying I’m over her. I’m not. But at least I’m not thinking about her every single day. In fact, deep relationships you may never get over fully, but they take on less weight as time goes by. So in some ways time does heal all wounds. I wasn’t going to take the passive approach. I went after my grief with a vengeance.

And something good came from all this. I no longer felt constant anxiety about losing her. She was gone. I no longer pined for us to be together again. And I started to think about other women in my life. I contacted some old friends, mainly women, just to be around different women. And yes, I got on the online dating sites, but I’m not really looking for a relationship. Too soon. I’m just looking for some ways to talk to and be near women. And it made me feel hopeful that some women seemed to like my profile and want to talk to me too.

In Susan’s work we say “Do the work. Feel the feelings. Make peace with the peace.” And that’s what I’m still doing. I might always feel the prick of a finger every time something reminds me of her, something we did, something we talked about doing, anything really. But the prick doesn’t have to derail my day. Sometimes it only takes about 30-seconds before I redirect my wandering mind back to something more positive.

I’m not saying I’m over it. I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I’m saying I’m happy by myself for the first time in a long time. And I like it this way. I’m exploring new horizons and new options. From here I can go anywhere.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://goo.gl/images/DhYpZh, creative commons usage allowed

My Side of the Mountain – Understanding Depression

I can only talk about myself and my experience. And my experience includes some serious lapses into depression. Hard for me to admit, I’ve got an achilles heel, that scares the hell out of me and everyone near me, including my marriage and my last relationship. The disease is hard on everyone. And if you’ve never experienced it, you have no idea what it’s like, but I’m going to try to give you a glimpse into my dark days.

Depression is different from feeling sad or unmotivated. Depression is not laziness, though some of the symptoms may cause your loved ones to think you are just not trying to get better. I can assure you I was doing everything in my power, using all of my tools, to get well. But sometimes, even when things seem to be going well, the meds poop out and the depression grabs me and jerks me back below the surface of the water. Depression feels kind of like the flu. It’s as if your body has no energy for doing things. And nothing, I mean nothing, sounds good. You don’t want sex, you don’t want ice cream, you don’t want conversation, you just want to isolate and be quiet with your dark thoughts. But that’s a bad idea. That’s always a bad idea.

Depressions are usually triggered by some major emotional event. And my variety of depression comes along before your twenties and colors the rest of your life. My first freak out happened when I was sixteen years old and away at prep school. I’ve been touched ever since, with varying degrees of seriousness and duration. And I learned early on that meds were my friends, that I needed the equivalent of a pharmaceutical vitamin to keep me regulated. Over my life, it has been a real struggle to accept that fact, and several of my falls have happened years after I was off all medications and seemingly doing great. But it’s always there in the back of my mind. What if it comes back. And it just did, and probably will, with variations and if I’m diligent with smaller and less severe cycles. But I know that it will be back. This disease once it has been diagnosed doesn’t ever get cured.

I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or get sympathy. What I am trying to get is some clarity on what just happened to my loving relationship as a result of a prolonged bout of depression. They call it treatment resistant depression. That’s when the meds that used to work, just stop working. My free fall into fear and anxiety happened last December. And by January things were tense and unhappy in my relationship. Not just her. But I was deeply unhappy too.

The thing about my symptoms is I go off on apocalyptic fantasies about the future that I can’t stop worrying about. And I’m not just talking about some vague concerns about money, or career, or the future of my relationship, I’m talking about wild ass fantasies that consumed my consciousness so that I became forgetful and scattered. And this kind of depression makes it very hard to keep a job in the high-tech sector of marketing. But I couldn’t just get over it. I couldn’t just “man up” and keep going. I almost became mute because I didn’t want to share what was going on in my head with anyone. Fortunately I had a loving therapist who consoled me. Unfortunately there was no one consoling or coaching my then fiancé.

Here’s what’s scary. This same pattern caused the failure of my marriage to the mother of my children seven years ago. And I don’t know if this disease is going to continue to show up, freak out my partner, and end up with me alone and more depressed and hopeless. It’s hard for me to imagine it’s not going to happen again in some car wreck of a breakup. And that’s a way to get hopeless pretty fast.

But there is some good news. My story is going to end on an up. For me, meds work when they work. Unfortunately it may take a lot of tries to get it right, but when they kick in I am my old creative and loving self within weeks. And that’s just what happened two weeks ago. After being on a new med for 45 days I suddenly began to have creative thoughts. And this was after I broke up with my fiancé. So even in the depths of what would cause normal people to be sad, my meds allowed me to get a handle on my mind, put things back into perspective and develop the most critical part of recovery: hope.

Today, even alone, I feel hopeful. I know more about what happened. Perhaps I’ll learn how to get my partner to get a support system that will help her through her own doubts and fears. And here’s the plan: when a med works, stay on that med. So I could have years of good results, with ups and downs like everyone, but no crashes. That’s the goal, and that’s what I believe. When I was 16 my brain shut down on me and brought my sophomore year of high school to a screeching halt. And at several points in my life since then, during some major life crisis, I just give up. Well, I don’t give up, I’m fighting like hell, but my brain gives up and focuses on creating pictures of doom so dark I was afraid to tell my therapist what I was thinking sometimes.

So we start again. I’m alone but hopeful the next relationship will get it right. Of course, the relationship I need to work on most is with myself. Forgiving myself for my part in the demise of a seemingly brilliant relationship, with a committed future. And then, letting go of my best friend enough to imagine myself in a new relationship. I’m not there yet, but I have the clarity and energy to work on it.

Oh, and the funny thing for me, is when I’m starting to feel better my creative drive comes back and I start writing. Yesterday, with my blog post, I was showing myself that I was emerging from one of the longest depressions I’ve been in as an adult. For me creativity and brain health go hand in hand. So I’m happy to be back, still working, but on the up swing.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: john mcelhenney, creative commons usage allowed

Losing Dads in Divorce

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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
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: father son, creative commons usage

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
@wholeparent

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The Half-life of Divorce

Divorce is hard. Often both parents come out of the ordeal with hard feelings and resentment. You are the only one who can deal with your negative feelings. And you’re not going to be able to move on, to find another loving relationship, without dealing with them, so let’s get started.

  1. Anger directed at your ex is anger towards yourself and, if you have kids, the ones you love.
  2. Even the snarky text reply has consequences. Just don’t do it.
  3. Positive energy is often returned. Be positive, always.
  4. If you have kids think of them before every interaction with your coparent.
  5. The anger you have at your ex is equal to the internal anger you have with yourself at the failure of your relationship.
  6. Processing and letting go of anger at you ex is the most productive exercise you can do.
  7. Mental fitness comes before physical fitness, though the two are closely tied. If you are sad or mad, unless you know how to use those feelings for motivation, it is hard to get out there and exercise, especially in the heat of a Texas summer or the cold of a New England winter.
  8. Forgiving yourself comes first. Then you can forgive the other person.
  9. Neither of you is at fault. Even if the other parent initiated the divorce, it’s now water under the bridge and time to get on with the next phase of your life.
  10. No matter how bad you feel about the divorce, the loss of time with your kids, your ultimate responsibility is to heal yourself. Everything else stems from you getting, happier, healthier, and stronger.

In future posts I’m going to take on each one of these points in a separate article. But here is a brief encouragement to get you started.

Pain is an indication that something is unbalanced. Your sadness and pain at the divorce is no longer about your ex. Only you can deal with your frustration and negative feelings. So let’s get going.

  • Exercise (if it’s been a while, just start walking more aisles at the grocery store.
  • Eat good food
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • No matter how you feel, accept all invitations to be with others
  • Use entertainment sparingly
  • Don’t drink (sorry, the depressant effect of alcohol is working against you)
  • Pray or be spiritual in your own way
  • Cultivate gratitude (just count off the things you are grateful for upon waking and before you go to sleep.

You can get happy again. You can forgive your ex. And if you’re willing to work at staying positive you can find joy and love in your life again.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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Back to School Time as a Divorced Dad

Let’s catchup a bit. I’ve been depressed. Yep, sorry to admit it. And more sorry that I couldn’t keep my promise of blogging through it. Wow, what a summer. And what lessons I learned.

The kids went back to school last week and I’m happier than I’ve been in months. All good. And last night’s “back to school” night for my 8th grader got me thinking about my divorce, my kids, my limited custody arrangement and where I am in my life at this moment.

  1. Divorce – I didn’t want it, and still sometimes find myself angry that my ex decided for all of us to end the marriage. Things might have been different if she knew she was giving up 50% of their time, but she knew she’d get 70/30 as is typical for uncontested divorces in the year 2010.
  2. My kids – how can I complain? They are doing great. While I can see the things that would’ve been different in their lives had we stayed married and had I been able to continue to infuse their life with joy and optimism that is a bit lacking on the other side… but again, water under the bridge.
  3. Custody – Again back in 2010, even if I had gone to court, it would’ve taken unusual circumstances to get 50/50 custody if my ex wanted something else. It just didn’t happen in Texas without extreme justifications. I couldn’t to that to my kids or my ex.
  4. My life now – Happier that ever. I’m engaged to a very different woman. I’m learning so much about being in a committed “no matter what” relationship. I thought that’s where I was in my relationship to my kid’s mother up until the moment she let me know she’d been to see an attorney.

So you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.

I’m sad sometimes about the amount of time I have lost of my kids childhoods. I long some days for them to be 5 and 7 again and be loving, cuddling, little beings. But they are teenagers. They need other things from me: cash, a ride somewhere, cash, a shopping spree. Ho hum. That’s the way it is, sure, but it could have gone gone differently.

What if we’d gotten 50/50? What if my kids had retained my influence in equal measure to their mom’s? It was my intention and my dream but it’s not what happened.

One thing that would be different if I had my kids 50% of the time, or 70% of the time like my ex-wife has… I would not have been able to move as deeply and solidly into this new relationship as I have. (2 years and counting.) I have M-W nights off every week. And every other Th-Sun weekend. So I’ve got a lot of time without my kids.

In the early days of my recovery I was depressed. In the next phase of my divorce I was healing and positive but still alone. In the current moment phase of my life I have been focused more on myself than my kids. (70% of the time) And thus I have lost weight, spent time putting a band back together and playing tennis, biking, and cycling with my new fiance. I would say, I’m okay with those percentages today.

I would gladly take my kids back 50/50 but it’s not something that has been offered without some heavy conditions and ultimately she has backed out of every offer. Okay. So this is my life.

  • Happy
  • Sharing my happiness and self-confidence with my kids
  • Missing them all the time – but going on with my life (perhaps a lesson they have learned, that even though they’ve had most advantages of an upper-middle-class life, things were not always going to go as planned) they lost me too.

In my parent’s divorce it was the single most devastating event in my life. When my dad left the family I was 8 and he began a rapid descent into full-blown alcoholism that ended his life when I was 20. I didn’t get much of my dad’s attention until he was dying of cancer and the meds made him unable to drink. So guess what happened. He sobered up.

He sobered up and realized he had missed his relationship with his 4 cool kids for most of their lives. My two sisters moved back to town to spend time with him, but we only got 9 months of remission and when he went he was gone in weeks. He was lost to us completely.

So I lost a good portion of my kid’s childhood. Okay. There’s nothing I can do to get that back. And there’s nothing I can do to make them not teenagers and not rebelling and acting out in some “normal” way at this time in their lives. And I can’t help but miss them every time I see their picture, or get a text or Snapchat. It’s okay. We all get along. Even the ex and I are talking about getting my son a car in the next 6 months.

And so it goes. Another year begins. My daughter is on to Volleyball, Basketball and Track/Tennis. And we’re all back to our 70/30 routine. And I’ve got nothing to complain about and plenty to be grateful for. So that’s where I am. Happy to be out of the depressing summer and happy to have my kids this long weekend.

And I’m happy and in love.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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