Category Archives: sex

As Goes the Sex So Goes the Marriage

Sex isn’t everything. It’s not even the most important thing. But when sex goes off the rails, there is probably a lot more wrong in the relationship than right. Examining some of the myths of sexual ennui and suggesting paths to reconnect.

First off, I have to admit, these ideas didn’t work in my marriage. And there were plenty of other factors in why we split. But sex, and the lack thereof, was the first real indicator to me that something had gotten disconnected. Some aspect of our relationship outside the bedroom had gotten so painful that the activity in the bedroom had frozen over. Frost in the marital bed is a quick wakeup call or a slow death knell.

In my case, we did start going to therapy, but I didn’t make our intimacy an issue. I was letting her lead in therapy, because it seemed she was so unhappy. So in trying to be accommodating I was also sweeping my empty sex life under the bed. It didn’t seem to be an issue for her. Weeks could go by without more than a casual touch, and she was fine. I was reaching out for any touch and coming up rubbing myself most of the time.

How did it get so far out of balance? Had our level of desire always been so different and the early romance was enough to hide the mismatch? Let’s look at some of the reasons given for not being in the mood and see if we can come up with a strategy for rejoining in the bedroom and in our relationships.

Busy, Distracted, No Time

What makes a couple too busy to be intimate? What priorities get so far embedded in our minds that we forget our hearts? Work stress can be a libido killer. If I am threatened at my job, I’m not going to be ultraconfident in the bedroom. And if I don’t ask it won’t happen… So what can I do to reenergize myself in the evening, when I am about to arrive home and I’d like to feel some of our old chemistry again?

Remember what makes her happy. Does the kitchen need a quick once-over before dinner to get her feeling more comfortable with leaving the dishes in the sink to make room for some hanky panky? Maybe she just likes to know she’s joined and supported in taking care of some of the chores around the house. Make time to clear the distractions (housework, bills to pay, getting the kids to bed) and then make the time to be close and quiet. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but it does necessarily mean closeness and cuddling. Start there and see if anything develops.

Getting At The Heart of the Matter

Is there something else that’s out of whack in the relationship? If a woman feels the relationship is not a priority they are likely to put their energy and attention somewhere else as well. If it’s always your work, or your “projects” that are calling your heart, perhaps you need to look at what about your relationship lights up your passionate emotions as well. If you’re not sure what passion looks like, you might be in need of a refresher course in your love life.

Sometimes bigger issues can make their way into the bedroom, cutting off all hope of joy and passion. Make sure you get together with someone who can help you both work through the bigger issues. If sex is off, there might be something larger at play. Don’t let it go too long before addressing it, or you could lose the sexual passion from neglect. It’s not hard to see a young starlet and think, “Oh boy, I’d love to…” but it’s more challenging to keep seeing that arousal in your day-after-day mate. But the core of the passion will come from clearing the decks of unfinished business.

Back to Business

When things are flowing in the relationship both partners can instigate sex. Usually it is one partner more often than another, but there is little resistance. When the relationship is in balance, usually the sex is balanced as well.

Connected sex means seeing your partner as you are making love to them. It’s easy to disconnect and fantasize, but staying connected to your partner, seeking out her eyes, is the best way to remain close. And when the sex is close and connected the relationship is usually trending along similar lines. You can’t have connected sex when the relationship is in troubled water. And while make up sex is a thing, it’s not the best way to go about having a relationship, getting in fights because the sex afterwards is amazing.

Staying connected to your partner means being aware of their sexual desire and giving nudges and suggestions in that direction. Both your needs can be met if you’re both thinking of each other. Listen to what your sexual relationship is saying about the state of your relationship to your partner. If things are out of whack in the bedroom, chances are you need to look at what’s going on elsewhere.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex, creative commons usage

Your Sex Is On Fire: The Intoxicating Burn of Love

Everything in your body changes when you have sex with someone. For me, when dating, having sex becomes the moment that I go exclusive with that one person and say, “This is the relationship I’m going to give a try.” But these days, I am more clear than ever that sex is an intoxicant, and should be treated with respect. I’ve certainly gotten into a few relationships due to great sex, that I might have avoided had I taken a bit more time to get physical.

I believe sex is a spiritual event. A connection on a level that begins to transcend the normal walking and talking interactions of daily life. I’ve never been able to have casual sex. (Okay, maybe in college a couple of times.) To me sex is the beginning of a commitment. I know that my brain chemistry changes when I have sex. I get all electrified and positive. And this is just the sex part. If you multiply that effect with a touch of “love” man you are in for a serious impairment. You cannot think clearly when the sexual chemistry starts. If you go physical too early in a relationship it may cause you to overlook signs that this might not be the best relationship. You’re brain and body are so focused on the sex, and getting more sex, it will blow right past the red flags warning you to take a harder look at what’s going on.

There is no hard and fast rule in dating these days, about how long you “date” before you have sex. In fact, I’m sure that the swipe apps of Tender and Bumble are more setup for casual encounters, for the younger set, but I think they are heading for disaster. However, if you were to make a decision to indulge in casual safe sex for a while, I suppose you can try to keep your emotions out of the sex. I’ve never been able to do it. But perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

As sex leads the way to love, the pathways in your brain really begin to get hyperactive. You start thinking about long-range plans together. You start imagining yourself with this person, living together, getting married, having kids. Love is the drug that has launched a million relationships. It’s also the drug that has gotten a lot of people in serious relationships with people they otherwise might pass on. If you hit the love drug too early in a relationship you might not have the opportunity to see your new partner responding to enough of the varied life experiences that happen. What is this person like under pressure? How do they respond to daily frustrations with work, money, life? Love paints over your observational senses with a rose-colored watercolor.

I’m only just back in the dating pool, but I’m setting my sights on 3 – 6 months with no sex. I want to have time to meet and play with several new partners before settling in on the one I want to have sex with. The one I want to take to the next level. That’s the plan. We’ll see how my resolve sticks when I meet someone who really clicks with me.

That’s the thing, click, get excited, but slow down. Don’t blow past all the early experiences of getting to know this person. Don’t skip any steps. And don’t let yourself get intoxicated before you have a chance to evaluate the potential relationship in honest, sober, terms.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and dating again, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex is on fire, creative commons usage

Back In Pursuit of Love: Slow Dating

Giving up on a loving relationship is one of the hardest things you might do in life. Calling it quits hurts and goes on hurting for weeks or months. And somehow, when you come out of it, the desire to be back in relationship comes back as well. It’s sort of a magic process, this human recovery story. Find love, explore life together, breakup, and we’re back to looking for love again. The human spirit is very optimistic when it comes to relationships.

And then there’s online dating. For most of us, a bit to busy to be sitting at a bar trying to attract someone, the online scene is the next best chance we have of finding companionship and potentially love. But it’s a long haul. You don’t want just anyone. You want the ONE. The NEXT. The lover who will join you for the twilight years. And that adventure begins with a single spark. And that spark is oh so hard to find.

Viewing hundreds of profiles can get pretty depressing. There are so many NOPES out there you might begin to wonder if there’s ANYBODY out there for you. Even with huge dating sites like Match.com and OKCupid you can exhaust the dating pool, browsing for maybes pretty quickly. And if you’re a guy, the next step is waiting patiently, hoping that someone responds to one of your outreach emails. And you wait. And you hope. And you wait some more.

Then someone cute and seemingly intelligent pings you back. “OH BOY,” your brain and heart say in unison. And we’re off to the races. And if you’re anything like me your imagination takes over and you begin to fantasize all kinds of date ideas, and conversations, and long walks on the beach. And the real trick is hinting at these flights of fantasy without overwhelming the other person or seeming too desperate. Just last week I overplayed my hand with the first woman who gave me hope. And in a heartbeat she texted back, “I think I’ll pass.” And this was after a very cool and promising first coffee date. But just like in real life, you have to drop the fantasy and move on. And we’re back to the waiting.

What’s different for me this time around is I have a much better idea of my ideal mate. I just had a 2.5 year relationship with a very near miss. “So close!” I just had a woman give me a taste of the potential. I caught a glimpse of that “down the road” feeling. I was looking forward to growing old with this woman. And I come back to the game with even more energy for presenting myself with a renewed vigor.

I learned these things about myself in relationship.

  1. I need someone who is athletic like me. (so we can do it together)
  2. I’m not much of a drinker, and that same ideal is of critical importance for me.
  3. The attraction both physically, spiritually, and emotionally has to be very strong.
  4. We need to be great at doing the mundane tasks of living life together.
  5. We have to both be working on ourselves, both in the relationship, and in building a relationship with ourselves.
  6. They need to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

I had all these things just months ago, and still the relationship went south.

It’s hard. Relationships are not all flowers and walks on the beach. A lot of the living that needs to be done can be repetitive and stressful. What you’re looking for is someone who can tackle those ups and downs of the human experience with a positive and joyous attitude. Yeah, I’m still working on that for myself. But I AM working on it, and constantly.

I’m not in the pursuit of perfection. But I am in pursuit of 100% authenticity. And I am listening and feeling into what I want in every venture back to the sites filled with hundreds of pictures and profiles of women.

I am hopeful again. I have one new contact that has potential. And I’m slowing my roll a bit. In fact, I woke up this morning composing a letter to her in my head. What I wanted to say next, to reel her in a bit, while remaining cool and collected. You don’t want to overheat, over-promise, or over-pursue. It’s a fine balance. Honesty, clarity, and some demonstrated amount of joy. But heck, I’m a writer, so I should be able to do this.

And I’m actually not looking to date at this point. I’m looking to find some friends who happen to be women that I can spend some time with. If things move on to dating, I want that phase to transition quickly into a relationship. And I suppose the difference for me is monogamy and getting back out of the online dating scene. I look forward to looking at only one profile, the one I experience in real life. So much of what people write about themselves is fantasy, or even delusion. And some of what people put in dating profiles are out right lies.

Finding that genuine needle in a haystack is going to be a long haul, I imagine. And this new “hello” contact is responding to my letters in a 24 – 48 hour window. So there’s that challenge as well. Keep looking while really hoping to be able to stop looking.

And that’s really what we are all looking for. Someone that causes us to stop looking. I am much better in relationship than I am in pursuit. I am much more interested in building a life rather than building an online profile.

Slowly but surely, with patience and grace, I will be in relationship again. Months from now, a year from now, I hope to be writing you again about “the love of my life.” Heck if you don’t believe it, how will you ever get there.

Yes, God, I’m ready this time. Ready as I’ll ever be. So BRING IT.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  dating, creative commons usage allowed

 

The Big Three Marriage Issues and the Hope of Counseling

WHOLE-couch-2016

Was it marriage counseling or divorce counseling?

Chores are the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though our agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad.

It’s all in your approach to therapy. In our case we started hitting the couch before we thought there was a deal-breaking problem. We agreed that things were stressful between us and we could use some communication skills to help us work through the hard stuff. Maybe even a moderator while we dug into topics like money, chores, and sex.

Those are the big three. MONEY. CHORES. SEX. And couples therapy can help you unravel the details, but probably won’t fix any of them. Let’s look at them one-by-one.

Money

Either there is enough and you are both negotiating the balance of power, or there’s not enough and you are negotiating who’s going to work more. It’s a hard discussion to have without outside help. Loosely our relationship to money was I would work more she would work less so we could raise the kids with an active parent. For that trade, I would do contribute to the chores, but the lion’s share, during the day, while I was at work, would fall on her to-do list. That was our “spoken” agreement. The reality was a bit more obscure. Often I was being hammered for wanting to nap on the weekend when there were still chores to be done.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: There will always be more chores to be done. Your happiness will be a direct ratio to how okay you are with undone chores. I was okay with them, she was hardly ever okay with them. Money can help, you can hire a maid once a week. But money will not fix the issue. We had a weekly made and money in the bank and still, I was not doing enough to “help.”

CHORES

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together.

Ah, the root of many arguments and most of the resentment. She always felt she did most of the chores. Even though the spoken agreement tended to validate that premise, it still made her mad. And this imbalance made her mad most of the time. The problem is, she was prone to be mad anyway. She had some-kind of built-in “mad chip” on her shoulder. And chores were one of those things. I could be in trouble even before I knew what was wrong. I’d look around the house on a Saturday morning and think, “Things look great.” She would wake up and give me hell. Oh yes, men and women deal with chores very differently. Perhaps that’s part of the Mar and Venus thing.

SEX

Sex is the unspoken killer of a marriage. Men typically want more. Women typically want to be bothered about it less. Unless they are in pursuit of a baby however, then libido takes a back seat to purpose and intention. When my wife wanted a baby we had sex all the time. Once we had the baby, sex became a negotiation. That’s okay, until the negotiation becomes so lopsided that you’d rather have sex with yourself then approach your partner. And sex was one of the topics we rarely reached in “couple’s therapy.” Because there were always one hundred other issues, from topics 1 and 2, that I was not doing correctly. It was almost like she chose to inflame the first two issues so we didn’t have to look at the underlying distress: intimacy.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: When sex goes the relationship is not far behind.

Sex with two people who are open and feeling is a magical thing. Sex with only one partner in the “open” mode is a different experience all together. I always hoped for open sex, but occasionally settled for “whatever” sex. The sex you could take or leave, even after it’s done. “Meh Sex.”

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation.

But boring sex is a symptom of some deeper intimacy issues. When a woman is feeling resentful or unheard she will shut down sexual options. It’s her nature. When a man feels unloved and stressed he might turn to sex for affirmation and affection. When the two competing needs don’t match up, the woman becomes used to not having sex and the man becomes more adept at pleasing himself than his wife. Bummer.

Sex is hard to talk about. So talk about it before and after you’re having sex, but don’t try to cover emotional topics or “new ideas” during sex, unless you are prepared for a quick change, reset, or no. The best discussions about sex happen within the post-coital glow, the few hours after sex where you are both still feeling warm and fuzzy.

“I loved it when you rubbed yourself during sex, and I could feel it too.” Pretty racy statement, but great information for better and more mutually pleasurable sex. Still hard to say. But easier to say when you are both feeling optimistic about the relationship and the sex you just had.

DIVORCE COUNSELING

Towards the end of my marriage I believe my wife was navigating us towards divorce rather than reconciliation. She had completely shut down the sex channel of communication. She was angry 95% of the time. And her single word to describe couple’s therapy was CYNICAL. Yep, she was already dooming the relationship while still agreeing to engage in the negotiations.

As it turns out, we were not in “couple’s” or “marriage therapy.” We were working with a counselor who worked with a system that attempted to get you and your partner communicating on a very clear and simple level. What you attempted to strip away in the therapy was the projections, and regrets and simply deal with the present. It worked so well, that over the course of a few weeks my then-wife went to see an attorney to understand her “options.” Now it would’ve been more helpful had she brought that up IN therapy BEFORE going and meeting with the attorney, but she didn’t.

MARRIAGE MAXIM: Couple’s therapy only works if both partners are honest and genuinely want the relationship to continue. If one partner is opting-out there is little hope that a therapist can repair the damage.

Something in our communication was telling her, “It’s over.” So she planned accordingly. Had she wanted to work on the relationship the only honest thing do to would’ve been to bring in the idea, “I’m thinking of seeing an attorney about a divorce,” BEFORE she actually did it.

Once she met with the lawyer, the divorce strategy was planted in her mind. The encouragement from the attorney who wanted the new business, might be too hard to resist. The fact that she did it before talking about it in therapy… Well, that says, I’m done, and I’m doing this therapy to help you feel better about what’s going to happen.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

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image: 14 months ago at my mom’s house, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

About My Kids: Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll – Version 2.0

WHOLE-2016-lustI’m certain now, that everything my mom told me about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll was wrong. Like, 100% wrong. My dad? Yeah, he didn’t tell me jack about jack. He checked out of the marriage when I was like 6, and checked out of my life soon after. It wasn’t 100% his fault… Oh, wait… Yes it was.

Sex

I tried to have a backup birds-and-bees conversation with him, but he assured me that they covered all that in middle school.

What I learned about sex I learned from Penthouse Forum, VHS porn, and a few adventurous young women. I knew I liked it when I saw my first Playboy. But the Playboy woman was never the girl I was looking for. I wanted something less voluptuous. I wanted thin, small-breasted, and adventurous. Of course if she had bi-sexual tendencies, well, that would be a bonus.

Kissing was the first adventure. Then cupping and holding each other. Then… Well, you know. I think I bloomed early in that department, at least, as my son describes it, now that he’s the age I lost my virginity, “We’re not even close to that, dad,” he says. “Maybe in a year or so.” I tried to have a backup birds-and-bees conversation with him, but he assured me that they covered all that in middle school.

I’m not so sure, but I’m sure that he’s seen more of a woman’s body than is humanly possible without the internet. Sure, porn is everywhere. And while Penthouse was racier than Playboy, they were still just photos. Today’s videos, and niche porn, leave little to the imagination. If you can imagine it, there’s been porn about it.

What I’d like to tell my son about sex today. When you do it, you need to know about condoms and how to use them. “Yeah, dad, I got that.” And you need to know how to get them. “Um, sure dad.” No, I mean, really. I have some in this drawer in my office, no questions asked. “Okay, dad, whatever you say.” And that’s the extent of it.

Drugs

1. My dad was a full-blown alcoholic. 2. My mom rebelled against that alcoholism. 3. They divorced when I was 6 and my dad drank himself to death.

Drugs are bad. Until you are out of high school recreational drugs are not only illegal, they are probably really bad for the development of your brain. I suppose if you live in Colorado (we don’t) you might get away with smoking some pot. But here in Texas it’s illegal and won’t be tolerated. Alcohol is probably even worse. More people die as a result of drinking and driving than any other accidental death combined. And death from liver poisoning or any of the other myriad of diseases associated with alcohol abuse… Well, when you’re 21, here in Texas, you get to make that decision.

What I learned from my mom and dad about alcohol. 1. My dad was a full-blown alcoholic. 2. My mom rebelled against that alcoholism. 3. They divorced when I was 6 and my dad drank himself to death. Do I need to go on? To say I don’t drink, is to say, occasionally, socially, I’ll have a drink. But going a month without any alcohol is not uncommon for me. I simply don’t crave it, nor the fuzzy feeling of being drunk.

Lesson to my son: drink when you’re of age. See if you like it. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t get in a car, EVER, when the driver has been drinking.

Rock ‘n Roll

My mom has always felt my music (I play rock’n’roll) contributed to my being kicked out of prep school. And while the events were connected… My music has been a source of joy in my life since my early teens. I am still a musician.

Parents of our parent’s generation were worried about the changes the 60’s and the Beatles caused in America.

What I have to say to my son, the violin player, about rock ‘n’ roll. Music is an amazing outlet for creative expression. I have written songs that really capture what I was feeling. No poem or short story can quite get at the depth of the overall feeling of a great song. Since my son is pretty sure he’s going to leave the orchestra next year (doesn’t dig the teacher) we’ve been talking about what instrument he’d like to learn next. I think he’s going to start with bass and maybe jump to guitar at some point.

That’s how I started in the 7th grade, bass. My mom got me the gear and the lessons. She must’ve regretted that years later, and from then on. It was a great beginning. And my musical expression has really helped me connect with myself and with others.

Message to my son: You don’t have to write music to participate in it. But you might like to have some of the tools to create music if you feel like it. Rock ‘n’ Roll, funk, electronica, all acceptable.

Parents of our parent’s generation were worried about the changes the 60’s and the Beatles caused in America. I would have never been able to explain to my dad why I played music. He thought the Beatles were sent directly from hell to corrupt the youth.

SEX: YES with protection
DRUGS: IF YOU WANT, when you’re old enough
ROCKNROLL: MUSIC is good, you decide the form.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

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Do You Know What You Want? Dating Strategies After Divorce

WHOLE-2016-tangoFiguring out what went wrong in your marriage is a big puzzle. I hope you’ve done some work on your issues before you start looking for your next relationship. We’re going to start with the premise that you’ve solved some of  your own issues and identified some of the things that split you apart.

Online Dating

While I do think there is value in online dating, I also believe there are problems inherent in the social click-me culture. But let’s look at what’s great about online dating.

  1. Browse the available field from the comfort of your home.
  2. Put your personal value proposition together. (What you have to offer.)
  3. Put your wants, desires, and dreams out there. (What you are looking for.)
  4. Put what you like to do out there. (On Friday nights I’d like to be on the couch, or in a night club are two very different trajectories.)
  5. It helps you get your image together. (You didn’t post that one you took in the bathroom, right?)
  6. You can learn what parts of your profile people are picking up on. Because you’ll ask them on the date.
  7. Try some dates. Learn what you like and don’t like about “dating.”
  8. Low commitment of time to get a date lined up.
  9. Flirting online is fun.
  10. Seeing all the potentials is inspiring.

Offline Dating

The goal of online dating is to get to an offline date. Meeting is person is the only way to really see if there is chemistry going both ways. Photos are interesting, but they lie. Profiles are interesting, but they are about 50% made up. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe, face-to-face, to understand if you want to date this person.

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails.

I found that my efforts online were fun and semi-fruitful (my first relationship after divorce was from Match.com) but they were lacking in the more fundamental aspects of relationships. 1. Do they like to do the things you like to do? (Not just say they do.) 2. Does your heart race when you are near them? 3. Can you pick up the returning vibe when you are with them?

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails. And you can’t really see what a person looks like from photos. You get their BEST SIDE, but you want ALL SIDES.

Priorities

This is the biggest decision for you to make. What are your must-haves and what are your deal-breakers. And know this, these things will change. Things you thought were must-haves might fall off the list when you meet the right person.

A few of my priorities looked like this.

  • Must love being active.
  • Has a positive personality.
  • Whip-smart.
  • Athletic body shape.
  • Funny.
  • A single mom.

Then know that your priority list is changeable and resort-able. And you may change it frequently.

A Road Map

All of your ideas for who you are looking for are more like ancient treasure maps than today’s GPS-accurate maps. You do need a map, however. Here’s MINE. (The 6-Step Relationship Strategy)

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t.

And then you have to know this. Your map will be burned and charred from adventures. This is not a bad thing, it’s part of the process. You’re map is an idea of where you want to go.

When the right person shows up all of your priorities and maps will be blown away. At least that’s what you hope for. You need the maps and plans and strategies. But when the right person shows up, you will be amazed how little those things mean.

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t. It took me three relationships to find the ONE. And this ONE I hope to be the last relationship I’ll ever have. And we are both committed to that idea more than ever before. You need someone who’s willing to fight for their relationship. When you both played that role in your last relationship, you might have found a like-spirited person who will fight for your love, just like you will fight for theirs.

That’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

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The Care and Feeding of Your Lover

WHOLE-runner

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it how ever it best suits them in the moment.

In the course of a relationship with someone you begin to have a lot of influence on their lifestyle and habits. If you stay in sync with each other there is nearly limitless opportunity for support and encouragement. When things aren’t going so well, there is also the opportunity for resentment and discouragement.

In my marriage, we went through various stages of a connected relationship, but over time we began to fall out of step with each other. And what starts happening, is a form of the higher/lower game. Where one partner feels like they are doing all the work while their partner is slacking off, or even being destructive or worse, self-destructive. When communication breaks down, one of the parts that goes first is our empathy and compassion for the other person’s personal struggles.

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration.

We are all on a solo journey in the end. We come together, we live love and eat together, and then… Well, in the case of divorce, we come apart. But the fractures that create the final breakup have been caused by the smaller injustices that we perceive to have happened over time. We have several ways to get out of the death spiral: 1. we can talk to each other and work through the imbalances; 2. we can talk to a therapist individually about our issues; 3. we can talk to a couple’s therapist; 4. we can opt out of the relationship.

OPTING OUT

Opting out of the relationship can happen suddenly as in, “Honey, I want a divorce.” or more gradually as we begin to turn away from our partners and towards something/someone else. In my case the transition happened over a number of years and through a slew of hardships. We tried options 1, 2, and 3. And at some point she picked option 4: divorce.

The more challenging approach is to continuously opt back in to your relationship. This does require several fundamental transformations. You have to let go.

LETTING GO

  • Your partner’s decisions are about them not you
  • A partner’s issues are also theirs, advice is always a bad idea, unless requested
  • Attacking someone else’s fitness is a form of self-abuse and sabotage
  • Not expressing your own disappointments and complaints is a form of passive aggressive behavior that will bite you in the ass
  • Controlling behaviors never work
  • Unmet expectations are the source of a large percentage of our unhappiness

Give your partner freewill but stay close and in contact — attachment is not the same as codependence.  When you let go of expectations about controlling or influencing your partner’s behavior, when you stop seeing yourself as superior in any way (that’s a hard one), when you can keep your focus on yourself and your issues, you can begin to get the relationship you truly want.

WHAT YOU WANT

  • A connection based on mutual adoration and support
  • A lifestyle that supports healthy habits and behaviors in both of you
  • A process for releasing and working through issues as they come up between you
  • Some activities that you both find ecstatic.

If you lean in to the relationship and own your issues you can begin to see the other person in a more realistic light. They are human. Their flaws are their own. Their demons are solo projects and a rescue attempt (symbolic or physical) will most likely backfire. They do not need to be rescued. They need to be connected with you.

In my darkest period, right after 911 and after my daughter was born to my own unemployment and fears of survival, my then-wife and I struggled quite a bit. We both struggled with demons as a result of the circumstances. I gained weight and fell ill with a deep depression. She became withdrawn and resentful. As it turns out, I kept working on my own issues and struggling to find answers, solutions, in the hope that I would eventually return to my happy old self. I cannot imagine what she was dealing with or the struggles she faced as she saw me incapacitated at this moment of great need.

I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

We survived that bleak period and went on to raise two healthy children together. But the fracture, the mistrust that was planted during those crushing months, was probably enough to damage our marriage beyond repair. We tried. We were better at (2) talking to our individual therapists and (3) talking to our couple’s therapist than we were at (1) talking to each other. But that weakness, our lack of skills at disagreeing while letting go of the outcome, is also what doomed our repair efforts.

I’ll never forget the flash point several years later. We had just finished doing morning yoga together. And something was deeply troubling her. When I asked she unloaded with a brief burst of passion. “There is no rescue coming, if that’s what you’re waiting on. It’s just us.”

Her statement hit me on two levels. 1. She was terrified that I wasn’t going to snap out of my malaise and get back to work, back to supporting our family; and 2. She was certain that my actions, that my recovery, that my salary, is what she needed to be happy. But the real kicker was that I had not seen any passion out of her for months and this outburst came at a tender time between us when I was feeling loving and safe to reach out and support her. But her issue wasn’t her, her issue in her mind, was me.

HOW LOVE WORKS

I was eventually able to rebound from the loss of my consulting practice after 9-11 and the freak-out depression that followed. I gradually built my “working for the company” resume back up with a series of jobs. And we soldiered on as two responsible adults. But there was a missing element that had bound us together when we started dating. Her joy and playfulness never returned. At some level, the out bursts that began to crop up years later, were similar to this first one. Something I was doing or not doing was causing her to be miserable in her life.

I didn’t buy into that line of thinking, but that seemed to make her more furious and more distant. Sure, she was seeing her therapist and we were seeing our therapist but there was very little emotional connection between us outside of those efforts. As I tried to find my joy elsewhere, I began to write and spend time in my music studio after we put the kids to bed. I’d come to bed in the 1 – 2 range long after she had fallen asleep. I was also working a 9 – 5 job so our time together began to get stretched. My passion and creative thrust needed some outlet. And since our intimate relationship had also grown frosty, I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

At some point, we all have to realise that we can be *with* another person, we can be close and connected and loving, and yet, that person still has to deal with their own issues by themselves.

HOPE IN LETTING GO

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration. I adore my fiancé. But it’s different than when I met my future wife. At our age, we come to any relationship with a more mature attitude and more complex conditions of satisfaction. We have been through the fire with several relationships and seen what didn’t work. So we attempt any new relationship with a more mature perspective, but also a new set of rules.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.
  • There is no time for passive aggressive behavior – if you’re doing it let’s call it what it is and either cut it out or cut and run
  • I won’t try to control you or work your program for you, whatever that is.
  • Let’s see how many things we align on and how many we differ on and be realistic about our compatibility. If there are things you are polar opposites on, how does that play out? Can you manage those differences without feeling attacked or attacking the other person?
  • What do we love to do together? Can we make the time to do those things?
  • How we hear each other’s requests says a lot about where we are in our lives. Are we feeling self-conscious about our weight? Then even a “hey, let’s go for a walk” can feel like a controlling question. But it’s not. It’s our own issue to reveal and deal with.
  • How do we want to support and cheerlead for our partners every day? If we don’t, if we’re feeling resentment, the spontaneous appreciations begin to drop off.

APPRECIATIONS AND GRATITUDE

Make sure you’re living in the appreciation mode. That shows a lot about where you are with your life and how you are with your partner’s life, where ever they may be along their personal path to power/freedom/self-actualization/whatever.

And know that your relationship to each other is also fueled by your own spiritual beliefs. Joining in gratitude, even if you’re praying to different concepts of god, is a fundamental bond that strengthens you both with every joined or individual prayer.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment. If you are supportive and standing by, you will also be included in their journey. Perhaps this is the key to a lifetime of love and acceptance. Acceptance for yourself. Acceptance of your partner. And finally, acceptance of our individual relationship with God.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: chasing my new lover, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

Divorce Recovery Journaling: The Life You Write Is the Life You Live

whole-journal

The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

Journaling your way through your divorce is a great way to gather your thoughts, get your sh*t together, and just reset and re-gather your thoughts. Everything begins coming at you rather quickly the moment your partner says, “I’ve been to see a lawyer…”

It’s not important that you blog (as I did) but writing down your experience can really help you gain some clarity in your mind and confidence in yourself as you move forward. Some questions that are going to haunt you are:

  • Could I have done more to keep my partner interested?
  • Did I stick it out too long? Should I have spoken up sooner?
  • Have I done the right thing?
  • Will my kids hate me?
  • Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life?
  • Will I ever be happy again?
  • Am I lovable?
  • After this, how am I ever going to trust again?
  • With everything I have to do now, as a single parent, will I have time to date?
  • Do I want to date?
  • Where have all my friends gone?

Writing about these things, in the moment, as they come up, can help you gain some perspective on what happened and why. But can also give you ideas about what needs fixing in your life, and what you want to leave behind.

I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In my case, I started an anonymous blog almost immediately, after my then-wife said she wanted a divorce. I knew that I would be processing a lot of anger and confusion. So I kept that blog under wraps. Even today, I’d rather my two kids (12 and 14) not stumble upon my anger letters and love poems to new and potential women in my life. But the writing was the thing. I chose to write it out loud, since I already had experience blogging for social media. And that early feedback and support came in handy for me.

You don’t have to do your divorce alone. But most of the experience of it *will* be very alone. All of the processing of the emotions will be alone. But if you journal out the feelings you can become better and quicker at identifying things like negative self-talk, toxic anger, revenge, depression, loneliness. When you can identify and label what’s going on in your heart, you can begin to heal the parts that are broken.

In my process of divorce recovery, I spent the first year confused, sad, and angry. I spent the second year hopeful, depressed, and lonely. In the third year I felt excited, sexy, and optimistic. By the fourth year of my divorce, I had launched this 100% positive single parenting blog, and come a full 360 about my divorce. I would not have made the full and swift recovery had I not been processing the feelings through my writing.

In the emotional recovery from your divorce there are a lot of aspects that you need to identify and actively manage. Here’s my short list of priorities.

Parenting – how can I show up 100% positive and real for my kids?

Self-care – how can I keep away the depression and keep moving forward on my goals and aspirations?

Cash Flow – you’re going to have a lot more bills, and you won’t have a partner to split the bill paying duties.

Health and Fitness – even when depressed you have to move and get out of the house.

Friendships – old friends need to be rekindled, and new friends need to be sought out.

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center.

Dating – how can I possibly be attractive to any one, and when would I ever be interested in letting someone into my life again.

Sex – yep, sorry to say it, sex is a fundamental need, at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. We need it, we want it, but it’s not all that easy to get it and stay clear of potential emotional vampires.

Entertainment – You’re alone a lot. What are you going to do with yourself to stay balanced? (Read, watch movies, go out dancing, have coffee in various breakfast places around town during the week.)

Ex-partner Drama – it’s bound to happen. It happened when you were married, and now there’s less incentive to keep things cordial between the two of you. Take the time to get the care you need around this. Your ex is hurting too, but that won’t prevent them from taking a shot at you to make their pain or their guilt seem less painful.

When I began my other blog I was confused and bitter. But through the years, you can see the transformation in my writing. I wasn’t really writing for anyone but myself, but I did take heart when a reader would say, “me too” or “great job.”

Whatever you do in your emotional recovery process, however you plan to manage the rebuilding of your life, please give yourself some time alone to re-find *your* center. And you need to find your center ALONE before adding someone else into the mix.

Stick with it, your growth and recovery is the most important thing you can do for your kids, yourself, and even your ex-partner. They old saying is the best revenge is living well. Well, I’d re-frame that a bit.

The best revenge is living happy and seeing your family happy.

The life you write is the life you live.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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A Single Dad In Love, Again

WHOLE-no-goal

Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing.

Yes, it’s happened. I think I’m changing my status from single dad to something else. (Stops for a minute and checks Facebook.) Yep, it’s official, I’m engaged to be married. Married I say. Yes, I’m a dreamer and a believer and an optimist and am no longer a single dad. I’m just a dad. I like it.

Even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations.

I’ve written so many roadmaps and rules, tips and hints for what I was looking for, how to know what I needed in a relationship, how to get my Love Languages stroked in the proper direction, that I’m pretty tired of my own lists. So I need to make a new one.

Here is my outline for how a Single Dad fell in love again, in spite of all the warnings and previous failures.

  1. She is fascinating.
  2. She is driven.
  3. She is self-contained and rational.
  4. She has a crazy, flirty, quirky streak, just like me.
  5. She’s bonkers about me.
  6. She sees the best in me and pushes me to be even better.
  7. She’s got the sense of humor and enthusiasms of a child.
  8. She’s never had kids.
  9. She’s fit.
  10. She’s unafraid to tell me when it sucks.
  11. She makes easy repairs.
  12. She’s got her own agenda, her own projects, and some of them don’t include me.
  13. She is grateful.
  14. She is spiritual.
  15. She wears practical shoes, but she also has flirty and bad girl shoes.
  16. She is ever rub-able. Always game. And rarin to go.
  17. She’s taking on tennis to be with me, doing what I love.
  18. She sets plans and sticks to them.
  19. She’s the most loyal person I’ve met.
  20. My friends love her.

It wasn’t that long ago, I was writing an aspirational love poem to the “SHE” who I was anticipating. And even with all fantasies of that poem, things imagined and dreamed, she, this REAL SHE, has blown away all of my expectations. I know that’s hard to imagine. But she, this woman, my woman, has let me know that I am her man. That she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. And that she thinks I too am the cutest, sexiest, funniest, and smartest person she’s ever met.

If we can keep our business focused on ourselves and our passions focused on each other, we’re on our way to a life-long relationship. How do I know?

Easy. We are both the fighters. We fought for our marriages even when they were failing. We were the one’s who asked for a re-commitment even after the deal had been broken. And if you put two fighters for love in a relationship together… Well, I think, we think, the writing is on the wall.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues.

Sure there are things she does that drive me crazy. Probably they always will. I am anti-OCD, anti-schedule, and freeform. She likes her lists. She likes to ask what I’d like for dinner, days in advance. I still look at her sometimes and say, “What do you mean? Like a menu for next Wednesday? I don’t even know what I want tonight.” The real magic is to laugh at and love the differences. We both appreciate what’s odd about each other.

Quirks are the things you’ve got to learn to love as well. I love that she’s different from me. That her ways are logical and strategic and often seem diametrically opposed to my natural instincts. And then I’ve learned to let those ideas go as well. In my best flexible thinking, I’m learning to love all aspects of this amazing woman. Why? Because I believe in her. I believe that what she says is true, and that when she invites me on a trip to NYC, that it will (and did) happen.

I don’t work the same way at all. And I’m pretty sure that’s some of what she likes about me. I lead with my heart often before I know the direction we are going. I misstep out of passion and vision, when a more measured approach might have worked. But I always do it out of love. I always do it from a place of caring about her more than I care about myself.

My lists were all blown away when the right woman showed up. I like to think that my prep work, the writing and sorting of all of this “relationship” data, is what made our connection so clear to me. We have jumped fearlessly into this love thing. We’re going to get married. We’ve already started wearing our wedding bands. In the eyes of the state we are indeed already married.

But I like the anticipation of the marriage too much just to skip or belittle it. We are going to get married. And our friends want to know the plans, the schedule. And I’m sure she and I are working at odds in our natural patterns as I flippantly say things like, “When it happens.” She on the other hand, in my mind, is ready to make a plan.

But that’s the beauty in the end, of our courtship and partnership. She doesn’t need to force me into a plan. And I don’t need to buck against her plan or freak out when it hasn’t been put forth. We are indeed already married in every way but two.

  1. We need the legal papers to do things like combine health insurance or car insurance.
  2. We need the spiritual ceremony shared with other to celebrate and hold our tribe together now and in the future.

Today, we have all we need. And what we don’t have or don’t like, we’ve learned to ignore and tend to our own issues. Neither of us are broken, neither of us need fixing. In fact, as equals, neither of us has a need to be married. But I think we’re looking forward to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

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How Faith and Courage Work Together in Love

WHOLE-girlfriend-daughter
Love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

If you knew that your next venture, what ever you attempted, would be a success what would you do? What would your first 100% winning project be? Love life? Career? Creative fame?

Part of falling in love is giving up your control of the situation enough to allow the chaos of love to transform your life. If you hold up, clam up, reserve a protective walled-up space deep inside you, the magic might not happen at all. Faith is not the blind commitment to something, faith is expecting you will be successful and then giving everything you have to make your next adventure, next project, next relationship, next everything, a WIN. We’re all looking for the WIN.

As I was entering this relationship with my beloved, I was occasionally fearful. “We’re going too fast,” I would think sometimes. I even said it out loud a few times to her. But as we listened with our hearts instead of our minds, the answer was always, “You are okay. You are falling in love. Allow it to happen. Have faith.”

I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

It’s important that you not take this advice as some form of blind faith, or the idea that by praying about it, the perfect woman was going to show up magically in my life. Nope. I have been working, rebuilding, crafting, and singing my way back to my “most lovable self.” It took awhile. I had some stops and starts. I had a lot of times that I didn’t believe in myself, didn’t love myself, didn’t feel loveable. Divorce will do this to you. So will depression. But I kept the faith to keep on moving forward.

Sometimes I was moving forward without knowing my goal. Sometimes I was trying to force a relationship to be awesome, when it was not awesome. I wanted the relationship in my life, so bad, I was willing to suspend my disbelief and imagine that I could change the other person into being in love with me. I wanted her to want me just as much as I wanted her. I wanted someone to really be able to express love: verbally, physically, and spiritually. It’s a tall order. My first two relationships, post divorce, each had some missing ingredient.

But I learned from each of them. I learned what it felt like to be cared for by someone who spoke the same Love Language. I learned what it was like to pour creativity and joy in to a relationship that was no prepared to open up fully. I learned to move on and let go. I trusted, each time, as I was saying goodbye, that something better was still in development.

When the next woman showed up, she arrived with bells on, a tennis racket in her hand, and an attitude and faith that matched my own. I had met my match. I was no longer trying to push the river, make a relationship out of something that wasn’t working. I was met, stroke for stroke, both on the tennis court and off. And we smiled at each other and asked, “Are we going too fast?” We BOTH asked that question. We still do.

We already knew the answer. We knew it rather early in our dating.

  • This was something different.
  • This person was READY and WILLING TO WORK for a relationship.
  • Their faith was different from mine but equally passionate.
  • Their love language was undeveloped and not yet discovered, but it appeared to be “touch” like mine.
  • This person made an effort to meet me halfway on everything. She was scheduling dates. She was suggesting ideas. She was the first who suggested we might kiss.
In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience.

When my beloved showed up, my game could relax. I was no longer seeking, no longer seeking to impress, no longer in pursuit. I was in mutual pursuit. The pursuit of a 100% connection. Keeping it 100% was my overarching goal. Without full disclosure and resonance, I knew I would be wasting my time. This woman showed up with her own glow, and beside mine, we caught fire. (Sounds woo woo, I know, but hear me out.)

There was nothing that prepared me for how she cracked open my heart. All the ideas, roadmaps, plans, I had been writing about, were meaningless. In all my poetic longing, I had not even come close to the radiance I was about to experience. Someone whose energy not only matched mine, but often out paced mine. Up earlier, running faster, eating leaner, laughing and praying more. I was amazed at this vision who showed up. I was not quite sure she was “for real” some of the time, but I stayed close and observed what I could about her and my reaction to her.

As we began to spend time together we both noted how much laughing we did. After a weekend together, we both giggled at the soreness in our ribs. FROM LAUGHING! That is a great sign. We were sore in other places from other things, but it really was the joy and sound of the other person’s laughter that I think unlocked our security systems. It was in the joy of our experience together, doing anything with laughter and connectedness, that we began to flag off the “too fast” warning signs, or questions from our friends.

She would come back from a night out with friends and say, “They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t being taken advantage of.” We both laughed at this one. We know how it looks from the outside. We know our friends (perhaps not the mutual ones, who know us both) are astounded and semi-supportive until they get to meet us together.

Then they spend a little time with us together and even strangers say, “You two guys are like a comedy act. In sync. Hilarious.”

We’re on a roll. Is it a honeymoon phase? We don’t think so. And I have to give this intelligent woman the ability to make up her own mind about this. We’re madly, passionately, in love. We’re a bit hard to take, because we finish each other’s sentences, we jump off into inside jokes like they were stand-up routines. (Like our own little Portlandia, Fred and Carrie can do anything and be funny about it. We feel the same way.)

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person.

What we both appreciate in each other has been our ability to let go of the fear and allow ourselves to FALL IN LOVE. We consciously entered into this relationship. We consciously slowed down at the beginning and then accelerated with each week, as the connection deepened.

Once we were IN we were 100% in.

I have faith in two things:

  • My ability to be honest and express my truth.
  • Her ability to be honest and express her truth.

 

The rest is negotiation, navigation, and nurture. We’ve both got work ahead of us. We are always in a state of becoming. But today, I have my lifetime cheerleader beside me. And I’m always ready joyfully embrace her in all of her flaws and misdirections. We’ve all got them. I’m misdirected as hell sometimes. But together we agreed, early on, that we would embrace even the flaws in the other person, and that was the real key to letting go and falling in love.

Your expectations and dreams are actually holding you back. Allow yourself to see the person in front of you. Your faith and love will transcend everything you imagined, when you click with the right person. It’s a spiritual quest you are on, to find a lasting relationship. Keep spiritual in your focus. And as you love your own flaws you can love the flaws in another.

As she cheers on my creative endeavors, I feel the support that I lacked in all of my previous relationships. So she’s not a writer. And she’s not threatened by my writing. In fact, she wants to read it, wants to push me into being more daring. She even allows me to write about us. That too is a form of faith.

When I finish a particularly hard or lovely post I will read them aloud to her. I would never want to put in something that would hurt her. Ever. And so far, there have been a few copy edits. Together we’ve sailed through the challenges and questions I’ve been asking myself, and us, as we move forward.

Stay tuned. Stay lovely. And love deeply, before you catch yourself doing it.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: my two girls, cc 2015 John McElhenney, creative commons usage