Category Archives: sex

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

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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

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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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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

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How Faith and Courage Work Together in Love

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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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How Love Transforms Us Completely When We Feel the YES

WHOLE-summerbeaches

It has been a long road back to love.

It was a long struggle a. to get free of my own despair and depression; b. to find a balance in my life when 65% of it no longer included my kids or my ex; c. to begin liking myself again and growing into the happy person I had been before the marriage went south; d. actually putting myself out there as available in a real way (beyond online dating). And that’s when she showed up.

My Maps and Hopes

I had been writing a lot of ideas about relationship theory, how to date better, how to relate better, how to let my own inner joy shine so that I might attract another like-minded and happy person. I came up with an idea called a JOY TRIBE. You know joyful people when you see them. And I wanted not only to be a part of a JOY TRIBE, I wanted to create my own.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I even wrote about how my “maps” and “strategies” were only projections. I knew that when the WOMAN showed up, joy and all, that my planning and ideas would be valuable, but that the maps would be burned up in a fire of passion that was this new adventure, this new adventurous woman. And I believe when you call on all your resources, put your attention where it needs to be, the universe will respond to serve you up in unexpected ways.

What Language Do You Speak?

Part of my re-education has been discovering The 5 Love Languages. Once I read that book, even when my marriage was collapsing, I knew I had stumbled on to a key to happiness. It was clear that my then-wife and I valued very different forms of love and attention. Neither of them are wrong, just different. And while couples can try to accommodate differing love languages, it’s an AMAZING connection when your partner speaks the same language as you do. Absolutely amazing.

I had not experienced a relationship with another person who was TOUCH centered. My first relationship after divorce was with a stellar woman who remains a friend and confidant, and who was 100% touchy-feely, like me. The first weeks with her, two years ago, were transformative for me. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make me feel loved and adored and supported. A simple hug, a single word of encouragement and a smile, and more hugs…

While GF1 and I did not end up being perfectly matched, she had shown me a LOVE-STYLE, the Love Language of Touch, that I knew would be fundamental to my health and happiness. She set the bar pretty high and I used to joke that she ruined any ideas of casual sex or friends with benefits for me. For the first time in my life, when my core love language was being reflected back to me, I was happier and more balanced than I’d ever felt in my life. Even as things didn’t progress with us, we remained cheerleaders and champions for the other’s good fortunes. And we constantly reminded each other how wonderful we both were, and say “You can’t settle for almost. It’s 100% or nothing.”  She got there first, but my new relationship blasted in and transformed my life in even more unexpected ways.

I Fall Down, But I Get Up Again

Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

When my new woman arrived on the scene, my scene, we’d actually known each other for five years. Our Facebook connection was always warm and casual, as Facebook usually is. And because we worked at the same agency for a period of time, though not together, we had about 20 or so, mutual friends commenting and resurfacing each others posts on our news feeds. I certainly knew who she was. I admired her travel pictures and her marathon training and the physical form that entailed. And she had a wicked sense of humor that you could almost feel in her occasional photographs. Her mischievous smile and laughing eyes seemed to be coming from most of her photos. Even when they were with other men. (frown)

So, last Winter, I was determined to take my dating offline, and even take a break from dating all together. I noticed an immediate shift. I was no long a man in pursuit. I was just a man. The women around me, young and old, were just women, not targets or objectives or honey traps. Freeing myself, even temporarily, from the heat of the hunt, I was able to see myself a bit clearer, as well as the women around me.

And it was in this exact period that a photo on her Facebook wall caught my attention. It was a picture of Laphroaig Scotch, which initially would not have been interesting to me at all, but the caption told a story.

“Silly Ex Boyfriend. Always give a gift you are happy to get back.”

I liked her post (odd move, right, liking some adverse event in someone’s life) and wrote her a Private Message about my sympathies. We had been Facebooking a little bit in December before my band played a gig. She intended to come but fell asleep and missed it. We’d been bantering back and forth in Private Message about that, so a little message to her, saying, “Sorry about your breakup. They suck.”

And The Rest is History

In her immediate response she mentioned Tennis. (A key word for me.) She later admitted to knowing a lot more about me than I knew about her. She had been reading this blog and knew that I was back into tennis in a big way. She laid the bait out and I took it for a full run and we made plans to hit some tennis balls the following weekend. Except the rains came and when she noticed the forecast she suggested a movie instead.

DATING RULE: Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and energy finding ways to be together.

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed.

Even through the movie and a follow-on non-date to see some music, I was being very chill with my emotions and intentions. I was, in fact, playing it cool. I was also, trying to observe her from an objective point of view before I let my heart and libido engage. And at first I wasn’t sure is she was shy, or introverted, or if my touchy-feely thing was going to be overwhelming for her. I kept my closeness but I never went in for a kiss or much beyond a nice hug.

The next day, after our music night out, she sent me a text.

“I really wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn’t want to distract you on your first day at the new job.”

I replied, “Ah, then my plans are coming together nicely. See you on Friday.”

Sparks, passion, joy, jokes, banter, more sparks, more time in touchy-feely land. We moved rapidly into something beyond dating that first night we kissed. I suppose my trial period, my austerity, ended with a bang. I was revving up inside my heart even before the movie, but after the kiss… I was in FULL JOY MODE.

The beautiful thing is, so was she.

Honeymoon Period

We have pinched each other and ourselves over the last 6 months. Each time something happens and we take a leap of faith into the relationship, we’ve both been surprised by the ease at which we’ve grown to love each other. Today we frequently tell each other, we’ve never been in love like this. Ever. Two marriages for me, and this is simply the best relationship (again, only six months old) I’ve ever been in. There are a lot of factors that might have given us the lightning quick connection.

  1. We have both been married and divorced.
  2. In our failed marriages we had both been the partner fighting FOR the marriage.
  3. We have a very similar sense of humor. (After watching a bit of Portlandia together, we constantly break out in similar character sketches. We’re taking a break from the show so we don’t become Fred and Carry.)
  4. We love athletics. She’s been a tennis player, but she’s becoming a Tennis player. And she’s a runner, so I’m running about 40% of the time now, rather than walking.
  5. We talk.
  6. She’s touchy-feely.
  7. She is fearless about addressing issues and complications as they come up. (See previous posts on this blog. And she’s even suggested I write on certain topics.)
  8. We absolutely adore each other. (While this sounds like honeymoony stuff, we’re also fairly experienced adults, and puppy love can only account for part of the bliss we are feeling.)
  9. We love sex together.
  10. We pray and give thanks and appreciations all the time.

Are We Moving Too Fast

In my first touch-focused relationship I learned what it felt like to be adored by someone else. In this relationship I am feeling that again, but this time I absolutely adore her back. This two-way circuit completes a loop that seems to take us higher and closer than we could imagine. And sometimes, we ask ourselves, “Are we going too fast? Are we making a mistake and letting our joy and connection get ahead of the relationship?

I know that we are not.

With this woman, I have established my new JOY TRIBE. And my two kids are basking in the renewed joy as well. By showing them what a loving and happy relationship looks like, they can begin modeling their future relationships on healthy patterns. There are moments of doubt, silences that don’t get explained, and uncomfortable advice from friends and family, but we’re sailing onward.

And the smile on her face every morning…

Is enough to keep me smiling for the rest of my life. (Or that’s the plan.)

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

[Note: This is the post I’ve wanted to write since I began this blog over two years ago.]

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The Third Glass is an Anti-Aphrodisiac for Me

WHOLE-winehanger

A wine rack does not an alcoholic make, a wine lover does not a problem reveal, drinking is not the devil’s work, prohibition has never solved anything.

I’ll admit, drinking from time to time is fun. Last night for example, we had a round of margaritas at a nice restaurant. And the happy hour appetizers made the accidental outing more like dinner than the spontaneous happy hour it actually was. And as I was the driver, I waved off the second round for me as I was nodding for my sweetheart to have another. It was a warm fuzzy of an evening at that point. All sparkle ponies and grinning selfies from the comfy couch.

We were both feeling fine when we left before the real dinner crowd arrived. We’d missed the major 5 o’clock traffic jam and arrived home in 20 minutes. In the kitchen we discussed what movie or show we were going to watch.

“Well, I think we’re going to need a short format show,” I said, as she poured a glass of wine. Sure there was a moment of disappointment as I acknowledged her eventual departure, but I was okay with the idea. I had things I could do after she fell asleep.

“I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

And that’s really part of the deal. If the third glass becomes routine we will be spending a lot less quality time, lovey dovey time in bed, a lot less deep explorations of our thoughts, aspirations, and plans. When the third glass enters the equation I begin to clamp down on the inspired discussions about plans, hopes, and dreams. There’s some pause on my part, when the smooth and slippery tone enters her voice. It’s cute. I’m not angry about it. I just begin to plan what else I’m going to do after she falls asleep.

The night before, as she put her empty wine glass on the kitchen table, saying, “Might leave this out for a bit more.” We smiled at each other as we did the dishes and generally cleaned up the kitchen together.

As we were down to the finishing bits I picked up the empty wine glass and said, “Would you like me to wash this?” I smiled. I was not being passive aggressive, she knew exactly what I was asking. She picked up the glass, smiled at me and proceeded to fill it with ice chips. Both options were still available to her. She poured the glass full of bubbly water. A new smile crossed her face. The smile that acknowledged that she would rather stay close, connected, and beside me for the night.

“Because I’m fine either way,” I said, before she had decided. “It’s just that if your going to have another one you’ll probably be pretty sleepy. Maybe we’ll skip the show all together.”

Her decision was towards me. Later in bed we talked a bit more about it.

“I hope my hint wasn’t to over the top or irritating to you,” I said.

“No, it’s good. I want to stay close. You’re a good influence on me.”

“I just don’t want you to miss a minute of this live between us. I’m so enthralled and in love that any distraction takes me away from being 100% aware and present for you.”

“I don’t want to miss any of you either.”

“So I didn’t hurt your feelings?” I asked, reaching out to take her hand. I wanted to get this moment crystal clear between us.

“Nope,” she said. “I want to be able to remember these great moments too. I want to be present for the love we’re sharing at all times.”

“Well, not all times,” I said. “It’s okay to imbibe a bit. It’s even okay to go for glass four and five if that’s what you want to do.”

“I like that you don’t really drink that much. It makes me more conscious of my drinking. And I know less is better for me, and better for us to stay close.”

The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face.

I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. “There isn’t enough time in the rest of our days together for me to tell you and show you how much I love you. I’m going to express it as often as I can, and the more you receive the more we both grow.”

It’s hard, sometimes, being the light drinker. I occasionally feel sorry for myself, wishing I had an easier way to eliminate the drinks for the evening. It has crossed my mind at various times to make some demands, to set a challenge in place, but that’s also my child of an alcoholic talking, rather than a compassionate and loving partner.

Let me get this straight. She’s not an alcoholic. She likes to drink. Occasionally she likes to drink more than she likes to be with me. Together, when we are drinking, there’s a warm fuzzy glow. Most of the time, I turn back to water and clarity of purpose so I can get on with some of my aspirations. I’m not against letting one rip, but I don’t ever aspire to have a hangover. And that’s enough for me. A buzz is fun. Intoxication is not. For me.

The navigation and negotiation around drinking or not drinking is an on-going discussion in many relationships. Often it’s a struggle within an individual to make the choice away from that third glass. But my dry-drunk mentality is no healthier than the alcoholic’s. I am in my own fantasy/nightmare that has very little to do with her and her third or fourth glass.

Had I allowed the knee-jerk asshole to pass judgement on her and *any* drinking, I could’ve easily passed on the love of my life. I believe we have a lasting partnership. I also know we’ll have plenty future conversations about drinking, not drinking, wine or beer, or in my case, more often than not, bubbly water.

Our worlds have collided and in some ways merged. For the better. I’m enjoying a bit more downtime. She’s enjoying a bit more ON time as we head into the evening’s entertainment with clarity of focus and intention. And then we can reverse the mode as well. Alcohol is certainly not the only inebriant. Stress, lack of sleep, lack of healthy food, all produce altered states of mental health. Even a sleeping pill I love has the potential to give me a buzz rather than kicking off a good night’s sleep when I’ve had a bit too much afternoon coffee.

We are on this journey together. She is open to my questions and suggestions  and desire for her to be more present when we make love, for example. She is okay with dancing her dance and meeting me halfway in the discussion about what WE want. The relationship is not all about me. The balance is about how we dance through all of the issues we face. She confronted and accepted my depressive episode. She laughed and applauded my recent job loss from the mean dysfunctional corporate gig.

Here we are.

I may cross over to the realm of the third glass and beyond from time to time, when we don’t have to drive anywhere. But the choice to be come less conscious is conscious. Decide consciously when are about to fill up your third glass. Talk about the evening with your significant other. If your plans have different trajectories, don’t judge or complain about. Take responsibility to say what you want and what makes you happy. Every night is a new conversation. Less and less about alcohol.

We’re just beginning our journey together. I cannot assume my ideas are correct and her’s are flawed. She is not flawed or damaged. She is strong and leaning in to all the aspects of me. I am learning to let go of my own baggage and lean into her, and all her facets as well.

The journey is marvelous and it continues.

This post is a continuation of the Third Glass idea:
The Trouble with Alcohol: She Likes To Drink, I Don’t

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

The “Third Glass” series:

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What I Learned About Sex: It’s Almost All In Your Mind

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The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

I’m a very sensual and sexual person. In the Love Languages book, my picture represents the Touch-centered person. So when my sexual interest and prowess began to wane, in my early 50’s I got a little concerned. I mean, I had never needed any help catching an erection, and as if all at once I was having a problem even with an eager and willing partner. So I started doing some reading.

 

As it began to happen, my erectile non-cooperation, I started looking for answers. I wasn’t sure if it was my age, my mental state (I was a bit depressed), or the woman I was with. I was flat-out confused. Several factors that I was clearly aware of were at play.

  1. I was recently divorced
  2. I was depressed
  3. I had started some SSRI medication to help with the depression
  4. I was in the first relationship since my divorce, and my partner was enthusiastic and joyful

ANNNND, I couldn’t get a hard on on demand. WTF? Or should I say, WT(no)F?

The first few things I learned.

  1. A good portion of sex is in my own mind.
  2. SSRIs have a huge incidence of sexual side effects. (More on the second level of this issue, in a bit.)
  3. A sexually aware partner is equally into getting themselves off as getting you off. When you can’t perform they might begin to doubt their attractiveness to you, or even question the relationship over all.
  4. My issue was not ED and I was not in need of the little blue dick helpers.

But a longer period of exploration and education was needed in order to get me in the position I am today. (Happy, well fkd, and joyfully engaged with or without erection and orgasm)

As I moved through this first sexual-and-engaged relationship I passed through several phases.

Relationship Phase One:  I’m depressed. I have no idea what I like. I don’t even crave ice cream. So, I don’t desire her, it’s probably just the blues talking. (This was the first month.)

Relationship Phase Two: Okay, it’s not all me. I can learn to love her, to be into her, and my mind is the key. (This was the second month.) I started reading Sexual Intelligence and really giving some thought to my situation: both to myself and to this lovely woman, who really liked me.

Relationship Phase Three: Well, perhaps I’m just not that into her. Sometimes that happens. There was a chemistry mismatch. Nobody’s fault. I developed my Dog Rule of Dating from at this point. But I began to explore the idea of not being in this relationship. (The third month.)

And it was an amazing discussion we had the morning after I broke it off. We had breakfast at a Denny’s. Sitting across from her I realized how much I loved her. I loved her, but I wasn’t sexually aroused by her. It wasn’t porn, or unreal youthful ambitions, or some other disconnect. I was simply a mediocre response sexually to my reptilian brain. I wanted a greyhound and she was a fancy poodle. (My apologies to her for the analogy.)

MOVING ON

The next relationship I had was highly sexual. In fact, the sex was about all we had. She would have knee-jerk reactions every few weeks, just as we were getting close, and break up with me. All my doubts of sexual dysfunction on my part evaporated with this lovely and intelligent woman, who was not ready for a relationship, much less a relationship with me. We didn’t last very long, but long enough to show me that SEX is not everything. In fact, our sexual chemistry got in the way of me seeing early on that she was not right for me. So we screwed our way into the Summer before the 5th breakup finally broke through my sexual-fueled denial.

AND ONWARD THROUGH THE FOG OF SINGLE DADHOOD

So in the first relationship I learned about TOUCH (I had never experienced someone so touch-centric) and I knew I would never put up with anything less. In the second relationship I learned that SEX could be awesome but the relationship could be super bad. And that set up my quest for the next love of my life.

GOAL: TOUCH + GOOD SEX + EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.

When this woman showed up I was overwhelmed with the passion and connection we experienced from the first kiss. We both stripped away our inhibitions and hesitation in the heat of our connection: intellectual, sexual, spiritual. Sure, there were/are things we need to work through, but this woman was on a different level all together. So many things were ON that I was really dismayed when my mental state collapsed under the stress of a new job, new house, ANNNND new girlfriend.

That’s when things got really interesting. Given every opportunity to run away, declare me a perfect mess, she didn’t run away at all. She stepped in, stepped up, and engaged with me on all levels. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know if it was the chemistry and amazing connection we had in the first 45 days, or if she had already fallen in love with me, but I can tell you that I was feeling totally unworthy and unlovable. And yet SHE LOVED ME ANYWAY.

Then the issues with my sexuality returned in spades. Yes, a new round of SSRIs was inserted to cut off my looming fall into depression. And YES, the Lexapro-generic created a new set of problems, that I had not experienced before. And the depression was also interfering with my ability to focus or stay focused on sex. Even while an amazingly sexual woman was dancing naked in-front of me, I was unable to work up the erection to get into it. At this point I was really concerned, that even beyond the SSRI side-effects I was dealing with something deeper.

Turns out it was deep. This is where the Sexual Intelligence book came into play.

What started happening in this case was first, absolutely the best sex of my life, and second my inability to orgasm over the course of 5 – 10 “sessions.” WHAT? This had never happened. Talking to my psychiatrist I was happy to observe, “Well, I’ve never had such a sexualized girlfriend at the same time that ramped up the SSRIs. It makes a huge difference.”

And I began to learn more about sex than I thought possible. I was pretty sure I was the most sexual/sensual person on the planet. But I had to learn that MY ORGASM was unimportant in the larger scheme of things. What I learned in this few months of confusion was this: SEX is everything that happens before, during, and after orgasm, and orgasm is not the goal, nor required for an amazing sex life. I mean, I love orgasms, but I had to either get over that expectation or get into some funk about sex. And I’ll tell you again, I was having the best sex of my life. What? I was confused and a bit frustrated.

A few new tools I learned at this time, besides the deferred focus on my own orgasm, was that men are quite adept at masturbation.

First New Learning: Our hand is the most familiar sexual partner we will ever have. Sometimes the friction, speed, and unpredictability of sex with a partner makes it more hard to orgasm. Sounds like heresy. Jacking off might be better than making love. But the function of orgasm as a release and the hand as the vehicle is pretty mechanical.

Second New Learning: By showing my partner what it looks like when I do masturbate gives her clues about how I like to be touched. I had a bit of resistance to showing her. But as we experimented and talked about all that was going on, I read the “Men Fake It” book and learned about our practice with our hands is sort of like our sexual training. So showing her what it looked like when I was doing myself, was very good information for her. Good information indeed.

Third New Learning: Anorgasmia is a thing. And for a while it was amazing how often I was ready to go again. Without the release of orgasm I had no refractory period. She loved that. But eventually she also grew concerned with our sex, if I wasn’t coming.

Fourth New Learning: As far as sexual experience and my own sexual training is concerned, I was hyper-tuned to her pleasure. Most of my sex life was about extending my time doing her so she could have orgasms. AFTER she was DONE I’d go for my own. Her-centric sex is fine, but it’s a bit shallow. By focusing on her body, her orgasm, and her experience, I was kind of leaving my own enjoyment out for a good portion of our sex. I learned to let myself feel my own body, at this point. Just feel, don’t do.

Fifth New Learning: The connection is everything. As I had to learn to focus on my pleasure I also learned that really tuning into the WE of sex, rather than the SHE and ME, was a way of really enjoying things at a deeper level. And we both have some learning to do around pleasing the other person simply for enjoyment rather than our own release.

SUMMING UP GOOD SEX

The connection between the two of you during sex (foreplay, function, and afterplay) is more important that any goal of orgasm.

When orgasm is an issue, sex can still have all the fantastic qualities. In fact, I have been able to have more sex, and have sex longer, which was something I was missing in my normally functioning sex life. (BTW I’m off the SSRI and the effortless orgasm has returned for me.)

Know what does it for you and being able to show or tell your partner is a key ingredient for evolved sex. As we can let go of traditional SEX as the goal and open up to the full range of erotic experiences, we can expand our pleasure and our sexual vocabularies.

The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: the back, the hidden collection, creative commons usage