Tag Archives: dating after divorce

Divorce Lessons: If What You Want Is Love That Lasts

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If what you want is love, if you are looking for a long-term relationship, don’t settle for maybe, kinda, sorta, okay. Don’t. It won’t work out. That’s perhaps how we got in this “single dad” place anyway. We made compromises. We overlooked flaws because we were in love. Love is a drug, but wait a bit, until it wears off, before you decide to spend the next 5 – 10 years with someone. If you’re looking to spend the rest of your life with someone, why would you compromise?

What I Learned in My First Marriage

I my first marriage I was blinded by beauty and what I thought was a kindred spirit. Several things were kindred, but the overwhelming feature of that marriage was that woman’s paranoia and rage. It was obscured during our courting phase by good behavior and lots of passion. But on the honeymoon, when she got sick on the cruise, I saw a truly angry and inconsolable woman. At that very moment I saw the makings of my divorce.

Learnings: Don’t get fooled by beauty, look beyond the sexual infatuation. Make sure you go through a rough patch or two to understand the other person’s coping mechanisms. When things are bad, get the fuck out. It took me nearly six years to divorce this woman, primarily because I didn’t want to give up on the initial dream.

What I Learned in My Second Marriage with Kids

Again, I learned a lot after the relationship had gotten underway that might have queered me on the relationship had I had a clear mind. But I fell in love early, stayed in love through some very mixed times, and then learned, nine years in, that she had gone to see an attorney before even bringing the subject up. Even in couple’s therapy, she didn’t speak a peep. If you say, in therapy, “I’m thinking about going and seeing an attorney about divorce,” then you’ve got a place to start. If you’ve already been to see the attorney and have your “options” before you, then you are already in the process of leaving your marriage.

Learnings: Pay attention to falsehoods, they may signal larger issues. Once you have kids all parts of the relationship have to change. When one partner wants out there’s not a lot the other partner can do to save the marriage. It’s all about the kids. Even the divorce is mostly about the kids. Make sure you focus on their benefit ahead of your own, even if you lose in the negotiations.

What I’m Learning Before My Third Marriage

Finding a deeper connection is critical for a lasting relationship. Letting the other person see your pain and understanding how they deal with it, is also a critical part of sounding out the fitness of a relationship. And then watching to understand how much a new potential partner is moving towards you, asking you for opportunities to do stuff, finding ways to connect. If you can keep this seeking up in your courtship, perhaps you can keep it up in your long-term relationship.

As it turns out my fiancé and I come from diverse backgrounds. And while this could cause issues in some couples for us it seems to enhance our fascination with one another. She’s from Chicago, I’m from Texas. She’s never had kids, I have two. She’s a marathon running, I walk. In all this, we’ve found simple activities we love to do together. She runs, I bike along side her. She’s learning to play tennis, my favorite sport. We road bike together, and I’m beginning to keep up with her on the flats.

And we’ve been through a few lows to balance out the highs. Sticking with my own malady, she has seen me crumble under depression. And while it was frightening at first, since she didn’t know what to expect, she continued to stay close and ask me what I needed from her. All I needed was closeness. There was nothing she could do, but not leave. And we walked every day together. In depression it is very hard to keep your body moving, you’d rather sleep. But each day she’d ask me to join her for a walk and each day, against my own ennui, I would walk with her. We formed a partnership. Even in my darkest hour she would be there next to me asking me to go for a walk. If I’ve got her in my court, for the rest of my life, I’m set.

Learnings: Do things you love to do and as the other person to join you. Join the other person in the things they like to do. Watch and learn how each of you deals with hardships and see if you can find the supportive way to remain close and connected.

There Is Hope

Even after two failed marriages, I still have hope for my future with this woman. I think that the lessons from my previous relationships will allow me to form a healthier foundation for the longevity of my marriage. As we move forward towards exchanging vows in March, I get more excited and more sure of our love and connection. We’ve seen the worst, we’ve stayed close through it, and we’ve come out on the other side in love even more deeply.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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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 Spiritual Quest for Love

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On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. . . . The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path.

—Ayya Khema, “What Love Is”

When you are alone, everything in your world is colored by your own internal thoughts and feelings.

In the company of friends I talk a lot about how I met my sweet woman. We both talk about how “the time was right” for both of us. And how “the stars or gods aligned in our favor.” And to be sure, we are both very prayerful and thankful people. And each morning when we wake up together there is a lot of gratitude between us, for us, about us. And there’s more. There’s another element that came first, that bonded us in a way that no previous relationship or marriage had done before, for either of us.

Spiritual and Kinda Religious

When you are alone, everything in your world is colored by your own internal thoughts and feelings. And your strategies and prayers are your own alone. When you join with another person, you’re songs and prayers add a “together” element that I believe is transformative. But let’s take a few steps back and explore what made our meeting so timely and so connective, what was the through-line that was so strong between us even before we met for our first date.

Seeking, Longing, Looking for Love

When there is an absence of love in your life, for many of us, it is like a missing piece of our soul. The term “empath” has been getting a lot of play lately, in describing people who feel into others empathetically. And what I’m well aware of about myself is: in the absence of a love relationship my experience of joy, passion, and elation is greatly diminished. I glow more brightly when I have another person to resonate with. So in my seeking, post-divorce, I have been looking for a resonance in both physical and spiritual terms.

Eventually I hit on the accurate dating profile: Desires a LTR and someone who is actively pursuing their own dream, project, agenda. I was clear, I was not all that interested in “dating.”

So you set out on your noble quest to find a new relationship. In my case I set up profiles on a few of the online dating sites. (eHarmony – nope, give me the ability to browse people, don’t tell me who you think I match with; Match.com – a bit better, larger audience, fairly interesting profiles, and you pay, so you’re looking for something; OK Cupid – my favorite site, because of the random and often revealing questions, it’s free, and has a lot of people who are just playing around, not looking for a relationship.)

And for the record, I had a few dates via Match and OK that were interesting. I learned several things about myself in my first rush at “getting back in the game.”

  • I was not interested in casual sex.
  • I was not able to feign interest when the person was boring.
  • A lot of profiles (pictures and stories) are outright fabrications.
  • A lot of people are playing on dating sites, but have no intention of dating.

I had some interesting insights in filling out my several profiles. Eventually I hit on one that seemed to attract the right mix of women. Interest in a LTR and actively pursuing their own dream, project, agenda. I was clear, I was not all that interested in “dating.”

Dating to me means several things:

  • Actively in pursuit
  • Not looking for commitment
  • More interested in entertainment
  • Drinking was part of the focus for 90% of the daters
  • Interested in lots of dates, lots of entertainment, maybe playing the field

And the first real relationship I had was from Match.com. The first contact was from her to me. (Very rare.) When I was non-responsive, she followed up with a second email that said, “Hey, I was looking at your profile wondering why I we hadn’t gone out on a date yet and then I realized, hey, this guy didn’t respond to my email. So I thought I’d ask, ‘What’s the deal? Is there something wrong with my picture or profile?'”

And this first relationship changed everything and eventually set me up for success later down the path. Girlfriend #1 was a tiny bit older, wiser, and a few more years down the road of the post-divorce routine. But most importantly, she shared the same love language: touch. BOOM, a light went off during our first week together.

As I reignited with the proximity of her physical affection and began to find my inner joy again, I began to look beyond the present moment and into what relationship goals I had, beyond her.

In two marriages combining into 17 years, I had never felt as adored and loved as I did with this woman. She easily engaged in hugging, holding hands, and other physical signs of affection. And just like me, she reach out for that touch *all the time.* And she was also comfortable expressing her affection verbally. She would just tell me, “You are so damn cute.” Like, out of the blue. And every time I heard it, I was surprised. “Me?” And the real surprising part was how infrequently I heard that during the entire course of my two marriages. Touch is language number one, but words of affection also play a strong role in my constellation of what “feels like love.”

The Nearest Miss

There was one missing ingredient for me in this first relationship. Something that didn’t immediately click. And since we had both been through a divorce recovery class, we had a label for what had happened. And she even predicted this outcome in that first amazing week at the beginning.

“I may be the healing relationship for you, and that’s okay,” she said. “I’ve had mine, and I know what I’m looking for. And I’m okay if this is just a crush. Let’s see where things go and not get too far ahead of just being together.”

She was right. As I reignited with the proximity of her physical affection and began to find my inner joy again, I began to look beyond the present moment and into what relationship goals I had, beyond her. In the moments between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we found the space to separate without a whimper. We both knew it wasn’t *the one.* And we were both committed to finding *the one.” And with that, we also wanted each other to have the best relationship for them. We had breakfast the morning after we “broke up.” I remember a few tiny tears, but mainly the big realization at how much I loved her. And when the romantic relationship was out of the way, I could fully feel my adoration of her. We’re still friends, confidants, and virtual wingmen, as we encourage each other, even now, to get what we really want.

Reset and Rebuild

I went through a year after breaking up with her before I ran into my next girlfriend. But the year in the middle involved a lot of rebuilding and remembering what made me happy. On that back porch, with girlfriend #1 she asked me, obviously aware that I was struggling a bit, “What do you look like when you are happy? What kinds of things do you do?” Those two sentences became my mantra over the next year. I hit the online sites again and went out on a few dates, with no real connections. And repeatedly learned that an evening drinking a glass of wine with someone who wasn’t even a near miss was a true waste of an evening. I slowed down my efforts to find my next date.

And I started looking at what things made me happy. I reconnected with my music and started looking for musicians to play with again. I started attending a tennis workout several times a week. And I started a focused walking program in the foothills around my house. I was building the new me. I was determined to become the happy me, the one who would attract the next girlfriend rather than have to go out advertising myself on Match.com.

As I was starting to “feel my oats” in spite of some financial set backs I crossed paths with my next girlfriend: the tennis player. We flamed up and flamed out fairly quickly, but she also taught me a few valuable lessons that made my real relationship so much more obvious when the right woman came along.

I was going to work exclusively on my own program of becoming a better tennis player, a better more confident musician, and a more confident me. I made a fundamental shift away from pursuit and back towards self-work.

With girlfriend #2 we had the physical spark that had been missing in my first relationship. And we had tennis. That was enough to keep a lopsided relationship going for a good bit of the summer. But something was amiss. And this time it was easier to pull back when the signs became more obvious that the “relationship” was something I wanted but she didn’t. I was willing to create 90% of the connection in order to keep playing tennis and keep up the illusion that we were building a relationship. We were not building a relationship. And when I was able to see this, I was also able to say good-bye without anger and to affirm my ability to break up well.

The Turning Point

This second relationship showed me what was missing from the first relationship, and showed me my own blind side of being the over-achieving optimist. I was willing to overlook the dysfunction in the name of relationship. But that’s not how it’s supposed to go. And I knew it wasn’t working out, but I continued a few more cycles of passion-breakup-passion-breakup before I opted out.

And at this point I made a fundamental shift. I was going to take my dating profiles down. I was going to work exclusively on my own program of becoming a better tennis player, a better more confident musician, and a more confident me. I made a fundamental shift away from pursuit and back towards self-work.

My idea was, I wanted to become the person who she would fall in love with. I even wrote a poem to her, before I had any concept of her, almost as a prayer. (SHE IS HERE.)

The interesting part of the equation, the part that must have something to do with a higher power (Or maybe it’s just “timing.”), was how my new girlfriend (fiancée) had been traveling down a very similar post-divorce progression in her life. And we both hit on the “no more playing around at relationship” idea at about the same time.

It turns out we’d been “friends” on Facebook for 5 years. And it turns out, she had noticed me at a party 5 – 6 years earlier and made a note of my disinterest. (This is exactly when I was entering my divorce, so yes, I was unavailable and unapproachable.) And then a few amazing things happened.

  1. I got a Saturday night gig for my band and was working using all of my energy to put on my musician coat of many colors.
  2. This interesting woman “LIKED” my gig announcement on Facebook and began to put out notes about her support of the gig.
  3. She went on a spiritual retreat a few months before the gig and confirmed that her current relationship was not working. She’d been doing the 110% routine as well and was done with the dysfunction.
  4. She took a pre-gig nap and slept right through the gig. (So the eventual meeting was delayed.)
  5. She put up a picture of a fancy bottle of Scotch and celebrated the silliness of her ex-boyfriend and the benefit of giving a gift you wanted for yourself.
  6. I contacted her via Facebook about the post, pointed her to this blog, saying I’d been writing about breakups and dating for a while.
  7. She responded via Facebook with an invitation

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Um… TENNIS?

Turns out I had hipped her to the blog a few weeks earlier. And she was planting the real seed. The road map to my heart had been well documented, at least in theory.

The Spiritual Message:
The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it.

And that’s the moment that we began reframing out future ideas while including some other person in the picture. I had been writing constantly about not dating and going offline, and real-time. I had also been writing almost daily love poems. The poems of desire, I called them. But they were also like a call for someone to answer. Like this fragment from, “burning up in prayer”

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I had also enlightened her to the other blog and somewhere along the way she decided that these poems were painting the outline of her. So she architected the “tennis” message at just the right time.

Timing Is Everything

So, is it timing or god that brings us together at the perfect moment?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: someone can walk into your life and change everything you’ve ever wanted or imagined you wanted. When that happens you are either prepared for departure and flight or you are not. The first time my sweetheart crossed my path I was in no mood or frame of mind for anything beyond my own sad story. When we crossed paths the second time, she was well prepared with my trigger words and actions. And I was broadcasting on all channels my desire for a partner to step up and be enveloped in my madness.

The wash and rush of our relationship surprised us both, but we accelerated into the good feelings and absence of red flags. There was/is nothing holding us back. There is growth and adventure ahead, but there is mostly our joint willingness to join with and appreciate the other person’s circus. Our prayerful thanksgiving throughout our daily lives together, merely affirms what we feel and hope.

My path was winding and long, but here are the basics.

  1. Learn what you really need in your relationship
  2. Learn what you must jettison from any future relationship
  3. Keep focused on your own life, your own growth, your ripeness
  4. When the moment arrives, be fearless in your commitment to love fully
  5. Stay in the present moment
  6. Listen for and discuss issues as they arise
  7. Celebrate the spiritual and physical connections in your life together
  8. Press ever onward and upward together – limitless

Any divergence from this path is a distraction. If you want the relationship you’ve hungered for, settling for anything less my teach you some valuable lessons, but you eventually have to move on.

I wanted a relationship. I didn’t want to spend time “dating” or trying to impress someone. I wanted a woman to show up in my life fully-formed, fully-empowered, and fully-ready to take off with me. When I was prepared to give myself in the same way, and when I had decided to quit pursuing the dating thing, that’s when I was ready. That’s how we knew were were both ready, we had both been expressing the same desire for the *next* relationship.

Arrived.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Reference: What Love Is – by Ayya Khema

image: heart with love seeds, epSos.de creative commons usage

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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The Dating a Divorced Dad series continues:

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What Am I Doing Here? Ah, Another Divorce Blog

WHOLE-newhome

I do think I’ve grown as a result of this blog. Quite a bit, actually. See, I have this other blog… Well, if you know me, or LIKE the Whole Parent on Facebook, you know about the other one. Anyway, the growth and transformation over the last five years as a divorced dad is much easier to spot on that blog. I was mad, confused, depressed, and going a bit mad, when my ex-wife said she was no longer interested in working on our marriage, but would prefer to work on our life as co-parents, sans marriage.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

I busted out my poison pen on that one. I acted out. I wrote F U letters. I got mad. I got sad. I got ecstatic. I got in touch with my voice. Somewhere in the burning blaze of my divorce and survival from divorce, I became a writer. I’d always been writing. But the D gave me a new vein, opened for me, to mine and hype and explore. And over the last five years that blog has grown and thrived into a successful platform for my less-balanced output. Maybe it’s in the imbalance that I found “my voice.” I  don’t know. But I do know that the words that have come out of me over the years to describe feelings of loss and hopelessness, defining roadmaps back to happiness and even love, those words were healing for me.

And almost two years ago I launched this blog with a new intention. 100% Positive. (That one is still hard.) Kids first. (On my good days, this is a breeze.) and Brutally Honest. My little meme still fits quite well.

donoharm-WHOLE

The transformation happened in my life when I began to look at every parenting decision or situation with the Whole Parent perspective. How could I turn even crappy things into some learning experience. It wasn’t easy at first. You can see in the early posts here, how I was pretty tentative with my criticisms of my ex-wife. But this blog is not supposed to be an apology or positive white washing.

The inner question I began asking myself, everyday, “Is there is a positive spin I can put on my life after divorce?”

And it was this question alone that accelerated my transition from a divorced dad into a co-parent. I’m still a divorced dad, but I’m no longer a single dad. I’m engaged to be married to a woman who is ecstatic about me and about my kids. It’s obvious when we’re together, this new electricity-fuel love. She’s from the “positive” school of thought as well. And together we more than double each other’s exuberance. We are exponential together. It’s dangerous sometimes, how happy and lovey dovey we are, but we’re okay with that. LOVE ON!

But there is something that I’ve tried to do with both my divorce blogs from the beginning: be transparently honest about my own failings, hopes, and progress. Even this blog can be seen to trace an arc out of divorce recovery and into relationship building. Today my life is more about my new relationship, rather than the old, broken, relationship I had with my then-wife. I’m not even doing “divorce” much either. I’m really a parenting blogger.

My mission is be the best parent I can be. Everything else is merely story and circumstance. While I tell the stories, and even rehash them, my goal is to hone them down into a fine narrative about a man who fell from the house of marriage, recovered his sanity over time with a lot of work and journaling, and who is now building a new life and relationship for himself and his children.

The cool thing about this new love relationship, is my kids are really getting to see two people who dig each other. What was obvious in the early stages of my marriage to their mom, began to fade and become ragged before we divorced. Even then, my kids were 7 and 9 when I walked out the door for the last time. Today they are 12 and 14. They are experiencing the world in a very different way. And today they are seeing me as happy as I’ve ever been. This has an effect and I believe they are happier as well.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced and soon-to-be-remarried, dad.

What I’m really showing them, however, is just how to be a good man, how to be a considerate and chivalrous gentleman, and how to be the dad they should’ve had their entire lives. But I’ve just recently shown up in my full-power again. It’s exciting to see where we will go from here.

Today we’re settling into a new house as a family. And while the kids will remain on the limited SPO (standard possession order) for a while, everyone seems almost giddy with delight. The time with all four of us in the car, or eating dinner, is as a new and different family, but a real family. Finally, I’m a man and a woman with kids. As a single man I was somewhat limited and damaged in my perspective. While I would say I have been a good dad, my exuberance has only begun to return under the influence and support of this loving partner.

I do relationships really well. I wanted my marriage to continue, but it did not. And that failure has given way to such joy and happiness that it’s hard not to thank my ex-wife for giving me this new opportunity for a joyous life. She deserves to be happy as well. We all deserve to be happy, but sometimes it takes a lot of work as well as a lot of time to get things back in place.

I joke sometimes that life is so good that I might “rapture” if one more good event takes place. The good things keep happening, and I’m happy to say, I’m still here. Everyday is a new opportunity to show up as a better man for my kids, for my new partner, and even for my ex-wife. We ARE actually all in this together. Today, I’m so glad I have someone to contemplate my side of the equation with.

No rapture here, just daily strength and hope, from a divorced (soon-to-be-remarried) dad.

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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Loving Again as a Single Parent is an Ongoing Leap of Faith

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Loving someone is a leap of faith. A continuous renewal of your intention and energy to cherish and support your partner. Loving again after divorce or a painful break up is a process of releasing your previous experience and allowing for the new experience to be different. But there are always echoes. And with kids those echoes can create barriers to fully loving again.

We constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

As you begin any new relationship there are moments when you have to decide to move towards the YES or away from it. The YES is that pull towards partnership, entwinement, entanglement, and committing to that path, that person, is a risk. You have to be willing to  challenge and rebuke all of those old tapes. You have to take a leap of faith well before you can be sure of anything. Falling in love is a process of allowing yourself to jump into the arms of this new person, into their lives, without too much concern or fear of the future relationship.

As you begin joining in this new love life with a new partner it is important to recognize the strings from the old pain and old patterns of your relationships in the past. When you feel that fear or sadness, it is a renewed committment to seek the new partner, that becomes the YES that allows your heart to reopen and re-feel the exhilaration of loving again. A friend once talked about “Writing over the old tapes with the new ones.” She was talking about reformatting your brain and putting new and good experiences over the old painful ones. It is important that you not run from the echoes, but that you open to the full experience of what is happening in your life.

The love pushes up the fears. The love with a new person will retrigger old hurts. As you spend more time with this person the little shocks of, “Oh hell, I remember doing this before with another person” will lessen and you can begin saying, “I have never experienced anything so free and loving.” That’s what you want to listen for. That’s the message you want to confirm with your new lover.

My significant other and I call it the “WOW.” And we constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

In my mind, “Wow,” says:

  • Thank you
  • You are amazing
  • I can’t believe how much I love you
  • This is the moment
  • I’ve never felt so much love
  • Amen

However you think about divine intervention or higher powers or your religious touchstone, love is the most powerful force in our lives. It is through love of ourselves, love of our children, and love of another adult, that we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives.

Before children I was extremely self-focused. I was intense and focused on success. And then I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and suddenly all the possibilities were open. And through the opening of our relationship we were both able to make the massive leap of faith to consciously bring another human into our lives. The moment we looked at each other and communicated that we were ready to go from practice (using birth control) to live ammo our lives were transformed. The leap of faith we took that morning in France, would burn away all of our ideas of self-actualization and striving. We said YES to our spiritual guides and asked to be given the opportunity to become parents.

As our story went, the marriage ended up not continuing, but we spent 11 years together leaping into the unknown, first in our relationship, second in our marriage, third in becoming parents. In divorce you must take that final leap, the fourth, into celebrating and supporting your previous partner in spite of the fracture and distance that comes as a result of dissolving the marriage and undoing the vows you made to one another.

But you never undo the vows to your children. And as you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials. In my case, over the last five years, I lost everything. Jobs, money, possessions. In some dark moments I contemplated losing myself. Amazing, that sadness that overwhelms completely enough for someone to consider an easy escape into death. I am ashamed to admit this moment, as if it’s some weakness in my character. But it’s a fact. A fact that I didn’t follow through on, but a fact that I contemplated, ruminated, on the idea that I could escape this pain and loss by escaping my own life.

As you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials.

My father must’ve felt the same despair as he made choices that led to his divorce from my mom. His choice was towards alcohol rather than towards us and our mom. He “chose” to deny his drinking problem and chose to marry another woman with a love of the distilled spirits as well. The descent was quick and horrifying to watch. But as he occasionally reached out to me, at 10 and 14 years old, to come live with them in the new fantastic house, I was clear that I would be taking a significantly different route.

As I have begun this new relationship in 2015 I have been shocked at times by the frictionless momentum we have developed while saying “Wow” to each other. But the bumps have been nonexistent, and the timing seems to have allowed both of us to make the repeated leaps necessary to join and rejoin regardless of the fear or differences. The YES has been much more powerful than any of our objections, and often more powerful than either of our individual ideas or expectations. We’ve blown through all of our expectations and are in an ongoing process of including our leap towards each other as we say “Wow,” and revel in the bursts of good fortune that continue to rain down on our lives as a couple.

And as we radiate and recommit, as we lean in towards one another and take the leap of faith towards life-transforming love, we can see the effect our joy is having on our friends and family. And the kids, while still readjusting to our new configuration, are already showing warmth and enthusiasm around our together unit, which now includes a new partner for me.

I can’t predict what will happen, but I can declare my commitment to staying in the YES mode and continuously transforming my fears into prayers as I turn towards this amazing new woman in *our* lives.

The leap of faith is strong and consistent on both our sides. As we hold hands and travel together and say “Yes” and “Wow” and “Thank you,”  we are creating love. You build love one leap at a time. And as long as both of you continue to leap towards one another, you’re future may be unpredictable, but the core energy will be solid and the core sound will be “Yes.”

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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An Amazing Thing Has Happened

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[Several amazing things have happened in my period of silence. I am excited to begin writing the story of my life and recovery again. While nothing has been posted here since February, a lot of living has taken place. I give thanks for the woman in my life. And I thank you, my readers, for your continued support and patience.]

She arrived in my life in January of this year.

In February of this year my life fell apart, due to my own emotional tides and I slipped into a depression. I did not see it coming. I was on top of the world, and boom, I was freaking the hell out. And then the most amazing thing happened. She stayed close and connected.

See, she had read this blog. She was aware of my emotional fragility and what I had written about the pain of my divorce. And she entered a relationship with me knowing these things about me. And then, even when the proverbial shit hit the fan, she leaned in rather than away from me. She recalibrated. We talked and examined what we were doing together. I talked about my depression and how it usually affected me. And again, she decided to stick around.

Now the weird thing about depression is when you are going through it, your world view gets rather myopic. You are so self-focused on what has gone, is going, and will go wrong in your life, that you miss the fact that there are a lot of people around you who are being affected by your emotional flatline. As I was questioning my life focus and my reason for being alive, I had this other person, this new person, who was also experiencing my depression with me. She might have been a bit afraid or sad that the shining prince had fallen ill. She might have run away or given reasons for “things not working out.”

She didn’t, she stayed.

When she asked what she could do for me, I said plainly, “Just be here. Stay close. Touch me.”

She did. She still is.

In my marriage, I went through a number of spills and thrills. And while she did an amazing job at staying married to me, and remaining a committed and resourceful mother, she didn’t really have much emotional comfort to offer me. I’m sure she was scared to death. Her breadwinner, and husband, now-father, had fallen ill and it was with something that couldn’t be measured very well, or medicated very well, or planned for or predicted. Though I couldn’t understand it at the time, due to my myopic narcissism, I can now see how difficult her road was with me. I honor the fantastic work she did as a parent to our two children and in keeping our boat afloat during some emotionally wracking times.

But my then wife wasn’t really all that emotionally available. Even when things were good she didn’t really express a lot of emotion. She was much more logical and calculated. We had a good mix together when things were good, emotional and logical. But when things got sparse or challenging, we often went to our respective corners and sulked.

I didn’t know about Love Languages at that time. We tried a lot of soul-searching. We did therapy together and by ourselves. We worked at it. I DO absolutely believe that she gave it everything she had. In the end, however, things became overwhelming for her, to the point of wanting to leave the marriage and pull the family apart. I still remember being at the last couple’s therapy session and us both stating our final assessment of the situation. We were ending our therapy and saying our goodbyes to our therapist and giving in to the dissolution of our marriage.

My then wife said she did not see things improving. She felt it was better that we divorce. I said, how I really felt we were at a launching point in our relationship and that we had been given this crisis as a way to express and work through all the things that had fallen apart in our marriage. I wanted to continue. She did not.

I learned that one person cannot keep a marriage together no matter how hard they try or how much they want to keep the family together. I was in agreement that things could not continue as they had been. But I was also convinced that she was still the woman I was in love with, and the marriage was stronger than our current complaints or disagreements.

But, of course, I couldn’t make her want to work it out with me.

Okay, so it wasn’t all about depression and emotional availability. We both worked hard at being in the relationship and being good parents to our two children. But along the way we fell into unhealthy coping mechanisms that drove us apart rather than together.

Today, I can say, I have been seen at my worst, by this new woman, and she has embraced me through it. And as I was thrashing in my own bile, I gained a perspective at some point that went like this. “What about her experience of this mess? She’s going through this too. I have to give some credence to her strength and love for me and step up, even for today (if that’s the best I can manage), to support her experience of this relationship and our time together.”

For a moment I was able to get out of my own self-pity and self-destruction and say, “Wait, what about her experience?”

It was a bit of zen moment. To be so deep in a depression that everything in the world seems dark, and yet to rise above it and try and take her wants and desires into consideration. It was like an out of body experience. I looked down at my sad self and at her happy (maybe shaken) self and asked, “What does she want this relationship to look like? What about *her* experience of happiness at this moment?”

And it was indeed this little fulcrum that allowed me to crack the black heavy cloak that was shrouding out all light. And adding into the equation our deep physical bond and commitment to staying close. And as I gave back to her, tried to stay open and communicative, she showed me she was not afraid. And by staying close, she affirmed her own words, “I’m going to stick around.”

I am not 100% back, but I have an ally and a lover who can take me in ON and OFF mode. What a blessing she is.

To be continued… (grin)

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Offline Dating: Setting Intentions and Actions in Real Life

WHOLE-yogagirl

Let’s start with an assumption: you are looking for the next real relationship of your life.

Now let’s look at what’s wrong with online dating.

  • Primarily based on photos.
  • Photos can be retouched, enhanced, and from much earlier times.
  • Most profiles begin to sound the same (long walks on foreign beaches, red wine, and having fun).
  • Most of what you see in someone’s profile is what you want to see.
  • Many people are just playing on dating sites, just like Facebook, they’re killing time.
  • The “matches” are usually so far off, sites like eHarmony are actually depressing.
  • Age is just a number.
  • A lot of men and women lie about their age.
  • There’s no way to sense chemistry via an online profile, email, phone call or text. (Phone calls do get close, but it’s 2-dimensional rather than 3-dimensional.)

And there are some myths about online dating that might be more marketing than reality.

  • It ups your odds of finding the right person by making a lot more people available for dating.
  • Many people have found the love of their lives using online dating sites.
  • It’s better than the bar scene.
  • There are 1,202 women who match your search criteria.

Um, yeah, if there were that many women, that were attractive, charming, smart, and had a creative passion in their lives, I’d already be married again. As it is, I’m not even dating. And the one person I dated from an online dating site, WAS super, but she’s one out of at least 45 dates and perhaps 1,000+ out reach requests I’ve put into the system.

So what are the alternatives to online dating? If I’m not going to browse and click my way into a new relationship, what’s it going to take?

Here’s what I think.

For me, chemistry is part sexual attraction and part magic. There is no way to get a hit of either of these things online. But when you experience them in real-time you know it immediately. With that understanding, I think there are a several real world criteria that might help me find a relationship in 2015.

Spiritual But Not Religious. What this means to me is the person may or may not go to church, but their spiritual belief system is strong and vibrant in their lives. With that essential element to my perfect mate, I can assume that she probably attends some of the following places. Alternative churches in my city. Yoga studios all over town.

Health Conscious. I’m more likely to meet my next mate in a Whole Foods than in a McDonald’s. I’m not sure how you go about meeting someone while shopping, but I guess if people are putting out the “hello” vibe you can sense it. I need to be more observant, more conversational, more open to nuance and fresh produce.

Active Lifestyle. (Tennis and trail walking are my two favorite pass times.) She’s got a fitness program of her own, for sure, but wouldn’t it be amazing if she also played tennis? What if I started there? What if I actually worked at networking through some of my tennis friends to find a mixed doubles partner? The one woman who I dated since divorce, who played tennis, was a total turn-on when she smacked a top-spin forehand. Why wouldn’t I want to do my favorite sport *with* someone? Okay, note to self: tennis networking – priority number 1.

Creative Living. I went out on a couple dates with a woman who kept repeating, “You’re so creative.” At first I thought it was a complement, and I’m sure she meant it as a complement. But what I started realizing, is she was saying, “Wow, you are *so* creative. I am not very creative. I’m amazed by creative people.” Oh. So, I think I need to be with another creative person. Because this writing and songwriting isn’t going to happen unless I preserve some alone time. My perfect mate has to desire alone time as well, and when we come back together, has to be able to bring some of her creative energy.

Mind Over Body. I’m probably not going to get my six-pack abs back. I’m probably always going to have love handles. So I’m not looking for a body-builder girlfriend to admire and worship. What I know is my mate has to be happy in her own skin. If everything is about fitness and diet and beauty, then I’m going to be left behind. And probably a bit bored. We all need to work on our health and fitness, for life. We all need to live with as much vitality as possible. If fitness and working out gives you that jolt, go for it. (I know tennis does it for me.) But let’s hook up in our mental space as well. We’ve got to spend a lot more time talking than lovemaking.

In Joy. Happiness is not something you can buy or learn. (Though you can work on it.) Happiness is the feeling you get when you are around someone positive and hopeful. If I learned anything from my last marriage, it’s that I am very hopeful and very positive, sometimes to a fault. But that’s also who I’m looking for. Someone who smiles more than frowns. Someone who wakes up each morning with wonderment and a stretch towards what’s possible.

Intense and Low-Key As Needed. I am most jazzed when I’m performing. I do have type-a driven characteristics and when I’m ON I push hard for what I want. But I also have a quiet repose, where I recharge and relax. I do want someone who can jolt up with me and climb the mountain. And then the next day uncoil on a beach for a day without any objectives or requirements. In contrast comes my power and pleasure. Let’s spark one another and massage one another as needed, in the moment.

I cannot catch a glimpse of the above characteristics from an online dating profile. And sure, over time, over the course of a few dates, I could get there, but what if we just started in reality? What if we knew what we wanted and showed up at those places in those ways to be seen and to seek? That’s the real world method of communicating and that’s what I’m planning for 2015. This year, every time I get the inclination to open Match.com I’m going to make a concrete plan to do something in the real world that will put me in contact with real women.

I’ll let you know how it goes. (grin)

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

This post really began here:  Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution and continues here: Action Not Intention Will Determine How Long I’m Single

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Getting Good At Blameless Breakups

WHOLE-tango-in-red

If you’ve been dating again since your divorce, you’ve hopefully had a couple relationships. (Relationship – def: a monogamous dating experience that lasts more than a few months.) And unless you are still in the relationship you’ve also experienced a few breakups. Let’s look at the fine art of breaking up well.

When you breakup well a few things go differently than you remember in your youth, perhaps.

  • You’re not bitter and angry with the ex-boyfriend.
  • You don’t stalk them virtually or in real life.
  • A text from them does not automatically mean they are looking for a hookup or to give you a piece of their mind.
  • The breakup is more about compatibility than “you done me wrong.”
  • You can walk away from the relationship without an extended recovery period.
  • You might really believe the statement, “I hope we can eventually be friends.”
  • You actually do become cordial with your ex.
  • Their Facebook connection remains in tact and you don’t feel the impulse to check-in on them.

And the ultimate indication that you broke up well,

  • You are happy for them when they find another relationship. I mean really happy, and not the “dang it, why don’t I have another relationship” kind of grimacing happy.

I’ve had exactly two relationships since I my divorce 4.5 years ago. And I can say that I’m “friendly” with both of them. And it’s this ability to break up well, that indicates a good healthy attitude about dating and relationships in general. It’s important that you are okay with dating, checking things out, and not forming a relationship too quickly. It’s part of the territory. If you date you are going to break up. If you break up well, you can go into the next potential relationship with a positive and healthy attitude.

It’s a lot like your divorce. If you’re still spouting vitriol about your ex, you might need to have that looked at before you start courting new women. They are going to pick up on your negative vibe right away. And it’s easy to spot a bitter person a mile away. And dating is the same way. If the drama is high, the bitterness and anger will tend to come out in any “So tell me about your recent relationships” discussion. It’s an essential question and one that you should ask while paying close attention to their answer.

Bitter breakups cause a chain reaction.

  • There is a mistrust from the beginning, because either one of you is afraid of being hurt again.
  • The baggage from the previous relationship (breakup or divorce) still hangs heavy in the mind, and will color the openness and joyful potential.
  • It’s not a long shot to imagine the few terse words for the previous ex will be brought to bear on you should you “do them wrong.”
  • Unfinished anger work comes out in present relationships.

You want to start the next relationship with a clean slate. The new partner is not evil, nor do they possess the ability to fix/heal/transform you into a happy person again. The joy you bring into the next relationship is equal to the joy you have in your life. If you’ve got some of your resources tied up in bad mouthing your ex, or even if you don’t talk about it, but feel it, you’re going to hold back in your next relationship.

Here’s the test.

  • Can you see the new person without any preconceived judgements about their motivations or intentions?
  • Are you able to stay present when they are talking about themselves, or do you keep jumping forward into future “scenarios?”
  • Does your heart genuinely open when you are with the other person? Or are you feeling protective and cautious?

It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. That’s silly. Finding your next relationship is a matter of trial, error, and breaking up with the ones who don’t work out. And until you find the next “real love” that’s all of them. And if you’re planning on the “date” to NOT be the one, you are going into the new relationship with a defensive attitude, one that will not show you in the best light.

Before entering into the next relationship make sure you are clear of the last one. How healthy are you on a scale of 1 – 100? If you’re anywhere below 90%, take a break. You’ll just do more harm than good by trying to “date” before you’re really clear on what you want. And as you enter a relationship with old baggage you will end it with more baggage. The bad stuff seems to compound unless it’s dealt with.

Here are some ideas for how to breakup well next time. (This list assumes there was no egregious freak out or infidelity on either partner’s part, for that, requires a lot more work when it happens.)

  • Don’t make it personal. Make it easy and simple. “It’s just not working out.”
  • If you care about them, let them know that you do.
  • Give some pause between the statements and let each partner have a say in what they are feeling.
  • If you think you can be their friend tell them that. If you don’t think you can be friends right away, let them know that as well. “I do think we will be friends eventually, but I can’t be around you right now, while I’m processing this.”
  • And then wish them well in both word and in your heart. By giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they are a good person who just needs a slightly different person, you can honestly wish them well.
  • If drama begins to break into the conversation, either find a way to shut it down (“Can we not get into that right now?”) or take a break and try again later. (“I’m sorry, this is too much for me right now. I need to go now and come back to talk about this later.”)

The goal is never to blame the other person for the breakup, even if they were the reason you are breaking up. Always take your responsibility for the miss. And make it about the chemistry, the mix, the overall relationship and not about them or their poor behavior. Remember, you are leaving the relationship, not trying to teach them a lesson or educate them.

If you can execute a blameless breakup you can walk away as friends and hold your head high in search of your next positive experience: starting a relationship and eventually ending it. If your goal is always to end well you can start with the same positive outlook. Who knows, maybe that’s the key to finding your next keeper.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Dating After Divorce

Reference: How to Win a Breakup – the Atlantic

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image: tango in red, zabara alexander, creative commons usage