Tag Archives: divorce lessons

Divorce Lessons: If What You Want Is Love That Lasts

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-8-43-44-am

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

Back to Dating After Divorce

Related Posts:

image: tango, creative commons usage

8 Lessons from My First 2 Divorces

WHOLE-2016-tangobw

Divorce is a hard learning curve. What you don’t know going into marriage (first, second, other) is what variables will change and how those changes will affect your life. But as you go through the entire process, marriage-to-trouble-to-divorce you learn some things. I’m going to try to highlight the big ah-ha moments I had in both my marriages.

Marriage #1

But if one of you is having major emotional issues, no amount of goodwill, good behavior, or good intentions will fix things. If you are waiting for the other person to change, you are in trouble.

We were young. I allowed her beauty and my passion to blind me to some of the issues we had early on. We had both just graduated from college and it felt like the thing to do. I was madly in love with her, but I didn’t know enough about her. I jumped into my first marriage on sexual chemistry and gut instinct. I thought if we were this happy then we’d be just as happy after getting married.

Lesson 1: Weather some storms before you tie the knot.

The first unhappy moments arrived my marriage on our honeymoon. I was suddenly seeing a very unhappy and angry person. Something, even in those early days of bliss, registered a big red flag. My thoughts as my new wife raged at me was, “Uh oh. I think I made a mistake.”

Lesson 2: As time goes on things that are not working are liable to get worse not better.

You cannot count on the other person changing to please you or make things easier. If you both agree to therapy, you can move the needle a bit. But if one of you is having major emotional issues, no amount of goodwill, good behavior, or good intentions will fix things. If you are waiting for the other person to change, you are in trouble.

Lesson 3: Rage and abusive behavior is never okay.

Aside from forging a new level of commitment, kids change the chemistry of the relationship as well. Overnight there are 200% more things to do. Chores become an issue.

It took me three tries to end my first marriage, mostly because I didn’t want to be the person who gave up. But when anger becomes abusive, there is very little left to work on. Therapy was helpful, but you can’t go to therapy for the rest of your life. When the therapy ended so did the positive behavior modifications. Ouch.

Marriage #2

I recoiled from my divorce for a while. I stayed out of the dating game for a year or so while I tried to recollect my own center and sanity. But I wouldn’t say I was healed when I ran into my second wife at a local coffee shop. We had gone to high school together, so we had an immediate connection, and from the initial reaction to seeing me, we both had some interest in exploring the possibilities.

Lesson 4: Pay attention to early things that don’t feel right.

There some initial miscommunication that later turned into huge problems. But during the early days of my courtship, I was unaware that she not only had a boyfriend, but that she was living with him. I think this secrecy on her part hurt us later on when other issues began to arise. Again, I fell passionately in love with her before any “issues” came to light. And when they did, when she told me about the other guy, we broke off the lunches. But I should’ve run for the hills. After a month or so she called me up and said she was done. I think my loneliness and the magnetism caused me to jump right back in.

Lesson 5: Kids change everything.

Aside from forging a new level of commitment, kids change the chemistry of the relationship as well. Overnight there are 200% more things to do. Chores become an issue. Exhaustion becomes an issue. And as you both slip into the overwhelm of raising kids some deeper level of personality comes out. In an overwhelming situation you’re either a happy camper making due or an unhappy camper complaining the whole way. I was generally happy.

Lesson 6: Trust is the foundation of a relationship.

There seemed to be a lot of trust issues in the last half of our marriage. It seemed that I was always in the process of doing something wrong, or covering up something else I had done wrong. In fact, I’m not sure I was doing things wrong, but the unhappy camper was certain that their unhappiness was due to me. I don’t think another person is responsible anyone’s happiness. And even therapy didn’t sort this one out. When the trust was broken the repair was difficult and ultimately failed.

Lesson 7: Intimacy does reflect a lot about a relationship.

It seems the biggest marker for success is the general outlook of the other person: Happy camper vs. unhappy camper.

Love Languages does a great job of marking out different ways people have of feeling love. And for sure, my 2nd wife and I had very different languages. But there’s a balance, even if you’re languages are completely different. And when touch is taken out of the equation for any length of time the entire relationship can begin to change. We are animals. And sex is a base-level need. When sex goes, the relationship is soon to follow. It reveals some deeper dysfunction.

Lesson 8: Even in cooperative divorce you need to get a lawyer.

As we parented 50/50 I was certain in our early divorce negotiations that we would end up in some 50/50 parenting in our divorce. So when the therapist we’d hired to guide us suggested starting at something much different I was upset but I did not stop and fight. I know today that I was whitewashed into accepting the Standard Possession Order and the non-custodial parent because it was what my then-wife wanted all along. We agreed to cooperate but right off the bat I was handed a non-cooperative ruling. In hindsight I should’ve stopped the process and lawyer-ed up and fought. But I’m conflict adverse and I listened to the reasonable therapist and my in-the-best-interest-of-the-kids wife. I was railroaded.

Upward and Onward

That’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge and still want to get married again. So I’ve got to take the time to learn from these experiences and check-in on all the points before getting married again.

It seems the biggest marker for success is the general outlook of the other person: Happy camper vs. unhappy camper. In my second marriage I thought we had a match, but the stress and change brought on by having kids sort of flipped her mode. In my current engaged status I have the opportunity to see and understand my partner in new ways. There’s no hurry between us, and even that’s something we agree on.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

image: tango in bar, creative commons usage

Divorce Lessons: 8 Critical Choices In Making a Positive Split

WHOLE-yes-peace

You’re entering into the first WTF discussions with your partner about divorce. I’m sorry. There are a few things you should know, mom or dad, that will make your transition to a divorced couple more manageable. Again, I’m sorry for your loss, perhaps there is something better on the other side, but right now you need to attend to the details. Maybe I can help. Here are the 8 critical points of maintaining a positive divorce approach in the days, months, and years ahead. Your relationship may be ending, but the road of divorce never ends.

Each parent is responsible to keep their own emotional upset out of the kids lives.

1. Kids. If you’ve got’em, everything you do from this point on should revolve around making their lives a bit less tumultuous over the next few years as your and your ex figure out the routine and cadence of co-parenting. Everything, and I mean, everything should be about the kids. All of your needs come second. Period. (Since this is my situation, most of the rest of this post deals with the kid-first issues of divorce.)

2. Money. A friend told me during my practice divorce, “If you can rub money on it, let it go.” And this is fairly clear. If it’s a material object, there is no sense fighting over it. (Embittered or contested divorces notwithstanding, don’t sweat the little things.) After the kids the money is the main negotiation in divorce. You have assets and you have debts. And as you separate your money issues, you will each get portions of both. If you have a house you are going to have to decide who gets it. Do you keep it? Do you sell it? If the kids would be better served by not being uprooted at this time, maybe you need to consider how you can best keep them in their home. (Notice I said their home. Yes, it’s your asset, as parents, but the home, the feeling of home, the safety, security, and love that was established in this home, is really all about them.

But money doesn’t stop with the house and things. The next issues is the sticky wicket the stalls a lot of divorce negotiations.

3. Child Support and the noncustodial Parent. This is the one I was completely uninformed about when we entered into our divorce planning. It was my hope and intention that we would work out the divorce with the same care we took in planning to become parents. We were a 50/50 family, all the way. But something happened on the way to the counselor’s office where we began drawing up our parenting plan. This is the core schedule that will run your lives and your kids lives over the next 10 – 15 years. It is the most important part of the divorce, but maybe not the most important part of the custodial negotiations.

If you stay on the positive divorce route, you will help your kids keep their positive opinions of both of you.

Back in 2010 when I got divorced, the state of Texas had a pretty clear judicial record on divorce. 85% of all divorced awarded the mom primary custody and the dad noncustodial status. It’s still called joint custody, but don’t be misled by the title. Here’s the part I didn’t quite understand, even as I was reading divorce books and making my own strategies about putting together a fair 50/50 schedule. The noncustodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. No negotiation. The state has a formula based on your income (it works out to approximately 19% of your after-tax take home) and you (the noncustodial parent) will be asked to pay for 100% of the kids healthcare insurance. Okay, so get that straight. If you go the path of least resistance, as I did, and cooperate to the best of your abilities, you are still likely to be given the noncustodial role and the big monthly bill.

This is the major sticking point in a divorce. I didn’t know this. I agreed move on after I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my soon-to-be-ex would get this anyway if I fought in court about it. That wasn’t our deal, that wasn’t what we were doing, we were jointly paying a pricey divorce counselor to help us make these decisions together, but that’s what I was “going to get if I went to court.” So I folded my 50/50 plans, and was politely told my 50/50 schedule was nice, but that’s just not how this cooperative negotiation was going to go.

I should have gotten an attorney at this point. The problem is, back in 2010, I would’ve gotten what I got. So we avoided that pointless fight, and moved on to the plan.

4. Parenting Plan. Here’s where the non-financial work goes. This is the real meat of the divorce, at least as far as the kids are concerned, and remember that’s what we are focusing on here. Kids first, adults and our wants and needs second. So, along with the noncustodial parent role I was shown something called the Standard Possession Order or SPO. In Texas this means the dad gets the kids one night a week, plus every 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekend. (I’ll get to that 5th weekend in a second as well.) That’s the deal. That’s what’s going to happen “should you go to court” so you’d best be prepared to start there. Again this is the counselor talking. What I was saying is, “Why not 50/50? It looks like the books all say if the parents are cooperative and equally committed to co-parenting, that 50/50 parenting actually works better for the kids.” That’s not what you are likely to get if you end up in court, so “even negotiated” that’s likely what you’re going to end up getting if you try to keep the divorce planning in a cooperative and gitterdun mode.

The parenting plan also covers things like holidays, which Christmases they are with who. How you’re going to divide Spring Break and Summer Vacation. Those are the routine details of the plan.

5. The Dating Clause. One other part of the plan, that I think is essential, is the dating clause. In our plan, any parent who is dating, cannot introduce their dates to the kids until it has been a serious relationship for over 6 months. I think this saved us some real heartache in the early rebound days, and I was glad to have it in place. As it turns out, I still haven’t made it to 6 months with anyone. My ex has been dating for two and a half years, so the kids are familiar with him and like him. The idea is this clause keeps the kids (especially younger kids) from becoming attached or involved in any relationship that might be temporary. It’s a good idea, and I have felt that the way it slows down the pace of dating and moving into a more serious relationship, for me, has been beneficial.

6. Your Attitude. This is the core emotional piece of the divorce that you might spend more time on than you think. If we start with a few assumptions we might see the benefit of positive divorce more clearly.

  • Divorce is painful for everyone.
  • Each parent is responsible to keep their own emotional upset out of the kids lives. It’s fine to let them know or see that you are working through some stuff, but your promise has to be to not work it out in their presence. Get help for yourself outside the walls of your house.
  • Your kids will learn how to respond to this major life event by watching how you cope. You’re the role model that will provide the guides for their future upset navigation. By keeping your attitude positive and keeping your issues about your ex between you and your counselor, you can show your kids how to continue a loving family, even as your ex now lives somewhere else.
  • Anger is part of the grieving and growth process. But anger should not be worked out in front of your kids. Do whatever you need to do, but keep the frustrations and conflicts with your ex, OUT OF THE KIDS LIVES. There is not one angry thing that is appropriate to say about your ex. Not one. Your kids are not your little confidants and they should not be included in your bitching sessions. And take care to notice when you are doing this over the phone, those little ears are *so tuned* to every nuance of what is going on, that your anger, even in another room on a phone call to a friend, should be considered risky. Grieve, get mad, get support, but don’t let off steam in front of your kids.

7. Positive Divorce. If you stay on the positive divorce route, you will help your kids keep their positive opinions of both of you. You will give them healthy examples of how to cope with crisis and difficulty, that will provide a strong framework for them to grow with later in their own lives.

You still have loving kids between the two of you. Keep their loving attitudes in your hearts, and when you’re getting off track, focus on them and their needs.

You may never want to be friends with your ex, but you must maintain friendly relations in front of the kids. Even if money, or schedule conflicts are raging off scene, you’ve got a commitment to your kids that supersedes any and all issues. Yep, it’s hard, but keep that powerful pain out of the family.

Nobody wins in divorce, but we can keep either side from losing, if we stay present and positive in the coming months of negotiation and planning. And keeping things out of court and out of conflict, as much as possible, will go a long way to keeping the coming years on the cooperative side. Believe me, you need your co-parent, sometimes more than you did when you were married. As a co-parent some of their help is voluntary. It is okay to say, “I’m sorry I can’t help with that.” But it is so cool to be able to say, “Hey, I have plans, but let me see if I can move them so I can take the kids for you.”

The second sentence works like magic. You still have loving kids between the two of you. Keep their loving attitudes in your hearts, and when you’re getting off track, focus on them and their needs. That’s what it’s all about.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

related posts:

image: yes, peace, mark farlardeau, creative commons usage