Tag Archives: love languages

8 Lessons from My First 2 Divorces

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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

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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A Single Dad In Love, Again

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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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Unlocking Touch – The Love Language I Speak

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If you buy into The 5 Love Languages, then it’s important to understand your language. And once you do, things can become a whole lot easier. Sure, you *can* be in a relationship with someone who has a different love language orientation, but it’s always going to be a compromise between the two of you, reaching across your own needs to meet the needs of your partner. That’s okay, but if you don’t understand what’s happening, it could be quite confusing.

I am clear on my love language. I speak touch. And once I own this, I can understand that most of my feelings of connectedness and caring come from some form of actual physical touch. I think of it sort of like a dog or a cat. When they want to be close to you, they actually get on you (cat) or they lay down against you. I’m like that. If we’re within arms reach, I’m usually going to reach out and give you a casual brush, that says, “Hi, I care about you, I’m here.” That’s it. There’s not really any sexual drive behind my need to touch. But there it is. I enter a room and see my kids or my significant other, and I want to touch them as a form of greeting, again a bit like an animal.

In my marriage, in the early days, we didn’t have the love languages universe to compare notes. We entered into our courtship and eventual love with no meta-understanding of how we as individuals, experienced feelings of love. We knew the usual suspects, time, attention, happiness, and compatibility. And of course, sex. But the nuance of what made us tick as a couple was still pretty hidden in our subconsciousness.

We lost the connection that had bound us in the beginning, as we reoriented our wants and dreams around ourselves.

As we moved forward in our marriage and became parents with a mortgage in a nice neighborhood, and we succumbed to the stresses and trials of growing a family, we began to show signs of distress. And this is where our different love language DNA began show up as a problem. (Again, at this time, the book had not been written. And even when I did discover the book, it was a bit too late to reorient my failing marriage around some philosophical/psychological information.)

Here’s how things began to play out as our upper-middle class lifestyle became harder than it should’ve been.

Me: As a touch-oriented person, I sought out comfort through touch (cuddle, hold hands, kiss, spoon, nap, and yes, make love). I knew that I gained strength and calming closeness from physical touch in all its wonderful forms. So this is how I wanted to be comforted and this is how I chose to reach out to my then-wife.

Her: Her love language was more in the realm of “do something for me that shows me how you care.” She wanted me to anticipate chores and just do them without having to be asked. She wanted the lawn to be mowed at a certain time without ever needing to tell me, or more likely, get in an argument with me about why it needed to happen this very weekend. She wanted action and not touch or comforting words.

As we began to hit tougher times she began to focus on the “actions” I was or was not taking in support of her needs and feelings of stress and trauma. While I wanted to cuddle she wanted to do the excel spreadsheet for the afternoon to see where we’d spent all the money and where we were going to spend the money next week.

Wrapping all that up with in the form of a woman who is attractive to me, and who finds me attractive… That will be the next unlocking of touch for me.

The trying times brought out our core love language orientation in a very pronounced way. She became unable, or less and less willing to bridge the gap into my “touch” requests, as she was so focused on the *DO* aspect of our relationship. And I was so lost by the isolation of not being touched, that I began to thrash a little bit wondering if I was ever going to get a physical need met again.

Things did not work out. We were no longer willing to compromise our core needs, as articulated through our love language. We lost the connection that had bound us in the beginning, as we reoriented our wants and dreams around ourselves. Once we had unlocked the parenting portion of our needs (having kids) and had begun to experience some of the stresses of adult life as parents (bills, insurance, jobs, job loss, stay-at-home dreams) we began to act out our love language requirements in a more pronounced way.

It’s a simple explanation for a complex situation, but it holds some clear truths. We started out our relationship and eventual marriage with abundant sexual energy and the thrill of newness and youth. We hit the mid-marriage period and as stress developed we experienced our losses and needs more directly in identifiable alliance to our love language profile. As we got more clear and more articulate about what we needed, neither of us was willing to give up any part of our needs to fulfill the needs of the other person. In the end, she decided to seek her satisfaction outside of the relationship to me, and we divorced. The differences in our love language DNA seems to hold the clearest description of what broke down.

As I move forward into my life, looking for another relationship, I am more acutely aware of several things.

  • How happy is the person?
  • Do they share the same love language of touch?
  • How affectionate are they?
  • Are they willing to own their own issues and take responsibility for their own happiness?
  • Are they attractive to me?

From the joy comes an additive feature that I am looking to attract into my life. I am a meta-happy person. I can see the good in awful times, and will work towards and keep striving towards solutions, knowing that my joyful optimism will prevail. But that is not always the case. So I hope to find another person who is also additive with their energy and happiness. AND they share the love language of touch.

Wrapping all that up with in the form of a woman who is attractive to me, and who finds me attractive… That will be the next unlocking of touch for me. And without that meta-quality set, I’m happy being alone with my dogs and cats while continuing to seek the touch of another toucher.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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image: alone with dog and guitar, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

What I Learned From My First and Second Marriages

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You learn a lot by getting married. You also learn a lot by getting divorced. While I was really ready to exit my first, abusive, marriage, I was also devastated when I actually took the ring off for the first time. The ring I had gotten hand-crafted in Santa Fe while we were vacationing there. The ring that gave me so much pride at first, and then so much sadness. Even as things were really awful between us, admitting I was giving up, I was getting out, was a major defeat. It was an ending and the start of my next learning experience, marriage number two.

I wanted and needed touch to keep me feeling “safe and loved.” She, on the other hand, needed my actions to show how I was going to support her.

This time I had a lot more wisdom. I went into this second marriage with my eyes open and my wits about me. Except that’s not quite accurate. I was still wounded from the previous marriage. I was a bit depressed and disoriented. And I wanted the relationship a bit too much. I wanted *a* relationship. I was hurting, and lonely, and in need. I was not healthy. But I was charming and aggressive and when an old high school friend showed up I was immediately in love. I know you might think the word “lust” but you’d be wrong. She was beautiful. She smiled with an energy that lit up the world. And I was in need of some light. I leapt and pursued her right out of her “boyfriend.” Then I became her boyfriend and soon her husband.

Except I wasn’t seeing or thinking clearly at opening of our relationship either. I had learned a lot from my first marriage.

  • a fiery artist might be burning with mental illness as well as creativity
  • a hot body does not make a relationship work
  • abuse can come from a woman half my size
  • competition in a marriage is a wacky thing
  • even if the person commits to therapy, doesn’t mean they’re going to do the work
  • you can try to get out of your marriage and fail more than once
  • no matter how bad it gets, a divorce feels like a failure

So I was making some changes in my second marriage.

  • a long list of compatible qualities and activities you like to do together
  • historical friends make quick lovers
  • an artist is good, but let’s go for a bit more balances
  • logic over passion might be a better fit
  • mutual understanding and compassion for dark periods (on both sides of the relationship)

And I was certain I had learned my lesson. I had grown up a lot since my first marriage and divorce. I was still in the middle of replacing a recent job loss, but I felt more stable. I was not really all that healthy at this point either, however. I was so hungry, and so passionate, that I fell head-over-heels in love and overlooked some things that would come back to haunt me.

This time we had kids. We took the fractured equation of our relationship and exponentially expanded the connection. We jumped into the parents journey together. And for a while we thrived. And we thrived even when things were hard. We battled through, side-by-side. We were in this together, in sickness and in healthy, til… Well, that’s the last part of what I learned.

Death is actually the only thing that will part you, if you’ve got kids. Even though we’ve been divorced for over four years, we are still connected at a deep level. We never escape the relationship with our ex-partner when we have kids. My first ex-wife, is a distant and silent memory. She used to call from time to time, but the new os on my phone allows me to silence even those attempts to … what, say “Hi?” Odd. And no thanks.

While we had made this mis-match work for the first 8 years of our marriage, as we grew into parents with school-aged kids, we began to think beyond the parenting role again.

But my second ex-wife is the mother of my children. And as much as I’d like to write her off, I have to deal with her on a regular basis. So you resolve yourself to make things as positive as possible. And you try and celebrate their newfound love, and how “the kids like him.” But it’s not easy. I mean, it’s not easy emotionally. The positive part is the only option.

Negative energy or anger is like drinking poison yourself and hoping it makes the other person sick. You can only control your own thoughts and actions. I’m happy that my ex-wife’s boyfriend is a nice guy. I love that he comes to my daughter’s volleyball games and that she wants to hug him too, before we leave. He’s a gentle soul, and he seems to care deeply for my ex-wife and my kids. That’s good for everyone.

So what did I learn in losing this second marriage that I want to capture to inform, perhaps a third run at being married? (I might consider it, but it would have to be a mutual need.)

  • two smart and energetic people can still fail at keeping their marriage together
  • it does not take an infidelity to break up a marriage
  • kids are a great reason to work hard at your marriage, but not a reason to stay together once the marriage has deteriorated
  • trying at marriage therapy is not all it takes
  • two people with kids can make a rational decision to get a divorce
  • the kids will survive, and many of their friends will have divorced parents as well

The book Love Languages gave me some great insights into what I want next. I am a touch-centered person. I thrive in connection and wither and die in isolation. As things got hard, however, my then-wife’s love language began to forcefully enter the picture as “do something for me.” While we had made this mis-match work for the first 8 years of our marriage, as we grew into parents with school-aged kids, we began to think beyond the parenting role again. We began to think about our lives as individuals and what we wanted as well as what we wanted for our kids.

Things drifted off course for us when the economy took another hit and my high-paying corporate job was eliminated. And even though they had given me a 6-month parachute, with benefits, we began to argue about money almost immediately.

Money is hard. And earning a living, and supporting a household in a nice neighborhood often requires that both parents work. We had tried and been mostly successful at giving her a lot of time “meeting the bus after school.” But as I was let go from the corporate grind, tired and fat, I didn’t really want to just jump back into the next big job. We began to negotiate. And as we found agreements and disagreements about money, and work, and what each of us should do next, we also retreated into our separate love language patterns.

She wanted me to be different, more trustworthy, more grown up. I felt grown up, but I wanted her to be more loving, more connected.

It was sad. I wanted and needed touch to keep me feeling “safe and loved.” She, on the other hand, needed my actions to show how I was going to support her. What I was doing for her became an indication of how much I loved her.

I get it, that women are often the keeper of the home and the hearth of the family. And as things get threatened, the woman is often the voice of reason and caution. This certainly played out in our roles as the money got tight, and we began to look for what needed to happen.

This is where our Love Languages began to kick into high gear. I wanted to be held. I wanted to cuddle and be close, physically. On the other hand, she wanted to build excel spreadsheets and get “clear on the money.” She wanted me to take care of things without her having to ask. She needed me to change and be more responsible. I just needed to be touched.

As the time drew on we got even more entrenched in our requirements. As I asked for more physical closeness she asked for more modifications to my actions. She wanted me to be different, more trustworthy, more grown up. I felt grown up, but I wanted her to be more loving, more connected. Our two systems of what made us feel loved was way out of balance. Things did not get better.

We started seeing a therapist, but he was helping us communicate. He was not a marriage therapist, and took no real investment in whether we stayed together or not. He was just what we needed, in a rational kind of what. But in illuminating our wants and needs, he was also allowing us to see how fundamentally different we had become.

When you start a marriage you have expectations and visions for where you are going together. When you have kids those ideas are massively transformed, and your ideas and requirements for love might change as well. We moved through major transitions before and after having kids. We loved with all our hearts. We counseled, we cooperated, we worked hard to put the puzzle back together again, but something was getting clearer and not just “fixed” by our therapy.

We both wanted something different from what we had become. And in our fundamental way, our love languages hold a nice outline for what broke down. I’ve learned that a touchy-feely partner is essential. My first girlfriend after divorce knew the Love Languages book and self-identified as a touch-centered person as well. Wow. She unlocked a new understanding of what is possible when you have two people who speak the same Love Language.

As much as we wanted to remain in love and grow in love as parents, there were some fundamental shifts that happened in our lives and in our aspirations. What I learned from my first “touch” lover was that my needs for closeness are fundamental to my complete happiness. While I loved my second wife deeply, and still love her as a co-parent, I never felt completely loved by her. Expressing her joy and love for me was not easy for her. I carried a lot of the “touch” energy for the entire family.

Now I know. And my first girlfriend and I are still friends. I will always be thankful to her for giving me a new baseline for what being in love feels like. I believe in love and believe I will get there again. I still have some healing and growth to do, obviously, before meeting my next “love.” But that’s okay, it’s not a race. I’m in no hurry. And I’m enjoying the journey thoroughly.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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Does Love Fade or Fail in a Marriage?

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There is a lot of work that goes into a marriage. And having kids takes that “work” to the next level. Sprinkle in some financial stress and emotional unrest and you begin to have a recipe for the fade. But it is not love that fades, it’s respect. As unspoken expectations are unmet, the resentment in any relationship will begin to build up, like static electricity. If the issues aren’t discharged the minor shocks of the build up begin to become “issues.” Then issues become therapy and if things follow a typical course and one or other partner doesn’t commit to doing “whatever it takes” to strip back to the basics of respect and appreciation, the fade can take root.

I began to ask for more affection and closeness while she began to get further from a willingness or ability to be close.

In my marriage it wasn’t a fade at all. It was an imbalance that began to show up in how we expressed our affection for one another. Our Love Language mismatch had some thing to do with this. As the stress of married life wore us down, our basic instincts began to take over. Being a touch-oriented and expressive person (ENFP) I respond to upset with a desire to be physically close. I want to be held and comforted when things get hard. My then-wife has an almost opposite makeup. When things began to get into the nitty-gritty of our marriage and parenting roles, her tendency was to withdraw, need time alone, and to work the excel spreadsheet to organize and plan the budgets. It is simply her response to the stress, and particularly the financial stress of that time.

But the disconnect became more pronounced as things continued to be hard. I began to ask for more affection and closeness while she began to get further from a willingness or ability to be close. We struggled along for a while this way, and in some ways you would say our love was fading, but it wasn’t about love. It was something else. Resentment. Imbalance. Distance.

As the touch and optimistic joy in our relationship began to fall out of balance I stared overcompensating to fill the uncomfortable void. As she withdrew I tried to be bigger in my expressions of affection and love. With the kids I’m certain it was an imperceptible shift. But of course, to them, she was all present and kisses, she did not harbor any resentments or frustrations with them. And while I’m generally the touchy-feely person in the family, it was obvious how great she was at mothering. There was no lack of affection in our house, even as the affection between us was getting less tangible.

It’s not uncommon for the dad to be the big “player” in the house. I continued to wrestle and chase and hug-hold-squeeze my kids with abandon and intensity. Perhaps at some point I was using that affection to replace what I felt was lost between me and their mom. Still we sailed along as a family, doing the best we could.

Over time, however, my optimism began to give way to feelings of lack and hopelessness. So I did what I thought was necessary I worked to be more happy, to be more loving, to be more touchy-feely in my kids lives and I attempted to up the connection with my then-wife as well. In our therapy sessions together however, there always seemed to be an “issue” that I was missing. Some crisis that I seemed to be missing in our relationship. So we focused there, where the energy was, primarily for her.

The love didn’t fade for me at all. In fact even after the divorce in August, I was still asking her, “Is this what you want? This is not what I want.”

Some how I became the damaged partner in our relationship. I had suffered depression. I was struggling a bit emotionally under the stress of the ups and downs of employment in our unstable economy, both in our family and the country. There is no doubt, the stress of the financial times began to tear at the fabric of security for both of us. I compensated by looking to connect and be close with my then-wife. She continued to build financial models and organize “money meetings.” We were doing the best we knew how. I don’t hold any resentment about this period of our lives. It was hard. And we were in it together doing the best we could. But we were going about it in very different ways. This, ultimately, was the undoing of my marriage.

The love didn’t fade for me at all. In fact even after the divorce in August, I was still asking her, “Is this what you want? This is not what I want.” However, for better or worse, she had actually moved on, probably a long time before the divorce was official.

But it wasn’t the fade that happened for us. What happened, in my opinion, looking back now with *my* 20/20 hindsight, is that our fundamental emotional connections were different. In a pure Love Language model, I wanted physical closeness, she wanted “show me by doing something for me.”  As I struggled with the stress of new kids, new mortgage and health insurance, and distancing wife, I began to reach out more for closeness. As the realities of our situation weighed in on my then-wife, she worked her math and planning skills to figure out what needed to be done.

It wasn’t that we couldn’t see the other person and their needs. But it was a bit of a stretch every time I had to not only participate in but lead a money meeting. And if I were to wait for her to initial sex, well, I would be waiting for a long time. Fine, I understood some of this, and I learned a lot of creative ways to initiate closeness. And often I did without, anyway. But I didn’t really build up the resentment at this point. I was trying to take a hopeful zen approach to the entire situation. I could take care of my own physical needs for a bit, while we worked things out. And I could pour myself in to my kids and the work of working for a living.

The resentment and loss of connection had fractured something so deep in her that even therapy was ineffective at cracking the code of our disconnection.

And it worked for a while. Or we agreed to disagree about our compromise and our struggles and we’d meet with our therapist every other week to see how we could punch though the lack of communication between us.

I thought I was being very expressive, but it wasn’t in her love language. I was writing love songs, poems, and trying to do my best to at being a good husband. I wasn’t demanding sex. I was recommitting to seeing the chores and doing them without being asked. But I was also starting to suffer from the physical distance. Somehow, I was still in love and in bed with a beautiful woman who preferred the far reaches of the other side of the bed.

When our love broke, I was still in love. She revealed in a therapy session that she had seen an attorney.

From there things unraveled quickly. The resentment and loss of connection had fractured something so deep in her that even therapy was ineffective at cracking the code of our disconnection. In those final sessions I still felt that we had a new opportunity to strip back all the bullshit and get to the core issues of loving each other. We both needed a change.

She, on the other hand, expressed hopelessness that I would ever change and become the responsible partner she needed. How had we gotten so far from being able to related and communicate effectively with the other person, even as we were in therapy just for that?

Love did not fade. Issues on both sides of the relationship began to build. As she withdrew into her pattern, I tried to grow more loving, and more expressive and expansive about my affection. While I was the one saying, “I love you,” all the time, she was asking me why I hadn’t changed the lightbulb in the hallway. Two different languages from two different planets.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

image: tango, armando manynez, creative commons usage

The Fading Passion of Monogamy

WHOLE-lovefades

There seems to be a lot of new research lately that suggests that women do grow less sexually attracted to their husbands over the long relationship. Um… This is news? There’s this little concept called the seven-year itch that has been hanging around men’s heads for quite some time. Well, it seems the ennui is a two-way street.

I suppose the previous assumption was that women grew more deeply in love as the marriage years passed by. And with this assumption, was the idea that the deeper the love, the more sexual and connected the women would feel towards their husbands. Guess what? It’s difficult for two people to maintain a marriage, and even more difficult to keep that marriage vital, sexually exciting, and emotionally connected.

Love fades. A quick Google of the topic generates enough material for two movies and several encyclopedias of information about the fleeting nature of love, passion, lust, and love. Some of us, who tried and failed to sustain the magic, are looking for clues, ways to not repeat the mistakes of our past. And some people are becoming more convinced that enduring monogamy is just not viable in our modern society.

The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me.

I’d say love ebbs and flows. There are moments of peak experience, high times of love and raw sexual joy. And these moments are easier when you’re in the early stages of a relationship. And there is no denying that a new sexual partner is an amazing opportunity to rekindle your own inner sexual demon. Perhaps in a past marriage you began to doubt if you still had it in you. And after some work recovering your mojo, post divorce, you’re back in the dating game and BOOM it happens. The Joy of Sex becomes a thing again and not just a book.

But the question of being able to maintain sexual desire and interest in your lover year after year is a bit more difficult to decipher. I’d love to say there was a strategy or a book I could point to that would give us all the answer. There is not.

I can tell you, that in my marriage, even as things went from awesome and new, to awesome with children, to less awesome with children and mortgage, to less than awesome, to non-existent, that I never lost the desire and energy for my wife. While there would have been plenty of reasons to look outside the marriage, or ask for release from the sexless bedroom, I was more committed to my kids than I was to MY sexual gratification.

Of course I can’t speak to her and her levels of desire, or how the monotony of monogamy might have had something to do with the frosty bedroom. But I knew that our love would prevail over the time and stress and aches of growing up and parenting two wonderful kids.

The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me. I would still be in love with her, if there were some way to magically turn back the less-than cool things that have happened since. And if we were still working together, financially, rather than independently, and with two houses, we could be dialing back our work loads rather than dialing them up again.

It’s okay, I don’t want a reconciliation, and I’m sure that she does not either, but it’s a shame when all this wonderful chemistry, love, passion, and mutually agreed upon goals falls into disrepair and we find ourselves having to start over, or in my case, imagining starting over, with someone new. I didn’t want someone new. I didn’t want any one else. I was not tired of her sexually.

I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.

However, I think I was also carrying a huge portion of the task of keeping the love alive. Not just in the bedroom, but in our daily lives as well. I learned about The 5 Love Languages a bit too late to help my marriage, but I can see now how we were wired very differently for love and affection. My language is touch. And in our lives, and our kid’s lives, I was the one who wrapped my arms around everyone and hugged. I was the one generating 90% of the touchy-feely actions in our entire family.

This lack of balance in our expressions of love was most apparent, as things were trending downward in our love life, when I took a break from being the cheerleader of the emotional family. I was hoping that by dialing my own warm fuzzies back, my wife would recognize the lack and move in to fill the vacuum a bit. I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.

It didn’t work. It didn’t really backfire either, but I got my message loud and clear. If there was going to be joy and connective love in our house, I was going to have to generate all of the adult portion of it. The kids were busy little love bugs. They reflected back as much love as you could pour into them. But between my wife and I, the connection sometimes required effort.

Thus I believe the new studies showing women too suffer from long-term monogamy burnout not as a finding, but as a confirmation that love and passion take work on both sides. You can’t find true love and hope that it will carry you on into your twilight years together. You’ve got to work at remaining loving, remaining vital and active in your own life, so you can show up as vital and loving in your marriage. If either partner drops in their love energy, it is the other person’s responsibility to respond, support, nurture, and communicate.

If you can talk about what’s happening, there is a possibility that you can read books like The 5 Love Languages, or Seven Principals to Make a Marriage Work, and do what it takes to rekindle your marriage. If either of you decides not to do the work of keeping the love alive, then you’re in for some tough times. And when negotiations and discussions break down, sometimes over sex, the fractures may end up becoming breaks. The loss of the love may end up signaling the loss of your marriage.

I don’t have any knowledge of how this myth of women’s sustained love life came about, but I know I didn’t buy it. And so when the books began coming out and women started saying, “See, we’re in need of excitement and variety too, ” I was nonplussed. Um, yeah, we know this. It’s called the seven-year-grass-might-be-greener-with-a-new-sexual-parner itch.

This post continues here:  The Rest of Our Lives Loving the Same Person

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: found image, creative commons usage