Tag Archives: love

Fearless Love: A Holistic Theory of Active Love

Love is an action. Yes, it might also be a feeling, but ultimately your “love” is determined by your actions. Either you are continuously moving towards that special someone, or you are not. And as relationships go, it’s the action of love that will sustain relationships. The glow, the chemistry, the sexual connectivity all fade in comparison to simple everyday actions.

I’ve been wondering a lot about why I want to be in love so much. And what is it about a woman that makes me fall in love with her. What I’m beginning to believe is that the “falling in love part” is 100% up to me. Completely created by my imagination of where I think we might go together, what little things about her that fascinate me, and how I might go on trying to discover more about her over our lifetimes together. That’s what love means to me, the kind of love I’m talking about and seeking. The love that says I will be with you always.

In the initial stages of courtship the things that matter most to us are attractiveness and what we refer to as chemistry. I think it’s the little extra thing we see in someone that sets our relationship antenae buzzing with the word, “YES.” This could be the one. I could fall in love with this person. I can see the potential here. When the chemistry is not there, it’s an easy “no” that comes to my mind. It’s quick, it’s painless, and in many ways it is not personal. It’s just a preference. Or some intangible connection with our historical memory of relationships and love. We see something in that someone who lights us up. Chemistry. It’s either there or it’s not. It cannot be manufactured or developed over time. Love, on the other hand, takes a long time to develop.

As we begin getting to know someone we move beyond the their attractiveness and chemistry to something more akin to compatibility. Do they like to do some of the things we like to do? Do they snore? Are they friendly to everyone we come in contact with? Do they show compassion to the less fortunate? And of course there are the more relationship-related things like, do they kiss well? Do they brush their teeth enough? Can I sleep beside them and actually sleep or do they make me restless? Any misses in these areas can spell a quick end to a relationship. But as these things come into sync, as people make active adjustments to join with each other, the move towards a deeper trust, a bond that moves closer to love, becomes apparent as a goal.

If you want to be with someone and they feel the same way, then you can begin to actively seek time and activities to do together. This is the active part of early courtship. In long-term relationships some of this desire gets forgotten or left out. But this is precisely when love becomes an action. You have to work at wanting to be with your partner. You have to continually strive to understand ever more about them and their dreams. And from these images and ideas you can begin to piece together a map for how your two lives could come together for the long haul.

Trust is the deepest level of the relationship circle and it cannot be underestimated. As you build your relationship everything goes towards gaining trust. Even the small misses can begin to build distrust or resentment. This is bad news for the relationship and these kind of issues need to be actively addressed as a form of loving the other person. It is in the active participation of the relationship that you show your commitment. And it is in the depth and quality of the trust that you being to see this other person as THE ONE.

Trust is also a fragile thing. Once broken it may be hard to rebuild or reestablish trust in a relationship.

Moving towards the center of trust we come towards the ultimate goal. Fearless love. A relationship that continues to cherish the process and build rapport is a relationship that can stand the test of time.

Of course, things change. The trust can be fractured. One partner can fall into a deep depression, or be jobless for a long period of time, challenging all that the love relationship holds sacred. And these are the times of challenge. These are the times when the actions of the other person are either perceived as being towards or away from the love relationship. A committed partner can find their way through most challenges. But when one partner opts out, there is no future action that can save a dying relationship. When one partner says, “I’m out,” what prevents them from reaching that breaking point again? Once the cat’s out of the bag, how can you stop thinking about the cat?

Love is a tricky business. And love is built upon actions more than feelings or words.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

I Believe In Marriage

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I tell friends that I’m getting married and I get that look. Like, “What? Are you kidding?” I’m not kidding. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve found my next mate. And should I be as tenacious as I was in my second marriage, I think this one might be for keeps. But it is the spirit and intention that is solid and good. And enlightening.

When my fiancé and I started going out together the pull to be in a relationship rather than dating was immediate. Dating, it seemed, was for younger people looking for entertainment, trying to find ways to kill time. My sweetheart and I were intent upon sorting out our relationship from the earliest hours of our first kiss.

I was quite clear when we started seeing each other that I was not a dater. That I didn’t want to date. I wanted a solid. She was the same.

We are making a mutual agreement, a celebration and affirmation, that love triumphs over all. That the hurts of the past were stepping-stones to get us to this point, this relationship, this massive feeling of love.

Then we talked about our past relationships. In both marriages we had both been the partner fighting to keep things together. If we’re both fighters, we said, what could keep us from working it out in this relationship? And that’s sort of been our mantra. We have disagreements and differences, but we move beyond them pretty solidly with the idea that you don’t sweat the small stuff, and that it’s mostly small stuff. We love the big stuff together. And we don’t spend too much time worrying about the small stuff.

Today we were exercising and I started thinking about how excited I am to be getting married. I announce it with pride. “March 4th, we’re getting married.” It’s almost as if it’s the first time. Of course, it’s not. I have two kids. But together we see the future together, with my kids and without them. She even helps me see the irrationality of my ex sometimes, when she asks for things that seem unreasonable. “It’s all small stuff, baby,” she likes to tell me. And with her by my side, it does all seem like water under the bridge.

I’ve got a good life. I’m still rebuilding myself and my creative empire, but with this woman by my side, I feel invincible. No wait, that’s not a good metaphor. I feel boundless. Hopeful. I feel seen for who I am and who I bring to the relationship. That’s a huge part of being in a loving relationship. You want to feel seen.

So today, I was riding my bike alongside her while she ran seven miles. I was proud of her. I was proud of us. And I was filled with even more pride thinking about getting married. That’s the spirit that you want going into a third (for me) and second (for her) marriage. I am undaunted by the failures of the past. And this time, I am convinced that the proper ingredients and attention to macro-compatibility has been taken care of. We are in love. And it’s love in a big way.

When we are with groups of people we can feel the joy radiating from our bond. We’re not supra-conscious of it, but there is a joy. There is a loving feeling we generate between us that we share with those around us. Our close friends are happy for us. They have seen the transformation of each of us in the basking glow and love of this new partnership.

I believe in marriage, because I know I am done with this woman. I can see a million young gazelles along the running trail, and none of them come close to the love and adoration I have for my future wife. And I am proud, after all I’ve been through, that she will take me. We are making a mutual agreement, a celebration and affirmation, that love triumphs over all. That the hurts of the past were stepping-stones to get us to this point, this relationship, this massive feeling of love.

Marriage is sacred. And in just over six months we will commit ourselves to this new life together. The truth is, we made our verbal vows about six months after we’d started dating. All the rest has just be the interlude before getting married. We wanted to steep in the joy of planning, the joy of telling people, “We’re getting married,” the joy of spreading our love for one another with all of those around us. I know it sounds woo woo, but we’re creating more love with the love between us. And our marriage shows the world that it’s never too late, you are never too broken, and you can find the love of your life.

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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Nothing Is As Exciting As New Love, Right?

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The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Preamble: When the animal intoxication of chemical romance hits, our brains go on stun. We are no longer thinking like a human, we’re more like a dog.

I’m not a greener pastures guy. I loved my wife. I loved my last girlfriend. Those relationships are over, in the romantic sense, so I prop my hopes backup and set off again on the epic quest. The chivalrous knight’s journey. ARGGGH. I’m a bit exhausted from all the questing and leaping off after any romantic potential. I’m most tired of my optimistic fool’s trait that keeps my heart engaged long after the true colors have been shown.

All we have is hope. When things go wrong, when disappointments happen, when “bad things happen to good people,” all we have is our ability to imagine a better place, a new hope, a delayed gratification dream. Thank goodness for that, but good grief for all the times we have to fail to find another human to grow and evolve with. We keep trying.

Today I will try again. I will hope that “love” with the little “l” is out there, and perhaps nearby. The last quest led to a brilliant woman, who dialed in my number physically and sexually, for some unknown reason. We don’t really understand chemistry. We try to rationalize the “opposites attract” theme, but it doesn’t make rational sense when we look at our preferences. I use a dog metaphor sometimes to illustrate, even to myself, the simple mystery of physical attraction.

Two dogs meet in a dog park. Either
1. One tail is wagging
2. Two tails are wagging
3. No tails are wagging

There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby.

I think it has a lot less to do with our conscious brains and a lot more to do with something subconscious, sub-lingual, and more dog-like. I might think I have a thing for poodles and pitbulls. But when a fancy, just-my-type, boxer enters the park, all my previous ideas of who/why/what I wanted are thrown to the wind. A whimsy of hormones, eye signals, body language, and something else… Magic. That’s the only explanation for it. When magic happens we are up for the pursuit. Our animal instincts kick in, and even across a room, we can spot the “potential” and feel the tiniest rush. If we are open to the signals, we might close in on the deal, attempt a proud display, and engage in courtship.

When both tails are wagging, there is a potential for magic. There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby, but we’ve fallen into some other state. An altered state, and not always for the better. When the hit of sexual chemistry arrives, we are also vulnerable to euphoria, rushing into things, and premature sexual engagement. Fine. If you feel it, go for it. If you have insatiable lust and passion, go, do the animal thing, rut, pounce, devour. It’s wonderful. But be aware, it’s like an intoxication. And while you’re intoxicated you should not operate heavy machinery nor get pregnant. (A joke and subtle safe-sex hint.)

So, let’s say for illustration, you’ve got the ‘chemistry’ with someone and the rushing blood in your head and heart is an indication that you are getting intoxicated. Notice. Appreciate. And take a long drink of it. BUT… PLEASE… PAUSE…

Sorry. The headlong rush into sex and animal passions is awesome and fun and … Dangerous. I know I sound dramatic. But I am being dramatic on purpose. Let’s see how I can make this more clear, less metaphorical.  I’ll get more personal and tell a little bit about my experience with the drug of love.

I have gone headlong into the night of intoxicated coupling. And with two exceptions (in college, sort of one-night-stand variations) all of these rushed relationships have ended in fiery disasters. Hear me. Nothing is as exciting as new love. YES. I agree. And nothing is as blinding as the animal chemistry that kicks in somewhere below our human intelligence, and that blindness lasts for weeks, months, years if we’re… that “lucky”? or “tragically deceived?”

Let me try again from the beginning. My first marriage was initiated by such flames and synchronicity that I spent the first 45 days of our “relationship” either in her bed or mine. Of course, we were just finishing college, we had time, we had the uncertainty of “what’s next” in our lives. We had time and chemistry to burn. I knew on my honeymoon, however, when the fieriness showed up aimed at me rather than with me, that I had made a huge mistake marrying this woman. STRIKE ONE for hot sex.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd.

My second marriage was a bit more stable, but the chemistry was no less mind-altering. I was still wounded from the flame-out of my first marriage and the wreckage that was left behind after she did her business of “divorcing me.” So I fell effortlessly into romantic reverie when I ran into an old high school friend. And she was/is still beautiful to me. And we attempted to be smart, we attempted to be honest and go slowly. The stars were already in place, and we were negotiating with seriously impaired intellect. Such is the role of the intoxication. We partner and mate for the good of the species.

So my second RUSH went that way. We spawned two beautiful children. Still, I should have never consummated this relationship. There were red flags and issues within the first weeks that should’ve could’ve would’ve made a more sober man say, “no thank you.” I was sober of any artificial intoxicants, but I was as addicted to her beauty and body like a garden variety addict.  I saw the danger. I responded to the warnings. I proceeded onward and inward. We married. Altered everything about our lives. Had kids. And things went off the rails, in part due to the disconnects I was getting warning signals about, in those first few love-addled weeks, even before we’d ever slept together. I was too far gone to pull up from the terminal velocity nose dive. I gave it all. I put it all in. We both did.

The third RUSH ended last night. It should’ve ended months ago, when she calmly and forcefully broke up with me. But I was on the trail of exciting love. I was in the quest mode. I had gotten a taste of hot sex and I was no more sober than a male tomcat around a female in heat. And I’m not making any judgements about her or the warning flares she was firing straight at me. I was well aware of the danger as I moved in for the conquest. I was as hungry as I’ve ever been, maybe still (of course still) wounded. But more lonely and ready and energetic.

If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into our unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd. I even had a friend telling me, “She’s in no shape for a relationship.” I had all the information I needed. Heck, when the woman is saying, “No, nope, nada, don’t do it,” while still welcoming you into her arms… well, that’s your problem right there.

New love is a drug, that might be more powerful than heroin. If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat. Not a fun or survivable path. Addiction eventually kills us, if we don’t get help.

I’m on my own for this one. I walked in “eyes wide shut” as they say. Knowing, seeing, being told, “This one is not for you,” and going for it anyway. And five or six breakups later, it’s hard to count them now, I’m finally sober enough to admit my problem.

The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Yep. (hand raised) I have a problem with love.

Always Love (responsibly),

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The New Dance of Anger: Men and Our Legacy (part 2)

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This is PART TWO. The first part is here:  Men and Our Anger Issues: The New Dance of Anger

  • ONE: We all learn about anger at a very young age.
  • TWO: Relationships with Dad 
  • THREE: Anger In Unhealthy Families 
  • FOUR: Old Defense Mechanisms
  • FIVE: We’ve all got anger issues.

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 10.54.52 AMToday as I was entering this post into the Huffington Post publishing platform I was surprised to see this result in my keyword/tag research:

What was surprising is there were no topics/tags that started with “men.” None. Zero. Wow. I mean I know HuffPo was started by Arianna, and she’s not at all anti-men… but still I do notice if you look at the “divorce” section, where most of my content gets posts, there is exactly ONE male featured blogger. All the rest are women. Okay, moving right along…

We left off yesterday, partially due to exhaustion and partially due to my own overwhelm at writing about anger. And some other stuff… So today we are going to pick it back up when we start discussing how a man (or woman) today can begin to understand their anger, and transform it into energy and change for the better.

SIX: Uncovering our own anger.

First, you have to acknowledge that you have anger, that there are things in this world that make you angry. Second, you have to let yourself feel angry. You actually have to get angry and let that frustrating energy begin to bubble up inside you. Then, at this very moment, you need to examine what you are actually angry about? It turns out that we often have “anger triggers,” things that make us start feeling angry. And if the upset is minor, that might be all we get, just a blip that says, “that sucked” and we move on. BUT… Often the trigger will connect with something else, something from our past, some unresolved issue perhaps, that is re-energized by the trigger. When we get angry at someone, for forgetting to pick up the laundry, perhaps, and we find that an hour later we are still angry at them, there might be more to the issue than the laundry. Chances are you have connected with something else in your past that needs to be examined and, if possible, released. But anger work is difficult. And if you find yourself with anger issues,  it is recommended that you do this type of discharging with a trained therapist.

SEVEN: Accepting the anger of others, and learning to respond without heating up.

The truth of the matter is that people get angry with us as well. And in the healthy display of anger, this is a good thing. By voicing their anger we get new inputs about what is pleasing or unpleasing to them. This is how we learn. However, if we are anger-adverse, someone else’s anger is very frightening. The second someone close to us bursts into anger, it can cause some of us to head for the hills, both emotionally and physically. More common, however, is the mental exit. When someone shows you their raw anger, the typical response is to shut down. To clamp down on your own internal reactions so you don’t give away your feelings. If the anger was coming from a parent, the repercussions and withdrawal responses could be ten-times more powerful. When your dad yelled at you as a child, your entire world could be consumed by fear and regret. When your boss yells at you, you might be ashamed and afraid, but hopefully you can recover enough to carry on. If the person behind you at a stop light honks and flashes the finger at you, you can take evasive action to get out of their way, and not be the target of their frustrations. Finally, if your significant other is angry at you, there are additional levels of “will I be loved” and “will I be abandoned” that come into play.

For the most part, if you are comfortable accepting the anger of others as theirs, you can weather most storms. When the anger is repetitive and relentless, over the course of several days or weeks, for example, there is probably a lot more going on that the surface triggers that keep popping up.

EIGHT: Anger in relationships.

So your relationship is a very deep connection. Any disruptions in this closeness can result in fear, anger, jealousy, rage, depression. When the anger comes out in your primary relationship, you want to pay attention and see if you can hear what the core issue is. If you are too triggered yourself by the anger of your partner, you need to ask for a timeout and get help. The worst thing you can do in a relationship is try to deal with someone’s anger by shutting down or mentally exiting the relationship. This is how affairs and ultimately divorce happen. Anger is hard. But it is essential for healing the trust between to people. If your partner gets angry about the dry cleaning, but stays angry all day, even after you’ve gone back out and retrieved the dry cleaning, there’s something else up. Go get some assistance to help you both uncover the core issues that keep causing minor triggers to become huge “relationship issues.”

NINE: Anger and our children.

We are always teaching our children, even when we think they are not watching or listening. Like little telepaths, our children are acutely aware of the signals in our relationships. They are still much closer to that empathic system that allows them to read a person’s attitude merely from tone and facial expressions. That’s how they go along as infants, before they even understood our language. So when you are your partner are having a spat, believe that your kids are absorbing all of the information they can to help in their own survival. If you or your spouse has anger issues and begins to yell and threaten, you can imagine that the impact on a young child, would be even more dramatic. They don’t have any other options, in their mind. This is their entire world, and somehow something is very wrong.

So as parents we are doubly responsible for managing our anger. And even if we think our kids are sheltered from the storms, they are tuning in much more than you can imagine. So, as you experience triggers it is important that you and your partner have healthy ways to resolve the “issue” quickly and without drama or yelling. Triggers, and even anger issues, happen. The more you can channel those away from your family and into a therapy session the better. Once you both have a handle on the major upsets the triggers are easy. But know that how you deal with the anger, is the appropriate anger response you are teaching to your children.

TEN: Healthy and Honest Anger can heal us all.

So we get angry. And our entire family is involved in the dance of anger, when someone let’s a fireball rip. What we do next is of critical importance. If everyone runs for shelter and the raging person simply gets what they want, we may be setting an example for acceptable behavior that will haunt us and our children for years to come. If, rather, we learn to share healthy anger (often expressed as a disappointment, rather than a “you did this wrong”) and we talk through the resolution, even with our children present, you can see how this healthy interaction can lead to more confidence and comfort around angry people.

It it important to learn about the dance of anger, for men and women. And it is even more critical to understand the enormous impact your dance of anger has on your children. Give them healthy examples of dealing and discharging anger, and you will give them tools to deal with their own anger and anger of others. Show them how anger can be contained, and how the loving family can remain even when anger is occasionally expressed.

In my marriage, perhaps we hid too much of the anger. My kids don’t have many healthy examples of anger negotiation. And thus, even as young middle-schoolers, their response to anger is often to shut down completely, and even cry, depending on the severity of the anger. And this is anger not directed at them at all. We’ve got some work to do, showing them what healthy anger looks and feels like. And I’m sure as they enter their teens we will have plenty of opportunities.

Please take an opportunity to leave your feedback and experiences in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

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Men and Our Anger Issues: The New Dance of Anger (part 1)

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I remember reading The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships during my first marriage to a rage-enabled Basque woman. She was less than 100 lbs soaking wet, but she had the fury of only one other person I’d ever known. Cliché coming: My dad was a rageful alcoholic. When he was not drinking he could get mad. But when he was lit his rage knew no bounds. My first wife, was like that, even without drugs or alcohol.

The part I didn’t remember about the book, was the “Woman’s Guide” part. I get it. And I understand how I might have suppressed this subtitle.  But I think today, we need volume two of this great book. Let this post serve as my outline.

ONE: We all learn about anger at a very young age. Before we can understand language we are being given verbal and physical clues about what is a right thing to do and what is a wrong thing to do. For most of us lucky ones, this guidance is done without the injection of anger or physical abuse. For those less fortunate the anger in their lives, both physical and verbal, had no boundaries. There was no safety zone around the young and developing mind, no parent or guiding influence to protect our early learning systems. Physical and emotional abuse are things I know a little about. When the rage and damage enters the personal zone of sexual health and safety, I bow out. Except to know that my first wife had experienced sexual abuse as well. But that anger, came from a place of darkness I could never personally understand.

TWO: Relationships with Dad Children crave a relationship with their fathers throughout their lives. Even after the dad has died, we often seek his approval through the relationships with other “father figures.” That’s nothing new. We know this. We can even recognise when this is happening, and welcome the mentor of confidant. But the primary relationship with our actual fathers has an impact on our identity as men. Masculinity is defined by our understanding of our fathers. How they treat women (Moms, sisters, girlfriends, waitresses, etc) all form parts of our library of male-knowledge that we refer to for the rest of our lives. And this relationship to our fathers is not just about relationships with women. Our dads drive most of our understanding of how to relate to other men as well. Basically, the idea goes, a father shows his children how to make their way in the world. The mom shows the children how to love in the world.

THREE: Anger In Unhealthy Families When your father shows unhealthy boundaries and exhibits unhealthy amounts of rage, even when they are not directed at you, you begin to form coping mechanisms for how to deal with the incoming emotional assault. In the case of the pre-verbal child these coping mechanisms are deep and primal. The child within a verbally abusive home resembles the feral animal. Wounded, the animal, will cower in the corner either hoping for recovery or death. While the small child doesn’t have this exact same frame of reference, the feelings are of fear of death or some subverted understanding of how reality is supposed to be. As a child, our parents are all we know. If that universe is colored, repeatedly, by anger and verbal outbursts, we begin to believe this is how the world works.

FOUR: Old Defense Mechanisms As we grow older, we begin to uncover parts of our defense mechanisms against anger that are no longer serving us. I consider myself “conflict adverse” and this is often seen as a weakness in terms of executive leadership. I always score low on my “sense of urgency” personality scores. I keep saying, “I work hard so we don’t have to go into emergency or urgent mode,” but the test doesn’t hear reason, and I am given a lower rating as a project manager or leader. So, I know this about myself, I avoid confrontations. I avoid angering someone. In my second marriage this resulted in my letting the physical connection and closeness slip out of my relationship without a big ass fight. I should’ve fought. I should’ve been verbal. I was physical and accommodating. And in the end I allowed her lack of sexual desire to overrule my need for physical touch, sexual and, more critically for me, non-sexual. So as emerging men, we have to dig into our anger issues and find some inner resolve. We have to understand our own dance of anger, and begin to make peace with it and make adjustments so we can have healthier relationships, and healthier relationships to our own anger.

FIVE: We’ve all got anger issues. The difference is at what point our issues kick in and render us less effective at staying present (in an argument, for example) or at staying in a marriage (in the case of the angry devorcee). Staying present in the dance of anger, yours or someone else’s is critical to becoming a healthy adult. The layers and layers of armoring have to be unwelded from our hearts, and we have to be willing to feel the fear of being raged at. It is important that we learn to be angry. And it might be even more critical that we learn how to cope with someone else’s anger when it is directed straight at us.

end of part one – here is part 2: The New Dance of Anger: Men and Our Legacy (part 2)

I hope you take an opportunity to leave your feedback and experiences in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

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image: rage and love, lisa widerberg, creative commons usage

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

WHOLE-prayer

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage