Tag Archives: relationship strategy

Do You Know What You Want? Dating Strategies After Divorce

WHOLE-2016-tangoFiguring out what went wrong in your marriage is a big puzzle. I hope you’ve done some work on your issues before you start looking for your next relationship. We’re going to start with the premise that you’ve solved some of  your own issues and identified some of the things that split you apart.

Online Dating

While I do think there is value in online dating, I also believe there are problems inherent in the social click-me culture. But let’s look at what’s great about online dating.

  1. Browse the available field from the comfort of your home.
  2. Put your personal value proposition together. (What you have to offer.)
  3. Put your wants, desires, and dreams out there. (What you are looking for.)
  4. Put what you like to do out there. (On Friday nights I’d like to be on the couch, or in a night club are two very different trajectories.)
  5. It helps you get your image together. (You didn’t post that one you took in the bathroom, right?)
  6. You can learn what parts of your profile people are picking up on. Because you’ll ask them on the date.
  7. Try some dates. Learn what you like and don’t like about “dating.”
  8. Low commitment of time to get a date lined up.
  9. Flirting online is fun.
  10. Seeing all the potentials is inspiring.

Offline Dating

The goal of online dating is to get to an offline date. Meeting is person is the only way to really see if there is chemistry going both ways. Photos are interesting, but they lie. Profiles are interesting, but they are about 50% made up. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe, face-to-face, to understand if you want to date this person.

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails.

I found that my efforts online were fun and semi-fruitful (my first relationship after divorce was from Match.com) but they were lacking in the more fundamental aspects of relationships. 1. Do they like to do the things you like to do? (Not just say they do.) 2. Does your heart race when you are near them? 3. Can you pick up the returning vibe when you are with them?

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails. And you can’t really see what a person looks like from photos. You get their BEST SIDE, but you want ALL SIDES.

Priorities

This is the biggest decision for you to make. What are your must-haves and what are your deal-breakers. And know this, these things will change. Things you thought were must-haves might fall off the list when you meet the right person.

A few of my priorities looked like this.

  • Must love being active.
  • Has a positive personality.
  • Whip-smart.
  • Athletic body shape.
  • Funny.
  • A single mom.

Then know that your priority list is changeable and resort-able. And you may change it frequently.

A Road Map

All of your ideas for who you are looking for are more like ancient treasure maps than today’s GPS-accurate maps. You do need a map, however. Here’s MINE. (The 6-Step Relationship Strategy)

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t.

And then you have to know this. Your map will be burned and charred from adventures. This is not a bad thing, it’s part of the process. You’re map is an idea of where you want to go.

When the right person shows up all of your priorities and maps will be blown away. At least that’s what you hope for. You need the maps and plans and strategies. But when the right person shows up, you will be amazed how little those things mean.

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t. It took me three relationships to find the ONE. And this ONE I hope to be the last relationship I’ll ever have. And we are both committed to that idea more than ever before. You need someone who’s willing to fight for their relationship. When you both played that role in your last relationship, you might have found a like-spirited person who will fight for your love, just like you will fight for theirs.

That’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Care and Feeding of Your Lover

WHOLE-runner

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it how ever it best suits them in the moment.

In the course of a relationship with someone you begin to have a lot of influence on their lifestyle and habits. If you stay in sync with each other there is nearly limitless opportunity for support and encouragement. When things aren’t going so well, there is also the opportunity for resentment and discouragement.

In my marriage, we went through various stages of a connected relationship, but over time we began to fall out of step with each other. And what starts happening, is a form of the higher/lower game. Where one partner feels like they are doing all the work while their partner is slacking off, or even being destructive or worse, self-destructive. When communication breaks down, one of the parts that goes first is our empathy and compassion for the other person’s personal struggles.

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration.

We are all on a solo journey in the end. We come together, we live love and eat together, and then… Well, in the case of divorce, we come apart. But the fractures that create the final breakup have been caused by the smaller injustices that we perceive to have happened over time. We have several ways to get out of the death spiral: 1. we can talk to each other and work through the imbalances; 2. we can talk to a therapist individually about our issues; 3. we can talk to a couple’s therapist; 4. we can opt out of the relationship.

OPTING OUT

Opting out of the relationship can happen suddenly as in, “Honey, I want a divorce.” or more gradually as we begin to turn away from our partners and towards something/someone else. In my case the transition happened over a number of years and through a slew of hardships. We tried options 1, 2, and 3. And at some point she picked option 4: divorce.

The more challenging approach is to continuously opt back in to your relationship. This does require several fundamental transformations. You have to let go.

LETTING GO

  • Your partner’s decisions are about them not you
  • A partner’s issues are also theirs, advice is always a bad idea, unless requested
  • Attacking someone else’s fitness is a form of self-abuse and sabotage
  • Not expressing your own disappointments and complaints is a form of passive aggressive behavior that will bite you in the ass
  • Controlling behaviors never work
  • Unmet expectations are the source of a large percentage of our unhappiness

Give your partner freewill but stay close and in contact — attachment is not the same as codependence.  When you let go of expectations about controlling or influencing your partner’s behavior, when you stop seeing yourself as superior in any way (that’s a hard one), when you can keep your focus on yourself and your issues, you can begin to get the relationship you truly want.

WHAT YOU WANT

  • A connection based on mutual adoration and support
  • A lifestyle that supports healthy habits and behaviors in both of you
  • A process for releasing and working through issues as they come up between you
  • Some activities that you both find ecstatic.

If you lean in to the relationship and own your issues you can begin to see the other person in a more realistic light. They are human. Their flaws are their own. Their demons are solo projects and a rescue attempt (symbolic or physical) will most likely backfire. They do not need to be rescued. They need to be connected with you.

In my darkest period, right after 911 and after my daughter was born to my own unemployment and fears of survival, my then-wife and I struggled quite a bit. We both struggled with demons as a result of the circumstances. I gained weight and fell ill with a deep depression. She became withdrawn and resentful. As it turns out, I kept working on my own issues and struggling to find answers, solutions, in the hope that I would eventually return to my happy old self. I cannot imagine what she was dealing with or the struggles she faced as she saw me incapacitated at this moment of great need.

I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

We survived that bleak period and went on to raise two healthy children together. But the fracture, the mistrust that was planted during those crushing months, was probably enough to damage our marriage beyond repair. We tried. We were better at (2) talking to our individual therapists and (3) talking to our couple’s therapist than we were at (1) talking to each other. But that weakness, our lack of skills at disagreeing while letting go of the outcome, is also what doomed our repair efforts.

I’ll never forget the flash point several years later. We had just finished doing morning yoga together. And something was deeply troubling her. When I asked she unloaded with a brief burst of passion. “There is no rescue coming, if that’s what you’re waiting on. It’s just us.”

Her statement hit me on two levels. 1. She was terrified that I wasn’t going to snap out of my malaise and get back to work, back to supporting our family; and 2. She was certain that my actions, that my recovery, that my salary, is what she needed to be happy. But the real kicker was that I had not seen any passion out of her for months and this outburst came at a tender time between us when I was feeling loving and safe to reach out and support her. But her issue wasn’t her, her issue in her mind, was me.

HOW LOVE WORKS

I was eventually able to rebound from the loss of my consulting practice after 9-11 and the freak-out depression that followed. I gradually built my “working for the company” resume back up with a series of jobs. And we soldiered on as two responsible adults. But there was a missing element that had bound us together when we started dating. Her joy and playfulness never returned. At some level, the out bursts that began to crop up years later, were similar to this first one. Something I was doing or not doing was causing her to be miserable in her life.

I didn’t buy into that line of thinking, but that seemed to make her more furious and more distant. Sure, she was seeing her therapist and we were seeing our therapist but there was very little emotional connection between us outside of those efforts. As I tried to find my joy elsewhere, I began to write and spend time in my music studio after we put the kids to bed. I’d come to bed in the 1 – 2 range long after she had fallen asleep. I was also working a 9 – 5 job so our time together began to get stretched. My passion and creative thrust needed some outlet. And since our intimate relationship had also grown frosty, I took my joy where I could find it: with my kids and alone in my own creative space.

At some point, we all have to realise that we can be *with* another person, we can be close and connected and loving, and yet, that person still has to deal with their own issues by themselves.

HOPE IN LETTING GO

Today, my relationship has been built on a foundation of communication, self-discipline, and mutual admiration. I adore my fiancé. But it’s different than when I met my future wife. At our age, we come to any relationship with a more mature attitude and more complex conditions of satisfaction. We have been through the fire with several relationships and seen what didn’t work. So we attempt any new relationship with a more mature perspective, but also a new set of rules.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment.
  • There is no time for passive aggressive behavior – if you’re doing it let’s call it what it is and either cut it out or cut and run
  • I won’t try to control you or work your program for you, whatever that is.
  • Let’s see how many things we align on and how many we differ on and be realistic about our compatibility. If there are things you are polar opposites on, how does that play out? Can you manage those differences without feeling attacked or attacking the other person?
  • What do we love to do together? Can we make the time to do those things?
  • How we hear each other’s requests says a lot about where we are in our lives. Are we feeling self-conscious about our weight? Then even a “hey, let’s go for a walk” can feel like a controlling question. But it’s not. It’s our own issue to reveal and deal with.
  • How do we want to support and cheerlead for our partners every day? If we don’t, if we’re feeling resentment, the spontaneous appreciations begin to drop off.

APPRECIATIONS AND GRATITUDE

Make sure you’re living in the appreciation mode. That shows a lot about where you are with your life and how you are with your partner’s life, where ever they may be along their personal path to power/freedom/self-actualization/whatever.

And know that your relationship to each other is also fueled by your own spiritual beliefs. Joining in gratitude, even if you’re praying to different concepts of god, is a fundamental bond that strengthens you both with every joined or individual prayer.

Pray for your lover’s health and happiness, then let go and let them pursue it however it best suits them in the moment. If you are supportive and standing by, you will also be included in their journey. Perhaps this is the key to a lifetime of love and acceptance. Acceptance for yourself. Acceptance of your partner. And finally, acceptance of our individual relationship with God.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: chasing my new lover, cc 2015 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

The 6-Step Relationship Strategy

WHOLE-relationship-strat

Two years ago, as I was waiting for one of the “women with potential” to show up, I wrote this Relationship Strategy list. Just like I would for an online marketing project I was taking on. Here I was, getting ready to hang out with this woman, and I’m designing the strategy for getting beyond dating and into relationship. I knew this wasn’t really just about her, it was a framework, that I was hoping our passionate overtures would rip right through. She turned into a dud, but I’m still hopeful.

Here’s the whole list:

relationship-strategy

Let’s put these in text where you can read them.

1. Establish mutual connection
2. Spend time together
 - learn + listen
 - experience life
 - be yourselves
 - how does it feel?
3. Learn each other's relating style
4. Define love language
5. All good? Add kissing if you want to
6. Kissing may lead to lovemaking

That’s it. Pretty simple. And while it hasn’t produced the next relationship for me, it has helped me dodge some non-starters. Why spend our time pursuing someone who may be attractive but has nothing in common with us. It happens, beauty is hard to deny. But beauty can also be a trap. We can pay too much attention to the fitness and beauty of a person and miss the inner-connection. If they’ve got rock-solid abs but no substance underneath, well… Relationships are long. At least that’s my goal, the next long relationship. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on fluff (discussions about television, working out, or work stress). I want contentment, happiness, and a mutual admiration that we can build upon.

The heart of my relationship strategy is number 2: Spend time together. Let’s parse this strategy out a bit.

learn + listen

If your partner isn’t worth listening to you have a deep problem. I am fascinated by women, and conversations that teach me a little bit about their hopes and dreams are pure gold in terms of getting to know someone. The question, “What’s your dream?” can reveal a lot about a person. When their answer is, “What do you mean?” then I get a quick snapshot of their creative inner life. And being a creative person, I want a creative and aspirational person to be engaged with. I want to learn from her. I want to listen to her. I am continually fascinated and intrigued by her thoughts and expositions.

experience life

What do you like to do with each other? Sunday brunch at a Mexican food cafe with good coffee, can be the start of a perfect morning. When I am with someone I care about, the experience is even more ecstatic. Reading in bed. Playing tennis or walking around the lake. Cooking a meal. Taking a nap. Spend time in ordinary life with each other. You can’t really get a sense on a person on a “date.” We’re too buttoned up. We’re performing a little bit, to put our best persona forward. But what do you “do” together after that? What are you going to do with this person, if you begin to spend more time with them? Sure, sex might be awesome, but after…

be yourselves

Can you really share all of yourself with this person? Sometimes we share only the positive and hopeful side of ourselves. And in the early “dating” phases this is what gives us more of a romantic glow. We share only the best of ourselves. And the person we are dating is doing a dance of their own, we are seeing their optimal self. But life is a bit more rough around the edges. After you begin to spend non-dating time together how freely to you share your vulnerability? Can you talk about times when you weren’t doing so good? Are you okay telling them about some of your pet projects, unafraid of their judgement? Do they *get* you when you try to share your hopes and dreams? Are your dreams in sync? Could they change enough to get them in sync? (Again, you can see how, if they don’t *know* their dream, this process of seeking affinities is more difficult.)

how does it feel?

And finally, can you let your self be natural and easy? Are you happy just seeing the face of this new friend? What is the tone of the weekend when you stay together? Are their harmonies or discordances? Is there a balance of give and take? Are you both fascinated with the other person and their ambitions? Do you share values and daily activities that can carry you forward even in the difficult times?

Don’t get too far ahead of the process. If you jump from initial spark to lovemaking, you could find yourself in a relationship that’s less of a relationship and more of a fling. I’m not interested in flings at this point in my life. If I’m looking for a mate, I need to be focused, patient, and easy-going about it.

While this list has not produced the next relationship for me, I have used it to successfully navigate several relationships both into and out of intimacy. You need a plan. And you need to keep checking your experience against the plan. This one has worked for me.

Spend time together. Keep checking in with each other and with yourself. “How does it feel?” Let the answer to that question guide your relationship decisions. And remember, kissing can lead to lovemaking, if you both want to head in that direction. But don’t start with that as the priority. You’ll find yourself it a lot of relationships that don’t work at all, even if you have great sex. What I’m looking for will start the other way around, the good sex will be a finale in the symphony of courtship.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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