Tag Archives: the happiness project

Thriving After Divorce: 6 Lifehacks Along the Recovery Process

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I’m going to say something you’ve probably heard a lot. “I’m happier after the divorce.” It sounds trite, but I am sincerely convinced that my divorce transition made me a better dad, a better man, and more conscious and centered man. It’s been a long process for me, these last 4+ years, but with some hints, perhaps I can spare you some of the mistakes I made and help you along your individual path towards divorce recovery.

Here are my six hacks for recovering your full and loving life after divorce.

1. Get Positive.

Holding on to resentment and anger is the biggest mistake I made after the divorce. I laughed when I would get in a particularly sly jab in a text response. I reveled in her long silences after I “gave her a piece of my mind.” I set my own healing back at least a year by holding on to my high-road illusion. It was her that wanted the divorce. I was the wronged party. Um, let’s rewind that a bit, and re-examine.

Once the divorce is final and the deal has been struck, it’s time to move on and recapture *your* positive approach to life. All attention you give to your ex-partner, even in jest or mock-playfulness, is attention you are focusing on negative energy. I struggled for a few years with my own reaction to my ex’s decisions after divorce. Get this: if it doesn’t affect your kids, it is none of your business. And if it’s about your ex and you, you need to take 100% of that venting elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong here. You will get mad and you will feel anger. But the hack here is to fundamentally understand that there is nothing else for you to work out with your ex. There are no stupid requests from your co-parent that require a stupid and angry response. Zero. I’m still actively working on this one. But I know, that my vitriolic texts or emails since the divorce have had no positive impact on our functional parenting relationship. When I smirked inside as I fired off an in-kind response I was actually shooting myself in the foot.

2. Co-parenting is all about parenting, money, and scheduling.

Outside of those three topics you should not have much to talk about. Sure, I know my wife has a boyfriend, and I hear from my daughter that he’s nice and has a huge grove of lemon tress in his back yard. That’s all I need to know.

In a divorce recovery class I heard this idea about dealing with your ex. Treat the transactions like you would in a convenience store. You are there to get a pack of gum. You don’t need to know about the clerk’s day or aspirations for life. Get in, get your business done, and leave. That’s the model for logistics and negotiations with your ex.

3. Flexibility is key.

Taking the flexible approach with your ex-partner will come in handy. I do everything I can to be flexible with my ex-wife’s scheduling requests. Even if they don’t make sense to me. Even if I don’t like them. One example, after my wife had been in a serious dating relationship for several months she requested that we switch up the parenting schedule to allow them to have the same weekends off. The arrangement actually meant that I gave up my 1-3-5 weekend plan and with it, I lost 4 – 5 double weekends a year. But it was a simple change that didn’t mean too much for my schedule. My first reaction was, “Why would I want to do anything to help her and her boyfriend.” But my next reaction and eventual response to the request was, “Sure. Let’s start next month.”

I didn’t get anything in return, but I lost very little. I could’ve been all concerned about my double weekends, or her boyfriend and their relationship. But what I focused on was my kids. If it would be easier on her it would be easier on them. You know the old phrase, “When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

4. Find What You Love.

Jumping right back into the dating game is a mistake. I tried it, failed at it, and wasted at least a year haunting Meetup.com groups and “working” the online dating sites. It’s a common mistake. You WANT some reward some validation for being released and newly single. You want to sew your oats. You want to party. Everything is new and everyone is a potential date. Um… Stop.

Loving your alone time is the first step to getting to know what you love to do, with or without a partner. For me those two main activities were playing music and playing tennis. Two things my wife didn’t really join with me on. She put in a few weeks in the early days of our courtship, since it was something I loved to do, but it never caught her fancy.

Since being single again my tennis game has picked up. And one woman I dated for a few months actually played tennis. WOW. That was a thrill. I’m willing to admit I’m powerless over tennis skirts on a cute woman. I’m learning to control my urges, but tennis is a love activity for me, so why not do it with someone you love?

5. Reclaim Your Joyous Life.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — a lyric from Nada Surf’s Concrete Bed. If you are still hurting from your divorce, or still learning to manage your alone time, or time without your kids, get some help. Give yourself time to re-center in your own life, your new alone life, before trying to add someone to the equation. You can’t find another lover, a well-matched lover, if you’ve got a love sucking wound in your chest. Take the time to heal. Get the help you need. Seek professional help if you want to accelerate the process. And then rest. If we get too focused on finding a new relationship we’re going to miss a lot of the baby steps of discovering the new relationship with ourselves, alone.

6. Be Where You Like to Be.

I’ve been working on this one a bit recently. If I were with a woman today, where would we be? Where does she shop? What kinds of activities is she into? If she’s spiritual, where does she go for her community? If she does yoga, she’s probably part of a class. If she’s a tennis player, where do single women play tennis, or can I ask one of my tennis playing women friends who they know? Your next partner is already doing the things you want to be doing. Perhaps they are in a process of rediscovery too. And you can rejoin, rekindle a spiritual practice together.

Imagine where she might be, or where you might be together, and go there. Look around. Listen. Try something else.

Overall the process of divorce recovery has taken me at least 4 years. I’ve been in my happy place for about 6 months. If you can focus on the ideas above perhaps you can find your inner buddha quicker and move along into the next chapter of your life.

I’ve had two serious relationships in that time, and I’m hopeful that the coming year will bring a more successful coupling. But I’m no longer in a hurry. I no longer consider myself “dating” or “looking for a date.” Those activities might’ve been helpful when I was determined to be in a relationship again. Today I’m not. I’m happy in my own relationship. I’m longing for a relationship with another woman, but I’m not hurting from the lack of it.

Get right with yourself before moving on to partner with another person. You’ll be much more attractive to other healthy people, and better equipped to see and avoid negative relationships.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image; online dating, thomas8047, creative commons usage

Happiness Dating and Joyful Coupling Post-Split

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It’s not all about sex. But a lot of it is about sex.

I was chatting with a new date on the tennis court the other morning. We were hitting and catching up on our own ideas about life, dating, and sex. She was telling me about a girl’s weekend she’d just been on. “All the married women were complaining. And all my divorced friends who were with someone were talking about the great sex. And the married women wanted to hear about that.”

Why is it that sex is often what dies in a marriage and then becomes part of what justifies a separation and then divorce? What’s so mysterious about sex that we all crave it but we’re so inept at keeping it interesting? How does a man with an amazingly receptive and beautiful wife become more interested in porn, or sports, or drinking with the buddies?

What’s so mysterious about sex that we all crave it but we’re so inept at keeping it interesting?

In my marriage we went through significant ups and downs in our sex life. And that part’s normal. Extended and heightened sexual appetite year-after-year is a myth, or something that Sting might claim, but most of us mere mortals and non-rockstars have to work at. And sure, there are plenty of reasons that sex becomes harder and harder to be joyful about, as the “relationship” matures. But most of those disconnects have to do with expectations and unmet needs, needs, that most often, have nothing to do with sex.

We grow together as a couple. We either have kids or we don’t. And as things mature in our relationship there are certain non-sexual expectations that begin to factor into our desire and sexual lustiness. Here are a few that we all know about.

Tired – when you’re too tired for sex (TTFS) it’s not a sexual problem it’s an energetic problem. Solve for tired and you pick up a lot of potential sexual drive.

Angry – yes, sex is used by both sexes as reward and punishment. Either you are kicking ass as meeting both spoken and unspoken expectations or you are not. If you’re winning the sexual desire may remain high between you and your mate. But when things go off track a little, and stress of many colors enters into the equation, the sexual drive is often the first part of the relationship that begins to show the stress.

Busy – we’re all busy. Most of us are over-busy. And for most of us, busy is an excuse. Sure the clothes in the dryer need to be folded before they wrinkle. Yes, the dishes do need to be loaded into the dishwasher. BUT… that’s no excuse for not jumping at a kids-out-moment and taking a roll in the sack. It’s often the first thing a man thinks of and the last thing a woman thinks of. The woman wants the damn chores done first. The man wants his nookie. We’re at odds often about these “chores” but if you talk, and the desire is still there on both sides, then a compromise and solution is a mater of negotiating. If the desire is not there, the negotiation is often very short. The woman says, “Not now,” to the random wandering husband hand while standing in the kitchen appraising the post-dinner activities.

Okay, so those are the things that turned our marriages into sad, sexless shells of our former glowing and sexually fulfilled lives. Does it have to go that way? When dating you are probably not going to be attracted to a complainer. When the chores and “other responsibilities” come into play too often, and prevent you from even being able to arrange a next date, well, you get the picture of how future negotiations are going to go.

Look for happiness. Find the balance between beautiful and happy, because beautiful and mad is simply not a workable situation. Relationships with complaining or angry people are not fruitful, they are tedious and full of compromise and apologies. We learned how to do angry. We want to learn how to do happy again.

Joy has got to be the biggest turn on there is. You can feel it when someone enters a room and they are glowing with their own inner happiness.

Sex is the same way. If the act of love-making, even in the first few couplings, is strained and controlled, you might question what’s actually going on. If you can talk about it with one another great, but that’s rare. What you’re looking for, even in early sex, is playfulness and a somewhat whimsical approach. If orgasm is the focus, your’s or their’s, you might be entering into something that is more about fulfilling unmet needs, or old resentments, rather than healthy sex.

What is healthy sex? How would I know? But you can tell happy sex from strained sex right away. It’s not a stretch to expect playful and enjoyable sex. In fact, as a starting point for determining long-term compatibility I can’t think of a better indicator of inner confidence and happiness than someone’s approach and enjoyment of sex.

Right, it’s not all about sex. But sex has a lot to do with it. And those women in my friend’s group, longing to hear about the passionate sex of their friends, are a sad lot. They are compromising, or shutdown, in order to remain in their marriages, often for the benefit of their kids. And this is okay, and noble. But it’s not where we “divorced and single” folks are. We ARE looking for greener pastures. And the burden is on us to seek happiness with every fiber of our bodies.

Joy has got to be the biggest turn on there is. You can feel it when someone enters a room and they are glowing with their own inner happiness. If you’ve got the joy to reflect it back to them, then perhaps you are both on your way to joy in life and joy in the bedroom. Now, the keys to keeping this joy on into marriage again, or on beyond the first few years, is still a mystery I am trying to solve for. I got there on my side, but had a partner who exited the joyful bedroom and never returned.

Let’s not do that mistake again. Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Putting in the time with someone. Learning about their rhythms. Riding out the ups and downs and looking for the hopefulness that still radiates even in tough and stressful times. If you find the happy person. And they light up your happy person. Do that. And cultivate that. Then if sex is also a happy and playful act, you might be at the start of something durable and fun. Good luck. Let’s do happy first, relationship second.

Sincerely,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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