I’m sorry to hear you are in the process of getting a divorce. It’s not going to be easy for anyone. If you have kids, well, please heed my advice: Focus on your relationship with your kids and let your ex go. The kids are what’s important in the divorce of two parents.
10 positive thoughts for you about your upcoming divorce.
- You can focus on what’s important to you
- You no longer have to compromise your values or your time
- You are going to have time to work on yourself
- You can let go of resentment and bitterness
- You can determine the tone of the entire process of separation
- Your happiness is up to you
- Your children will learn how to approach adversity with hope and courage
- You can build a new life based on a deeper understanding of what is important to you
- You can seek and find a new partner who is more in alignment with your long-term goals
- You can find and express your inner joy without limits
I believe all of these things to be true in my life, now, 9-years after my devastating divorce. I am here to tell you, “Have hope. Take my hand. I can’t sugar-coat what’s happening, but I can give you some ideas of where you are headed.”
You can focus on what’s important to you
For the last few years of my marriage, things were not happy. We were struggling financially and emotionally as a couple. And as the hardships piled up one of us began to imagine that the other person was responsible for our joy or lack-of-joy. I continued to seek positive pathways to rebuild our income and rebuild our relationship. My then-wife chose a different path. As I moved forward out of the family home that I dreamed of and helped create, I had to come up with some new measures of happiness. I had to rely on myself. I no longer had my kids every night to remind me why I’m here. But at the same time, I no longer had a partner who stormed about in a resentful mood most of the time.
As I recovered from the depression and shock of the divorce, I began to feel happier. I could imagine a life without my ex. I could imagine and start making tracks towards a new life. A life centered around my strength and hope. A life that I would show my children, when they were with me, that was focused on inner happiness and inner-strength. I would show them how to survive and thrive even when it appeared that everything was lost. Everything was not lost. What got lost was the frustration of trying to make a happy life with a conflicted partner. I vow to not make that mistake again. And if it takes me another nine years to find the right partner, I will continue to work towards my goal of being with another happy person.
You no longer have to compromise your values or your time
As you pull away from your ex-partner you will become more aware of all the parts of your life you were regulating to keep them “happy.” And, starting immediately, you no longer have to do what they want to do, just because they want to do it. In my case, my ex used to love generating “projects” to be done over the weekend. They were not projects that needed to be done, but merely projects she wanted to do and then proceeded to commandeer my time for large parts of Saturday and Sunday afternoon. (Like changing the kitchen cabinets from off-white to bright blue. They were fine. She wanted them blue.)
Your time is now your own. If you feel like a nap, guess what? You can just lay down and take a nap. If you want to eat granola for dinner, you can do it. Of course, this comes with the risk that you might drift into a cereal and Netflix coma for an unexpected amount of time, and you need to guard against unhealthy behavior. But the good news is, you don’t have to compromise with anyone. Sure, when you have the kids you will have their best interests to consider before your own, but overall, you’ve been freed from the heavy burden of trying to appease a partner who constantly crosses boundaries by roping you into a project, just because you are available and they are your partner. Let’s let that shit go, right now.
You are going to have time to work on yourself
The time you are given back, by the newly-divorced parenting schedule might initially be a problem. You’ve got to find activities and interests to fill your time. (Hint hint: getting right back into dating is not one of those new activities.) Here are a few of the things that I did to get back into my own healthy rhythm after divorce.
- Started playing more tennis
- Brought music back into my life in a big way, and got “the band back together”
- Walked almost every day
- Attended a few Meetup Groups on various topics
- Attended all my kids’ school activities (becoming a more involved parent)
- Sought out old friends and made some times for lunches and breakfast tacos
- Let the writing of my journey become part of my creative expression
- Tried to add yoga and meditation when I could
You can let go of resentment and bitterness
I am still working on this. (SEE: Healing My Divorce Resentment: A Single Dad Contemplates the Future)
Over the years, I have gone through periods of peace, love, and understanding. And other times, I’ve gotten resentful and angry all over again. It’s a process, this letting go. What I did do from the beginning, is never let my kids see any expression of my anger or resentment at their mom. (The blog/writing I started was originally anonymous, just to keep it one more level hidden.)
Today, I’m sad about the time I’ve lost with my kids. I’m optimistic about the future time I get to spend with them as they emerge from their mom’s house. And, for the most part, I forgive her for sideswiping us into divorce. And, when I’m really healthy, I can thank her for allowing us both to move on to something happier and healthier. I might have stayed for the kids, even when the stress was crushing me.
You can determine the tone of the entire process of separation
The only thing you can control in divorce is YOUR RESPONSE. You can stay positive in the face of angry texts and emails. You can stay positive even when the parenting plan is unfair and weighted towards the other parent. You can give the child support money without resentment, and say to yourself, “This is for the kids.” It’s up to you. (I’ve had a hard time with the money equation, but again, the frustration is mine alone to deal with.)
It took me several years before I found the idea of “choosing the positive.” No matter how snide my ex’s messages were, I could choose to respond with care and kindness. As I said, it took me a few years, and a lot of snarky replies, before I realized that my stinging messages were only hurting me. My anger, when taken out on my ex-wife, would bounce back at me ten-fold. And when I stopped responding with my usual anger, I think she no longer got the satisfaction of pissing me off. So her bitter barbs subsided. Take the high road. You will be happier. And if your ex is happier, it will be better for your kids.
Your happiness is up to you
This is a life lesson. Only you can make yourself happy. Your kids can’t make you happy. Your partner can’t make you happy. Religion, pharmacology, and therapy, can’t make you happy. You’ve got to get right with yourself before you can begin to take charge of your own happiness.
I have struggled with depression since the divorce, and a ton of my experience is here on this blog. (See: The Dark Pages) And I’ve broken through the depression a number of times as I have emerged again as a more balanced and healthy person. It’s not all be unicorns and rainbows, but as a process, it keeps getting easier. As I began to own my happiness in a more responsible way, I learned I could take charge of certain aspects of my life.
- Am I eating and drinking in a healthy way
- Am I getting enough sleep
- Am I getting exercise
- Am I getting together with others
- Am I paying attention to my own self-care
- Am I exploring more ways to have fun
As I learned that a nap during the day gave me a happier evening, I made naps a priority in my schedule. Anytime I would feel the blues coming on, I could refer to the list above and take charge of some of the essentials in my life. I found An-Anon meetings to be an easy way to commune with others who were also seeking to improve their conscious contact with a higher power.
Your children will learn how to approach adversity with hope and courage
Brené Brown talks about parenting in one of her books, and the message is simple. Your kids are watching your every move. As they see you responding to tragic events in your life, they will learn to deal with adversity in their own lives. As they see you forming new, healthy relationships, they will begin to learn what a healthy relationship looks like.
[An aside about the crushing impact of money issues: As our marriage wore on into the post-9-11 hardships we all felt, our relationship did not grow with the changes that were happening in the economy or in our personal lives. As my wife moved out of the world of work and into a mom role, she began to enjoy her ability to focus on the kids as her “life’s work.” But, as they grew older, the kids’ attention begins moving on and separating from the parents, I’m not sure my then-wife made a smooth transition back into her own creative and prosperous life. Somehow, we had become overly dependent on my large income and her stay-at-home-part-time lifestyle. When I broached the subject of changing our financial contribution arrangement, all hell broke loose between us. A year later we were divorced. It wasn’t that she was unable to go back to full-time work, it was more that she didn’t want to. But to support the upper-middle-class lifestyle we’d architected together, we were going to have to make some changes. We did. But the divorce is not what I was thinking of when I asked for a reassessment.]
As we began our divorce negotiations, both of us agreed, we would never bring money or divorce politics into our kids’ lives. We were the adults in the situation. We were capable of handling the struggle of divorce without weaponizing it by using the kids. We did a great job of this. A few months ago when I asked my daughter what she thought caused the divorce, she said, “I don’t know. I guess you guys just decided you’d rather be with someone else.” Nicely done, co-parent.
You can build a new life based on a deeper understanding of what is important to you
Self-awareness is the key to inner happiness. Now, I’m not some guru who is trying to figure this out for you. And I’m not claiming to have discovered some new way to be happy. BUT… I am giving you a glimpse into my own happiness, here at year nine.
I am happy. I have unlocked some innate joy in my life. I am able to move into and out of relationships as they arrive. I am seeking a higher love. I am seeking a person who also takes responsibility for their own happiness. I am seeking someone who shows up in full power and full glory and says, “I’m here. Come and get me.”
If I cannot find my own inner happiness formula, I am certain I will not find happiness with another person. If I am looking for my partner to make me happy, make me feel loved, and make me show up for myself, I am not going to be happy. And it’s not so much happiness. Happiness comes and goes. But inner joy, that’s the balance I seek in my life. If I can remain joyful even in the face of adversity.
In my divorce, I had to learn to “be joyful anyway.” When my kids were with me, I learned to put aside my pain, my depression, and my resentments, and just LOVE THEM AT 110%. And maybe that’s one of the benefits of being a single parent: When my kids are with me, even for the limited time I have them, I can give them complete attention and joy. I am showing my kids what inner joy looks like, even as I am struggling to regain my own happiness.
You can seek and find a new partner who is more in alignment with your long-term goals
In my book, Single Dad Seeks, I outline my master plan for finding my next long-term relationship. What I began to learn from dating again, as well as the failure of my marriage, were some of the essential elements in my perfect partner plan. And, each step along this path, each relationship I have engaged in, has taught me more about love, more about respect, and more about our individual responsibility for our own joy, even as we are hoping to blend our joy with someone else’s.
I am happy. I am seeking to join a new partner based on my ever-evolving ideas about healthy love. I bandy about terms like emotional intelligence, and inner joy, but what I am looking for is another person who reflects inner peace and inner joy in the same way that I am learning to. My roadmaps for where and how to get to this next ultimate relationship have all been helpful, but not actually maps, more like suggestions.
When the right partner steps into your field of vision you will feel it. You will respect the feeling enough not to jump at the first roar of sexual chemistry and desire that floods your system. You will engage with them in a respectful and measured way. And when they begin to have the same ‘hey what is it about this person” feelings, the hope is that you can both begin the conversation that will lead to an endless conversation. I want to delight in the glow of my next partner’s radiance. I want to find warmth and strength in our bonding and recalibrations of our pre-relationship lives.
I want nothing less than everything.
You can find and express your inner joy without limits
And as we explore this potential life together, I want to feel my partner’s love growing in force and vigor to embrace all the crazy amazing things I have in mind for us. Live in Mallorca? Sure! Sail the oceans for a year? Why not! Find additional joys not yet in our imaginations, to SHARE.
Happiness is better as a shared experience.
And real love is only available through a relationship. Yes, some people, like my mom, have evolved into a relationship with their God, but that has not ever fed my synapses and desire for touch. It is through my love of another person that I begin to glimpse at my love of life, my love of God.
This life of mine is meant to be shared. As my kids are becoming adults, it is my responsibility to find my own joy and show them how love and perseverance eventually win.
At this moment, I am winning. And, I can say with confidence, you will both survive and thrive as I have. Divorce is a major disaster, but it can also be the life-changing event that sets you free to be happier than you could’ve imagined.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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See more from The Positive Divorce section:
- A Single Dad Sends His Hope and Greetings from the Other Side
- The Fear of Divorce: Holding On When You Should Let Go
- Divorce, Depression, and My Ex-wife: Humans of Divorce
- Nine Years Into My Divorce: Finding My Single Parenting Superpower
- Father’s Day: Love Fiercely, Because This All Ends
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead – Brené Brown
Here are a few of my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
- Dating 2.0: Aiming for the Love of Your Life