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Dear Lover, Now That You’ve Arrived We Can Begin

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Finding a willing and healthy lover is not easy. When you do find one, how do you remain committed, refreshed, and enthusiastic for everything about your partner? If you find BIG LOVE what can you do to keep it? How do we future-proof our partnership?

Arriving At Yes

I’m so excited to be contemplating this future. I’m blessed. I’m lucky. I’m healthy. And… I’m no longer alone.

Saying it’s a bit early would not be a stretch. So, why now? What’s different? What things can I do right to prevent the natural progression towards… Well, all of my past relationships.

When my girlfriend asked me if I had felt deep love before, I was a bit slow to answer. “Yes,” I said. “I think the mother of my children and I were in love in the early years.” Is it wise to examine what soured in that primary relationship so that I don’t fall into the same traps and patterns? I think so.

In my current relationship, that answer keeps coming up strong and loud. “Yes, and thank you, and please can I have some more time with you.” In the past, I might have labeled our infatuation as “the honeymoon phase” but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I believe this relationship is fundamentally different.

When I met my wife again, 24 years ago, we ran into each other at a local coffee shop. We’d known each other in high school. I saw her getting out of a white pickup truck and I said hello. In greeting, I was offering a hand and she came in for a hug. We hadn’t seen each other for at least 15 years, but the chemistry was on. In that moment, I was reeling from my first divorce from a paranoid narcissist and not really contemplating my next relationship. But that’s how it works. You don’t look, you focus on your best life, and your energy makes you even more alluring.

A Joint Goal

When my 2nd wife and I ran into each other we were both in our mid-thirties. Over the course of the next month or so, we had several lunches and a lot of texting flurries of fun. She was a writer as well and could flirt with the best of them. As our conversations deepened we both learned we wanted kids. We had both been through a failed marriage. And we both wanted to do things differently. We were smart, we were committed, and we shared a common goal: kids.

In my current love relationship, our goal is companionship and comfort. We have kids. We have careers. Our future is 100% determined by our own actions. We want this relationship. We look out for each other. We seek out ways to appreciate and recognize our love. The big goal this time is getting it right.

As my marriage with children progressed life continued to throw hurdles at us. Work hurdles. Mental health hurdles. Stress and financial worry hurdles. We stayed together out of sheer will and determination to do better than our parents had done, but we were both TIRED AS FK.

Relationship (and life) Lesson: You cannot think clearly when you are constantly pushed over your limits. And if you begin to think the other person is the reason you are unhappy, the slippery slope toward divorce is nearby. At some point, my wife began to think her happiness (or lack of happiness) was because of me. I asked her once after she’d asked for the divorce, “Do you think when I walk out the door you’re suddenly going to become a happy person?” She didn’t have an answer, but she had the conviction that her “blowing up the family” path was the best for HER. I don’t think her consideration included the impact on the kids. And, fk me, she didn’t really care what happened to me.

The Tipping Point in My Marriage

As things became even more stressful in our relationship, I kept working on me and my own issues. I kept going after my creative dream. I kept the kids and their welfare at the core of my life. She began consulting with attorneys and making Excel spreadsheet models of the various divorce scenarios. She was a financial planner. It was how she maintained control of her world. And what I learned, since her emotions didn’t fit easily in any of her models, she suppressed the “feelings” about the divorce completely.

But things had begun to fracture long before she went to consult a lawyer about her options. The 2009 economic collapse had taken away my big tech job at Dell, and I was given a six-month severance package with benefits and a bonus. I asked if we could reconsider our working and financial agreements now that the kids were in 3rd and 5th grades. Her answer, literally, was to throw a temper tantrum for the next 12 months refusing to take a job, and forcing us into near bankruptcy as she demanded I get the next big job.

I got the job, with a former colleague from Dell. It lasted 4 months. When that job imploded due to political struggles outside of my role or influence, my then-wife went to see a lawyer. It was April. She decided she wanted a divorce and she wanted me to move out immediately. “We can tell the kids your on a business trip.”

It was only the school guidance counselor who convinced her that Summer would be a much better time to rip our kids’ lives to shreds. I stayed in the house, living as roommates, for another six weeks. It was torture. I kept thinking (optimist that I am) that we would work it out. I thought she would come to her senses. If anything, she got more angry and frustrated. And guess what? Within a week of deciding she wanted a divorce, she had a new job. Just like that. She needed to the job to keep the house, even with the child support. She had a plan and she executed me to get what she wanted.

Smaller Fractures Are Where It Begins

But, long before the 2009 financial collapse things had been getting harder and harder.

  • money was tight (only one full-time job, mine)
  • intimacy was severely restricted
  • complaining was a sport
  • my optimism was failing
  • she appeared angry all the time (from breakfast to bedtime)

So, in my new quest, it’s important for me to remember that the little things begin to build momentum if they are not addressed. I don’t know if I could’ve or should’ve talked my ex-wife into staying in the marriage. She’s still a very unhappy person. For now, I can assume her anger and pain is not about me. She seems to act as if I’m still her biggest thorn, but perhaps it is regret rather than spite.

Finding the Balance

Not everything needs to be worked out all the time. And, for the most part, I can trigger unhappy feelings for you, but the deep sadness or anger you feel, is probably not because of me. I can be your trigger, but when I become your target, I’m out. Learning how to take responsibility for your own happiness is job number one. Then, agreeing to work it out with one other person, to commit and work toward a mutual goal, I think, is the key going forward. Plan and strategize all you want, I think I just need to remain present and brave. It’s not easy to address the aches and pains.

There are plenty of times you need to let the water flow under the bridge without intervention. And when it’s time, jump all-in. Give everything you’ve got. So much of what happened on my end, when my then-wife soured, was to become more isolated and independent. I don’t want to be codependent. But I don’t want to be stoic either. We need each other. I want a relationship. I want a healthy companion.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Dating 2.0

*image: me on the way to San Francisco in the marriage saving hail marry job.

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