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Giving More Than You Are Receiving

It’s funny when a Facebook post triggers a memory. (The message above flashed past about 30 minutes ago)

Withdrawing My Hyper-Love

In my marriage, I was the hyper-love dad. I celebrated everyone. I was the “wake up it’s time for breakfast” fairie. I was the warm connector. I generated a lot of joy and energy around connecting with each member of my small family. My wife, however, was more stoic. She was raised by a champion of non-attachment, her father, the ultra-runner. [Aside: it’s odd to think about a grandparent moving further away from his opportunity to be a grandpa.] Her mom, pure madness. My ex-wife didn’t have much opportunity to learn about honest and healthy love.

I tried to convince her to open up, be present, and quit striving so hard. Our young family was doing okay. It was stressful, yes. The 9-11 disaster ripped all of us with a new wound. And we decided to continue our goal of having a second child, in spite of the terror (personal and global). She was a lovely mom. She thrived at being the cruise director, setting up and managing the books, and putting all of us on an improvement plan. She never let herself nap. “There are too many chores to do.”

Always too many chores.

But here’s the deal. You are never going to finish your chores. If you don’t learn to play within the process of life and chores, you’re going to spend a lot of time mad about others not helping to liberate you from your own hell. She wanted things to be perfect. She wanted the house a certain way before we could have a party. She needed all of us to comply with her plans. But, it was a bit obsessive.

Our fracture seemed to occur about work, money, and career. I’ve written enough about that previously. At some point, I tried a little experiment. I paused my effusive love expression. I pressed pause on my outpouring of desire and love for my wife. I kept my big love expression going with my kids. I simply withdrew the portion of energy that was usually directed at my wife.

When Love Goes Dark

What I had hoped would happen, a return of a previously loving wife, did not take place. What happened is all the connective tissue between us went dead. As I pulled back, I was hoping my wife would step back up. She did not. I’m certain she noticed, but she was not motivated or interested in reconnecting or repairing the freeze-out that had been building for over a year.

I was devastated.

If I am honest, my concern about the lack of connection between us is what triggered the divorce. [That’s my guess, however, I don’t have any information from her.] The cold, analytical, woman had isolated herself from my reach. She was still doing mom stuff to the best of her ability, but there was some internal damage, some lingering hurt, that was exposed.

After a week, I attempted to rebuild the love language between us. It didn’t work. Something had been triggered and broken. My wife never recovered her “loving feeling.” And within a year, she had filed for divorce.

Learning Balance and Quiet

I learned from my divorce. I reeled in my boisterous love. I held back my exuberant joy. I began relationships with an eye to balance. If I’m over-loving it is likely that I am going to miss some of what the other person wants. Dating an introvert for the first time, was an eye-opening experience. I had to ask 4 – 5 times about “where do you want to eat dinner” before I could get her to venture an opinion. She’d say no to all of my suggestions. But she couldn’t offer any of her own.

As a “bull in a china closet” type, I often barge ahead with my plans, my ideas, my energy. What I learned, and am learning, is to slow my ME roll and listen for the WE role. I want a partner who feels like an equal. Sometimes, that requires giving them more space, more time, more silence to figure out what they want.

I am still boisterous and loud. I can dial it back. My girlfriend gives me signals when I’m being overbearing. Sometimes, I even self-regulate and slow the *fk* down. It’s not my nature to go slow, talk quietly, and pause before jumping into what’s next. But it’s the key to a successful relationship. LISTEN. PAUSE. STOP LEADING. And ultimately, give the lead to your partner. Even if they don’t want to decide where to go eat, sometimes, they need to decide.

I hope you can continue to give your love to the fullest of your ability. And I hope that you find a partner who can reflect you back in all situations. And when you get a bit too “high” I hope you learn to listen and give your partner the space they deserve. I’m still working on this every day.

Like Frodo, in the photo above, I’m a bit like a puppy sometimes. I’m learning to also be like an old dog by learning new tricks. Listening is a great place to start.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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