what dads lose in divorce

I Did Not See the Biggest Red Flag of My Life: Start Marriage w/ a Lie

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I must’ve appeared to be quite the catch to my ex-wife when we met again 20-years after graduating from high school. I came from money. She did not. When we crossed paths again, in the parking lot of a local coffee shop she skipped my offered handshake and offered herself for a friendly hug. Being single and a year out of a painful divorce, I was happy to oblige.

I Was Single, She Was Living With a Boyfriend

It was an amazing hug. We chatted excitedly as we walked together to the coffee shop like old friends. We’d had some sort of senior-to-junior crush going in high school, but nothing ever came of it. So here we were reintroducing ourselves and our current lives.

“Yeah, working a new gig. Divorced. Still in Austin,” I said.

“Me too, divorced.”

We were already fitting together. Of course, I didn’t know that she’d be going “home” to her boyfriend later that afternoon. And what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me, right?

Over the course of the next month or so, we met three times for lunch. Yes, they were casual. But, they were also intoxicatingly arousing. Our flirting on text messages was off the charts. She was a writer too, so the witty repartee was part of our growing infatuation.

Then I Kissed Her

As I was a virile single male, I pushed things on a bit by asking her to join me at a concert on a Saturday night. Our first date. She agreed. Game on.

After the show, we returned to my condo. The one right near the fancy coffee shop we’d met at. And there was some kissing. We kissed in the living room, we kissed in the bedroom, we kissed on the roof deck. And then I took her home to her apartment. I have no idea if she slept there alone or if she drove back to her boyfriend’s house after I left.

A Moment of Silence

A day later, on Monday, she texted about having lunch that afternoon. We met and hugged, but I could tell the chemistry was off. Way off.

“I need to not see you for a while,” she said.

It was a “dear John” lunch.

“I’m sort of still in this relationship. And I don’t know what I need to do. But I know I need to find out more about what’s happening there before I can see you any more. I need to take a break.”

Fade to black.

The Gift of Divorce

Jumping right along to this present moment, now almost ten years after the divorce, I can say that I am grateful my ex-wife asked for the divorce. I can’t say that we’re all better off. (My kids are 17 and 19.) But I can say that I am happy. And as our marriage moved from the honeymoon to the desert of parenting elementary-schoolers, my wife continued to obscure the truth of her life and hide critical information from me. So, today, I know I am not in a relationship with someone who lies.

And, of course, I have been gifted two amazing children. They seem to be semi-well-adjusted. And my ex, well, she’s still furious about something, but remarried and still living in the house I purchased with some of my inheritance money. I’m glad she’s been able to provide a cosy and safe home for my children. They’ve grown up in the same school district, in the same house, in the same neighborhood, with the same friends. My ex-wife and my kids pretty much continued to live their lives after the divorce, in a similar fashion, just without me around.

What Dads Fear the Most

At the mention of the word, “divorce” dads lose everything. Once the “d” has been brought into the conversation it cannot be retracted.

I worked hard to make our marriage work. I got us into couples therapy with a dear friend and superior counselor. I tried to forgive her little lies and her big lies. I tried to work with her when she was not feeling like being intimate, for months at a time. And I tried to let her project most of the blame for what “was hard” on me and my bouts of depression. In the end, I failed to manage my wife’s happiness. I learned the hard way, that my belief in the marriage was a lot like my belief after the dear John lunch: things will work out for the best if we just do our best.

I did my best. My wife skipped the “divorce” discussion in therapy and went straight to the Divorce Brochure by visiting a lawyer without telling me. I know now that this was her way. She was not honest with me at that first “lunch” when she did not disclose her relationship status. She was not honest with me when she began “lunching” with one of her younger colleagues at work. She was certainly not honest with me when she kept going to marriage counseling while lining up her strategies for winning the divorce.

Even in the divorce, I tried to do right by her and the kids. We agreed to a collaborative divorce. We opened the Excel spreadsheets together and looked at financial scenarios: you keep the house, I keep the house, we sell the house. We met with a different counselor to talk about the kids and our desire for a loving parenting plan. And all the way to the penultimate moment, she made it appear we were collaborating. She was planning her killing blow.

Once You Open the “D” Box

At the end of the entire divorce planning process, we finally came to the hardest negotiation of all, the parenting plan. I had done some research, I had brought some books on equal parenting, and I attended the planning meeting with an optimistic heart. I knew that we had agreed to parent 50/50 when we agreed to have kids. (I thought I knew.) I was certain we would divorce 50/50 as well.

As I unfolded my piece of paper with the two 50/50 parenting schedules on them, both my wife and the counselor looked troubled. No one wants to be the bad guy.

I was told that if we went to court my recently-divorced ex would probably get the Standard Possession Order. (Mom’s get the divorce package over 80% of the time in Texas Family Courts.) And at that moment, I was both castrated and betrayed by my still-wife and mother of my children.

Once she met with an attorney, she was shown the “best-case scenario” divorce. And once that Pandora’s Box has been opened, the Divorce became part of her strategy. With an MBA, she was well-versed in Excel and financial models. But the part that she was not very good at was being honest. She was not honest with the counselor when she claimed the “responsible parent” role and said that I was something less-than. She was not honest with herself when she claimed her 70% spoils of war, imagining that the kids would be better off with a great than a 2-to-1 ratio of time with her. She was in the war to win. But the victory, as she clearly understood the entire time, was not going to be “in the best interest of the children.”

living with the lie

Living with the Lie

How do you reconcile that? How does she not feel some guilt and shame about her coup d grace? How does she avoid this blog like a black hole? How does she tell herself, daily, that she made the right decision for all of us, and not just for herself?

At the moment you have children, you take a vow that their best interests would always be considered above your own. I am still living by that spiritual vow. That I was given 8 days a month to her 22 days, is not only unfair, but it also is NOT IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN.

I have written The Pre-Natal Agreement in the hopes that couples will have this discussion explicitly and with a spiritual vow to put the kid’s needs ahead of either of the parents. My ex-wife and I had agreed to this idea, 50/50 parenting forever until she was given an opportunity to change the vows in accordance with the laws of the state of Texas as well as Federal Family Law Title IV-D. She went for a checkmate, and she is still sleeping in the bedroom where her children were conceived.

She’s sleeping in the bed she made. And at the moment both my children are still under our old roof, her roof. She got everything she ever wanted and more. But I’m not sure that Faustian bargain doesn’t have its own deep guilt. Sleep well, my ex-wife. Sleep and be merry.

Pre-Natal Agreement Release Announcement, Dec. 17, 2019


Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Additional reading:

You can find all of my books on AMAZON.

Here’s a little video I made to show the disparity of typical 70/30 custody agreements.



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