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I Am Holding My Breath: A Wonderful Pause Along My Divorce Recovery

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I’ll admit that I’m heading out of my comfort zone into the unknown. I’ll do my best to keep breathing. I find that I’m holding my breath a little bit.

My Divorce Recovery

In my experience, divorce recovery takes as long as it takes. I believe I recovered from my divorce over the course of several years and did a lot of emotional and healing work. I went to a lot of Al-Anon meetings when I was feeling down or lonely.  And it took me just over TEN YEARS to find a healthy, mutually adoring, partner. I’m hoping that my writing helps you cut down on your own reboot.

the divorce recovery process by john mcelhenney and the whole parent
the divorce recovery process by john mcelhenney and the whole parent


Here’s how I visualized the journey of divorce recovery several years ago when I was trying to promote and pitch a book and a series of online classes. The first draft used “year” instead of “stage” but I saw how that wasn’t accurate. If you are working on yourself, post-divorce, your process can take a year or five years. Your goals may be different than mine. And your recovery along the spiral up and out can take more or less time than it took me. My goal: find another lifetime partner who is willing to evolve, and who has done enough work on themselves to engage and grow with me.

Seeking a Healthier Partner

I learned a lot from my marriage and divorce. I learned I didn’t ever want to get divorced again. I also learned, that my kids are the priority. I want a partner, but I lose interest in a potential partner when they discount my kids, don’t have kids of their own, or put our relationship in competition with my kids. I want a healthy partner. I want a single mom who can offer me advice on parenting and dealing with our dickish exes. I want a woman who is fully formed and ready for an aspirational relationship.

In my dating journey, I experienced partners all over the spectrum of health. I was engaged to an alcoholic. (SEE: The 3rd Glass) I was in a relationship with a single (solo) mom who was ten years younger than me and had an eight-year-old son when we met. I encountered a sexually charged and emotionally wounded woman who adored Brené Brown but couldn’t follow through on BRAVING no matter how we discussed it, and ultimately fought about it.

And I found, a couple of years ago, the woman I had been looking for. The woman of potential became a lover and now (as of July 2023, a fiancé). A fully-formed and loving single mom with two kids (boy and girl) who are out of the house and on their own.  I wanted someone who was in a similar place in life. Beginning to have ideas and discussions about “what’s next” in life. How does our life look in ten years? What is the legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?

Building a Lasting Relationship

Finding a partner is only step one. Building a lasting and mutually respectful relationship is another part of the process. Getting a date is hard. Developing or discovering a true partner is much harder. Negotiating and keeping a healthy relationship is an ongoing challenge in life. We will constantly evolve. I need a partner who is flexible, well-centered, and self-aware enough to keep their own issues in their own hula hoop. (This is a simple definition of emotional intelligence.)

What’s next is relationship-building. Navigating the complexities of life and the challenges that are part of life. How do we (as a couple) make decisions and take actions to support the WE? How do we continue to fascinate and be fascinated by our lovers? I don’t want love to burn out, or fade away. I want the BIG LOVE I’ve found to burn bright and passionately for the rest of my life. Yes, I’d like to still be ravishing my *woman* twenty years from now. And beyond.

The Road Ahead for Us

I wish I could draw out the roadmap that would keep us in love and healthy. But here’s the news: there are no maps, only suggested routes. I have plenty of those. And then, in my love life, we have PLANS and PRIORITIES. I am always interested in putting my partner FIRST when making plans. Then, as days go on, making room for our connections and activities to take priority in my planning. I put my woman first. I put my kids second. And then, my needs and wants come third. The rest of the world is lower on my list.

Prioritize your partner. Keep healthy (BRAVING) boundaries around what’s MY SHIT, and YOUR SHIT, to maintain clarity and balance moving ahead. Read Brené’s books, watch TED Talks, and even her Netflix special, but learn BRAVING. I base a lot of my coaching and couples work on this simple system of love, fracture, reconnect, and recommit. We could all learn to be more BRAVE with each other.

For me, I see the future as a continuous turning toward my partner. When I want to bolt, cheat, wander, give up… I will try to always turn to my partner and ask. I can ask for what I need. I can ask for what I must have. And I can ask for changes of things that aren’t working for me. And then I have to let my partner have the same autonomy. Then, as we BOTH choose to turn toward one another we can experience the healing necessary to move past our struggles.

Stay in the car. It’s hard sometimes, even when things feel perfect. When things are hard, it’s easier to see how people decide to cheat. They are bored, resentful, drunk, horny, acting out, manic, and furious. Thus a stranger in a bar on a business trip becomes an outlet for my discontent. The better choice would be to engage in a conversation with our partner about what’s making us feel less connected, and working through the process.

Relationship-building is a lifetime skill. BRAVING is one of the tools that can help you (me and my fiance) keep connected and secure. Your future is in creating the secure attachment you’ve always wanted and deserved.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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