love again after divorce

Love Is An Ongoing Choice Not a Feeling: Reflecting On My Divorce

I’ve had a hard time getting around the idea that my marriage and the love that we established actually failed at some point. Even with the best of intentions and with two smart and well-educated people, we somehow managed to mess it up. At least that’s how I used to think about it.

Today I heard, and I mean really heard, a new perspective on what happened in my marriage. I’ve been over it a hundred times, backwards and forwards, trying to dissect the issues and misses that caused us to fall out of love with one another, and I’ve never quite been able to reconcile my own feelings from the feelings that somehow changed on my then-wife’s side.

And here is what I heard today, loud and clear.


It seems pretty straightforward. But it’s easier to see now in retrospect than it was as our relationship was unraveling.

Here’s how I now understand the choices we made and how we got out of sync and ultimately divorced. In the rush of love and passion or new beginnings, we are all in an altered state of mind. Our energies are different, our sexual desire is heightened, and our willingness to overlook or look beyond our differences is easy and effortless. We fall into a drugged state where the world and future together looks so bright, that we’re almost powerless to pull back from the gravity that is binding us together.

In my case, we both wanted children, we were both nearing 40, and we had known each other for over 15 years, and the courtship and negotiations were fast and heightened by our passion and intensity. Within a year we were living together and discussing the timing of trying to get pregnant. Wow, it seems so fast now, looking back, but then, in the glow, we were intelligent and thoughtful in making our leap into the throes of marriage and then parenthood.

And we blazed along, without too much friction, until our second child moved into the second trimester and the doctor’s alerted us to a very grave medical condition that might alter our lives and trajectories rather dramatically, should things go poorly. And in the darkness of that moment, as the world was still reeling from 9-11, we struggled as a young family to find footing and comfort in each other and in our newborn son.

And I would admit to doing worse at it than my then-wife, who bore the brunt of the invasive medical interventions that we partook of every Monday morning, in order to save the life of our pre-natal daughter.

Fallout from the Fall

During the years that followed, we struggled as a family with financial stresses and emotional stresses. We kept our family of four, plus various dogs and cats, afloat, but it was with much effort and negotiation. We worked at it. We counseled as we’d never done before. We recommitted to our relationship and our kids. And we struggled on like you’re supposed to: family first.

However, somewhere along this winding and stormy road, somewhere deep down inside, one of us began to doubt. One of us began to look outside the relationship for comfort and support. And one of us then began to make plans for something other than US.

And I am not pointing the finger here, but I never questioned my choice at staying married and staying in the relationship. I struggled too. But my foundation, the bedrock of my love for the woman and the kids of my family, was never in question. Perhaps naively, I worked and fought and negotiated for my relationship from a position of strength, of “knowing” that we were solid as a family first, and the relationship would follow.

She Changes the Plan for All of Us

My ex-wife made different choices. And at some point, along the rocky road, began to imagine her life outside of the marriage. She began to check out the options with an attorney, before talking to me about it. She was making a choice.

And her choice was away from the marriage. My choice was always into the marriage. In terms of the divorce, she would be considered the dumper and I would be the dumpee. And while this simplifies the roles a bit, the ultimate decision and process of divorce had to be a joint one. At some point, I had to agree to get a divorce. I had to agree to work the process of separating in the most loving way I could manage. “For the wellbeing of the children.”

And all that is true and good. But the decision was made by my then-wife, and other than fight and resist, when it was decided there was very little I could have done to salvage the marriage. So I agreed to get a divorce.

Today, almost four years later, I am still learning and examining what happened to change the course of our lives so permanently. I am still asking, would we have been happier had we worked it out? And I think, as adults, with children, looking to date and maybe marry again, we have to be realistic about what we want and need.

Single Dad Tries to Replace the Irreplaceable

Many things are different now, as a single parent, and dating father. And some of the aspirations and inspirations are the same. I still believe in falling in love, and I still want to feel that rush again. This time, of course, there are some very different rules. We (me and this fictitious woman) don’t want more children, we’ve already got them. We would need to see the benefits of marriage or living together from a different perspective.

But what I have learned to respect is the choice we make with our time and our efforts. If we want a relationship to happen, we have to make choices towards the relationship, towards the dating process. And the choices at this stage of life, are much more considered and optional. We don’t need to be married or even in a relationship.

But we WANT to be in a relationship. And each day we can make choices towards or away from that partnership. And each day, as an older single parent, those choices are a lot more fluid than they were when we were looking for life partners and procreative opportunities.

I think each of us enters marriage with the idea that it will last a lifetime. I think we also endure pains in a marriage in order to protect our kids from the drama and pain of divorce. And those choices can take us only so far if one of the partners begins to question their decision, or begins to envision a different choice.

As single parents, dating, those choices now are much less dramatic. We can date, decide to continue or not continue dating, and that’s it. No big breakup, no big divorce. Just “we’re not dating anymore, maybe we can maintain a friendship.”

I welcome the passionate fire of love with all my heart. But I will choose to keep my head in the reality of the choices, and how they would impact my little nuclear family of three before considering changing that relationship beyond a “date.” The choice of love is an ongoing choice.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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Epilogue: a poem from my last breakup: the heart is an odd engine

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image: love is in the subway, Benurs, creative commons usage

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