Tag Archives: blameless divorce

Blameless Divorce: I Had a Dream Where You Apologized


I don’t want my ex-wife back, but I’d give almost anything to have my time with my kids back. All those nights and weekends where I’ve had zero access to them other than a phone call (“Hey, honey how was your day?” “Good.” “Um… Anything cool happen at school?” “No.”) I wouldn’t consider remarrying her, and I’m sure she has even less interest in that than me, but I’d consider almost anything…

Okay, but I’m day dreaming here. And I saw for a moment, in the dream, my ex-wife coming up to me with a beautiful smile on her face. “I’m really sorry about the divorce,” she said. “Yeah, me too.” And then she (no she didn’t) said, “And I miss you. Would you want to come home?” In the dream I was intoxicated with joy. I was willing to do almost anything to make it happen. If she’d said, “But there’s one condition, you have to scrub the toilets every night until I’m happy with them” I might have considered… But again, these are just demonic fantasies.

Our divorce was based on clear communication of what we thought we needed and what we thought the other person was incapable of giving us.

I would not remarry or rejoin my ex-wife. I would love more access to my kids. And I would’ve stayed in a troubled marriage until I was fatter and deader than I was when we split up. I would’ve stuffed my sadness and disconnected feelings in the name of staying married, for the kids. Yikes! That’s not good.

But something in the dream was about forgiveness. Something in the dream was a redemption. That all this pain and suffering that we’ve all been through, was forgiven. I was forgiven. She was forgiven. And I was coming home.

I’ve sort of blamed my ex-wife for the divorce in the past. When I was in a divorce recovery class, I classified myself as the dumpee and her as the dumper. And for that I’ve grown familiar with my tendency to hold her up as the reason we got divorced. That’s not accurate at all. It never is. Even when there is a clear dumper and dumpee, there are a lot more factors that go into the loss of love in a marriage. And I’m sure, we were no exception.

In fact, I had begun to get pretty vocal about the things that I was unhappy about in the marriage, towards the end of our last year together. I was learning to talk about what I didn’t like, as opposed to just keeping quiet in some sort of sadistic buddhist practice of suffering in my contemplation of my own suffering. I was beginning to give voice to my dissatisfaction. I was learning, for the first time, to get angry. (Anger was something we didn’t do in my family of origin. Dad had more than enough anger for all of us combined.)

And my anger and voicing of my own frustrations was not helping things get closer between us. However, I saw a tipping point in my mind, if I could just get to the heart of the fight about our marriage. If we could just dig in and let it out. If our counselor could give us the tools to express, honestly, what we were feeling.

And what if that IS what happened? (I’m having an ah-ha moment as I’m writing.) What if the clarity of our communication was what lead us to actually getting a divorce, rather than staying together in some painful compromise? I hadn’t really thought that idea through when I began writing this.

So, I got clearer about what things were hurting me in the divorce. And my then-wife was doing the same. We learned that a complaint was a fine form of communication. We learned that listening and truly trying to hear what the person is saying, rather that thinking of our defense, was the best way to get clarity between us.

We discovered our truths. We learned to communicate them. And we agreed to come apart as a couple but stay close as parents.

When we parted, we agreed to disagree in the ultimate relationship in our lives. Our divorce was based on clear communication of what we thought we needed and what we thought the other person was incapable of giving us.

We met for one last time with our therapist. We needed closure with him and between us. It was decided that we were going to divorce. We wanted to say one last time, with his support and love, what we thought the fundamental issue was that was causing us to seek release. He was not trying to fix us. He was helping us communicate better, and that’s how we ended.

I went first: This is a moment in our relationship where have an opportunity to strip back down to the basics. What we want in our lives and our relationship together. I feel like we’ve been given a warning flare and this is a new beginning. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to rebuild with a new foundation.

She said: We are two very different people. Things you keep doing are triggering me and I don’t feel like anything is getting better. I do not see a future where you are different. And I think I’m done.

And when I thought back on that exchange over the 4+ years, I’ve had this feeling that she did me wrong. I see now that she didn’t. She spoke her truth. And she had the courage to speak honestly about her desire for a different future.

While I could hold on to this event as her decision to leave the marriage, that’s not what it was. We didn’t agree on next steps. We didn’t see the future in the same optimistic light. I wanted to rebuild. But I was also saying very clearly, that things have got to change. A dramatic change was taking place, and I wanted to capitalize on this moment and make the leap to the next chapter of our relationship as married partners.

She saw the world from her eyes and didn’t want to go on trying to be different, or trying to work it out. (In the final two years we spent a lot of time and money in therapy, trying to “work it out.”) And it wasn’t going to work out, in her mind. Or she wasn’t willing to change in the ways I was asking her to change. Either she couldn’t, or she didn’t want to, both are acceptable truths.

We spoke our final piece. We blessed our therapist for working with us and giving us such a safe place to explore our individual realities and how we were trying to find the “fit” between us.

It worked for a long time. I experienced the bliss of love and parenthood with a best friend. That is truth. And as we grew into our parenting roles, we had different ideas about how that should look. And I fess up, I was unhappy. I was asking for a massive change. And in the end we disagreed on what we wanted as a couple. As parents we have never disagreed. And today, we’re still pretty tight on issues that involve our kids. And I’m happy to release her from any blame I might have been carrying.

We discovered our truths. We learned to communicate them. And we agreed to come apart as a couple but stay close as parents. And that’s our life together, without blame.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Note: I think this is a continuation of what I wrote this morning:  Stop Thinking: The Lost Art of Deep Listening

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image: samvara, seriykotik1970, creative commons usage

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex


“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage

Durable Love: Forgiving Your Ex and Refinding Love

I had the desire and intention to go the distance with my ex-wife. When I entered the agreement, and we decided to have kids, the deal was sealed for me. And love was never an issue. Compatibility and control could often come up, but I *never* doubted my love for my wife.

old-love-WHOLE-smallI understand that about myself. Even in the failure of my marriage, my second marriage, I know that I was not the one who wanted out. As the veritable caca hit the blades, I was sure that this moment of truth would actually bring us closer together over the long run. But there was not to be a long run.

But even as things were deteriorating between us, I was trying to get the message across, that I stilled loved her. Even if I didn’t *like* her, I did believe the durable bond of my love would transcend any problems. Even in the darkest hours, I continued to ask, “Are you sure this is what you want? Because it is definitely not what I want.” For me, I kept asking, because part of me couldn’t believe it was happening. And another part of me was sure she would snap out of it and realise her mistake. And a final part of me wanted to give her the “you’re right, I made a mistake” opportunity to repair the relationship.

I have learned how I don’t want to be with her as a partner again, but as parents we are partnered up, like a do-se-do, forever, round-and-round we go.

But of course, I was alone in this desire. Once the fracture happens, for some people, there is no recovery. There was no break for me. I was still writing love poems and recording love anthems trying to reawaken the light of her love for me.

I know this about myself. And as I aspire and look into the future, where my next relationship will come, I know that this is one of my strengths. Once I love, once I *know* I’m in, I’m all the way in.

I never strayed from my marriage. I never had the desire to be with another woman. I could look at and admire other women, beautiful and young, but I was so in love with my wife that the actual thought of acting out with someone else seemed almost comical. Sex is great, but sex isn’t worth breaking up a marriage about. That’s what porn is for: sex with all the young and younger women you want, with none of the consequences.

So as I try paint a picture of durable love for myself, I understand the commitment I have to work with. I don’t have any concerns about monogamy, or loving the same woman for the rest of my life. I saw myself completely satisfied year after year, exploring the same loving woman’s body, over and over, and discovering new ways to tickle her fancy.

But something got lost in that relationship that I will do a better job of protecting in my next relationship. And there were mismatches on things like Love Languages, and what types of activities gave us pleasure.

But my checklist might start with listening for the other person’s concepts of love. What is it that this other person really values in a relationship? Have they had successful long-term relationships? And are they aware and able to articulate what broke in their previous relationship?

Letting go of blaming my ex-wife for the divorce was the first step in forgiving her. And by forgiving her, and seeing how hard we both tried to keep things together, I was able to forgive myself for the divorce as well.

I think self-awareness is key. And not just mine, but the self-awareness and learning of my partner. Have they let go of their anger at their ex-partner? Can they see through the stress of their lives to the core of the issues necessary to be a loving co-parent? Because if they can’t be a good co-parent, if they don’t have the capacity to love, even after the divorce, then I might find myself in the same position, god forbid, in a number of years. Can they forgive and move on with their lives as gracefully as possible?

For a while I used to blame my ex-wife for the divorce. And even reading the first part of this post, you might think I’m still in that mode. But it’s not true. There were many things that caused us to get crosswise with one another. BUT, I do know, that I was the stand-in partner, who was asking to fight for the relationship. And perhaps she was just too tired to give it another shot.

So I know this about myself. I love fully. And as messed up as things might get, I am going to be working at being the most loyal and loving person I can me. And I *know* that when I get the chemistry right, I will never stray sexually. In fact, I really look forward to learning how to play her body like a guitar, finding the little places that make her resonate.

I look forward to getting old together. To being an example of that durable love. I see the older couples who are still in obvious glow, and I’m certain that I am capable of that. That is the goal: love that rides off together into the sunset.

So, perhaps I’m looking for something slightly different than I was before my divorce. With my awareness now, I am looking for that durable quality. I’m listening for it. In how they talk about their kids, their parents, and even their ex-partner.

Letting go of blaming my ex-wife for the divorce was the first step in forgiving her. And by forgiving her, and seeing how hard we both tried to keep things together, I was able to forgive myself for the divorce as well. And with forgiveness comes a new respect and another layer of the same durable love. I will always have those 11 years together. All the growth and joy we experienced. All the things that have brought me to where I am today. And some days, I can still really appreciate her. It’s not easy. And there are still struggles and issues between us. But I can honestly say I still love my ex-wife. I have learned how I don’t want to be with her as a partner again, but as parents we are partnered up, like a do-se-do, forever, round-and-round we go.

Perhaps in a way my durable love is still present. Today, I hope to find another person with  more compatible ideas of what that means. Yep, I believe forgiveness and release of your ex is key.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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