Tag Archives: Divorce Recovery Cycle

Thriving After Divorce: 6 Lifehacks Along the Recovery Process


I’m going to say something you’ve probably heard a lot. “I’m happier after the divorce.” It sounds trite, but I am sincerely convinced that my divorce transition made me a better dad, a better man, and more conscious and centered man. It’s been a long process for me, these last 4+ years, but with some hints, perhaps I can spare you some of the mistakes I made and help you along your individual path towards divorce recovery.

Here are my six hacks for recovering your full and loving life after divorce.

1. Get Positive.

Holding on to resentment and anger is the biggest mistake I made after the divorce. I laughed when I would get in a particularly sly jab in a text response. I reveled in her long silences after I “gave her a piece of my mind.” I set my own healing back at least a year by holding on to my high-road illusion. It was her that wanted the divorce. I was the wronged party. Um, let’s rewind that a bit, and re-examine.

Once the divorce is final and the deal has been struck, it’s time to move on and recapture *your* positive approach to life. All attention you give to your ex-partner, even in jest or mock-playfulness, is attention you are focusing on negative energy. I struggled for a few years with my own reaction to my ex’s decisions after divorce. Get this: if it doesn’t affect your kids, it is none of your business. And if it’s about your ex and you, you need to take 100% of that venting elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong here. You will get mad and you will feel anger. But the hack here is to fundamentally understand that there is nothing else for you to work out with your ex. There are no stupid requests from your co-parent that require a stupid and angry response. Zero. I’m still actively working on this one. But I know, that my vitriolic texts or emails since the divorce have had no positive impact on our functional parenting relationship. When I smirked inside as I fired off an in-kind response I was actually shooting myself in the foot.

2. Co-parenting is all about parenting, money, and scheduling.

Outside of those three topics you should not have much to talk about. Sure, I know my wife has a boyfriend, and I hear from my daughter that he’s nice and has a huge grove of lemon tress in his back yard. That’s all I need to know.

In a divorce recovery class I heard this idea about dealing with your ex. Treat the transactions like you would in a convenience store. You are there to get a pack of gum. You don’t need to know about the clerk’s day or aspirations for life. Get in, get your business done, and leave. That’s the model for logistics and negotiations with your ex.

3. Flexibility is key.

Taking the flexible approach with your ex-partner will come in handy. I do everything I can to be flexible with my ex-wife’s scheduling requests. Even if they don’t make sense to me. Even if I don’t like them. One example, after my wife had been in a serious dating relationship for several months she requested that we switch up the parenting schedule to allow them to have the same weekends off. The arrangement actually meant that I gave up my 1-3-5 weekend plan and with it, I lost 4 – 5 double weekends a year. But it was a simple change that didn’t mean too much for my schedule. My first reaction was, “Why would I want to do anything to help her and her boyfriend.” But my next reaction and eventual response to the request was, “Sure. Let’s start next month.”

I didn’t get anything in return, but I lost very little. I could’ve been all concerned about my double weekends, or her boyfriend and their relationship. But what I focused on was my kids. If it would be easier on her it would be easier on them. You know the old phrase, “When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

4. Find What You Love.

Jumping right back into the dating game is a mistake. I tried it, failed at it, and wasted at least a year haunting Meetup.com groups and “working” the online dating sites. It’s a common mistake. You WANT some reward some validation for being released and newly single. You want to sew your oats. You want to party. Everything is new and everyone is a potential date. Um… Stop.

Loving your alone time is the first step to getting to know what you love to do, with or without a partner. For me those two main activities were playing music and playing tennis. Two things my wife didn’t really join with me on. She put in a few weeks in the early days of our courtship, since it was something I loved to do, but it never caught her fancy.

Since being single again my tennis game has picked up. And one woman I dated for a few months actually played tennis. WOW. That was a thrill. I’m willing to admit I’m powerless over tennis skirts on a cute woman. I’m learning to control my urges, but tennis is a love activity for me, so why not do it with someone you love?

5. Reclaim Your Joyous Life.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — a lyric from Nada Surf’s Concrete Bed. If you are still hurting from your divorce, or still learning to manage your alone time, or time without your kids, get some help. Give yourself time to re-center in your own life, your new alone life, before trying to add someone to the equation. You can’t find another lover, a well-matched lover, if you’ve got a love sucking wound in your chest. Take the time to heal. Get the help you need. Seek professional help if you want to accelerate the process. And then rest. If we get too focused on finding a new relationship we’re going to miss a lot of the baby steps of discovering the new relationship with ourselves, alone.

6. Be Where You Like to Be.

I’ve been working on this one a bit recently. If I were with a woman today, where would we be? Where does she shop? What kinds of activities is she into? If she’s spiritual, where does she go for her community? If she does yoga, she’s probably part of a class. If she’s a tennis player, where do single women play tennis, or can I ask one of my tennis playing women friends who they know? Your next partner is already doing the things you want to be doing. Perhaps they are in a process of rediscovery too. And you can rejoin, rekindle a spiritual practice together.

Imagine where she might be, or where you might be together, and go there. Look around. Listen. Try something else.

Overall the process of divorce recovery has taken me at least 4 years. I’ve been in my happy place for about 6 months. If you can focus on the ideas above perhaps you can find your inner buddha quicker and move along into the next chapter of your life.

I’ve had two serious relationships in that time, and I’m hopeful that the coming year will bring a more successful coupling. But I’m no longer in a hurry. I no longer consider myself “dating” or “looking for a date.” Those activities might’ve been helpful when I was determined to be in a relationship again. Today I’m not. I’m happy in my own relationship. I’m longing for a relationship with another woman, but I’m not hurting from the lack of it.

Get right with yourself before moving on to partner with another person. You’ll be much more attractive to other healthy people, and better equipped to see and avoid negative relationships.

John McElhenney

back to Dating After Divorce

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image; online dating, thomas8047, creative commons usage

Coming Full Circle: A Dad’s Experience of the Divorce Recovery Cycle


Divorce strips away everything you’ve known about life to date. In many ways, for men, the experience is quite different. In my state, Texas, about 80% of women get primary custody and the house. It’s a cliché because it’s true. And while that might not always be the best arrangement, I can understand how simplifying the normal trajectory of divorce helps both the courts and the legal system that is supported by “divorce business.”

I am happy for the healing in my family that has come from flipping all the negatives of divorce on their ass and finding the way back to love.

What happens for the dad, when he is asked to leave the house and step away from his current life is unlike the experience for the rest of the family. And to be clear, someone has got to leave the house. And one of the stabilizing forces for the kids becomes the “house.” The goal is not to throw the kids into the massive turmoil of the “adult” decisions and process of divorce. So, someone has got to go.

Still, the disorientation is devastating. And depending on your preparedness and anticipation of the divorce, your new experience can be both magical and dark. In my case, I was dropped into a spare bedroom at my sister’s house. It’s possible that this crash landing into something soft and familiar, was what saved my life. (Suicide is very real threat to father’s in divorce. The absolute loss of everything, can unsettle even previously strong fathers.)

Your family of origin could be your lifeline after divorce. I fell into step with the cadence of my sister and her two kids. She’s been divorced for several years, so she was quite sympathetic to my experience. Of course, she had kept the house and majority of the kid-time in their divorce as well, so her actual perspective on my situation wasn’t 100% similar. Either way, I came to rely on my sister and her kids. And when my kids were with us in the “temporary house” they had built-in friends as well, and this took a lot of the pressure off me during those first few months.

I could make it through the time with my kids, and keep up the brave face of their dad. But when they left, I crumbled quickly back into my isolation. Family dinners became a gut check every day. A wonderful gut check, but a “how are you today” moment, every single day.

What I didn’t need, as someone who has dealt with depression was a lot of time alone. When I’m depressed I withdraw. In the darkest moments, even my kids didn’t provide the “reality check” to bring me out of my stupor. I kept most of my sadness to myself, and rose to the occasion when it was my weekend. But I was barely maintaining. I was so lucky to have a sister who got it, who supported me, and who provided a roof, bed, and food for a few months while I reconstituted my life.

Today, about 4.5 years since I walked out of my house, I am spending the week back at my sister’s house. She’s out-of-town and I’m caring for the dog and cat who still occupy my old crash pad. It’s a wonderful place to reflect back on where I’ve come, where I’ve changed, and where things are a back in a similar place.

I keep repeating how happy I am. I’m sure it’s a mantra of sorts. I am working to keep myself upright and healthy even as most of my material possessions and privacy are gone.

At this moment, it’s hard to admit, but, I’m homeless again. I’m staying here because I need a place to live. The story of how I got here, in 4.5 years is for another post. (Or another blog, perhaps.) But what is up for examination is what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Occasionally it’s a good idea to take a semi-formal inventory of your progress along the path of rebuilding your life. From this perspective we can make adjustments and set goals for what we want to create.

What’s good about now, and where I am, and where I’m headed.

  • I love my life
  • My kids are quite happy and successful in their education and personal growth
  • My creative output is high, and I’m on the threshold of publishing my first Whole Parent book
  • I’m on a renewed commitment to health and fitness
  • And even alone, I’m as centered and “whole” as I’ve ever been
  • My relationship with my ex-wife is more business-like than I would’ve preferred, but that’s certainly efficient
  • Our kids reflect the love of both parents, as we haven’t ever bad-mouthed each other, they understand that we still love each other and them, but we’re just not married any more
  • Work prospects are also growing, and my path out of my “temporary housing” has not arrived, but it is in the works

What things I still need to focus changing or healing

  • I’m pretty positive, but there’s still some underlying “injustice” feelings that I need to process and get over
  • I’m sad about the divorce from time to time, and I am still releasing any focus on my ex-wife and her success
  • My new fitness commitment is just starting (October) and I’m still in the process of understanding all of the facets of my relationship to my diet and my health
  • My income needs to step up about 200% to get me out of my transition
  • I’m still hesitating slightly on the full-embrace of the role this divorce/relationship/parenting blogging could have on my life, and my future career transition (but I’m getting closer to this one)
  • My own relationship status has been mostly single. Happily single is still single. I’d like to find a relationship that begins to form the next chapter of my life, beyond single.

I keep repeating how happy I am. I’m sure it’s a mantra of sorts. A sort of self-soothing, self-regulating process I am working to keep myself upright and healthy even as most of my material possessions and privacy are gone. Fine, I walk away from all the things and return to the self. I return to myself and my internal makeover that began 4.5 years ago. This writing is a huge part of the process for me. I’m in therapy, sure, but this connection with myself, gives me almost daily sessions. And my talky therapy becomes more of an affirmation and firming-up of my convictions.

  • My kids are well.
  • I’m 99.2% positive. (Still shooting for 100%.)
  • My honest sharing here has picked up momentum and a following thanks to The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project.

And I am happy for the healing in my family that has come from flipping all the negatives of divorce on their ass and finding the way back to love. Everything in my life is about love. And the love and support of my kids comes before all of my own needs and goals. They are not a goal, they are my life. And while I’m not putting *my* life on hold, I am putting their care and feeding as my ultimate priority. That’s my big AH-HA moment. They are my WIN.

And as I progress along my path of recovery from divorce, I continue to do some of the best writing of my life. That’s what’s cracked open for me. As a writer and English major, I’m grateful that this transition has given me a strong voice. And the better I understand myself the stronger my life and my writing voice gets.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

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image: temporary housing bliss, john mcelhenney, oct 2014 cc