Tag Archives: divorce recovery process

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

Resetting Your Priorities in the New Year as a Single Parent


It’s all too easy to blame your ex-partner for things that aren’t working in your life. I know that I’d like to have the last few years back and do a couple things differently. And I know that seeing my ex refurnish the house, her house, while I’m struggling to find a house again, is painful. But guess what? It’s not her fault. Ever.

I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

That’s a hard line I’ve come to rely on as I’ve been turning everything around about my life, my divorce, and my parenting. It is NEVER about her.

Taking Inventory

When we take our own inventory in life it’s a good thing. (The 12-step programs have given us fantastic resources and frameworks for digging into what’s not working in our lives.) It’s when we take someone else’s inventory that things get a bit more muddled. Their issues, desires, and failings are really none of our business. (Kid’s lives have a slightly different relationship, but we’ve even got to watch our “assessments” of our kids.) My ex-wife and her joys or lows are really none of my concern. And when I pay attention to her life [how’s she doing… wait, she’s got a new living room set… how’s her boyfriend working out…] I’m really doing both of us a disservice.

I could focus on her. I could retrace things about our marriage and divorce that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been done better.  I could dig into my own issues and seek forgiveness… Except… That time has passed. The only forgiveness I need at this moment is from and for myself. Divorce is ultimately an individual experience. No amount of counseling, friendships, or new relationships can take us our of the sorrows, joys, and struggles of resetting every aspect of our lives. Books, blogs, therapy, friends, exercise, they all help, but the real work is done on a much deeper level.

I’ve been asked on several occasions about this blog. One friend said to me, “It’ll be great when you’re over your divorce. It seems like your still obsessed with it.” I found her statement funny at the time, but now I understand what she was getting at. She was reflecting her own issues. She was sharing about her divorce pain, not mine. Even as she was checking-in with me on some level, she was really talking about herself.

I’m well over my divorce, it’s the parenting part that I won’t ever be over. And that is where my focus has to reside. Not on her, or the divorce, but on myself and my relationship to my kids. (I know I repeat this idea, like a mantra, but I need to hear it.)


And I need to continue to explore the ideas of love and trust for myself. When I pull back the covers a bit on my failed marriage, I am really seeking to understand more about myself. It’s a bit voyeuristic at times, but I’m not that interested in her or her feelings. I really have no way of knowing all the emotional swirlings that were going on in her mind as things broke down between us. I can only account for my own actions, my own feelings in the moment, and my current reflection back on *my* role in the process of loss and separation.

Sure, the pain of being divorced comes up from time to time, but it’s primarily around the loss of time with my kids. She is much less important to my life and well-being than my kids. In fact, other than taking care of my own health (mental, spiritual, and physical) there is nothing more important in my life than the care and feeling of my two kids.

My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions.

The real kicker comes when I catch myself assessing my ex-wife’s success or failure post-divorce. That type of thinking *would* indicate an obsession and inability to move on from the relationship. These type of thoughts come in minor flashes now, but they used to come in broad strokes that would re-chart the course for an entire day, when I wasn’t vigilant about rejecting them. There is no value, none, in taking someone else’s inventory. This life is not about them, it’s about me. I can be distracted by focusing on others, or circumstances outside my control, but that is a dark path that leads to depression and feelings of despair.

Get this message: I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

As I began writing this blog in 2013 I knew it would not be easy to reframe all of my “work” in a positive light. However, just the act of starting the 100% positive goal began a process that transformed my own experience of live after divorce. When I started I still had resentment, I still felt like I had been wronged, I still had long periods of sadness surrounding the loss.

What emerged as I kept revisiting all of my feelings from this positive perspective is my own positivism. What I learned in the process of writing all of this “divorce” stuff was that it wasn’t about the divorce, it was about me. This blog is about my recovery of joy. Even in these hard times, I worked to see the good. As things began to get worse I doubled my efforts. The positive voice began to become my inner voice. The letting go of negativity towards my ex-wife was the biggest single step in my recovery process. And knowing that my kids were affected by all of our interactions, I saw the positive changes in their lives too.

We can’t imagine what is going on in another person’s life. We try. But we know that our projections are not real. In redirecting that inventory-centered mind on ourselves we can take charge of what we can know, what we can change. The act of writing this blog has allowed me to reclaim my own joy.

I am one of the happiest people I know. I’ve always been this way. A friend on the street a few weeks ago asked me, “Were you this happy as a kid?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve always been the one who shouts across the room to greet someone I care about.” I had just hailed him from 50-yards away.

“A lot of people don’t see themselves that way. A lot of kids I’m teaching these days have no sense of their inner voice. It’s as if they don’t have one. As if they don’t remember themselves as kids.”

Taking the High Road

Here’s what I know. My ex-wife has nothing to do with my happiness or success. My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions. How we deal with hard times will inform and set their own internal compass for later in life as they run into challenges. In resetting everything in my life on my own experience, I learned that my positive approach to living in the present moment was the most powerful parenting lesson I could give them.

I am someone who claims to be spiritual but not religious. To me, what this means is I take more comfort in the Serenity Pray than I do in the Lord’s Prayer. I prefer friendly company or contemplative solitude to church. And while I’m not sure how spirituality will play out in my kid’s lives, I know that I show them every day what it means to be a self-fulfilled and happy person.

I am joyous. I am alone. And I am always hopeful.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

back to Positive Divorce

God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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image: prayer ties, tifanie chaney, creative commons usage

Staying Positive and Becoming Whole – OverDivorce Podcast

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 7.00.00 AM

John McElhenney joined us to talk about how he was able to develop a positive perspective while he was going through his divorce. John is a single dad who lives and writes in Austin, Texas. John is also the Divorce editor of The Good Men Project and is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. During the show we talk about:

  • John’s epiphany that radically changed his thoughts about being a father in a positive way.
  • How he got clarity about making decisions during his divorce.
  • His realization about becoming a “Whole Parent” and the most important thing that he did to become one.
  • How John processed his emotions while going through his divorce so that negative thoughts wouldn’t impact his kids.
  • Learn John’s mental “Judo move” that changed his mind set about his divorce.
  • How your kids view what you are doing during your divorce and how that will impact their lives.
  • How he talked to his kids about some of the good things that came out of his divorce for him and his ex-wife.
  • John talks about how his parents’ divorce impacted him on how he was going to handle his own divorce.
  • How writing and journaling helps you get perspective on your thoughts and relieves some of the depression that comes with divorce.
  • How he was able to grieve during his divorce.
  • 3 things that John did so that he could cope with his divorce. These are techniques that John used to keep him distracted and let him have fun.

John recommends Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Go Listen Now: The OverDivorce Podcast: The Positive Divorce by John McElhenney

Always Love,

John McElhenney

Back to Positive Divorce

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