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Loving Again as a Single Parent is an Ongoing Leap of Faith


Loving someone is a leap of faith. A continuous renewal of your intention and energy to cherish and support your partner. Loving again after divorce or a painful break up is a process of releasing your previous experience and allowing for the new experience to be different. But there are always echoes. And with kids those echoes can create barriers to fully loving again.

We constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

As you begin any new relationship there are moments when you have to decide to move towards the YES or away from it. The YES is that pull towards partnership, entwinement, entanglement, and committing to that path, that person, is a risk. You have to be willing to  challenge and rebuke all of those old tapes. You have to take a leap of faith well before you can be sure of anything. Falling in love is a process of allowing yourself to jump into the arms of this new person, into their lives, without too much concern or fear of the future relationship.

As you begin joining in this new love life with a new partner it is important to recognize the strings from the old pain and old patterns of your relationships in the past. When you feel that fear or sadness, it is a renewed committment to seek the new partner, that becomes the YES that allows your heart to reopen and re-feel the exhilaration of loving again. A friend once talked about “Writing over the old tapes with the new ones.” She was talking about reformatting your brain and putting new and good experiences over the old painful ones. It is important that you not run from the echoes, but that you open to the full experience of what is happening in your life.

The love pushes up the fears. The love with a new person will retrigger old hurts. As you spend more time with this person the little shocks of, “Oh hell, I remember doing this before with another person” will lessen and you can begin saying, “I have never experienced anything so free and loving.” That’s what you want to listen for. That’s the message you want to confirm with your new lover.

My significant other and I call it the “WOW.” And we constantly say “Wow” to each other and to ourselves. It’s a bit like a prayer.

In my mind, “Wow,” says:

  • Thank you
  • You are amazing
  • I can’t believe how much I love you
  • This is the moment
  • I’ve never felt so much love
  • Amen

However you think about divine intervention or higher powers or your religious touchstone, love is the most powerful force in our lives. It is through love of ourselves, love of our children, and love of another adult, that we find meaning and fulfillment in our lives.

Before children I was extremely self-focused. I was intense and focused on success. And then I fell in love with the woman who would become my wife and suddenly all the possibilities were open. And through the opening of our relationship we were both able to make the massive leap of faith to consciously bring another human into our lives. The moment we looked at each other and communicated that we were ready to go from practice (using birth control) to live ammo our lives were transformed. The leap of faith we took that morning in France, would burn away all of our ideas of self-actualization and striving. We said YES to our spiritual guides and asked to be given the opportunity to become parents.

As our story went, the marriage ended up not continuing, but we spent 11 years together leaping into the unknown, first in our relationship, second in our marriage, third in becoming parents. In divorce you must take that final leap, the fourth, into celebrating and supporting your previous partner in spite of the fracture and distance that comes as a result of dissolving the marriage and undoing the vows you made to one another.

But you never undo the vows to your children. And as you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials. In my case, over the last five years, I lost everything. Jobs, money, possessions. In some dark moments I contemplated losing myself. Amazing, that sadness that overwhelms completely enough for someone to consider an easy escape into death. I am ashamed to admit this moment, as if it’s some weakness in my character. But it’s a fact. A fact that I didn’t follow through on, but a fact that I contemplated, ruminated, on the idea that I could escape this pain and loss by escaping my own life.

As you move through the years as co-parents rather than cohabitants and lovers, you will be stripped down to the bare essentials.

My father must’ve felt the same despair as he made choices that led to his divorce from my mom. His choice was towards alcohol rather than towards us and our mom. He “chose” to deny his drinking problem and chose to marry another woman with a love of the distilled spirits as well. The descent was quick and horrifying to watch. But as he occasionally reached out to me, at 10 and 14 years old, to come live with them in the new fantastic house, I was clear that I would be taking a significantly different route.

As I have begun this new relationship in 2015 I have been shocked at times by the frictionless momentum we have developed while saying “Wow” to each other. But the bumps have been nonexistent, and the timing seems to have allowed both of us to make the repeated leaps necessary to join and rejoin regardless of the fear or differences. The YES has been much more powerful than any of our objections, and often more powerful than either of our individual ideas or expectations. We’ve blown through all of our expectations and are in an ongoing process of including our leap towards each other as we say “Wow,” and revel in the bursts of good fortune that continue to rain down on our lives as a couple.

And as we radiate and recommit, as we lean in towards one another and take the leap of faith towards life-transforming love, we can see the effect our joy is having on our friends and family. And the kids, while still readjusting to our new configuration, are already showing warmth and enthusiasm around our together unit, which now includes a new partner for me.

I can’t predict what will happen, but I can declare my commitment to staying in the YES mode and continuously transforming my fears into prayers as I turn towards this amazing new woman in *our* lives.

The leap of faith is strong and consistent on both our sides. As we hold hands and travel together and say “Yes” and “Wow” and “Thank you,”  we are creating love. You build love one leap at a time. And as long as both of you continue to leap towards one another, you’re future may be unpredictable, but the core energy will be solid and the core sound will be “Yes.”

John McElhenney

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Upward and Onward After Splitting Up


Things are never going to be the same after divorce. Everyone knows this. But the feelings following the fracturing of the family unit take a while to be fully felt and dealt with. After the hurt and healing begins to take place, it’s up to the adults in the family to move upward from the ashes and into the new new life ahead. Easier said than done, I know, but here are some ideas that might help that transition.

From this side of my divorce, 4 years later, I can easily say my life is better. Not how I expected it, but better in some unexpected ways. There is loss. I miss my kids terribly when they are away, when I don’t have immediate and continuous access to them. The off-time phone calls are all very similar. “Hi.” “How are you?” “Fine.” “Anything new at school today?” “No.” “Okay. Love you.” “Love you too.”

As a divorced parent you now have time alone. What are you going to do with your new life? Who do you want to become?

It’s like a telegraph. And often it is just a few text messages at night, that carry the same words. But the message beneath the words is “I am here, I love you, and I am available for you, when you need me. Always.”

Even when you feel like you’re not getting through to them, you are. The support they feel just from your check-ins cannot be underestimated. Letting them know you love them. Making sure they hear it from you as often as they will tolerate it.

As adults, according to Brené Brown, we show our kids how to behave in difficult situations. Rather than trying to parent correctly, what we need to show our kids is how to live correctly. So as you are suffering from the damage of divorce, it is critical that you take your “work” outside the relationship with your kids. You can let them know you are working through stuff, but your issues cannot be processed with them. They are still kids. Let them remain kids and go do your adult work with other adults.

Too many times I’ve heard angry parents railing about their ex-partners in front of their kids. This is awful. There is no complaint that your kids can make better. There is no situation with your ex that they can help resolve. Keep the adult conversations and conflicts between the adults. And do your best at parenting by showing your kids how to live and forgive with compassion.

Know that your loneliness is your issue, and that it also cannot be solved by your kids. It’s not about more or less time with your kids. The loneliness is something deeper, that probably has roots in your family of origin. Sure the pain of the separation and divorce have triggered your loneliness again, but it’s not something that can be solved with or through your kids.

As a divorced parent you now have time alone. What are you going to do with your new life? Who do you want to become? What parts of yourself did you let drop in your marriage, that now have space to grow and flourish again?

I was talking to my daughter in the kitchen several months ago, processing the positive effects of the divorce with her. “There are some things that are definitely better for me,” I said. “And I know when I’m happier, I’m a better dad to you guys, as well.” She nodded. “And you know I wouldn’t have been able to play music again as much as I am, when I was still married. But now I have this time, when you guys are not with me. And I’m playing a lot of tennis again and that makes me happy too.”

It’s not that I was trying to justify or explain the divorce to her. I was trying to show her how my life has transitioned because of the divorce, and how I’ve made the most of my time. I have recovered my joyous self, and it’s important that I show up as that same joyous parent in their lives.

And part of my joy is losing the anger at their mom. Getting over the loss of time with them. Getting on with what I need to work on in my life, as a single man.

I can drop the drama from my life, completely. When drama occurs I can observe it, name it, and step away. I no longer have to live in the drama.

I have stayed pretty focused on my own healing and the well-being of my kids. I haven’t put the energy or time into finding and building a new relationship. That has been my choice. And I’ve grown a lot from allowing the loneliness to inform my soul of what things are important in my life and what things that I can drop.

I can drop the drama from my life, completely. When drama occurs I can observe it, name it, and step away. I no longer have to live in the drama. When it’s an issue with their mom I can give myself the space and time I need to respond with kindness. Again, what I am showing my kids is how to respond to all types of losses and frustrations with kindness and hopefulness.

I’m not always happy, but I’m always hopeful. And I can show both sides of that coin to my kids. They’ve seen me struggle, but they’ve always known I was strong enough to come back and keep coming back to be 100% available to them.

I’ve seen both of my kids deal with some pretty major setbacks since the divorce. And I’ve seen them roll on with calm, optimism, and their own brand of hope. They both have their own internal languages and healing patterns for coping, and the tumble of the divorce gave them some practice at dealing with things not working out. That’s a great life lesson. Things are not always going to work out. When things fall apart, it is the optimism and hope that pulls our lives back together.

Neither of my kids harbors any bitterness about the divorce. They’ve got their sadnesses, we all do. There are times when it is clear they are missing the inclusion of the entire unit. But my ex has been with her boyfriend for over 2.5 years now, and he is also a solid figure in their lives. He comes to volleyball games even when their mom can’t. I love him for that.

We’re all just doing the best we can. That my ex-wife has found new love is a wonderful thing for her, and for my kids. She deserves to be happy. And the happier she is the happier my kids are, and tangentially, the happier I am as well. We’re all still in this together, ’til death do us part.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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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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