Archive for November, 2011

OK, so the title of this post might be a little strong, given the actual content, but it was what jumped into my head as I thought about how to summarize what germinated this post.  Through this entire divorce process I’ve been very self-reflective and proud of myself for learning lessons and gaining wisdom and becoming a better person to be a better second husband in my upcoming marriage.  I’m very proud of myself, can’t you tell?  🙂  But then I started having all those clichéd thoughts go through my head.  “My parents were right!”  “Youth is wasted on the young!”  “If I only knew then what I know now.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still stick by my other posts where I stated that I am comfortable and confident with how my life’s journey got me here.  All the bad times, poor choices, and mistakes helped me grow into who I am today and arrive to be with all the people in my life today.  I would not have the job I have, live in the place I do, have the children I have, be engaged to the person I am, etc. if not for all the crap I had to wade through to get here.  I also understand that I have not suddenly emerged from the swamp of life never to return to the quagmire of raw sewage again.  I will make more mistakes, more poor choices, have more bad times.  This is what led me to the realization and the title of this post.  The reason we go through this, is that we do not have all the information we have later.  The experiences are not developed, the lessons not learned, the advice brushed aside because we are different.  Yet God is all knowing and could change all that, but he lets us humans have this life experience when he could have instead chosen to give us more information earlier in life through reincarnation, shared mental telepathy of some other creation, yet he chose to make us learn through hard knocks.  What gives?  How is that not a mean streak?  Does God get some sort of perverse joy when one of use screws up and he gets to sit there and say, “Look at that yahoo!  Let’s see what he learns!”?  Is it all some gigantic social experiment like playing the Sims 3, but with 7 billion characters?

As a Christian I don’t truly believe that God relishes in our misery, but I do find it difficult to rationalize what the point is.  Sure there is the whole thing about the Fall when Adam and Eve tried to get the knowledge, and how we need to be thankful we have free will and predestination is a thing of the Puritans and yada yada yada.  My point is when you’re picking yourself off the proverbial floor after you’ve been sucker punched by a life event and you look back on it days or years later and see how you saw it coming, or your friend’s did, or your parents warned you, it’s really hard not to feel like somehow there has to be a better way.  If all your friends and family know your wife is cheating on you, why do they stay quiet?  When abuse happens why do people look the other way, thinking it’s not their problem?  It’s easy, so most people just step away.  Who wants to get told they don’t understand and it’s not really that bad anyway.

So is the point that we relish the victories more by having the failures?  Is it the adventure of life that makes it worth living?  I mean, if you knew what was going to happen to you five years from now, what effort would you really put in?  And this is where the lens begins to turn a bit.  Maybe God’s choice to have us live this way is not a mean streak, but an act of love.  As parents we do this regularly.  We let our children maintain make believe about the Tooth Fairy and Santa even though he know it’s us whisking the tooth away and replacing it with cash or standing in line on Black Friday to get that item they really wanted and unselfishly giving an overweight, happy guy they’ll never meet the credit.  So is God doing the same thing with us?  Even though he knew our marriages would end in flaming wreckage, did he let us entertain the fantasy and keep our friends and families silent only to come forward later telling us they knew it was doomed from the start just so that we could live through those fun times?  After all, when kids finally find out all those things are just a fantasy they don’t feel they need to give the money back or suddenly say their Christmas mornings were all a fabrication and now they hate them.  So that gets me back to the point of life’s journey shaping all of us.  You also hear of very few people when asked if they could do it over again really wanting to change anything significant.

The frustrating part sometimes comes in when we now sit here with the knowledge of middle age and try to impart the same things to our kids and realize they will have to crash and burn on their own just as we did, because that’s just the way God designed the ride.  He choose not to put in billboards or dreams in the night that make every choice crystal clear.  Instead He made things vague and grey and murky and open to interpretation.  However, like a child on Christmas morning we all have to admit we enjoy the discovery and the surprise.   Right?

After walking this post, and moving from God’s design being mean, then being loving, I ultimately come to the fact that maybe it is just brilliant because He does know everything.  While to each of us little people down here on Earth living our individual existences it seems happenstance and weird and perhaps a little mean, when it all comes together with the people we meet as a result, the changes in us that come, and all the other interactions, it starts to look a little different.  So I will continue forward knowing full well everything will not turn out as I imagine right now, but confident that God designed this process in some brilliant way that I may never fully understand.  I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks.

One of the more difficult times in divorce with children is the major holidays of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  At this point in time I’ve passed through two of those and done it well in my mind.  The outside observer will note that both times I had my kids so maybe I’m going to have a different reaction come Christmas when the ex and I have agreed to keep to the original schedule and have them come back to my house on the 26th rather than swap during Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

I look on my recovery and focus on one of the checklist items in new relationships of “Focusing more on the present than the past” as a solid indicator of being in the right place.  This Thanksgiving was about nothing but focusing on the present.  I grace before the meal I thanked God for all the blessings in our lives and helping us get through the year to the place we are now.  I graciously thanked Him for all the new people in our lives including my ex’s fiancé.  I felt no animosity of issues as I voiced these sentiments.  I was speaking on them with a look the future not a sad window on the past.

Yet for many divorced people, the holidays can be a terrible time and I want to spend the remainder of this post on that. 

If you are not in that place of focusing on the present, the holidays can be a time when you sit around and think about what is missing.  The intact family is gone and with it are many of the things you would have associated with the holidays.  You probably are not going to the same family gatherings, or if you are then you are not there in the same context.  This can lead to feelings and thoughts that can cause sadness, anger and bitterness.  I think a part of this is the free time you have around the holidays, and particularly these two holidays at the end of the year.  Easter is just a quick Sunday.  You’re not really getting extra days off work in most cases, and it tends to blow by, plus the weather is just getting nice in most areas of the country so there is a lot to distract you.  With Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may be missing large family gatherings where everyone comes in from around the country.  You are usually confined indoors and you usually have two to three extra days off work to sit around and think.  In the “normal” mode of looking forward and just cherishing what you have with family and friends this respite can be a glorious time of counting your blessings.  My oldest daughter and I watched a segment on 60 Minutes this weekend about the homeless children in Florida from the Great Recession.  It was a solid reminder that there is always someone having a tougher time than you.  In the “recovery” mode of looking back, it can be a miserable time.  We’ve all heard the platitudes of the holidays being the saddest time of year for some, and this is inevitably centered around the fact that they are focusing on what they do not have, what they have missed, what they can do nothing about. 

It is crucial in your journey back to “normal” that you get through these periods of time when you focus negatively.  Divorce being the trauma it is, I think it is only natural that you may have a thought here or there about how this is different, and that’s OK as long as it is just a thought.  When it becomes and afternoon or weekend of wallowing, you know you still have some serious work to do.  If you can focus on this time of respite and look forward on all the adventures left in your life, it can be a very exciting time. 

For many, you may not be there yet.  You may be sending your ex messages of regret and sadness over the holiday.  Some who are still in love with the other party may even use it as a way to try to rekindle what was there.  If you are truly pursuing reconciliation that may be appropriate, but if you know that repentance and the desire to reconcile is not there, this can be a terribly uncomfortable path to go down because it will result in more hurt. 

So use the holidays as a time to take the temperature of your recovery.  What did your thoughts center around?  Were they on what was going on around you and the joy of that time, or were you lingering on the past holidays when your marriage was together?  For men, I think it is easier to make this transition, but yet perhaps not.  In my case for example, I used to help on the periphery with preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but most of my holiday was spent eating something someone else has made or bought and watching TV and chatting with family.  This holiday I made the entire meal, ate it with my kids and cleaned up mainly by myself.  Only late in the evening did I sit down to watch some TV, and there was no family to talk with as no one lived nearby.  I made a few phone calls and called it a day.  Yet I was content with this.  To me, my temperature was just right.  I did not blatantly ignore what happened, I acknowledge and gave thanks or the trying times we had this year, but from the standpoint of what we all learned from them not from a position of remorse or regret. 

This makes me think of another variable that can come into play here.  I think the nastier and dirtier your divorce and your behavior in it, the harder this will be.  If there was a lot of mudslinging and name calling and dirty tactics, I think it would be harder not to be negative.  If you are in the beginning of your divorce, keep than in mind.  Keep your head high and make productive decisions as you go through the process.  Life goes on after it and the holidays and other things will keep coming.  Handling those emotions in your new post-divorce state is hard enough, don’t add a lot of baggage to unload along with it.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a lot of fun as ours was.  I hope there was laughter wherever you were.  I’ve got the same feelings I have at this time of year.  I’m worried I will not be able to get all the presents bought in time, I have a new found feeling of knowing I will not be able to get all the presents I used to get due to changed circumstances, but I take it in stride as a change.  Just as for Thanksgiving, I will need to some things my ex used to do, like get Christmas cards out.  So there are some new things, but nothing that brings me down.  The critical thing is I’m looking forward to Christmas as the fun time it should be to share gifts and memories with those we love.  This year I will be doing that a few days later than the calendar says I should because my kids will be elsewhere.  In this new post-divorce world holidays move a bit, and that’s OK.  So I wish you all the best and look forward to talking with you next time.  Happy holidays!

You say tomato, I say tomatoe

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Communication

The famous phrase continues with, “let’s call the whole thing off.”  But I’m not remotely in that space and when we run into these things in communication we hit a crucial point that will determine how the future goes.  Will we constructively work through it or will we toss our hands up in despair and go off into the dark corner saying, “It’s just no use, we’re not on the same page!”? 

This breakdown in clarity can apply to communication with anyone, but I’m specifically thinking about communication within a relationship.  As the last few weeks have gone by I have learned a new appreciation for the work that needs to occur to make communication work.  Especially with male-female communication.  We’ve all seen the references to being from different planets and such.  My fiancée and I have spent time reading a book together called Love & Respect, and with hindsight I can say it is one of the most important books we have read.

The book is Biblically based and focuses on Ephesians 5:33 “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” as its central focus.  I’ll let you pick up the book and read it for all the details (which I highly recommend any couple do), but the general focus we’ve been hanging around the last few days is the fact that men use blue glasses and hearing aids and women have cute little pink ones.  At times I sometimes wonder if the women’s hearing aids are also secretly wired together because it is amazing how quickly things spread to their friends and family.  Maybe they just talk to them faster than men do.  Keep it simple.

The focus of the book is to learn how to communicate better with each other and take away the junk that plagues most communication between the sexes and get off what the author calls the Crazy Cycle.  Again, this is not a book summary, so I’ll just explain the Crazy Cycle as that junk every couple enters where you’re talking but you feel you’re not communicating.  

The problem is that even when you are well trained (we both read the book), it still is so easy to fall into a bad communication cycle.  Our recent spin involved a few dates around the holidays and our upcoming nuptials.  As I felt more misunderstood, rather than press on to the points I felt very strongly we needed to talk about, I focused on trying to make sure my darling understood she was not getting my meaning.  In the process I conveniently did not make clear that there really was nothing going on in my head with dates.  The problem was I thought we had some time to get to dates and in the meantime what I did not understand, due to the mystical workings of colored lenses and hearing aids was that my fiancée was in all out panic mode on the dates.  Tomato, tomatoe.  I’m looking at her like she’s nuts about getting so excited because I think this is just a speed bump to get to the topic of the kids I wanted to talk about, and her insides are running around like Chicken Little thinking that “Houston, we have a problem!”  and Tom Hanks is not around to keep us calm.  (Too many mixed movie metaphors?  Sorry.)

So in the comedy of life I love so much, we ended up misunderstanding ourselves to the point that we ended up making a choice about the holiday date, or she did because she thought I had, but I hadn’t but she did.  Really, I’m just trying to give you a taste of the confusion you can get yourself into really quickly.  It took a few sentences to get you confused, but this happens in the blink of an eye at times when you’re having a conversation.  As we unraveled the hairball of how we got there and who said what to understand how and why, it all makes it crystal clear that you need to work at communication. 

The deeper issue this all got me thinking about is what this all means.  We’ve all heard the relationships are work, but I’m not sure if we really give it the consideration it deserves.  I think too many people think that means that when your significant other does something you don’t like you shut up and that’s work.  I lived that way for years in my marriage and I learned enough from that to understand that’s not what it means, because if it did many of us would still me married doing that ad nauseum.   Sure we’ve all seen the couples together after 60 years and when asked how they did it the little old man smiles and says, “I just did what she said and knew it was always my fault.”  Perhaps they really feel that way, but I believe most long term relationships work because the people in them work.  And they work HARD.

I heard a teaser on the way home last night that just floored me and made me pray that somehow people will see the light.  They were talking about a trend among twentysomethings to get married even when they knew it was wrong.  I was not able to hear the story later so I don’t know the details, but it just made me sad to understand that what this means is a lot more divorces.  As a follow up later there was a segment about baby boomers and along with the things like don’t expect them to leave you an inheritance because they plan to spend it all before they die was the fact that they are the highest divorce group now because after the kids move out they realize they have nothing in common.  In both cases these things pointed back to the same topic for me.  If you do not work at your relationship, and work hard, it will not work.

So work hard at choosing the person to spend your life with.  I know I did not do that justice before, but I certainly did now.  Why is this important?  Because that is just the beginning of the work.  I believe if we lose sight of that, we run the risk of letting our relationships progress through this slow deterioration.  It is very, very easy to get through the dating phase and settle into a marriage and just go on with the busyness of life.  What I have learned, is that you need as much focus on your marriage as you have on your job or anything else.  Commit to put in the time and effort or don’t commit.  If you do not choose well what you find it that you don’t want to put in the work.  And then you start putting in the work with someone else.  That’s why this is so important.

Next, give yourself the best possible tool set.  I mentioned the terrific book we’ve read, but something else may work for you.  I spend time trying to understand how a discussion went south and how to fix it.  It involves planning and effort and it IS real work.  The cool thing is that when you’ve found a partner for life it is work you enjoy.  I do not look on this process as something I resent, am upset by, or groan about to my friends.  I enjoy the work because I love who I’m working with.  I know these items that seem so big in the moment, in most cases are nothing in hindsight other than a way to learn. The big items like religious beliefs, dreams about our lives, financial views, child issues and broad philosophies of life have already been covered.  Knowing that foundation is there helps insure that the base of any other conversation is stable. 

After that just work on it.  The goal is not to just nit pick forever.  No one wants that.  However, if you find something that is troubling, you need to work your relationship enough on a daily basis that you can bring that up to your spouse.  You can only change yourself.  If you try to change your spouse you are set for failure.  Communicate to understand your spouse and then work to determine how you work together.  I strongly believe that silence is the enemy.  So many times couples believe they are in agreement because no one is saying anything and then it blows up days, weeks, or years later.  How much time was wasted working on false assumptions?  Relentlessly work at communicating and being clear.  Another great program is Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage by Mark Gungor.  He focuses very clearly, and hilariously, on the fact that wives regularly say “If he loved me, he’d know!”  To which Mark responds, “If you loved him, you’d tell him, and tell him again!”   This ties in very well with the blue and pink hearing aids. 

So our holiday will be a little different than we had been discussing earlier.  I hope we’ve both learned how we got here and will be more clear in the future.  I think we’re doing great and we will continue to misunderstand, clarify, and move forward.   We will continue to work and love it.

I know several people who are at various stages of the divorce process.  Some are just contemplating separation, some are apart figuring out what to d, others can’t wait to be done and some are through, but dealing with life on the other side.  The journeys may be different, but the one thing they have in common is the gauntlet of courts, lawyers, parenting plans, mediators and everything else.

Going through the process of divorce really tests your ethics and your spirit.  For many people it’s not a test at all as it seems more and more people just don’t have any, but if you do the system is a pressure cooker.  Having gone through this process and learned about countless other people’s journeys, the only other system I think that is more ripe for manipulation is the tax process since that is an ongoing financial drain, where divorce only occurs periodically.

The first statement I want to make for anyone who is on the front side of this, is that if there is any way you can avoid going through the process, do it.  I cannot think of anything more wrenching to every aspect of your life than a divorce.  And this comes from a guy who went from start to finish in less than three months and had manageable ugliness during the process.  Others I’ve shared my legal system journey with describe me as lucky, that it was easy and other things that I do agree with.  The stories I continue to hear make me thank God every time.  Even with that, the havoc caused on a regular basis as I go forward is something I would suggest everyone avoid.  Obviously for those of us who are divorced, we may have tried valiantly and failed.  The best we can hope for is that we learn hard lessons and come out better people on the other side.  Going through this and not at least getting that from it would be a terrible tragedy.

The thing I hate most about the system is what it does to people’s sense of acceptable behavior, right and wrong and all those other variations.  I once had an employee of mine ask if we could lower his base salary and then pay him a bigger bonus as year end as only his base salary was computed in his child support calculation.  The guy was an upstanding individual I had known for about three years at that point and I would have never pictured that he would spend time thinking of a way to not support his children, yet there he was literally begging me to work with him to do that.  Some people become so bitter and angry that they will do anything possible to the person they once loved just to end up with the tea set they got in Italy on their 10th anniversary.  Pets will need to be turned over to the pound because the person who is the animal lover refuses to take the dog with them in the divorce to hurt the other person because they love the animal too but can’t afford to find a place to live where they can have pets.  The worst thing is when kids become pawns traded for their cash value rather than what is best for them as human beings.  The arguments about tax exemptions, where they will live, go to school, what activities they can participate in are decided on financial impact to the adults who are so bent on getting even, that they do not realize that the collateral damage they are creating is devastating.

The system encourages people to hide and manipulate.  Some people try to hide assets.  Some people try to hide activities that would make alimony or other payments stop rather than being honest about what they are doing.  I have seen one spouse accuse another of trying to harm or take the kids as a ploy for a better settlement in the divorce.  I have heard stories of kids being coached to lie to a psychologist or in court to help one parent or the other make a case about non-existent abuse.  I could go on and on.

The question I ask you to consider, that I feel must not go through many of these people’s minds who make these destructive choices, is what is the real impact on your soul, your self-worth, and that of your kids?  What is being modeled for these future adults when they seem mom bad mouthing dad all the time?  Even if you get away with it in court, I find it hard to believe that the good feeling lasts too long and that the shame and guilt can be kept away indefinitely.  It causes many terrible emotions to manifest in these players and the toll can be catastrophic. 

One would hope that everyone would realize they need to look themselves in the mirror each day and be proud of the actions they took.  Sadly that does not happen.  This goes back to something I have discussed in earlier posts, the general lack of people feeling the need to behave well and not selfishly.  I think this has a direct tie to the drop in active religion in the country.  Simply stated, someone who truly believes in God will behave better than someone who does not in most cases.  I’m not talking about cafeteria Catholics or those who attend service for the social standing it gives them to appear religious when they live in the Bible Belt, but those who are really engaged.  There are studies to back up my belief.

I grow more and more saddened by what is societally acceptable these days.  It’s hard to look around at what is now happening in schools and other former “safe” places and not shudder.  A great organization trying to impact ethics in a positive way is Rachel’s Challenge.  I encourage you to look at their message and mission and challenge yourself and everyone you know to live in a more positive way.

Go slow to go fast

Posted: November 10, 2011 in Dating, Divorce, Kids, Recovery, Remarriage

I am a racing fan, NASCAR mainly.  One of the strange contradictions in racing, which is about who can go the fastest overall is that in many cases you have to go slow to go fast.  What that means is that if you barrel into a corner full bore and have to slam on your brakes and then speed out and do the same thing at the next turn, your overall speed is most likely lower because you end up overcompensating.  It’s like the guy going down Main Street in your town who takes off when the light turns green only to have to slam on his brakes at the next light and wait.  Meanwhile you move along at a more leisurely pace and hit the light as it changes and stay at a constant speed and pass him by. 

As I live and observe the divorce process I think this is a great phrase to keep in mind.  We live in a world of instant gratification.  Want to play a game?  Download it on your smart phone in a few seconds and off you go.  Want to hear that new song?  Go find it on iTunes and you can purchase it too in a flash.  There is speculation that CDs will be phased out after 2013 since no one can take the time to go to the store for them anymore or buy the whole album.  Want to read a book?  Get it on your Kindle in sixty seconds or less.  We can debate the effect of these changes, but the CD one is interesting in the context of divorce.  True musicians used to try to put together an album that reflected their musical footprint.  Some songs that never got radio airplay still played an important part in fans getting to know them, especially if the artist penned the tunes themselves.  Our desires to pick and choose only the best songs lead artists to just look for hot singles and forget the small gems.  Those of you old enough to remember 45s, think of how many times you preferred to listen to the “B” side more than the sure thing on the “A” side.  It’s hard to argue that this behavior does not trickle over to other areas of our life.  I love my wife’s humor, but I can’t stand her cooking.  I love her wit, but can’t stand her sarcasm.  With music and books and anything else I can just get the best, I should be able to do that with people too, so our minds get trained to not be content with solid goodness.  Everything needs to be great and easy.  Good is no longer good enough.

So your marriage falls apart and you just want to move on.  And you want to do it fast.  I can take a pill to make me lose 30 pounds in 30 days, where’s that divorce recovery pill to get me through this and wipe all memory away?  I can learn a foreign language in a month using CDs and magic software, why can’t I learn to decipher all the stuff my ex is saying and just get her to agree with me right now?!  I can fix erectile dysfunction with a pill, soon replace a failed organ with something we may grow in a lab, and now they just reported this week we might even have discovered anti-aging drugs, so why can’t I just snap my fingers and put away all these emotions and trade my spouse in for a new model?

I see it all the time.  People want the process to go fast.  They want to get on with their lives.  They want to be happy now.  Life is too short.  Yes it is, but when you rush something that can’t be rushed like divorce recovery you end up going slower not faster as you build up the damage.  Just as plaque deposits in your arteries accumulate over time if you do not take the time to eat right (fast food is easier and faster but sucks for your heart) and physically move  (I can just buy that wiggly spring and shake it in my hands for 6 minutes and get 60 minutes of exercise can’t I?)  so too are the emotions and pain of divorce going to build if you do not process, grieve, reflect and learn. 

I took one of my kids to get a haircut last night.  As I was sitting there, one of the women working there was chatting happily with her co-workers, “I just found out from him today that the final papers will be filed in December!  YESSSS!!!  Joe was going to get me a green pearl for Christmas, now I’ll just tell him to make it a diamond!”  Really??!!!  Yet another example of going so fast that the race will be lost and the risk of massive of wreckage increases as the speed does.  This woman is going to hit the wall at 200 mph and not even see it coming.  You say, “But that does not happen for everyone.”  You’re right.  Every Sunday there is one winner and only 42 losers.  For the factual of you out there, second marriages fail 67% of the time, third marriages 73% and fourth marriages 85% according to combined data from the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology and divorce parenting programs.  If you are going slow to go fast you don’t live long enough to get married four times.    I don’t know this woman in the hair salon, but it is probably a safe bet that she has no idea about any of this and just wants to go fast.  I would venture that most of these follow up marriages are quick situations like this where they are seriously dating before divorce.  I have commented on another blog on WordPress to a woman who is trying to rationalize dating while separated.  The argument I heard from her and others I have tried to talk with is “We’re only technically married.”  Really?  You’re either married or you’re not.  There is nothing technical about it.  But in the rush to go fast, to feel good again, to feel loved, to feel wanted, understood, cared about and real, so many miss the fact that they must go slow or avoid a high probability of repeat of the same thing at the next turn.

I understand, I really do.  Fast is fun.  Fast is exciting.  Fast makes you fly on adrenaline and not really think and it feels great.  We all want to go fast.  When the world is about you, I guess you do what you want, but most of you reading this have kids and like it or not they deal with the wreckage too.  Just as Dan Wheldon’s family needed to deal with the fall out of his death from track speeds being too high in Las Vegas a few weeks back, your children will suffer along with you as you throw caution to the wind and just barrel ahead.  You owe it to them to go slow.  Take the time and effort to look at everything you must. 

I know this works differently for everyone and I’m one who has pushed back myself on hard and fast time frames of how long it takes and when the clock starts.  I have no idea if I’m more capable of self reflection than most.  I may be fooling myself, but I do know I test myself with a lot of other sources of input that I trust in family and friends.  I know most of my friends are not yes men.  I feel comfortable with my journey out of divorce.  I will not deny that from the outside looking in my process has been faster than is normally accepted.  The people close to me who know me best over years do feel that I am taking the time to go slow enough to check everything out.  Go slow to go fast, does not mean go slower than needed, it means go slow enough to move as quickly as possible through that given scenario.  If a racer slowed to 10 mph at every turn they would navigate it without a problem but they would certainly be passed by other cars who saw that they could get through there very safely at a much higher clip.  That’s my push back on straight stats saying it should take you x amount of time for y amount of time in marriage to get better.  Different drivers can handle the track at different speeds but the average is set amongst them all.  Some can go much faster and some have to go much slower.  Different people can handle divorce at different speeds and those stats are the average.

So how do you know if you are going too fast?  Trust your intuition and your gut.  If you are uncomfortable, it is too fast.  If you find yourself making excuses even you know are shallow to people you trust who are seeing red flags, it is too fast.  If you feel what you are doing is wrong, it is too fast.  Your spirit and soul will let you know.  You will not have questions in the back of your mind.  Joy will be real and not fabricated to put on a good face for the public.  You will see that you are not blazing forward in choices in your life only to have to slam on the brakes to avoid a massive crash because you missed something ahead.  When that happens, you’ll know you’ve found the optimal line through every curve life has in store for you.

So my oldest has been sick for a few days. School called Monday to say come by as there is a fever involved. Went to the doctor and found out it seems to be just a really nasty cold. Then another child is in tears this morning because they are worried about asking for a haircut but they know it will cost money but their hair is getting too long and they are feeling ugly because of that. The oldest is still at home today and I had to go to work and can’t be there to provide what is needed while under the weather.

It is days like these that I just feel miserable as a single parent. No matter what I do, it is inadequate and it just feels terrible. Before the financial impact of the divorce the kids would not have to even worry about asking to get a haircut, now they fret about it. No one is available to stay at home every time a child is sick, and I need to meet the demands of my job, so I usually have to make the choice to save up the days I stay home for when they are really needed. Before there was either someone there, or I felt more ability to take a day to help out. Now there is no safety net so the pressure to not fail is huge.

In combination with the inadequacy feelings there are at times pangs of guilt. Why can’t I figure out a way to get our life back to what it was? I have a kid who is worried to ask me for a haircut because of the life choices I made. That’s where the guilt comes from. Sure I owe my ex her share of things according to the divorce process and I do not focus on that and mope. It is a result of the choices I freely made, and I have always been comfortable with consequences. I’ve seen those divorced people who are not comfortable with them, and they live bitter and lonely lives venting their pissed selves to anyone who’ll listen. Then they add the fact that they have no friends and no one will listen to the list of things they are pissed off about and get more vocal and pissed and alone. Made the decision day one that I was not going to be one of them. So I take my lumps and look for a productive choice every time I can. Being pissed, bitter and angry is not a productive choice, so I don’t make it.

I’ve gotten really good over the years of learning to manage these emotions and move back in a positive direction quickly. Writing this all down and sharing it on my blog to help others is one new way I have of doing that and as soon as I felt the inadequacy and guilt this morning a few minutes later I was already on to “I need to blog about it”.

During my marriage I had a good understanding that I would feel this way if I was ever divorced and therefore spent countless time and energy trying to find a way to hold the marriage together with anything I could think of. Sadly as I quickly found love, caring and hard work were not things that combat your partner just wanting to be single and free and live life on their own terms to make up for the youth they felt they missed, I found that I turned bitter and angry and tried to hold it together with guilt, discussions of how crappy things would be for everyone and other useless methods. It sucked going through it and it distanced family and friends from me in ways that I think will honestly never be healed. Again, I understand consequences, and these were choices I made, so never being close again to a large portion of my family may be the price I pay. But if wishes were fishes no one would go hungry.

If I’ve learned anything in the process of my life it’s to make the best damn lemonade in the world out of the lemons I’ve got in my bushel basket. And for that I thank God for giving me the strength and wisdom to view his creation that way. I think I have learned to have a clear perspective on things and dig through the fog and cobwebs to try to understand what is really happening in a given situation. My fiancée and friends call it overanalyzing and I certainly could accept that label. I try every time to channel that analysis into a productive direction and not peel apart what happened to feel sorry about missed opportunities, but to do so as a learning experience. Helpful verses such as Hebrews 12:10-11 which says “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” make me feel comfortable in this path. I feel that the life I have lived has made me who I am today, and brought me to this place with wonderful children to guide, support and share life with and guided me to find a wonderful woman to move forward with.

So on days like today, I allow myself to feel those feelings. I cried in pain and during that time bowed my head in prayer to my Heavenly Father for guidance in how I can make changes. I trust He will make clear the options in His time and methods. I know this new chapter in my life will continue to bring forward these feelings of guilt and inadequacy. It does not seem fair that my ex made the choices she did and yet can now work half days and get supported by my hard labor going forward for years and present herself to the children as a more comforting option when they are sick. She can be there and I cannot as I must go to work. These are the realities that bring on these days for me, and I struggle through when the feelings come. But my faith pulls me through to a brighter place and I work vigilantly to get back on the productive path.

I am totally comfortable in who I am today. It helps me face these challenges with courage and assurance that somehow it will all work out. To do that, some days make you focus. You need to concentrate on what needs to be done. Some days make you reflect and learn from something you did or experienced in the past. And then there are days like today, which are the most challenging of all for men because we are told not to do it. We must be macho, strong and powerful or it reflects badly. I think we do ourselves a disservice as men if we buy into that. So I sit here on days like today and just fully embrace the fact that some days…. Some days just make you feel.

So the last couple months have been a real interesting process to look back on.  In that time, I made the choice that I was certain I wanted to ask my girlfriend to marry me.  I proposed, she accepted, and then after a couple days we began to hit the true start of the blender.

Before that we had been setting the stage to make the blending easier, or so we thought.  After we were sure we each wanted a long term relationship we started bringing the kids into the mix.  First we each met the other kids ourselves and looked for land mines there.  Kids being kids, I’m not sure that expecting any real reaction was proper.  After all, for kids I think meeting a new adult is about as exciting as finding a sock under their bed.  It might be colorful, have a bit of lint stuck to it to make it look a little disgusting and maybe even have a strange odor.  Hey, I’m a guy; I know I can smell at times.  In any event nothing of note took place in these encounters, so we went to Step 2.

The next hurdle was getting the kids to meet each other.  Both of us as parents again went into this, we felt, with a solid understanding that things would most likely go well at first.  Kind of like two dogs meeting for the first time, they smell each other, try to understand and then play like mad.  Only later do the aspects of trying to establish pack order come into play, and so we knew it was with small humans as well.  Shoot, that’s usually the case with big humans as well now that I think about it!

It did in fact go well in the beginning.  A few things did not mesh, but a few activities later like shared movies, pool time and an amusement park got the kinks out and everyone was getting along swimmingly.  Yet my girlfriend and I are savvy enough parents to know this was just a phase.  Now they have kind of learned to work with and around each other, but this was not what we had planned.  So here we enter the blender.

Looking back, things were basically the same for the couple months leading up to the engagement.  The kids were aware we were talking about getting married and each one of them had a slightly different take on it which is to be totally expected given the different ages, personalities and such.  We know this will be hard.  At times monumentally, colossally hard, but we’ve talked and worked through a ton of things as a couple to determine how we will handle this. 

For me the recent revelation came after we had told the kids we were engaged and how some things started coming to light then that required some re-orienting.  I knew this time was coming but I felt the plan we had laid out was going to take use further along than this before it needed a change order.  Welcome to the blender.  It’s a funny place, full of emotions, feelings, thoughts, words, choices and reactions.  What I realized was we may have been in the blender before and thought we were doing very well because we had already added all the different ingredients of meeting each other, sharing the marriage plans, explaining thoughts on space arrangements when the two households were combined and other thorny issues.  The thing I forgot to recall was the blender has different speeds, and in hindsight we were on one of the lowest settings.  All the ingredients were bouncing around in the container but the tougher chunks were not getting mixed together yet as they were just bouncing off the blades and the other ingredients.

It seems the single act of getting engaged was like hitting a higher speed setting and the effect was no less dramatic.  As in a real blender suddenly things start getting chopped up and really mixed, I was beginning to see the stresses in the areas we needed to focus on more.  We expect this will certainly happen when we actually are married and moving in.  That will be a big change for everyone, and again that’s what we’ve been trying to ease with weekend time spent together and just not really doing anything other than letting everyone see what it’s like in small pieces.  And perhaps what I’m seeing is a little of that showing itself already, so this is a good thing.

The important thing in the blending is to make sure things are addressed.  Kids start to see how things might be in the future and don’t like it and push back.  In some cases there is nothing that can be done, but in others it requires us as the adults in the situation to really take a hard look at our choices and determine what needs to change. 

I think the big challenge with this process is that there are past memories that come along with everyone even if we wish our hardest that there were not.  If Mom and Dad fought in the first marriage and the new adult fights with the parent, the kids can’t help but wonder if this is just the start of another ride on the merry-go-round.  It is totally natural to be worried about if this new person will take their parent away from them.  Divorce recovery material is full of the fact that most kids will not accept anyone new, regardless of what they are like, just because it is not their parent.  Left alone, this can turn into a real mess.  So my decision from the start was that I would not let these things slide.

My general focus is on communicating tirelessly to my kids and fiancee to make certain they have the facts of what is going on, and more importantly what it means to them.  Just as divorce is an adult choice, the aftermath of life that may include dating and another marriage is also that.  I have met many unhappy parents who have chosen to let their children make the decisions in their lives by making them feel guilty about even thinking about dating.  Rather than take the steps needed to explain why it is normal and okay to move forward and that part of an adult moving forward can be a new romantic relationship, they let their children’s worries about what may happen go unaddressed and therefore stay alone because of guilt.  This tends to make them bitter.  And this does not help the kids, and so that adult choice to not act like an adult is now hurting the entire family. 

On the other hand, I do not think bulldozing ahead without any regard for the impact on your family is prudent either.  Blending is hard.  You owe it to yourself and your children to be very, very, very selective in who you choose to blend with.  Too many people go the opposite way.  I at times feel like the boy crying wolf when I tell people they are still fighting through the pain of their divorce and to wait to get involved.  In my support groups I see the result of second and third marriages than ended because of not paying attention to the blending.  I talk to people who had terrible dating experiences because they did not work at the tough stuff.  It sucks, and it is very hard, but if you do not do it, it is so, so much harder.   I think at times I enjoy staying involved in leading a support group to keep getting that perspective so that if I ever begin to think I can let my guard down and take it easy in this messy process that I have recent first hand testimony as to what happens as a result of that.  It’s ugly.  It’s that stuff you toss away after opening the blender and realizing that what you’ve got looks terrible and smells and tastes worse.

So right now we’ve kicked the blender up a notch.  There are some things that need to be discussed and that will happen in the next few days.  I’ve talked to my fiancée that I have noticed a few things that we need to cover.  Her reaction helps solidify in me that I’ve chosen extremely well who to blend with.  But we both know that this blending this will be messy, and that the only way to keep the results something we love and enjoy is to keep working at it and so that’s what we plan to do starting with the items that are spinning around the blades of the blender right now.  And we’ll keep using that strategy every time we change the speed of the blender, or add new challenges to it, to get things to mix as best we can. 

I feel so blessed that God has given me the wisdom to learn from my past and make better choices going forward.  Because of that I’m still confident that things will be wonderful.  I may need to make changes in some of the plans as I see the actual results as we go along, but that’s the adventure of life.  God also gives us the responsibility to pass on the capability to do the same to our children, and in our relationship and marriage we plan to do that every moment we can.  Life never stops.  Life in the blender is a little stormier at times, but I also have the understanding that a lot of cool things come out of a blender.  I pray that all of us in this process make productive choices and get results we love and cherish.