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This post was originally published on SingleDadFitDad.com. I though it was very relevant to all those who read this site, so here it is…

In December, it will mark the three year anniversary since my initial separation and more than a year and a half since my divorce was made official. In that time, my life has literally turned 180 degrees and I’m happier than I’ve been in years. But it hasn’t come without cost.

Leading up to my life changing decisions, I was a different man; a shell of a man.

Some of you may already know my story, but I spent more than 8 years in a marriage that was full of struggle, stress, and heartache. I had converted to the Catholic faith prior to getting married and never considered divorce an option, especially since my parents split when I was 6 and it affected me deeply.

But there came a time when it seemed all but hopeless and life started to lose its meaning. Despair was followed by insomnia, which was followed by heart palpitations and night sweats, which was followed by me thinking I was literally going to die from a heart attack.

Months of counseling and workshops did little to help us better understand each others needs, and if they did, they didn’t help us actually do anything about it.

And in the end, it was an emotionless 30 minute conversation that felt more like a work luncheon that decided our fate and the decision was made to separate.

I share this with you not so I can relive all the painful memories, the sleepless nights, and the endless tears I cried, but to help you use what I’ve learned to make your life better.

Starting Over

fit dadAs I said, my life has changed about as much as is humanly possible and I’m incredibly grateful for the new lease on life I was given. Scratch that; that I took.

To highlight some of the major life changes I’ve made in the last two years:

  • Left my first home, great neighborhood, and friends to start my life over.
  • Left my career of 11 years as a financial advisor to pursue my passion for fitness. My income dropped significantly and although my child support/alimony payments were high, I chose to struggle and be happy.
  • Recommitted to my health and went from 188 pounds at 20% body fat to 170 pounds at 14% in a handful of months.
  • Went from a miserable and depressed man to someone who wakes up each day with purpose and meaning.
  • Am in a new relationship with a woman who is by far the most supportive person I’ve ever met. She is someone who defends my dreams even when I’m ready to give up on them and someone who has talked me out of three jobs because she knew it was the wrong decision long-term.

All I’m saying is that change is possible; huge changes are possible. For anyone.

I’ve spent a ton of time working through my emotional issues, learning more about myself, and growing as a person. I’ve thought about all the things I’ve learned throughout my marriage and now divorce and I’d like to share 6 of the most significant lessons I’ve learned.

6 Lessons I Learned From My Darkest Days of Marriage and Divorce

man reflecting1. Put yourself first.

This may sound selfish at first, but it’s not. It’ actually quite the opposite. So many men, including me, put their spouses and kids first and anything that’s left over is theirs. The problem is that there is rarely anything left for you at all.

All your work, energy, and time goes into making them happy and unfortunately, it comes at your expense. When we sweep our needs under the rug, and sometimes for many years, it builds up resentment, anger, and frustration. That emotion has to go somewhere and often it leads to passive aggressive behavior, guilting your spouse, and ultimately a huge disconnect between the two of you.

I love my kids more than anything in the world. I’d die for them without a second thought and have always put them first. And while you may be thinking “you’re supposed to do that, they’re your kids”, you have to look at it in a different way.

Yes, they will always be #1 in their father’s eyes. This is true for any good father. But when we focus so much on them, we neglect our own well-being. I believe there is a balance that must be found in order to be the best father you can be.

How can you or I be a great dad when we’re caught up in stress, anger, and emotional duress? We can’t. We have to get ourselves right and keep it that way in order to be the best and most effective parent we are capable of.

Does that mean neglect your children? Of course not, nor would any of us ever consider that. I’m talking about making time for your emotional and physical health and making it your priority.

If you are fucked up in the head, lost, down on yourself, or any of the other things that happen to us when we divorce, how can we reasonably expect to be at our best as a parent?

Make time for you. Do what makes you happiest, whether that’s playing Halo, being part of a fantasy football league, or shooting pool, you need it.

It was only at the end of my marriage that I found my passion. It was writing and sharing my journey with thousands of like minded people. I loved it and if my ex had been supportive of it, we might be having a different conversation right now.

2. Communicate.

Yes, it’s a cliche and we’ve all heard it a thousand times: Communication is the key to a successful relationship. Thank you Dr. Phil and Oprah.

I do believe open and honest communication is essential to a successful relationship and of those people I know who are in lousy marriages, they have poor skills when it comes to this area.

Let’s look at the effects on a relationship that has poor communication. I’ll use mine as a perfect example.

Going into the marriage, we had two totally different expectations about what married life was supposed to be like. I thought it would be an extension of the previous 5 years we had dated, and would only get better. I didn’t expect things like sex to change as a result of marriage.

Her expectation was far different. She looked at it from the Catholic viewpoint and planned to live as close to God as possible. Well I had just converted and religion up to that point was never present in my life. You can see where I’m going with this.

So as the marriage began, we each had different ideas of what a good marriage should be. We were way off. For example:

  • I thought that sex with my wife would be far more intimate. It turned out to be used for procreating and not much else. Strike 1.
  • I thought we would rekindle the old days when we had fun, laughed, and actually enjoyed each others company. In reality, within a few months, we didn’t really want to be around each other and the silences were deafening. Strike 2.
  • I expected us to make health and fitness part of our lives when in reality, we both fell to shit and stopped caring about how we looked. Strike 3.

I could easily go on with 15 more strikes, but you get my point.

This isn’t her fault, nor is it mine. It was that we weren’t on the same page and never took the time to try to get there.

In my current relationship, nothing goes unsaid. This has its drawbacks as well as benefits, but being willing to talk about the hard things serves to make us stronger.

I’d advise you to do the same if/when you find yourself in a new relationship. We harbor many emotions from our past and if we don’t make a huge effort to do things differently than we did before, we are destines to end up the same way.

3. Protect your confidence.

awesomeBeing narcissistic is one thing but being physically fit is quite another.

When I got married, and I know this is true for many of you, I stopped caring about my appearance. The reason being is why do it? We had found the person we were going to spend the rest of our lives with and they would love us regardless if we looked like a tub of shit or not.

Clearly this is not the best way to look at it, but it does happen and often.

The problem, other than the obvious health reasons, is that this is terrible for our self esteem. When we stop caring about our appearance, the other things in our life start to lose their appeal as well. This is bad.

We also slowly start to lose our confidence, which really affects every part of our life from our competence in our jobs to our feelings of self worth as a man.

One my favorite quotes is “The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what others think of them”.

We are so consumed by what others think that we let it control how we feel about ourselves, how we act, and how far we get in life. And all if it may be based on complete bullshit!

This was very apparent in my life and for much of my marriage, I felt like a failure.

Sure I was providing a life for my family and as the sole bread winner, I took care of everything. And sure I woke up at 4:45am to train my clients before going to work from 9-5. And sure I worked my way up from a junior broker to a full fledged partner in a $300 million practice without having any financial background or experience prior.

But that didn’t mean shit to me. And for that matter, her.

All needed to hear was how fucking awesome I was and I would have felt 100X better. But that conversation never happened and over the course of 8 years, I started to believe I wasn’t much at all.

It got to the point where I had virtually no confidence in myself, despite all that I was doing and had accomplished. This is an awful place to be and I know many of you experienced something similar or are going though it now.

In order to protect your confidence, you have to first acknowledge that you, in fact, are fucking awesome. Then you need to surround yourself with people who agree. This doesn’t mean ass kissers, but rather people who believe in you and aren’t afraid to tell you about it.

These people are invaluable to your personal growth and can mean the difference between success and failure in anything you do.

4. Don’t take it out on your kids.

When we are in a bad place, mentally and physically, we can’t help how we come across to our loved ones. Since we are knee deep in negative emotions, we are blind to it and often times those we love the most get hurt.

My daughters Georgia and Lily are the loves of my life and I’d never do anything to hurt them in any way. But when I look back on some of the worst years of my marriage, the years when I hated my job the most and things we going poorly at home, they suffered the fallout from it.

It wasn’t that I’d come home and yell at them or punish them, but looking back I think it was worse than that. I was silently miserable and everyone knew it. And while they never said anything to me, they had to see just how unhappy I was. I moped, sulked, and disengaged from most people and didn’t think of the consequences of how it might affect them.

They didn’t deserve to see their daddy so unhappy. They didn’t need to learn that this is how life should be or that a marriage should be nothing but a series of arguments and wise ass remarks to each other.

Now that I have cleared my head and can look back at how I was, I feel sad. Sad that they had to go through that and I blame myself for not recognizing it and doing better.

I also know that they do see a huge difference in me now and the day when my oldest made a comment of how much I laugh now and how much fun we all have together, it brought tears to my eyes.

That is what they need.

5. It’s not you, it’s them.

supermanNo, I’m not assessing blame on your ex. Both of you are responsible for your failings in your marriage and I fully understand my part in my divorce and accept my share of responsibility.

What I mean is that you are an amazing person, full of unique gifts, talents, and unlimited potential. And so am I. I just never saw it until I was with someone who made me see it.

Sadly, most of us chose a spouse that doesn’t see all that we are and all that we can become and it’s a real tragedy. It hurt me deeply knowing my ex didn’t believe in me. That’s extremely powerful stuff there and when the woman you chose to spend the rest of your life with doesn’t believe or support your dreams and passions, you have very little hope of succeeding.

In the infamous book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill states that one of the biggest causes of failure is choosing the wrong spouse. It’s because they bring you down to their level instead of rising to yours.

You’ve also heard the quotes” If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” or “You become who you hang around” and these are very true statements. Be very careful with whom you spend your time. It can and will have a huge impact on your life.

And please remember this: At this very moment, you have everything you need to become incredibly successful and happy, whatever that looks like to you.

You just need to be in the right support system to let those gifts flourish.

6. Smile.

How many married guys do you know that just appear to be going through the motions of life? Just go to any park on a Sunday, a Target store, or a shopping mall and you’ll inevitably see a dad slowly plodding behind his family, carrying all their shit and looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

I see it all the time and it’s fucking depressing.

It seems to me that when many of us get married, we start to accept all the things we “have” to do and forget the things we “want” to do. We give up watching football for watching Dora the Explorer. We give up our poker nights with the guys for visiting the in-laws.

And I’m not saying these things are bad and do believe they are part of what having a family means, but I am saying that our personal sacrifices come at the expense of our personal happiness in many cases.

Of course not all marriages are like this and many of them are filled with laughter, fun, new experiences, and a sense of closeness.

Just not ours.

Laughter is one of the best antidotes for misery, just ask any unhappily married man. When I was married, I distinctly remember losing my sense of humor. I just didn’t find anything funny because I didn’t want to see it. I was miserable and the small things that most people find interesting or funny, seemed meaningless.

Only now, after a year and a half of dating my current girlfriend, am I really seeing the benefits of laughter and joy in my daily life. I can’t help but feel more positive, alive, and energetic when I find myself laughing so hard that tears are rolling down my cheeks. It just makes us feel good to experience that kind of healthy emotion.

So my advice is this: find a woman that is funnier than you are, goof off, bust each others balls, and be silly together. It’s really that important.

Your Life

I don’t know your personal situation, but I’m going to assume that you are either separated or divorced if you’ve taken the time to read almost 3,000 words here today.

My hope in sharing so much of my personal life is to open your eyes to all the possibilities that lie in front of you and hopefully help you avoid making some of the same mistakes I made.

Our lives are only so long and the more time we spend doing things that don’t make us better, the less time we will have when we finally figure it out.

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