Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in central Louisiana, but now live in Savannah, GA.
Q: Can you tell our readers some of the challenges you faced as a result of your divorce?
Divorce is hard for everyone, and often in the same ways. Adopting the lifestyle changes necessary to deal with budget shortfalls is tough, being able to focus on priorities is near impossible, but not being able to see my children every night and every morning was the worst for me. Accepting that those circumstances were now my reality took a lot of personal energy. I felt humiliation as a result of my divorce, and no longer felt comfortable attending church because I was that guy that couldn't keep his family, and being around other married men made me acutely aware of my loss, my failure. Every hope and dream I had was tied to my role as a husband and father, and if someone had asked me at any point prior to the divorce if I was going to be a divorcee, I would have laughed at the absurdity. My marriage was my identity, and rediscovering who I was as a divorced guy took quite a bit of getting used to.
Q: Many men must deal with the financial stress of alimony and child support payments. What can they do to increase personal income in order to stay afloat?
Pretty much every guy I've ever know has had some idea he wanted to pursue, a business that he wanted to create. When those financial shackles descend, you have two options, you can cut back your lifestyle to meet your obligations, or you can explore your dreams and do some of the stuff you've considered previously in addition to your current career. For me personally, I always wanted to get into flipping houses even though I'm not the handyman type guy. So I began looking for investment type properties in decent neighborhoods I could purchase, then sell at a profit. It didn't work out the way I had hoped due to the real estate bubble popping, but I got to live the dream for a while. Then I got into professional photography, all while keeping my day job. Some men take on landscaping ventures, get part time jobs, or take on more clients and work longer hours at their current jobs. One thing that divorced men have a lot of is time, and being able to spend that time productively and for a profit is far more satisfying than sitting at a bar or chasing the wrong kind of women just to try and forget your former life. Divorce and its aftermath are incredibly expensive, and having a few extra shekels never hurt anyone. One thing you have to do is be legitimate. Hiding income from taxes creates a vulnerability you don't want to have when there is someone out there that hates you for justified reasons or not...
Q: What are some good communication tactics individuals should adhere to when dealing with an ex-spouse to avoid sparring?
Two hours after being presented with my divorce papers, I realized I had an option. I could react or I could be strategic in my dealings with my ex. From that point forward, I never let her see me sweat (or cry). No matter how unjustified her behavior might have been, I never got angry. I refused to be Pavlov's dog and give her the reaction she was seeking, and eventually she stopped trying to push my buttons. Sometimes it was tougher than others, as when my children were telling me how much they liked Mama's boyfriend. Man... You have to drop the emotions, because you can't win, you've already lost.
Q: What advice would you give to individuals when it comes to post-divorce dating and relationships?
The first thing people do upon getting divorced is immediately begin trying to fill the void in their lives with someone else. You would be doing yourself and everyone else a favor if you just embrace your freedom for a little while. Work through your baggage until you would actually be an asset in someone else's life, and then begin dating. I was married for 10 years, and have been divorced for 4 years now and am JUST NOW getting to the point where I can contribute to a healthy romantic relationship. It's impossible to be able to truly love someone new until you can objectively see them without comparing them to your ex.
Q: Once a marriage has ended, men often have a harder time developing friendships and support networks. What did you do to overcome those challenges?
I've always had charisma in spades, or maybe it's being 6'9" tall, but I've never really struggled to foster friendships. I suspect that like me, most men are just humiliated by the failure of their marriage so they hesitate to reach out or even share with others what they are going through. Adapting to a lost foundation isn't something we are taught in Becoming Men 101, but I found that working according to a plan for life post divorce did more for me than anything else. My advice to any man going through a divorce is to find someone else you know who went through a divorce and use them as a sounding board. If you respect them, give their counsel more merit.
Q: We understand that you are also a single father. Any tips for managing and spending time with kids when it is reduced to several hours a week?
A divorced dad still feels like a father 100% of the time, but the opportunity to actually parent your children is reduced by 6/7ths based on the traditional every other weekend model. My advice for men is to take the long view. Enjoy your children in the present, but don't let your divorced status dictate your future relationship with your children. My goal was that when I am close to retirement age, I want my children to feel a need to determine whether they are going to spend Thanksgiving at mom's or dad's house because they feel close to both even though one primarily raised them. I do this by actively listening, doing activities that foster relationship building, and making memories.
Q: What are the three key things you learned as a result of your divorce?
The biggest thing that I learned was that I am more than the sum of my relationship status; being a single guy isn't so bad. Another biggie was that I had changed tremendously in adapting to my marriage in order for it to be successful (or not), and finding my natural inclinations in social settings, for the holidays, for the weekends, etc was an adventure. I shoot weddings on both coasts of the United States, and doing that while I was married would have been impossible, but I want to, and because I'm single again, I can. The third thing I learned was that I got married because it was the next step and not because we were a fit for each other. So the circumstances of the divorce don't matter as much as the knowledge that I was as responsible for it's failure as much as anyone.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the coping mechanisms you used that helped you heal and recover from the pain?
I lied to myself that today might be tough, but at least it wasn't as bad as yesterday. Eventually, I found that my todays WERE better than my yesterdays, and now I look forward to my tomorrows. You do control your own happiness, even if you have to lie to yourself to make it so.
Q: Any other words of wisdom you care to share with our readers?
I felt an incredible sense of betrayal, I mean, she asked me to get a vasectomy knowing that she wanted the divorce, and waited until I has sitting on frozen peas to serve me with the papers. I was angry. Very angry. Now her new marriage is on the rocks, and she calls me for advice. How I got from there to here was by realizing that I have no control over her or what she chooses to do, and the best I can hope for is to control myself. Every interaction is an equation, and your response either enables, feeds, or disables the initial overture. That is your control, and with a strategic mindset and enough time, it's very powerful.
To read more about Luke Smith please visit LonePine-Photography.com.