Dating after divorce can feel daunting. The pain and heartbreak of a marriage ending can make us leery — as a result, we may move into protective mode, avoiding the emotional vulnerability that is part of intimate relationships.
When we’re hurt, confused and disoriented, emotional retreat can feel like the safest option. At least for a while.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about how to handle dating after a divorce. These opinions center around the when and who of dating. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
When to Date
Some advice suggests taking it slow—that message is that you need to heal from the pain of having your marriage unravel. Dating “too quickly” can short-circuit this healing. But if you wait too long (again, opinions differ about what “too long” means), then you are seen as being stuck in avoidance mode, afraid to get back into the game of life.
The crux of this message: You should wait…but not too long…
Who to Date
Then there is the who of dating. Here the advice focuses on picking the “right” person. Implicit in this advice is that you might have the tendency to end up with a type of person who isn’t good for you. To overcome this, you should date someone who is different from your ex. If your ex was a cheater, keep away from the cheating type; if s/he was lazy, find a go-getter; if s/he had a bad temper, find someone who is kind and patient. In other words, leave the “bad boys,” “control freaks” and “losers” for someone else.
The crux of this message: You should choose wisely this time…don’t settle for the first person who shows you attention…
When clients ask my opinion about their readiness to date, I try to explore the following issues with them, rather than giving a prefabricated piece of advice about how they “should” conduct their dating life. There is no one-size-fits-all dating advice. What works for one person may not work for another.
Dating after divorce: 3 questions to consider
I) Does the need to be in a relationship override your ability/willingness to adequately assess if someone is right for you?
We are relational beings, and sooner or later, the need to share your life with someone is going to pull at you. In these instances, your desire for an intimate relationship can become so consuming that it overrides your ability to assess whether a potential partner is right for you.
It’s important to remain mindful of what is in your best interest. To see things clearly. To Keep your values in the forefront of your mind, and to pay attention to any warning signs suggesting you shouldn’t continue dating someone. No one is saying this is easy, especially if you’re developing feelings for someone. But it’s important to realize that feelings of infatuation are transient and shouldn’t be confused with love.
II) As you reflect upon your relationship history, are there any discernible patterns that concern you (or should concern you)?
There is a repetition to our lives. A repetition that plays out on the stage of our relationships. Freud noted the prevalence and importance of how our lives orbit around constricting patterns established early in life. Gaining insight into the ways in which this repetitiveness robs us of a more fulfilling life became the goal of psychoanalysis. Subsequent theories and research (including contemporary attachment theory) also describe this phenomenon.
In your own life you may have noticed certain familiar themes occurring in your relationships.
For instance, you might be drawn to partners who are more assertive than you, even though this dynamic creates a situation where your control and agency are diminished. Or you might be the one who feels most at home being in control, so you (unconsciously) seek out more timid/passive partners who acquiesce easily. This dynamic might work for you initially, but as the relationship matures, you may desire more initiative and engagement from your partner, something a passive person has difficulty giving you.
There are many permutations of how relationship patterns unfold.
The question is whether your relational patterns work for you. If you are conscious of how your needs shape your relationships and how you pull for certain patterns, then you are ahead of the game. If, however, you end up feeling helplessly pulled into unwanted relationship dynamics, then greater self-understanding may be beneficial.
III) Does being in a relationship prevent you from doing needed self-work?
Relationships consist of two individuals, two separate “I’s” that form a “we.” The “I” and “we” are dynamically connected, impacting each other in both positive and negative ways. When the “we” of the relationship is struggling, one or both individuals might feel depressed or insecure. And when one person struggles, the relationship (we) is impacted.
This mutual, dynamic influence is a constant, whether we are aware of it or not.
Ideally we would be attentive to and nurture both the “I” (ourselves) and the “we” (the relationship). Balance is needed. To neglect one aspect of this dynamic is to negatively impact the other.
Some of us lose ourselves in relationships. We forego the “I” for the other. Our needs are superseded by the other’s needs. The “I” shrinks and atrophies as we over-focus on the “we.” This is one reason alcohol and drug treatment programs advocate for not starting a relationship while working on recovery. It’s too easy to lose focus. It’s too easy to become consumed by the other.
When starting to date, it’s important to think about this dynamic and reflect on the following:
⇒ Do you have the tendency to lose yourself in relationships? If so, how might this impact your self-growth?
⇒ What do you need to keep yourself (and your needs) in focus while also nurturing the “we” of the union?
By reflecting on the three questions above, you are taking greater control of your post-divorce dating life. You are becoming more attuned to yourself, to your relationship needs, and to any vulnerabilities you might have. By doing so, you are identifying and taking advantage of opportunities for self-growth.
So before quickly accepting someone else’s opinion about whether or not you are ready to date, take the time and attention to find out what your truth is and what you are needing. The answers are within you, but it may take some effort on your part to hear them clearly.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro
1006 Rock Street, Suite 101 Georgetown, Texas 78626
Richard Nicastro, Ph.D., is a marriage counselor and licensed psychologist in Georgetown, TX. His office is easily accessible from Round Rock, Cedar Park and North Austin, Texas.
(Featured image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)