At any given time I have numerous clients who are exploring a potential relationship (dating) following a divorce. It is something I often work to assist my clients with but have never written about. Perhaps, this is due to the fact there is so much complexity related to the topic. Moreover, in the last decade I have worked with an increasing number of individuals who are divorcing in their late fifties or sixties, which brings its own set of unique concerns.
The ties that used to bind have become shredded in this age demographic. In addition, online dating has opened up a whole other set of issues associated with dating. There are numerous pitfalls related to dating after divorce. As I’m writing this I am getting a sense of why I haven’t done so before. My mind goes to so many subtopics regarding this topic I think I need to write a book; an article may not be sufficient to begin addressing the subject.
Slow Down, Speed Kills
One’s age, whether you have children, financial factors, grief connected to the prior relationship, previous abuse or betrayal, fear of aloneness, feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy, I can keep going but I may end up giving you a panic attack. Alternatively, it can be humorous at times. As I sit with some of my clients, I feel like I’m watching Eat, Pray, Love or an episode of a reality show. My client and I end up laughing at the absurdity of it all.
But seriously, for some it can also be devastating; they go from the frying pan to the fire. I am very sensitive and empathetic to all the associated issues that go with dating after divorce. Allow me to give you some guidance and hope. I know the fear of aloneness and fearing being unlovable can make people jump right back in, but I would highly encourage you to slow down.
Grieving The Loss
One of the first steps I believe needs to occur is grieving the loss of the previous relationship. This can be challenging due to a variety of factors. The more complicated the relationship was the more complicated the grief will be. If you don’t sufficiently grieve the loss, it will definitely show up in the next relationship in negative and unexpected ways, such as causing you to block intimacy or fear abandonment.
Furthermore, you may not recognize you have unprocessed grief due to how angry and hurt you are. You are left with a choice: remain angry or feel overwhelmingly sad. Anger and resentment can keep the grief away, but this is not a good alternative; it will eat away at you like a cancer. It can temporarily make you feel more empowered, but it will also keep you stuck. I have frequently worked with clients who believe they have no grief connected to their former partner only to have it come crashing through years into their next relationship. Having your next partner watch you miss your previous one does not do wonders for the relationship.
The Ultimate Relational Leverage
Fear of aloneness is a key cause of individuals jumping right back into another relationship. However, you will always be vulnerable to tolerating negative behaviors in the relationship until you conquer this fear. Every day countless people endure neglect and abuse rather than face their fear of aloneness. I believe we all have an innate fear of aloneness to some degree until we conquer it. Once you defeat his foe, you obtain the ultimate relational leverage – you will never tolerate abusive or abandoning behavior because you know you can be at peace and fulfilled outside of a romantic relationship.
If you experienced any form of abuse or betrayal in your previous relationship, there is likely residual emotional trauma you still carry. This will definitely be triggered at some point by your next partner. I have written in numerous articles about how trauma gets stored in our body in what is referred to as implicit memory. This type of memory has no images or thoughts connected to it; it is only a felt sense in the body.
Hug Your Demons
One of the reason the divorce rate goes up exponentially in the second and third marriages is due to the fact we continue to drag around all the hurts and unresolved issues around in our bodies that repeatedly get activated by our new partner. This really muddies the water in the new relationship. In addition, our unprocessed implicit memories from our childhood attachment failures were a factor in why the previous relationship failed. Those are likely still there as well.
When you start to unpack all this it can become overwhelming for most people. The temptation is to go seek attention, have sex, and go head first into a new, intense relationship. “This time it will be different,” you say. I get it. I’m a human being. I struggle with all the same temptations. But as famed therapist Pia Melody once said, “If you don’t hug your demons, they’ll bit you in the ass.”
It’s Not About Being Alone
Escape will always lead to more of what your running from. The key is not to attempt this independently. Being outside of a romantic relationship does not mean being alone. You need as much relational support as possible. I know. Loneliness sucks. The antidote is to develop as many emotionally safe and supportive relationships as possible, and to fill your life with meaningful and fulfilling pursuits.
Every client I have ever worked with who has taken the time and exercised the courage to focus on themselves, heal, and become emotionally healthy has expressed repeatedly how happy and proud of themselves they are for doing so. Relationships are so incredibly complex, and creating a successful one requires work and effort; they don’t just happen. In regards to our failed ones, I always encourage people to replace criticism with curiosity. Learn from your previous experiences.
Online Dating After Divorce
You never know how you are going to respond or what parts of you become activated until you are actually in a relationship. You can strategize and make commitments, but parts of you can throw those out the window once you are actually in the game. Be kind to yourself. Connect with others who are willing to be appropriately vulnerable about their fears and struggles relationally. Get support!
Now if you believe you are ready to begin dating, there are additional suggestions I would advise. The first is in reference to online dating. The majority of people dating meet each other online today. In regards to online dating, it is a jungle out there. There is not space in this article to give you a study guide to online dating. You are going to learn terms like ghosting and catfishing, which can happen to even intelligent individuals.
Three Essential Relationship Skills
Oftentimes, people are treated like disposable, trading cards. I don’t mean to be negative or refer that there aren’t healthy relationships that began online, but I’m just advocating buyer beware. You need to educate yourself about the rules of the game. The shortest answer is to seek assistance from a friend or family member who has experience navigating this world to get you up to speed.
Particularly, if you haven’t dated in decades, a lot has changed. As with all things, get help and support. Enough said! There are three essential things I encourage my clients to look for in a prospective relationship: the ability to allow someone to have their own reality; the ability to repair; and the ability to communicate effectively.
Having Your Own Reality
What do I mean by the ability to allow someone to have their own reality? In specific terms, this is letting a person have their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs; they can be different from yours without you being offended or attempting to change them, i.e., allowing them to have their own self. This capacity can be rare. Most of us were raised in environments where our differences in thoughts and emotions from our caregivers were not completely tolerated or accepted.
If someone can exhibit this aptitude, they have high-level relationship skills. The second is the ability to repair. We are all human and no matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes or unintentionally cause a relational rupture to some degree. When this occurs, you need to have the capability to repair it. For example, let’s say at the end of dinner last night something triggered me, and I shut down a bit.
The following morning I acknowledge this and take ownership of the behavior. I inform you I recognize I shut down last evening, have identified why this occurred, shared with you what I am doing to resolve this pattern, and express a desire to understand how this may have affected you. Moreover, I am willing to respond in whatever way you may need to move forward.
Lastly, you are assessing if a person can clearly communicate their needs, thoughts, and emotions. They can take ownership of them without blaming you for how they feel. If I felt hurt by something you said, I can speak about my hurt without criticizing or attacking you and ask for what I need in the way of validation or repair.
Build A Good Foundation
I know. You may be thinking I am describing a relational unicorn. I am not asserting anyone needs to be perfect in these areas or hit the mark every time. But there needs to be a rudimentary skill level in these abilities and a level of consistency. Everything great in life requires a price; nothing comes easy and free that is valuable.
I encourage you to take the time to work on yourself emotionally and spiritually. Build a good foundation to create the relationship you desire. The irony is once you don’t NEED the relationship is when you’re perfectly READY for one. If you would like to learn more about this topic or schedule a session, please contact me anytime at (561) 678-0036