Divorce can be both a heart-wrenching and liberating experience, depending on the circumstances of your dissolution. It’s often also a time of confusion, and necessitates self-reflection. No matter the details of such a separation, an intentional, directed recovery is often key to successful dating and future relationship happiness.
Too often, as a divorcee, you may feel excited about the prospect of getting out into the dating world again, or want to escape the pain by replacing the feelings with lust and romance. In my experience, rushing into your next relationship without fully working through the missteps of your divorce, will likely only prolong the inevitable and lead you to fall into patterns that don’t serve your vision for long-term partnership. Here, we’ll outline some key considerations to explore as you transition out of a divorce and into your next relationship.
Don’t give yourself a timeline
So often there is a pressure to “move on” or “get on with life” after a marriage ends. Perhaps you’ve told yourself that “3 months is sufficient for grieving” or that “getting back on the horse” is the best way to heal. This undo, self-inflicted pressure can prevent the full-spectrum of healing and reflection necessary for long-term happiness in future partnerships. The truth is that relationships never die, they simply evolve, and this time of reflection on everything from attachment patterns to the stories you might be telling yourself is essential to becoming the best version of yourself -- in order to be the best potential mate in the coming years.
Telling yourself you “should” or “need to” move on can be destructive to healing practices. Instead, learn to be with - or sit with - your pain, hurt, questions, confusion, and uncertainty around your marriage ending and honor the space you need to uncover the lessons. Instead of getting hung up on trying to understand why things ended and answer every outstanding question you have about the marriage dynamics, focus on the lessons learned and newfound wisdom gained from the relationship experience.
Rebuild your network
One of the unfortunate side effects of divorce is the loss of friends. Some of them might feel compelled to take sides while others were your former spouse’s friends “first” and will retain that loyalty. In this time of transition, you’ll need a support system more than ever, and it’s a great time to build a network of close friends.
Making friends as an adult is more challenging without built-in systems like school. Becoming more involved in the activities you love is a sure-fire way to meet others who have similar value systems. Maybe that means joining a cycling club or photographer's guild. As a bonus, the time spent enjoying the activities you love will not only widen your social circles, but will keep you engaged in healthy hobbies during your healing.
While your friends can serve as a sounding board in the initial stages of a divorce, long-term healing is most successful with the support of a psychologist who specializes in the stages of grieving during divorce, such as those as outlined in the Kübler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Fall in love with your life
Sometimes, a marriage ends because one partner is simply unhappy with his or her life. There is a common misconception that our primary relationship should be the source of our happiness and completeness. This couldn’t be further from the truth but too often, we idealize marriage as the missing piece to our ultimate happiness.
Instead, the relationship we have with ourself is the one that will bring us the most sustained joy and contentment in life. Once we can fall in love with and accept our life as-is, a partner becomes a bonus piece of the puzzle, not the dynamic that finally completes it. This subtlety is essential to maintain even within the construct of marriage. It takes a conscious effort to cultivate a life you love, independent of a partner.
Date selectively and remain open-minded
Throw away your ideal-mate checklist, but honor the fact that your time is more precious than ever. Now with a career, possibly kids, and hobbies, dating may look different and dating selectively will help prevent burnout.
Consider online dating in an effort to screen people for similar interests and values. However, be cautious of writing someone off because of insignificant things. An ideal relationship is always, ultimately, about the connection and just because he likes dogs and you like cats doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed. Zone in on the real deal-breakers and let the other trivial things go. Welcome first dates and use them as learning experiences to build communication and dating skills - approach with a practice mindset.
Trust your intuition
So often, we read and study relationships throughout a healing period -- sometimes ordering a pile of books from Amazon about successful relationships or reading blogs online that describe how to overcome top relationship challenges. While these practices are helpful in understanding some high-level universal challenges, we are inundated with relationship advice everywhere. This can sometimes lead to a situation in which we table listening to and responding to innate wisdom around love interests.
Your greatest asset in any relationship is your internal compass or intuition, the barometer from which you know -- deep down -- whether a relationship has potential or not. Whether it’s sorting through the initial stages of infatuation or reading the potential chemistry between you and a potential future mate, oftentimes we know more in our bodies than we can admit to our minds and hearts. Check in with the feeling in your belly when you are around this person, ask yourself if you are overthinking the relationship and if therefore, it feels “off”. Trust the wisdom you cultivated in your marriage and use it to make the best choices moving forward. If you had difficulty listening to your intuition in the past, learning how to (e.g., with a therapist) before starting to date will help you in the long-run.
If you are transitioning out of a marriage and back into the dating scene, contact Center for Shared Insight and learn whether weekly sessions with a relationship psychologist might help deepen your healing and help you on the path to long-term relationship happiness.
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