How to Navigate Dating and Divorce
After you have processed your divorce, which is no easy task, you may begin to wonder what’s next. Maybe you have your ducks in a row already or maybe you are actively searching for answers to legal, therapeutic, and financial questions (for more info on these questions, check out It’s Over Easy).
And, although it may seem impossible now, maybe you will start to think about your own romantic life again. Even if you can’t possibly envision doing that right now, it’s something important to think about. Dating requires having a plan, especially during and after divorce, and even more so when you have children. Your needs and theirs matter. Before you make the decision to date, or even if you already have, it makes sense to think through, with clear intention, a plan for your behavior, not in relation to your soon-to-be-ex but for you and your children. You will never control what your former spouse does, but you can decide how you behave. When you are thinking about next steps for your own life, it’s important to consider timing, your emotional readiness, and what it’s going to be like introducing the kids to your next potential partner.
Tips to ensure that your needs are met before you jump back into the dating scene:
Here’s a list of tips to empower you as you move forward into the next chapter of your life:
- Take a breath! That means, don’t feel like you have to rush into the next relationship to either show yourself, or worse, your soon-to-be-ex, how desirable you are. You are desirable and better served by using this break to learn more about yourself!
- Take a bath! Literally and figuratively. The point is, do anything you can to engage in self-care right now. It isn’t all about what’s next in a relationship, rather what’s next for you. Read a bit, relax a bit, Netflix a bit, and hang out with friends, too. Whatever you can explore that makes you smile (even if only inside right now) is the activity to pursue.
- Move! I’m not talking about where you live. Perhaps you have actually changed abodes at this point. But, in this context, I mean get off that bootie, even when you don’t want to do it, and walk, run, or dance. Whatever gets you sweating, even if just a little, will make your heart and head feel better. And no, it doesn’t mean lining up at the gym with everyone who is happily married or taking up marathon training if you loathe that exercise. Just put one foot in front of the other and take the stairs if you have the option. Don’t get in that car or Uber, walk! If you already have a routine for exercise, shake it up! Try something new or unexpected.
- Journal! I know, I know—some of you are thinking, “I’m not a writer,” and/or, “My lawyer said not to put anything in writing.” But this is different than that. This is you finding your new voice, the one that may have just been in your head for far too long. You may find that writing it down inspires new ideas, too. Check out Freemake for resources you can use to start an online journal. Sometimes, I find that I can get my thoughts down faster and without hesitation if I’m typing away mindlessly. Although, don’t hesitate to keep an old-fashioned diary if you prefer it, and simply find a safe space to store it for privacy’s sake.
So maybe you’re now thoroughly annoyed that the above suggestions have nothing to do with meeting the next love of your life (or at least a good friend with benefits?). Seriously, hitting the pause button matters because you are much more likely to understand what you want in a new relationship. However, this isn’t to suggest that rebound relationships can’t succeed. In fact, an empirical study suggests otherwise. What’s also true, however, is that you may lose a bit of yourself in another before finding out if that is actually who you want to be in this next chapter. So, although a rebound is ok and may even help you decide that you are ready to date again, it makes sense to understand who you are first.
The best approach to dating during and post-divorce:
So, whether you did an online divorce or duked it out with lawyers, let’s assume you’ve done the work of reacquainting yourself with your needs and are ready to dip a toe back into the dating realm. Here are a few important guidelines to help you dive back into the dating scene.
- Keep It Quiet. This means you don’t need to tell the world, or your children, that you are dating again. Perhaps one trusted friend or relative should know, for safety reasons, where you are and who you’re with, but otherwise, resist the urge to share too much with too many. It isn’t anyone else’s business, but if you still have yet to finalize your divorce, assume that people will have their opinions and may not be afraid to offer unsolicited advice. You can write that great “Horrors of Dating” piece later and make a fortune on it. For now, mum’s the word!
- Consider a Dating Coach. I know, I know, you aren’t desperate. And even if you feel you are, there is an investment of time and expense to this. But consider this…in going through your divorce, you never hesitated to consult an expert, so why not now when you are reinvesting in your future? A good online dating profile, as well as specific coaching tips about websites and etiquette, may be your new best friend. Still not convinced? Check out this New York Times article to decide if hiring a coach is right for you. Good advice in an arena you aren’t expert in could save you a lot of time and emotional energy.
- Resist the Urge to Share Too Much With Your Kids. Often, it’s the case that parents feel comfortable sharing personal stories with their children, and vice versa, especially if the kids are grown. And it’s likely that your eldest would be tickled by the fun you’re having. But hit the pause button. Your kids are still connected to the other parent, whether they are deeply involved in his or her life or otherwise. They don’t need to hold the reality of one parent’s dating life, while still adjusting to their new normal. Let your kids be just that…kids, even if they are adults, for a period of time. Once you have someone in your life who may stick around for a bit, then it’s ok to start the conversation. Save those discussions for your trusted inner circle and remember to keep that small too.
- Take Your Time. There’s a lot of emotion around separation and divorce. You may feel some urgency to feel loved again, especially if your marriage had been difficult for a long time. But allowing yourself the grace of time to heal the hurt and discover who you are now will offer untold benefits in the future.
- Use Self-Soothing: I often recommend clients use therapist Cindy Crane’s technique in order to remind themselves how they can decide priorities while lowering stress in separation and divorce:
- Go Slower
- To Contain Yourself
- For A Goal of Calm
This technique can work wonders as you navigate dating waters that may be unfamiliar too.
The key to a successful relationship post divorce:
In sum, yes, you can date while experiencing separation and divorce, and there is no one guide for doing so. However, it is important to recognize that the next relationship may be successful, in part, based on the work you do now to understand why your marriage ended and what role you play to make things better for you next time. Keep your kids out of your dating life and introduce them to a new partner only when you think it may be more than that. Some parenting agreements specify when you can introduce someone to your kids, and it’s not a bad idea to put thought into this for you and your former spouse. After all, you may have ended your marriage, but you both have a vested interest in your kids. It’s a business partnership that should never end. Dip a toe when you are ready, and recognize that divorce, like so much else in life, is a transition that can be managed with careful thought and action. You deserve to embrace your next chapter and make life what you hope for it to be. Do your homework, take your time, and most importantly, have fun!
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