In the early stages of your divorce, you may feel that you will never love another member of the opposite sex again or that no one could love you. Many people who are going through divorce claim that they never want to get married again. But in fact, most do remarry. Chances are, at some point you will feel ready to date again and will want to enter into a new relationship. As you travel into the territory of new relationships, here are some questions you may find yourself asking and stages you can expect to go through.
Common Questions about New Relationships
How Do I Meet Someone New?
After a divorce, many people wonder how to meet someone new. There are many ways. You might try joining a support group or a local club. There are hundreds of clubs or classes available in most cities to meet almost any interest. You could take a class on cooking, painting, or gardening. You could join a club for reading, hiking, public speaking, or dancing. You might get involved in your community by doing volunteer work. And of course, you might try meeting other singles at respectable bars or clubs, through a dating service, or through the personal ads.
Finally, although there’s nothing wrong with any of these activities (if you’re cautious and careful about screening the people you meet,) they may not be necessary. Try looking for potential dates in the places where you already spend time-in your neighborhood, at your church, at work, or through friends. Above all, don’t eliminate potential dates too quickly. If you are looking for a potential mate in everyone you meet, you may be eliminating some people who would be good friends and who you would enjoy getting to know-and you may scare off others. Your goal right now should be to make friends, enjoy others’ company, and re-build your own self-esteem without depending too much on a new lover.
Are there legal issues involved in dating again? Actually, there are a few issues that may want to be aware of: First of all, if you become sexual active while dating again, you should know that some states have sexual liability laws that require you to disclose any medical conditions that could affect your partner’s health or fertility. For example, it may be illegal to hide the fact that you have a sexual transmitted disease or to lie about whether or not you are sterile. If your partner’s dishonesty resulted in physical harm (an STD) or an unwanted pregnancy, you could have the right to sue. Aside from the law, however, it just makes good sense to be honest and forthright with any new partners, and you have the right to expect the same from them. In order to avoid any unpleasant surprises, you should discuss your sexual history before becoming intimate.
Second, although your ex-spouse cannot prevent you from dating, your relationship choices may have an effect on the financial or custodial agreements that you reached during your divorce. For example, if you receive financial help or assistance with living expenses from a new partner (for example, you begin living together,) this may affect your right to spousal support. In such cases, it may be a good idea to keep your finances separate from that of your new partners. Also, your dating choices may affect your chances of getting or keeping custody in case of a dispute. You are not likely to lose custody for having a new boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over, as long as your children do not witness any sexual displays. But your custody could be threatened if your children become aware of your sexual relationship. It may be best for all involved if you keep your relationship private until you are both ready to commit. Below is more information on children and new relationships.
How Can I Help My Children Accept My New Relationship?
If you have children, no matter what their age, it may take time for them to accept your new relationship. In order for this to eventually happen, you need to communicate honestly and openly with them. Explain that you are beginning to date again because this is what parents do after a divorce. Re-assure them that a new relationship with another adult does not mean that you will love them any less. At first, you may want to shield your children from confusion or anxiety by dating discretely and occasionally. It’s not necessary to introduce every new date to your kids; instead, you might wait until your new relationship becomes serious. It will certainly be confusing to your children if there is a parade of new people who come in and out of your life and consequently, theirs as well. When there is someone special in your life, explain to your children that you care about this person very much and hope they will get to know each other. Don’t expect your children to embrace your new partner as a new father or mother figure- this can make them feel guilty or disloyal to their other parent. Finally, give them time to adjust to your new relationship, and make sure that the children feel confident that they will get plenty of your love and attention, regardless of whether or not you are in a relationship.
How Do I Know if I’m Ready to Re-Marry?
At some point after your divorce, you may wish to re-marry. Hopefully, you have allowed yourself to experience the stages of relationship-readiness and you are not committing too quickly. Here are a few criteria to help you evaluate your re-marriage readiness:
Chances are, you are ready for re-marriage if…
- You’ve been able to re-build your self-esteem and accept the past.
- You have changed and grown since the divorce; you have identified the mistakes you made in past relationships and are capable of avoiding those in current relationships.
- You have examined your values and re-examined what’s most important to you since your divorce. You are maintaining important family relationships, including a healthy, active relationship with your children.
- You feel in control of all the changes that will occur in your future.
- You haven’t demonized your ex-spouse or blamed him/her for all your marital failings.
- You have been able to take one day at a time and not rush into new relationships.
- You can live in the present and not agonize over the past or feel extremely anxious about the future.
The Stages of Relationship-Readiness
Although everyone’s experience is unique, many divorced people experience certain stages in common. You may find yourself going through these stages, although they may not necessarily occur in this order, and they may be recurring and cyclical rather than linear and predictable.
Commitment-phobia is the initial stage in which many people deny that they will ever fall in love again. Commitment phobics are the women who say, “All men are jerks!” or the men who claim, “Women are only out to get my money!” The opposites of the commitment-phobics are the people who appear almost desperate to marry again. These individuals jump into new relationships before the ink on the divorce papers is dry. But this desperate stage is just another manifestation of commitment-phobia, and it is less healthy. Rather than being harmful, commitment-phobia is a healthy fear that will prevent you from jumping into new relationships before you are ready. At this stage in your divorce, you should slow down and hold off on love relationships. You will need time to evaluate and reflect on the past, to accept yourself as a newly single person, and to make positive changes for the future.
The commitment-phobia stage will not last forever. You will eventually want to meet new people and do new things. You will feel ready to move on.
2. Transitional Stage
The next stage on the road to new relationships is the transitional relationship phase. At this point you may form temporary friendships and love relationships in order to “get your feet wet” again. Transitional relationships, also called “rebound” affairs, are often short-term because they may evolve out of loneliness and a sense of need rather than shared interests and emotions. But a short-term relationship doesn’t have to be a negative experience. It may be a stepping-stone to regaining your independence and trust of the opposite sex, if you can handle the relationship in a mature and honest way and are prepared for its eventual end.
To make the most out of a transitional relationship, focus on the present and enjoy the time you spend together. Don’t obsess about the future or try to decide right away whether this person could be your next spouse. Above all, don’t commit too quickly. Instead, give yourself the time you need to learn to trust again. Be honest with your new partner and let him or her know where you stand. Ask for the time you need and explain that you don’t know when you’ll be able to commit.
Helpful or Harmful?
In order to evaluate whether a transitional relationship is healthy or harmful, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the relationship involve good communication? Are we honest and open?
- Is this a growth-oriented relationship? Am I making changes and continuing to improve myself, or am I just repeating unhealthy past behaviors?
- Did this relationship start as a thirty-party affair? (Sometimes so-called “affairs” can become healthy new relationships, but often they are destructive.)
- Is this relationship built on a friendship or on a more superficial romantic/sexual attraction?
- Do I feel capable of dealing with the end of this relationship? Can I talk honestly and openly with my partner about ending our relationship?
Another experience that many divorced people go through is the sex-is-everything stage. People with bad marriages usually have bad sex lives, and after a divorce, they need to re-build their sexual confidence and learn to feel attractive again.
Dating and sex can be intimidating for the newly divorced. If you were in a monogamous relationship for many years, you may feel conflicted about experiencing intimacy with someone new. If you were married for a long time, the rule of dating today may be quite different from when you were single. You may have a lot of unanswered questions, such as: 1) Who should pay for dates? 2) Who should take the initiative to set up a date? 3) Who should make the first move? 4) What if I get turned down?
In fact, there may not be any right answers to these questions. Today, either the man or the woman might set up the date, pay for the date, or make the first move toward intimacy. You can establish rules that feel right for you. It may take you time to feel confident again, or you may even feel that you’re being unfaithful to your ex-spouse. Be assertive about your needs, and don’t be afraid of rejection. Although no one likes being turned down, meeting a wide range of people will help you to discover what you find attractive or what you are looking for in a mate.
Finally, keep an open mind about sex, and be patient, but careful. Don’t expect sex to be perfect when you first try it with a new partner. You may be suffering from old inhibitions or performance anxiety-this is perfectly normal. But you shouldn’t feel inhibited about insisting that your new partners use protection. Have safe sex and be honest with your partners about your sexual history.
4. The Readiness Stage
As these three initial stages come to an end, you may find yourself dissatisfied. Your re-bound relationship may no longer meet your needs, or you may be tired of casual dating. You might start to feel confused and lonely or fear that you’ve lost ground. Actually, this is a normal sign reflecting that you feel a need for something more substantial and fulfilling. It’s a sign of progress.
In the readiness stage, you will become both comfortably single and ready for a new relationship when the right person comes along. You no longer feel like a failure, and you have a new confidence. You know that you are attractive to others and you feel comfortable with intimacy. You’re ready to trust members of the opposite sex. You are interested in meeting the right person, but not desperate to re-marry. You have many interests, and you have established healthy routines with your children, family, and friends. If these criteria apply to you, then chances are you’re ready for real intimacy. Now that you no longer need to find someone, you may find someone you want to be with.