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Dating and Divorce: Parents and Non-Parents

Meeting and dating a new person following a divorce can be very intoxicating. Having experienced what is often a severe blow to self-esteem, the newly divorced person may be tempted to become quickly involved in a new relationship. Unfortunately, the divorce rate for second marriages and later marriages is even higher than for first marriages. How can one go about preventing or at least reducing the possibility of a second failed relationship? Patience, time, and a few considerations can be helpful when dating after divorce.

All newly separated people, whether or not they have children, should consider many questions before they begin dating. The first is how quickly to begin seeing other people. Generally, it is important to allow enough time to pass after the divorce to examine why the marriage failed, and to heal from the divorce, before starting a new relationship. Although the emotions of divorce often make it difficult to admit that both parties contributed to the failure, in fact, that is usually the case. Without an analysis of where the previous relationship failed, and time to heal, there is considerable likelihood the mistakes of the marriage will be repeated in later relationships.

Examining why a relationship failed can be very painful, especially when not thinking about it is a comfortable coping mechanism. Getting in touch with the pain and learning that we choose the feelings, the behaviors and sometimes the partners we have, can be important to moving past the pain. A failed relationship is not only a break between two people; it may also be or cause a break within the individuals. To truly come to grips with the reasons for the failure will likely take considerable time.

Not until one is ready to take full responsibility for his or her part in the failure of the marriage, should one seek to establish a new relationship. Taking such responsibility is also an important step to getting past the pain of divorce. By taking responsibility for one’s own failings, and feelings, it is possible to choose to forgive both oneself and one’s former spouse. Such forgiveness is necessary to truly moving on. Sharing the pain with a counselor may be helpful, as an outside perspective shines a thoughtful light on the process.

Additionally, the emotions of divorce and post divorce are difficult enough without adding the stress of immediately forming a new relationship. Relationships “on the rebound” are notorious for failure. As often as not, they are merely transitional, providing the parties with an emotional outlet and some positive feedback, but failing to provide the basis for a new, healthy relationship. Without such a basis, the pain of the failed marriage may only be prolonged in the failure of a new relationship.

Moreover, many people, including those who are newly divorced, have never really learned to live alone. People often marry soon after finishing school. They may have spent their lives living with family, in other groups or with friends, without ever having lived alone. Never having been truly by oneself may deprive a person of getting in touch with his or her own values and interests, uninfluenced by the people he or she is living with. Being newly divorced or separated may be a first-time opportunity to learn more about oneself, providing a better basis for success once a new relationship is formed.

Knowing one’s values and interests allows a person to both analyze the behaviors that contributed to the failed marriage and to consider what will be necessary to make a positive relationship. Carefully determining what is valued in an intimate relationship and consciously seeking those qualities in a new partner will likely add to a more successful relationship than merely accepting the qualities of the first attractive person that comes along. A strong couple is made up of two people who have a strong sense of themselves as individuals. Only people who understand their own needs and values are truly capable of understanding the needs and values of another person.

Dating is an opportunity to interact and learn about oneself and about possible new mates. Dating merely for intimacy may not provide the information necessary to make a commitment to a new relationship. While chemistry in a couple is very important, chemistry alone, without an understanding of and commitment to one’s own values, will likely be insufficient to sustain a lasting relationship. A healthy loving relationship requires considerable effort, attention to the other person, and flexibility. To be able to make the sacrifices necessary to make a relationship work, one must be very comfortable in his or her own identity. The general rule regarding dating after divorce, therefore, is: when in doubt, wait. Take some time to feel, heal and learn.

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