Common Challenges in Post-Divorce Relationships
Post-divorce relationships are often where the fears of experiencing heartbreak again collide with the hope and heady infatuation of early attachment. These opposing emotional forces, along with any lingering unresolved divorce issues, present certain common challenges in relationships entered into after one or both parties experienced divorce.
You meet the right person at the wrong time.
Finding a good match is as much about the timing as it is the person. You may encounter somebody who radiates potential, but if either one of you is not yet ready for a relationship, that potential has to be put on hold. It can be tempting to try to push it; to discount the warning signs that there is still healing work to be done. It’s scary and disheartening to release the possibility of a connection when you have been feeling alone and afraid of finding somebody. Yet sometimes, accepting that the timing isn’t right is exactly what is needed so that you’re not pouring energy into a relationship that is built on unstable ground.
You carry over blame or suspicion meant for your ex to your new partner.
If your ex behaved badly, you may be primed to assume that your new partner is also up to something whenever your back is turned. Instead of coming from a place of innocent until proven guilty, you may be operating from a place of assumed guilt where you’re looking for evidence to support your beliefs. This is easy to do. If you’ve been fooled once by a liar or a cheater, you don’t want to ever experience that humiliation and betrayal again. However, there is a big difference between staying alert for bad behavior and assuming that bad behavior is occurring.
A fear of further heartbreak or relationship failure hinders – or prematurely ends – the relationship.
The pain that comes from the end of a relationship is brutal and it’s only natural that we act to avoid experiencing similar heartbreak again. A healthy approach to this is to address the factors that led to the divorce and to learn to accept that sometimes relationships serve their purpose and come to an end. Yet, more commonly, the fear of further pain prompts a person to leave before they’re left, making an exit before the attachment – and the predicted pain – becomes too strong.
You expect the new relationship to be as intimate and fulfilling as a marriage from the very beginning.
After divorce, the loneliness and isolation are gutting. So when you meet someone and feel those initial sparks fly, you become hopeful that the loneliness is over and that you again have someone that will truly see and appreciate you. Yet, this neglects to acknowledge that building a relationship and a shared history takes time. It’s not fair to expect that level of a connection in the beginning; you have to provide it with the opportunity to grow.
You are expecting the new relationship to heal you and to fill in the gaping void you’ve felt since divorce.
If you believe Hollywood, all you need is the right person to come into your life when you’re down and everything will be better. There’s a reason that these stories are presented as fiction; it doesn’t happen that way. There are certain post-divorce wounds that can only be healed within the context of a relationship (not necessarily a romantic one), but the work is still yours to do.
You are afraid of being open and vulnerable again, so you only let them in so much before the walls come up.
When we’re afraid, sometimes we fight, sometimes we flee, and sometimes we simply freeze. The latter is what happens when you feel too exposed in a new relationship and so you tuck yourself away behind carefully constructed barricades, built in an attempt to protect the heart from further assault. Although this strategy does limit risk, it also inhibits growth and fulfillment. It’s much like an attempt to learn to swim while refusing to get out of the shallow end of the pool.
You mistake the intensity of early attraction as the sign that you’ve found the “right one.”
In a long marriage, the intensity of the initial attraction inevitably fades over time. And so when you experience that jolt of biochemical desire again, it sends a powerful message. It’s easy to interpret this common biological response as a sign that this is the right person for you. By all means, enjoy the surge of passion and excitement, yet refrain from making any major decisions until you’ve given your body chemistry time to normalize.
You overreact to benign situations because it triggers memories from your marriage.
There will be times when you and your new partner are reading from different scripts. They may think that you’re arguing over something in the present while you’re whisked backwards in time and replaying a role from your marriage. These moments are challenging in a new relationship because the person who is triggered is flooded with emotion and if that continues unaddressed, it threatens to drown the new partnership as well.
You grasp onto a relationship that isn’t working because you want to avoid another ending.
Sometimes, we fall prey to the belief that someone is better than no-one. We will grasp onto a relationship not because we love the person, but because we fear being without a person. This is one of the main reasons for the advice to spend some time single before you enter into a new relationship. If you know that you’re okay alone, you’re much less likely to stay with somebody just for the sake of being coupled.
You attribute everything that was wrong in your marriage to your ex and expect everything to be instantly better with a new person.
Choosing the right person is certainly important. But it’s not everything. No matter what went wrong in your marriage, it is your responsibility to identify and address areas where you can do better. If you don’t, you may find that similar patterns continue to play out in future relationships, no matter who you choose to partner with.
Jealousy of former partners or relationships poisons the new connection.
It can be strange entering into a relationship with somebody that had an entirely other life – and love(s) – before you. It can be threatening to see evidence of this former life. Depending upon the situation, ex-spouses may even be a part of the new relationship. It takes a certain amount of maturity to recognize and accept that these early loves can coexist with your new one.
You compare your new partner to your ex.
It’s only natural to compare two different people who fill a similar role in your life. Yet comparison can be damaging if it impedes on your new partner’s ability to be accepted as their own person with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. They will not be the same as your ex. In some facets, they will be a dramatic improvement and in others, they may be lacking. It’s up to you to select someone who has the characteristics that you deem critical and it’s up to you to not expect them to meet all of the positive traits that your ex possessed.
You experience an increased complexity in joining established lives.
If you married young, commingling two lives was probably relatively simple. That’s not the case in post-divorce relationships, with their higher bank accounts and debts, increased responsibilities and commitments and maybe even children or an ex that is still in the picture because of shared responsibilities. These external demands and restrictions are very real and can add a significant amount of challenge to a post-divorce relationship.
Common relationship challenges and transition points cause panic that the end is nearing.
Especially if the end of your marriage came as a surprise, you may find yourself panicking anytime your new relationship hits a rocky patch. This is tricky, because you want to take these signs seriously, yet if you overreact, you may end up sabotaging what you’re trying to save. It may take some practice to approach these issues with the right amount of energy and attention.
None of these common post-divorce challenges are insurmountable. Love after divorce is not only possible, you may even find that it’s better than before.