How Do You Know When You’re Ready For a New Relationship After Divorce?
“You have to wait one month for each year you were married.”
“It’s like riding a horse. The sooner you get back in the saddle, the better.”
“After divorce, you must stay single for at least two years to truly find yourself.”
I heard it all after my husband left. Yet none of it really felt right to me. I knew I wasn’t ready to start a new relationship immediately. Even the thought made me feel a bit ill. At the same time, some trite and trivial timeline didn’t resonate either. Who was to say that I didn’t need more than a month for every year or that I would be ready far sooner than the two-year mark?
The truth is that the time needed after divorce before entering a new relationship is different for everyone and, this is the important part, only you know when you are truly ready.
You’re ready to enter into a new relationship when…
You’re not involved with somebody to spite your ex or in an effort to ignite jealousy.
In a moment of divorce-induced insanity, I had a notion of bringing the guy I was dating to the courthouse on the day of my legal dissolution. Luckily, my attorney was not insane and she put her foot down. My reasons for wanting him there were twofold – I was scared to face my ex and I thought my new guy’s presence would help to shore up my courage and I wanted to show my ex (who not only committed adultery, but also bigamy), that I could get somebody else.
That inclination on my part was a sure sign that I was not ready to date. In order to have a chance, a new relationship must be established independent of any previous ones. If it only exists to show vengeance or in an attempt to stir up feelings of regret and envy in your ex, it is more farce than partnership.
You’re not trying to replace your ex and you’re not caught up in comparing.
After divorce, you face an ex-shaped hole in your life. And it’s tempting to try to find someone who can fill that place exactly, like a custom-made puzzle piece. Not only is that impulse not fair your new potential partner, it’s also not fair to you. The divorce has changed you. Perhaps altered your ideas about what is important in a partner and what characteristics really don’t matter.
Rather than trying to find someone who matches what you had, identify what is important to you and which of those needs you want to be met by your partner and which can be met elsewhere. And once you’ve made that choice, refrain from comparing. It only brings with it misery.
You’re able to acknowledge and address your part in your marriage’s struggles.
Oh, did this used to make me mad! I was furious when others implied that I needed to accept my part when my ex was so obviously the “bad guy” in the marriage. But what I eventually realized that I may not have been responsible for the end of the marriage (and certainly not for all of the betrayals within), but I did play a role in the particular dynamics that allowed the malignant culture to grow. And until I was ready to accept that and address those traits (hello, conflict avoidance!) within myself, I wasn’t ready to try again.
Divorce provides you with the gift of perspective, and although it’s a gift too late to use for your first marriage, it’s one that can carry over. It usually takes some time and some distance for the emotions to fade enough that you can take a pragmatic view of your marriage and its particular dynamics. Take the time to learn how you behave and how you respond in relationships. If there are issues, address them now before you end up replaying them with someone else.
You’re able to manage your own emotions and triggers.
I was looking forward to moving into my own apartment (after living with a friend for a year) when I received the news that my ex hadn’t paid the utility bills, leaving me scrambling to find another $1,200 before I could finally start me independent life. Livid and panicked, I pulled into my boyfriend’s driveway. He took one look at me, cleared the floor around the heavy bag hanging in his garage, strapped the gloves on me and started a Tool playlist before heading upstairs.
Later, he wisely told me that if we were going to make it, I would have to get a handle on my anger. He was right. So I did and we did, marrying a few years later.
Before you are ready for a new relationship, you have to learn how to recognize and address your over-the-top emotions. Take yoga, pick up running or a pen or maybe find a therapist. Take ownership of your feelings and responsibility for their management.
You’re not looking for a savior or for a “perfect” relationship.
“You poor thing,” he said, wrapping me in his arms. “You deserve someone who will take care of you.” And at first, the offer of basically being a kept woman sounded good after all of the stress following years of financial infidelity and the limitations of the family court system. But upon second thought, I felt a horror at allowing myself to be controlled again. Because that’s what saviors do – they rescue you from one circumstance only to trap you in another.
Likewise, it’s easy to blame your divorce solely on picking the wrong person. And to become convinced that once you have the “right” person, everything will fall into place without any problems. Ever.
Newsflash. There are no perfect people or perfect marriages. It begins with choosing wisely. But that’s just the beginning.
Perfection and white knights only live in fairy tales. And you live in the real world.
You’re not lonely and you’re ready to take the risk of being vulnerable.
Loneliness is born more from our internal view and external reactions than from the people we have around us. When we are lonely, we are guarded, protected. Afraid of being seen and also miserable being isolated. If we enter into a relationship while in a state of loneliness, we set the stage for either grasping onto the other person in desperation or continuing to feel alone because of a fear of being vulnerable.
There’s wisdom behind the advice warning against viewing relationships are making you “whole” and the same concept applies to needing a relationship in order to not feel lonely. The phrase, “finding yourself” is perhaps somewhat corny, but it does apply here. You have to be okay with you and only you before you’re ready to welcome another.
Besides, loneliness is a horrible matchmaker. It simply selects the first person it sees.
You’re making progress on healing even if you don’t consider yourself “healed.”
I have the somewhat controversial view that some parts of healing after divorce can only happen once you’re in a new relationship. It’s all well and good to work through mental exercises or journal entries on trust but until you are in the position of having to put your faith in a new partner, it’s all simply pretend.
Additionally, there is no marker in the sand that declares you “healed.” It’s not a point you can define or even recognize. So if you’re waiting for it before you enter into a new relationship, you could be waiting for a very long time.
Instead of setting a goal of being completely healed, set an intention of making progress. Of having more good days than bad ones. Of doing better at managing your emotions and communicating your feelings. Of taking responsibility for your own stuff and making an effort to understand and address it.
You’re past the post-divorce mania stage and yet you’re excited about the possibilities the future holds.
There’s a common reaction after divorce that takes many people by surprise. It characterized by a sudden uptick in energy, an overwhelming optimism and a youthful, even careless, approach to life. I call this the post-divorce mania stage. It can be fun, but it’s also fleeting and irrational and certainly not a time to commit to a new relationship.
But that morning when you finally wake up excited yet rational, cautiously hopeful for the new day and the opportunities in love it may provide, that’s when you know you’re ready for a new relationship. Don’t forget what you’ve learned in the meantime.