Seven Rules for Dating after divorce
Dating after divorce can be intimidating, exciting, and overwhelming. Many of us analyze our past “mistakes” and are desperate not to repeat them. We are leaving broken relationships that haven’t been healthy for quite some time. Many of the people I talk to regret the decision they made to marry their former spouse and wonder what would have happened had they made a different choice.
Recently, I got a different perspective. While many of the thousands of people I speak to regret their choice to marry the “wrong” person and perhaps to have had children with them, this person had a different life experience. He hadn’t “married the wrong person”. He waited until he found what he thought was perfection. He got married in his late 30s and the marriage ended 2 years later. It wasn’t his choice. She wanted out. He’s now 48 and has never had kids. He wanted kids. He wanted a different life. Maybe waiting for perfect is overrated, he told me. Maybe, we should just live our lives with who we are with to the best of our abilities.
Maybe this should be an obvious perspective, but it wasn’t to me. My marriage ended almost three years ago. It still feels new. And coupling 15 years of being a divorce attorney with my own experience and serious contemplation surrounding dating, I’ve come up with seven guiding principles for dating post-divorce. The first two are the most important and I will explain in detail.
The most important prerequisites for dating after divorce should be this:
- Forgive yourself. Divorce feels like the biggest failure. If we are being honest with ourselves, no matter how awful our ex was, we contributed to the breakdown of the marriage. Understanding that and figuring out how to acknowledge our role and forgive yourself for your contribution to the marriage ending is step one before getting serious in any relationship post-divorce.
- Forgive your ex. Many people loathe their ex. The court process doesn’t help foster a post break up relationship of trust and collaboration. Many people continue in litigation for years after their breakup and use their parenting plans and decrees as a way to wield power over another person when they feel they have lost control. I know this is intense, but if you have children with your ex, you will need to have a relationship and you should find a way to honor your ex. This is the person YOU chose to have children with. Your children didn’t get a choice. They didn’t get to choose their father or mother. They are half of the person you chose to have children with. Find a way to honor that half, to lift up the qualities your ex has. Maybe they were a lousy spouse, but they are a good parent. Maybe they are irresponsible and can’t get anywhere on time, but they are a great listener. Maybe they are too strict, and you can reframe that as offering structure and guidance in a way that’s different from you. It doesn’t matter what it is, you can choose to see good in anyone. You can choose to see good in your ex. This isn’t for you (actually maybe it is) but mostly, it’s for the benefit of your children. Each of us possess limitations. Each of us does our very best at the time in our relationship. We can’t go back and re-do what happened or who we chose. We can honor the past, forgive ourselves, and forgive our ex. Only then will you be ready for a post-divorce relationship.
Now, what are the next five rules for choosing a good partner post-divorce? Here you go:
- Have fun and be curious. Ditch the checklist and be open to the possibility that your future partner may not look like what you thought they would look like. Obviously, there should be deal breakers and must haves, but they shouldn’t be related to age, height, or whether they like tennis.
- Be patient, resist moving too fast. Falling in love feels amazing, especially post-divorce when you are emotionally wounded and what a gift it is to fall in love and experience all of the emotions that come from crazy love hormones. Still, enjoy the ride but resist commitment or moving too fast. Now, post-divorce and in love, is not the time to decide to get married. Wait. The stakes are higher now and if this person is “the one” you should be able to decide after the love hormones wear off.
- Do not make choices out of fear. You must forgive yourself and love yourself for who you are before you choose a partner. We all feel vulnerable and insecure post-divorce. Do not jump into a relationship because you are afraid to be alone or you think you “can’t do better”. There are millions of people in my metropolitan area and billions worldwide, all accessible to you online. It’s pretty amazing.
- Don’t wait for perfection. This one is based on my friend’s advice above. If you want to be in a relationship, none will ever be perfect. You need compatibility, great communication, trust and respect. If you don’t want to be in a LTR (long term relationship), no problem! You are free and can design this next phase however works for you.
- Compatibility, communication, trust, respect. These are the four pillars upon which your relationship must be built, if it is to last. You cannot compromise on these four. They are far more important than money, kids or no kids, career, or physical attraction.
Billie Tarascio is a family law attorney in Phoenix Arizona and the owner of Modern Law. She is the author of Decode Your Divorce, and Tiger Tactics, Powerful Strategies for Winning Attorneys. She is also the divorced mother of four children she shares with her former husband.