A painful divorce is one of the worst experiences you can go through.
Let’s not sugarcoat it – it’s rough. A relationship that was once joyful and reliable splinters apart, and all that’s left is lawyer’s bills and bitterness. But humans are remarkably resilient; we heal, and we move on.
Dating again after divorce can be intimidating or seem pointless (you might be thinking you’ll just get hurt again), but it can also be fun, exciting, and filled with potential. Here’s a quick guide to dating after your painful divorce.
1. Grieve the marriage before you start dating
It can be tempting to rush back onto the scene after the divorce—you’re finally free—but it’s better to grieve the end of the marriage first, for several reasons. Going through a painful, acrimonious breakup can traumatise you, and it takes time to heal from trauma. When you’re still shaky from a breakup, it’s hard to open up to new people. The unconscious instinct is to protect yourself, even if you’re smiling on the outside.
Beyond this, grieving a loss serves a spiritual purpose. Before you begin something—exercise, conversation, even a relationship—there’s an inhalation (in Eastern traditions, you bow in). The exhalation is for exertion, action, and drama, and then there’s a pause, a bowing out. This is where grief belongs. It puts a bookend on the experience, and you move forward on a cleared path.
2. Spend time with loving friends and family while you heal
Having a support system of friends and family will help you heal from any loss—divorce, death in the family, illness—and if you’re lucky enough to have one, spend time with these people after your breakup.
After a marriage dissolves, especially a long marriage, you might feel kind of groundless, not like yourself. Couples come to lean on each other and self-regulate emotionally. Without that, there’s a hollow feeling.
Being around friends and family you love brings you back to solid ground, emotionally and mentally. They’ll lift your spirits, get you out of the house, and remind you of your life before the marriage.
3. Start dating slowly, gradually
Besides being a little wary of entering into a committed relationship again, you might have to relearn the rules of the game—dating has changed a lot in recent years. It’s faster (speed dating, dating apps, online hook-ups, etc.) and the wardrobe is different. Start out dating again slowly, so you don’t slip right back into another long-term relationship without any time to look around (ever heard of serial monogamy?).
When you go slowly and gradually with dating, you learn more about your dates, and yourself. You’ll get to see how your date looks in a bathing suit and a suit or party dress before making a strong commitment.
4. Don’t start any virtual relationships
For some reason, divorcees often prefer the Internet for dating than face-to-face contact. Resist the temptation to flirt widely across the Internet, and always meet a new person in the real world as soon as possible, after establishing a connection.
Online dating and constant texting are ultimately unfulfilling forms of communication. They may feel safe—you don’t risk so much when you don’t have to leave the house—but they’re not complete relationships, they’re just the exchange of data, really. Humans communicate far more through facial expressions and casual touch than through emails. The less you invest emotionally, the more you stand to lose in the long run.
5. Pull the pin on dating if it doesn’t feel right
It’s important to listen to your intuition, in dating and everything else in life. If you’ve gone on several dates—with one person or several—and it’s just too hard for you, take a break. Pull the pin on dating if it still feels too soon after your divorce. If you’re not bringing your best self to the date, what’s the point? You’ll do yourself a favour, and your dates too. Take a few weeks off, focus on caring for yourself and spending time with your support network, and then see where you’re at.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.