It’s difficult to know when you are ready to move onto a new chapter of life. The thought of meeting someone new can feel terrifying, exciting and overwhelming. The prospect of being in a new relationship can be appealing; to be in a position to receive validation and much needed comfort after experiencing heartache from your divorce. However, in order to have a healthy new relationship you need space in your life for this next step. The space I am referring to is in your mind, heart, and schedule. Through my experience as a therapist I have seen the negative outcomes of post-divorce individuals getting into serious relationships soon after separation/divorce and have witnessed complicated emotional conflict in their relationships as a result.
These 7 points will help you assess if you have space in your life for a new relationship.
1. You are legally divorced and have an agreed upon custody agreement (if applicable). It is difficult to focus on someone new if you are in court every few months with conflict with your ex regarding huge life decisions that could impact your future. This unpredictability can create tension and emotional upheaval that is unfair to inflict on someone that is new in your life.
2. You have accepted your divorce status and have grieved your marriage. If you are still holding out hope to reconcile with your ex-husband/wife than you are not emotionally ready for someone new. Your options are: actively work towards reconciliation with your ex or start the process of accepting the loss of your marriage. This process is difficult and takes time, some have described that it feels like a death, it is a tremendous loss. Give your grief the time it deserves, it will be a process to let go. Seek out therapy if you are finding this process difficult or if you feel stuck. If you are not at the point where you can think/or talk about your previous marriage without intense feelings of anger/hurt/sadness, then you are not “over” your marriage. If you start a relationship with someone in this state of mind, you will be battling the ghosts of your past marriage, which dooms all involved into convoluted and confusing emotional experience. When you have truly accepted your divorce you will be able to talk about it with calmness in your mind and heart.
3. You have healthy boundaries with your ex -spouse. This merits subcategories for a clear picture of healthy boundaries.
- You do not lean on your ex as your primary emotional support. This is referring to emotional support that does not include co-parenting issues. It is very easy to lean on your ex-spouse for help with life’s challenges when you have been spouses for so long and in the past this was part of your role in each other’s lives. However, if you do wish to move on with another person, this system of emotional support can create complications in your new relationship. The process of moving forward after divorce involves creating a new emotional support structure that does not include your ex. Your ex should not be the first person you call when you have a bad day.
- You are not financially supporting/ dependent on your ex. This is outside of agreed upon legal spousal support/ child support. This is in reference to sharing bills that do not have anything to do with your children. Sharing phone bills, credit cards or misc. bills. It is tough to start a new relationship if you are still financing your ex’s credit card or dependent on your ex’s income. These are strings that attach you and keep you from moving forward independent from each other.
- You have not been physically intimate with your ex recently. It is not uncommon for ex’s to be intimate for a variety of reasons; however this practice creates emotional ties that are deep and impacting. This results in emotional entanglements that may impact your ability to move on and close that chapter to your life. If you are sure you want to move forward you need to set a boundary that physical intimacy is no longer appropriate.
- Your ex is not part of your primary social circle. It is understandable if you have friends and family that continues to love, appreciate and socialize with your ex. And honestly if there are children involved, common friends and interaction with each other’s family maintains some much needed stability for them. However, there is a point where there needs to be some separation where your friends enjoy you individually some of the time. A conversation may be necessary to explain that you are making room in your life for a relationship and new boundaries are required. In time, the people that love you will understand this. It is very difficult to have a new relationship if your ex is everywhere you are.
- You do not share all holidays together. You have established traditions that do not all include your ex-spouse. If you share children it is possible to maintain some small traditions with your children together, however, you also need to start new traditions that are separate. If you wait to separate holidays until a new person is involved your life, the kids may unfairly associate these changes with the new person. This can unfortunately create animosity towards the new person in your life because of this association.
4. You have an understanding of your contribution towards your failed marriage. If you feel completely wronged by your ex and are still completely confused as to why your relationship failed, you are not ready for a new relationship. Every relationship is complex and each participant in the relationship has responsibilities that contributed to the divorce. It is critical to hold yourself accountable for your missteps because these realizations will help you in your future relationship.
5. You are able to identify the positive aspects of your past marriage. This indicates that you have assessed your past relationship and have an appreciation for what it has contributed to your life. It could not have been ALL bad; you would not have married someone that was completely evil. You loved many aspects of this person; otherwise you would not have married them. If you cannot think of anything about your ex or the past marriage that is positive than you may not be completely healed.
6. You are able to enjoy time alone. It is common for people to date to avoid being alone. It’s not choosing someone but rather avoiding loneliness. In marriage, you had a daily companion and after divorce there is a void. Realizing you are alone can be painful and dating can be an enticing escape. However, if you embrace this “alone time” it can be an invigorating experience. This can be an amazing time of self-discovery and freedom. The challenge of this time of transition is to start different routines, try new things, and socialize with friends. This time will allow you to reflect on yourself, gain confidence and give you time to heal your heart.
7. You are willing to put in the work that a healthy relationship requires. Relationships take time to nurture and require effort. This means communicating on a regular basis and spending time with them is a priority for you. After a failed relationship a person can really miss the receiving aspects of companionship, such as affection, fun and comfort. However, along with receiving these positive aspects of a relationship, giving to the other person is an essential part of a healthy relationship. A relationship will require emotional energy for conversation, disagreements, and compromise.
You may want to be ready, but you may not be, and that can be frustrating. All of these points are not easy to accomplish and take time and patience to achieve. It is recommended that you seek the support of a therapist to facilitate your post-divorce process if you are having difficulty moving forward.
Written by Diana Chaparro-Clark LMFT M.S.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out www.hopeculturecounseling.com if you need counseling regarding post-divorce issues.