12 Smart Ways to Make Dating After Divorce Easier, According to Therapists
After the stress of going through a divorce, it can be difficult to think about dating again. Everyone has their own timeline for when they might want to get out there. “More important than the length of time is what one does during that time,” says Christina Jones, LCSW. “It’s important to be self-reflective and mourn the loss, as well as learn what one can ‘do’ better in their next relationship.” But, once you’re ready, these tips will make it easier.
Wait until your divorce or separation is final before you start dating.
Even if you know your marriage is really, truly over, you still need to give yourself some time and space. “Although there’s no ‘magic’ time frame by which one is ready to date, I typically recommend that one wait about a year,” Jones says. “Separation or divorce is an emotionally draining time. Although it might be tempting to lick your wounds with positive attention from another, this distraction can actually inhibit you from the healing work that is necessary to move forward in a healthy way with someone in the future.”
Ask if you’re dating again for the right reasons.
“If the ‘why’ is to avoid painful feelings like hurt, anger, or loneliness, then it may be helpful to take some time to heal before jumping back into dating,” says Jaclyn Friedenthal, Psy.D., of the Thrive Psychology Group. “If the ‘why’ is because you have taken time to heal, you now want to date more than you feel like you need to date, and you’re willing to feel all the emotions involved in dating again, then it’s a good sign that you’re ready. Dating requires a certain amount of vulnerability, tolerance of uncertainty, and willingness to feel a range of emotions in the hopes of making positive new connections and relationships.”
Set reasonable expectations.
“You don’t have to enter into a date assuming you’ll get married,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do. “Instead, you can look at it as an experience to learn more about yourself and the new life you’re creating for yourself moving forward.”
It is possible that your first relationship post-divorce might not be a rebound, but there’s a lot of “ifs” that go along with that. “The mistake I see many people make in this post-divorce relationship is thinking this relationship won’t have its own challenges,” Jones says. “Another big mistake is comparing a new person to their ex, or thinking that if they correct the things their previous spouse complained about, then this new person will be happy. A ‘first’ relationship post-divorce can last, provided the person has learned about themselves and their part in the ending of their marriage.”
Be honest about your past.
Don’t be misleading about yourself, your life, or your interests (or kids!) in an online profile or in person. Eventually, the truth will come out, and you don’t want to have wasted your time or efforts. But more importantly, you want to find someone who shares your values, and who will like you for who you are.
Go slow at first.
You don’t have to dive head-first into intense one-on-ones. “Talk over the phone a lot and go on many dates that are different in type,” Jones says. “By that I mean different activities, opportunities to talk and get to know each other, opportunities to see person in different settings. Some dates should involve each other’s friends, too.”
Make space for your feelings to bubble up.
Because they will, whether you want them to or not, and in ways you might not expect. “Whether you feel guilty, nervous, or excited, whatever emotions dating stirs up for you is okay,” Morin says. “Allow yourself to experience a wide range of emotions.” It’s tough to get out there again, but you’re probably doing better than you think, so give yourself a break, too. “Be patient and compassionate with yourself and with the process,” Dr. Friedenthal says. “Pay attention to your intuition. Remember that it is normal to have wants and needs, and you deserve to be happy.”
Know your priorities.
Figure out what you’re looking for in a partner. What are your dealbreakers? What are the values you’re most looking for? Figuring that out first will save you from wasting time with someone who isn’t going to be a good match in the long run.
Be informed about online dating.
“I’m not a huge fan of online dating, although some sites are better than others,” Jones says. If you’re going to roll the dice online, do research into which ones offer the experience you’re looking for: some are better suited to those looking for long-term partners, others are more for casual flings. And make sure you know about all the scams that target online daters.
Don’t rush to introduce a new partner to your family.
Having children makes dating all the more complicated. Like with everything else, this will take time. “Spend at least 6 months getting to know someone before you introduce them to your children,” Morin says. “Introducing someone too soon can be confusing, anxiety-provoking, and troubling to children. Make sure that you know your boyfriend well and give him the chance to prove he’s in this for the long-haul before you bring him home to the kids.”
Then, when the time comes, tread lightly with kids.
Assure them that they’re first in your heart. “Talk to your kids about their feelings,” Morin adds. “Let them know that it’s okay to be angry, nervous, or sad about your new relationship. Encourage them to ask questions and express their concerns.”
Dating is going to require some effort on your part, even in the easiest coupling. “No relationship is perfect and the ones that last take work!” Jones says. “Be in therapy and increase your self-awareness as you participate in the dating process. Heal yourself so you attract healthy people!”
Above all else, trust yourself.
If have a bad feeling about someone, move on. “Remember, dating is interviewing!” Jones says. “Don’t be afraid to end a date or stop dating someone if you sense a ‘red flag.’ Beware of the person who blames their ex for everything.”