I didn't think I'd be learning about navigating a new relationship after divorce, or maybe not this soon, but here we are. Dating after divorce is so weird to me, like… you're finally free but maybe you miss the comfort of a serious relationship. Or maybe you love being in love. Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself in a new relationship (or looking for one), consider a few things first.
Navigating a New Relationship After Divorce
This is a follow-up to Navigating Tinder After Divorce.
I'm not a relationship expert by any means, and just like with my other post (Things You Should Know Before Dating Someone With Autism), I'm just giving my personal experience and advice. I'd love to hear what you think as well, so please leave me a comment below!
Ditch the guilt. The first thing I had to do when I started dating was get rid of lots of guilt. I was in my last relationship for 9 years, so that was all I knew. I didn't think I'd ever be with anyone else. So at first, I felt kind of guilty when I was looking at other people as potential partners. I was still friends with my ex at the time, too, so I think that made me feel like I was lying. I didn't want to tell her about my dates, but I didn't want to hide them from her either. It was a lose/lose situation.
Don't rush things. You may be sad, you may be lonely. There are going to be hot, single men and women all around you. Just like when you leave an animal in a cage for a long time, when you finally open the door, it's gonna be WILD! I'm not saying you have to be a nun and sit at home, but I don't recommend starting a new relationship right away, either. So many people jump from one dysfunctional relationship to the next and wonder why things don't work out. Breathe a bit before making that jump. Enjoy life.
I think it's important to work on yourself and your own personal healing for a bit before rushing into the next relationship. Become a whole person again before you try to give yourself to someone else. My ex left me in November, and I waited until September of the next year to start a new relationship (and even then, it was one of those whirlwind things I hadn't planned!). She still said I was “rushing into things” and called me a “relationship hopper”, but that's because our time frames were different – and your time frame will be, too. There's no set time you have to wait before moving on and starting dating after divorce, but I truly believe that in order to be the best partner you can, you have to work on yourself before starting a new relationship.
I'd be a total hypocrite if I said “don't rush things” once you get into the new relationship, so full disclosure: my current partner and I met on a Friday. We saw each other again that Monday, and haven't spent a day apart since. I fell in love FAST and unexpectedly (and it was unexpected for him, too!), but I wouldn't have it any other way. When you know, you know, but not every relationship has to move quickly. Don't force it.
Communicate. When I'm upset, I hate talking. I much prefer throwing things or screaming and cussing, but I can't do either of those because, well, I'm a mom and that wouldn't be setting a very good example. Communicating doesn't come naturally to me (maybe it's the autism thing?), but I'm working really hard on being honest with myself and my partner so I don't repeat my past mistakes.
Communicating what you each want from your relationship is also important. If you want a serious relationship but they were just looking for casual dating, obviously that's something that should be discussed up front. Sometimes relationships just happen, and that's okay, too! I definitely wasn't looking for a partner when I met mine, but we were both up front about everything from our first date. That helped both of us be more trusting, too, instead of wondering what the other person wanted. Asking/discussing is better than guessing!
I highly recommend reading this book about Love Languages. This book teaches you about yourself and about your partner. We all love (and want to be loved) differently, but most of us fall into one of the five categories in this book. Knowing your Love Language as well as your partner's can prevent a lot of confusion, miscommunication, arguments, etc. Speaking to your partner in their Love Language shows them you care about how they need to be loved. If my Love Language is Acts of Service, then I don't want you buying me flowers all the time… I want you doing things like making me dinner instead. Some women would rather have the flowers! The book does have religions undertones, but even as a hardcore anti-religion person, it wasn't enough to ruin the book for me – I recommend it to every couple I know!
Ditch the baggage. This is waaaaayyyyy easier said than done (especially if you've dealt with any type of abuse), but carrying baggage from your past relationship into your new one is the quickest way to fuck everything up. Having emotional baggage can affect the way we behave in future relationships if we don’t get rid of it, so even if it's not EASY, we have to work on it.
On Thanksgiving, my boyfriend cooked dinner for everyone. Then, after a long day of cooking and hanging out with family, he cleaned everything up, washed the dishes, etc. So what did I do? I got mad at him, of course. Wait, what? When you have an ex who would cook and clean and then hold it over your head or bitch about it for days on end, that type of thing can be a trigger. Knowing and understanding your triggers and being willing to talk about them is going to help your new relationship a lot. Communication is key.
Learn from the past. Be honest with yourself about the mistakes you've made in past relationships. Nobody is perfect, so no matter how awful your past partners were, there's always room for self-improvement.
Love. Love is all about taking a leap of faith, which is terrifying! If you fall in love, love with all of your heart. Your partner deserves to have all of you, so don't hold back just because you've had your heart broken before. Don't be stupid, don't ignore red flags, but don't keep those walls up so high you ruin your chance at real love. Read the 5 Love Languages book early on in your relationship and learn what their Love Language is!
Consider therapy. Traditional therapy is expensive AF, but online therapy is affordable (or even free!). While it may not be quite as helpful as sitting on a couch and pouring your soul out to a stranger, I find it therapeutic nonetheless. There's a sense of relief that comes with doing online therapy, mostly because it's anonymous and you can be completely honest.
If nothing else, therapy helps with self-reflection. You learn a lot about yourself and the thoughts you have, how you do things, etc by talking about it all with someone else – whether on the couch or on your phone.
Don't lose yourself. We've all been there, the relationship that consumes us and makes us forget who we were… what we enjoyed… what we liked to do before they came into our lives. Just like I said above, take some time for your own personal healing – but when your next relationship starts, be aware of your past and don't lose yourself again. Keep your hobbies going, don't shut yourself off from the rest of the world. We all need more than one person in our lives – so don't lose touch with your friends just because you have a new partner. I know it's easy to do, I struggle with juggling time between everyone also, but prioritize your friendships while nurturing your relationship, or you'll look up in a year or two and realize you have nobody else.
Realize this is new. Treat each relationship as if you're starting with a clean slate – because you are. Drop the baggage and leave it in the past. You're worthy of love – even if you don't believe it at first, tell yourself every. fucking. day. until you do – and realize you are capable of giving love as well, no matter what your ex might have had you thinking! Starting with a clean slate is the best way to make your new relationship last.
And last but not least… do new things! If there was something you always wanted to do but your ex wasn't on board, try it! Whether that's jumping out of a plane, eating Indian food, or traveling the world… enjoy your new relationship to its fullest potential!