Relationship Advice Tips From Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Have you met the love of your life, but feel uneasy because your partner is divorced?
Do you wonder whether their history is intruding on your new and exciting relationship?
Are you wondering if your lover will leave you and go back to their ex, because their prior family is first and will always be more magnetic than you?
Dating a person who is divorced when you yourself have never been married is a challenge and can stir up a lot of discomfort, leeriness and loss of self-confidence.
Despite being assured by your partner that ‘there is nothing there any more” you hear statements that he or she misses Sunday family brunch or hiking in the woods with the dog. It makes your heart fall into your boots, and you wonder if you can ever make up for it.
The 6 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Dating Someone Who is Divorced
1. Giving all the power and life force to the ex-couple
If you imagine that despite being divorced, your date’s previous relationship is still alive and kicking because, then you hand over power to a relationship that didn’t work and broke up. You might find yourself comparing your relationship with the ex-marriage as if it was the gold standard, even though you ‘know’ that it is over. Deep emotions inside you make you want to believe that first loves and prior marriages are legitimate and anything after that is less so. That is the equivalent of undoing the divorce and rekindling the marriage! You sabotage your chances of succeeding, because you are afraid that you can’t replace the past.
If you come from a divorced family, you may have unprocessed guilt that acts as a saboteur, making you deny the reality of the divorce – just as you may have wanted to do as a child with your own parent.
Coping Tip: Take a look at your discomfort with feeling the power and vibrancy of dating someone who is divorced, but is choosing you! Do you imagine it won’t last? Do you think it’s not genuine? What are you bringing into this relationship that is more appropriate to your divorced or separated parents experience? Above all, discover what you are trying to protect yourself from by ceding what is now your power, back to some defunct relationship that doesn’t exist. Therapy to deal with dating someone who is divorced is a good way of grappling with these sabotaging tendencies.
2. Mistaking the process of mourning on the part of your divorced partner as a rejection of you.
The important thing to do here is to remember that while some of your insecurities are undoubtedly due to your own relationship history, a lot is down to your divorced partner still mourning of the loss of an important attachment. Even if that attachment was hurtful or destructive, it’s still a powerful pull. It’s less about you not being up to par, and more about your partner continuing the process of emotional separation, creating a new personal identity.
If your partner initiated the divorce there is usually a honeymoon period when it’s over, but a delayed reaction to the loss is not uncommon. You may find your divorced partner depressed and avoiding emotional intimacy with you because they are in the throes of coming to terms with what they chose to let go of.
Feeling inadequate, you may think that your divorced partner is disappointed in you, that they are idealizing their ex, and that you haven’t got a chance in hell of competing.
Coping Tip: Hang onto the fact that dating someone who is divorced is not a reflection of your worth, attractiveness or lovability. It is about going on a roller coaster ride with a partner who is not yet and may never be fully separate from the ex. Think about your relationship taking on a prominent role and becoming the focal point of your divorced partner’s emotional landscape. Go to therapy and process your feelings of poor self-worth and feelings of not being lovable. It will make all the difference to your stance toward the relationship.
3. Trying to compete with the ex
There are probably many times you hear reference to your divorced partner’s ex that make you bristle with annoyance and or envy. Little remarks about how the ex was efficient or good at managing certain situations. These comments can come from your partner’s friends, family members or colleagues who are unaware of how it may affect you. A need to compete with this ‘ex’ who suddenly appears to be a paragon of skill and admiration overtakes you. It’s as if you have to prove that not only are you as good but even better. You are consumed by the need to replace this idol with the reality of yourself that is so much more appetizing.
So you try to ‘out cook’, ‘out dress’, and out do in every way possible the image of your divorced partner’s ex that they hold onto. You try smashing that image but it doesn’t break, and in fact gets stronger. Your frustration and sense of powerlessness eats you alive. Why? Because you are competing with an image that is frozen in time and serves a nostalgic function. You are not fighting a real person and so there is no end to the battle.
In the mean time, your competitiveness has soured the relationship because you have taken your eye off the real prize – that you have got the person, you have already won – they chose you and you don’t need to fight for it.
Coping tip: If you hear comments in praise of your divorced partner’s ex, tell people that it hurts if that fits for you. When you are feeling less threatened by it, ask to hear more about the ex as if it were part of a story that you can share in, so that the ex becomes something ordinary – not someone on a pedestal that you have to knock down. Consider going to therapy to figure out the unfinished business that makes you feel the need to battle your way into the hearts of loved ones.
4. Expecting your divorced date to erase the past relationship including the ex
You may feel anxious and upset when your divorced partner mentions his ex or has contact with the ex and the exe’s family. It’s understandable that you may feel insecure. But if you let that insecurity overwhelm you and demand that your partner cease contact, remove the ex from all social media contacts and check their phone for text messages, then you become an unreasonable and unattractive dating partner. You may feel that denying the past marriage and the memories it evokes for your partner is the only surefire way of guarantying your relationship – but all it does is deny and wipe out the person who is currently your partner.
But, if you step back from your insecurity and try to understand what’s going on for your partner and why they need to maintain some contact, then you boost the chances of your relationship solidifying and being successful.
Your divorced partner is being triggered in sore, raw and vulnerable places when separation and loss is faced. It’s natural to switch from relief to sadness and longing, often idealizing the old relationship. It’s healthy for exes to change the nature of their relationship rather than cut them out as if they were tumors.
If you want a ‘whole’ person then it’s important that you get to know and accept the history of your partner’s relationships. When someone cuts someone out of their lives ‘just like that’ it tells you that they are going to do it to you because they don’t know how to separate and recover in a mature manner. When you have someone that is going through the separation process in a healthy way, you get to have them – all 4 cylinders working as your relationship develops, or else it stutters on one or two cylinders and fails.
Coping tip: remind yourself of what you really want – your divorced partner completely at one with you. That means honoring their past so you can make a future based on reality. Invite your partner to share past experiences so that you become interwoven in their lives, taking on brighter hues of connection. Think about going to couples therapy so that you can learn how to co-exist with your partner’s past, and reduce the need to have to eradicate the prior relationship from their minds.
5. Forcing your partner to prove that you mean more than the ex ever did
Dating someone who is divorced but on good terms with their ex can stir up all sorts of insecurities for you. Often the only way you can calm your anxiety is to put your partner to the test. A past client, a single woman who dated a divorced man pushed her man to take her away on vacation during his daughters birthday to prove that she was more special than his ex and his children. Another client who was a single man dating a divorced woman insisted that she wear only the jewelry he bought her, not the stuff she already had given by her ex.
When you need proof that you are more special and meaningful, it becomes a mission. You compare and evaluate every part of the relationship, judging and demanding evidence of priority – putting your partner on trial. You fail to participate in the relationship, creating discomfort for both of you.
Preventing your partner from choosing for themselves makes them feel that you don’t care about their feelings and that you only want them in order to admonish and control. It suggests a lack of acceptance of who they are and their right to make decisions that feel right to them.
Coping tips: Stand back and really look at the fact that you are dating someone who is divorced- someone who made and changed connections with those they were attached to. Look at how they maintain and celebrate connections because that tells you what you can expect. Figure out if the connections are severed sharply and painfully or gently while honoring the meaning of the relationship as it changes. Engaging in this type of reflection helps you to feel more secure. Invest in therapy to get to the roots of your need for constant proof and reassurance which will otherwise sabotage the relationship.
6. View Contact between your partner and the ‘ex’ as threatening.
How many times have you felt irritated and intruded upon by calls and texts from an ‘ex’ when you date someone who is divorced? You make disapproving faces and noises. Your date apologizes, awkward and embarrassed, but continues to have contact with the ‘ex.’ You feel you are in a three-way-relationship where the once married couple become larger than life, threatening your burgeoning relationship.
You think that if your divorced partner still needs to talk to the ‘ex’ then he isn’t satisfied with you, and that you will always be second best. Fearing the prospect of being in the back seat, you may tell the ex to back off, start arguments with your partner about the ‘ex’ – turning the relationship into a power struggle. You will lose; and your partner will just continue doing what they were doing in secret. A lack of openness and trust early in the relationship when you are dating someone who is divorced doesn’t bode well for the future.
Dating a divorced person involves having to accept and deal with the fact that they have connections that aren’t severed, but are in the process of change. It takes time to wind down a marital relationship, and there is always a ton of unfinished business and unsaid stuff that is important to get through before your new relationship can root firmly in good nurturing soil. It’s a positive sign that your divorced partner is dealing with the left overs so that it doesn’t come between the two of you. Your divorced partner needs to feel they can be as open about their ex as they would be discussing a colleague or friend. It is you who are making more of it than it merits, and risking making the whole process stretch out.
Coping Tip: celebrate the change in the ex-marital relationship as it progresses from romantic commitment to friendship and honoring each other’s humanness. Watch how the romance shifts to you and welcome it. In time you may want to make the ex part of your circle of friends – thats how you disempower their hold over your partner, and emphasize your own. Go to therapy and get in touch with your own power, dynamic spirit and attractiveness.
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2015
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Disclaimer: this video and article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond