Dating after divorce can feel like tumultuous and uncharted territory. Can you start dating while still going through the divorce, or is there a certain amount of time you should wait? How do you know you're ready to move on? To answer these questions and offer other post-divorce dating do's and don'ts, we asked marriage counselors to share their advice.
When to start dating after divorce.
Like any aspect of romance, there is no one-size-fits-all. When you start dating again will largely depend on your circumstances and how you're responding.
According to certified couples' therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, while there's "no numerical time window you can give for when exactly to date again after a divorce, future relationships tend to do better if you take some months—or even as long as a year—to really experience the loss of your marriage."
This is, in part, due to the time it takes to fully move on. "Even if you're glad the marriage is over, there are still losses to grieve that may not be self-evident," she notes—the loss of trust in your own romantic choices, for example. In this case, Muñoz says it's important to get clear on whether you're really ready, and that takes time.
Is it OK to date while going through a divorce?
"Dating while divorcing," Muñoz notes, "is a bit like mixing antibiotics with alcohol: Will the combo kill you? Probably not. Will there be some confusing, unpleasant, and unforeseen emotional and psychological side effects? You can pretty much count on it."
While it may seem easy and relieving to find a new someone to take your mind off things, this can inhibit the growth necessary to work through your divorce in a healthy way. Muñoz calls it "emotional and psychological multitasking."
If you're feeling compelled to date while still going through divorce proceedings, she says it's ultimately better to seek the support of trusted, nonromantic people in your life, like friends, family, or a therapist. It's also important to be aware of your motivations, she says. "Are you looking for a boost? Friends with benefits? To have your faith in love reaffirmed? To distract yourself from pain?"
Rules for dating after divorce:
Identify where your marriage went wrong.
Before you even consider dipping your toes back into the dating pool, relationship counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D., says it's imperative you identify where the marriage went wrong. "All relationships have a system that we are each 100% a part of," she says, "and unless you understand what you did that contributed to the failure of the relationship, you will repeat the same behavior in the next."
Make time to grieve your losses.
Grief comes in many forms, and the loss of a relationship and the many subsequent micro-losses can be devastating. Give yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable and open to love again. "Take time to have a wide range of emotions, and be ready to handle your emotions when they arise unexpectedly with a new partner," Muñoz says.
Make sure you're ready.
She also suggests the following questions to gauge the degree to which you're ready to begin seeing new people:
- Do I understand the underlying dynamics that led to the problems in my marriage and how I contributed to them?
- Can I talk about these issues and dynamics objectively, seeing both my own and my ex’s perspective?
- Can I talk about my divorce without a high degree of emotional reactivity but also without denying, dissociating, minimizing, blaming, etc.?
If you can honestly say yes to those questions, Muñoz says you may be ready to date, "at least from an 'ideal mindset,' mental-health perspective."
Do the inner work.
As you begin to feel ready to date again, it's still important to prioritize your own needs and growth. "The most important thing regarding dating either during or after a divorce," Paul says, "is to be doing your own inner work to fully understand your participation in the relationship system that led to a failed relationship."
Whether with someone else or just yourself, reflection about what you've been through, the divorce, and where you're at now will help you gain clarity. Reflect with trusted, nonjudgmental friends, a coach or therapist, and/or through regular journaling, Muñoz suggests. "Work through the emotions that belong to your past relationship."
Consider seeing a therapist or counselor.
A divorce is no small deal, and if you feel you could use a hand, it's so important to lean on your support system. You may benefit from seeing a licensed therapist, coach, or counselor. When emotions get overwhelming, or you're wrestling with questions about what went wrong, being able to talk it out and gain some unbiased perspective is helpful.
Learn to value yourself.
As you begin meeting new people, perhaps going on dates, Paul notes you should be your own first priority. "Learn to value yourself enough so that when you date, you are not coming from a fear of rejection," she says. "You need to be interviewing your date rather than worried about how your date feels about you. If you are not yet valuing yourself enough to do this, then it's not time to date."
Watch out for people who want to take advantage of your vulnerability.
"There are many narcissists available in the dating scene, and you might be vulnerable coming out of a divorce," Paul adds. "Read about narcissism and be aware that they know exactly what to say that you've been longing to hear to pull you in. Many of my clients have been deeply hurt by a narcissist soon after a divorce."
Be honest about your past.
Once you have officially started dating again, Muñoz says it's important to be honest with your new partners about where you're coming from and where you're at with it. "Be ready to share a balanced view of your past relationship with the person or people you date," she says. "This signals that you're able to own your part."
Disclose your needs, fears, and boundaries.
Along with being honest about your past, it's a good idea to be honest about your needs in the present. "Try to disclose your fears and needs appropriately—and honestly—with the person or people you date," Muñoz says. The honesty right off the bat will help avoid problems inevitably rising if you try to avoid the issues.
Get clear on what your standards are.
Not to be confused with your "type," get clear on what your deal-breakers, triggers, and standards are. Knowing what you know now from your past marriage, what is it you'll do differently now? What won't you stand for? And most importantly, are you willing and able to stand up for those standards?
Some people are able to jump right into new relationships after a divorce, while others will take a long while before they're able to feel emotions that strong again. Don't doubt the potential of a slow burn. Lust and passion can feel intoxicating, but real connections take time. Don't feel discouraged if it takes a good handful of dates to start feeling spark and attraction toward a new romantic interest in your life.
Trust your gut.
Get used to tuning into the way a person makes you feel when you're around them. Do they say things that put you off a bit or even seem like red flags? Do they honor your boundaries, big or little? Don't gaslight yourself; if your gut is telling you something about a date, it's probably right.
Be open to new possibilities.
And lastly, remain open to all the possibilities dating can bring. Maybe that means dating outside your "type" for the first time. Because you never know—real connection and longing can find you in surprising places.
Can you find true love after divorce?
Now, perhaps you've gotten this far and are seconding-guessing even the thought of meeting someone new. Is it really possible to find love after a divorce?
Short answer? Yes! But it takes work (like any relationship).
"People do it all the time—but people reenact the destructive patterns from their painful past relationships all the time, too," Muñoz notes. "After I divorced, I found the love of my life, but I didn't know he was the love of my life until we began doing the work to become healthier, more interdependent adults."
She adds, "I don't actually believe there's such a thing as 'finding' true love. You can 'find' an affinity for someone, an attraction, but true love is consciously created."
A divorce is not an easy thing, and dating afterward isn't something to take lightly. But with a degree of self-awareness, conscious intention, and a touch of confidence, anyone can find love on the other side.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.