On Dating After Divorce
Did you ever try to teach your children how to swim? Little Sara feels safe, secure, and enjoys the pool sitting on the steps or hanging onto the side. But try to drag her away into
the scary deep waters where she can't touch bottom and you invite pure panic!
Kicking, screaming, and clawing her way across your face and out of your arms,
she will try to thrash back to the
side to the steps, where she was happiest. It is far too terrifying to be alone in that water when she does not know
how to handle it.
Now fast forward a year or so and Sara has learned
to hold her breath and kick her feet; she’s put on her floaties and is
splashing merrily in the deep end. But suddenly the rough-housing older boys in
the pool have pushed her under, she’s gulping in water, and with her fear
threatening to weigh her down she almost drowns. Miraculously she makes her way
to the steps, climbs out, and wraps herself in a towel. After a few tears she doesn’t
want to be left out and wants to go back into the pool—and that’s when you step
She’s not ready. She’s exhausted and her muscles are still
weak. Even though she feels better, you
see that it’s probably a good idea that she stay in the shallow end and get rid
of the floaties. To get back in the deep and survive, she’ll need to develop
some stronger swimming skills.
This is a good image of two dynamics that often happen after
divorce: some don’t have enough sense and want to jump right back in, and
others want to get out of the pool altogether—too afraid to ever go in again.
For some divorced people who have barely made it to the side
and are clinging to the steps, they do NOT want a new relationship. The trauma
from almost drowning was too much. No way are they ready to leave the safety of
the steps in a world of relationships where emotionally you can’t touch bottom
and can’t catch your breath.
But for others, they can’t wait to get back into the action.
Good Lord, we have taken such a hit! We feel unloved, ugly,
old, undesirable, and we just want to feel good about ourselves gain. We want
to be with someone; we want love, affection, affirmation, and security—God hard-wired
us for those good things. We don’t want to
leave the goods that married life offered and head out into the deep waters of loneliness,
anxiety, fear, and the unknown. Now you can understand why someone may want to
rush back, as it were, into the perceived safety of a new relationship. They
loved being married, being a family, or having sexual intimacy. They are too
impatient to sit on the side and allow themselves to fully recover or to
examine what went wrong and how to avoid similar problems in the future. They often
fail to see that they need to make interior changes and develop better skills
before they are really ready to get back into the dating scene.
Some admit it’s not wise rush into a romance but maybe they
can just be “friends”. Just some casual
company of the opposite sex to feel like we are still lovable, right? Wrong. Here’s when dating after divorce will end up as
Be truly available first. If you haven’t petitioned for or
received an annulment, you are still
married. Neither you, nor anyone who may fall in love with you, can move
toward marriage. That usually sets you both up for disappointment, frustration,
and a sinful using of each other. That’s
not love. And you both usually begin
to resent the Church, scoff at her rules, and make excuses for your life style.
Learn from the past to protect your future. If you haven’t thoroughly (and I mean
thoroughly) examined why your marriage
failed, what part you played in it—even back in the beginning—and taken the
time to make great efforts to grow and mature through your divorce, you risk
bringing all those disordered dynamics into another relationship. (The annulment process helps you process these things, by the way.) Is that fair
to the other person ... and his or her children? No, and it's not true love, either.
Don't use others--even "benevolently." If you are anywhere from simply antsy
to deeply desperate to rebuild a family, replace a parent for your children, or
otherwise avoid the discomfort of being single, you are probably reducing the
new person to an object—like a patch over a hole, a plug in a socket, or a pill
to take to feel better. Healthy relationships only spring from two people who
are free to remain single and still be content, but who choose each other out
of authentic love, not loneliness.
Don't rush. The fear of being alone blinds you. Relationship
red flags are meant to protect you and when you ignore, rationalize, or minimize
them, you almost invite another divorce upon yourself and your children—and the
new person and his/her family. The 50% average national divorce rate is increased greatly for second marriages, at 65-75%. This is usually due to not taking the
time and making the effort to do what is necessary for full and lasting
recovery. When you rush back in the pool with floaties you’ll never be able to
really “swim”—and when the waters get too rough, you risk drowning again.
Don't play with emotional and sexual fire. Dating is never really casual. Most people
who meet at the coffee shop have at least some hopes and desires for love and their
hearts can easily be broken, despite “casual” exteriors. Even if YOU are "fine" with it, you never really know what is in the heart of the other. Risking a broken heart
is never casual. Many are guarded and
taking their time, and rightly so, but many can prefer the safe and endless “dating”
to a move toward marriage. This type of relating
has some immediate benefits that soothe the ego, but it can also be a mutual
using of each other until someone better comes along. Sexual frustration is
usually relieved with various levels of conditions and guilt. That’s
not love, either—even among “friends”.
After divorce, your broken heart should continue breaking—ever
more widely to receive the love God wants
to pour into it. He made you for himself, and he is the ONLY one who can fully satisfy
your heart, even if you don’t feel like it or believe it.
Have you made a false idol out of marriage or relationship?
Has it become your primary purpose for being, and without it you’re lost? If so, it may have become the most important thing in your life and has thus replaced God himself. Marriage, success,
power, wealth, security, our children, our careers, and many other “strange
gods” hold too high a place in our hearts. They are good things, but they must take second place to God.
Whether you’ve wrongly worshiped relationships, or have rejected
them altogether, the alone-time after a divorce can be a HUGE blessing. Don't waste it! It should help
us unclasp the firm grip we had on all that we lost, and move us gently and
slowly out into the “deep” of knowing God, ourselves, and his true purpose for
What is our true
purpose? You may have learned it “by heart” as a child: first to come to KNOW
God, and then to LOVE him. Everything
else should flow from that intimate love so that when we SERVE him it will be
by seeing and loving others rightly, not using them.
That’s the power that will move us into the deep, out past our little pools and into the endless ocean of God's love.
Despite the wounds of divorce, we can be like real-life, "Soul Surfer" Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark, but who spent enough time healing that she could relearn how to "swim". If we will do the same, the waters of life will be deep blue and cool, where freedom from our fears keeps us afloat.
And then . .. we will ride the waves!