Dating During Divorce: 7 Reasons to “Chill-Out” on a New Relationship
While a new relationship may feel like the perfect antidote to divorce stress and sadness, it might have several negative consequences. Here’s why you should wait to date until your divorce is final.
Your new relationship during divorce feels like a gift from the heavens. After many months or years of disconnection, hurt, and drama, positive attention and intimacy seem exactly what you need. In fact, your body makes this attraction's joy abundantly clear.
Being wanted, appreciated, and respected can heal your wounded heart and spirit. The new relationship is helping you cope with the bitterness and stress of divorce by providing positive hope for the future.
With all of this goodness of dating during the divorce, what can be wrong? Isn’t the point of the divorce so that you each can lead happier lives?
The problem with the new relationship is not the relationship, it is the timing and manner of it. Plunging into this wonderful new relationship while you are amidst a divorce may have significant negative impacts. Following are seven compelling reasons to “chill-out,” or hold off on dating until after the divorce is finalized.
Why You Should Wait to Date
1. Dating during divorce escalates conflict with your ex.If you initiated the divorce, your ex would probably conclude that your new relationship is the result of your betrayal in an extra-marital affair. This is to be expected. Your ex’s wounded heart and pride are looking for ways to understand the end of the marriage. By blaming you, your ex can numb their pain and avoid their responsibility for your relationship's demise. Even if your ex initiated the divorce, has had affairs, and seems to despise you, your new relationship may result in greater conflict with them. The reasons for this are many, even if they are not logical. The elevated conflict will result in heightened stress, more difficulty reaching a divorce settlement, and a prolonged divorce process. Instead of the normal three to eight months of discomfort and uncertainty during divorce, think two years of hell. A high-conflict divorce also damages the co-parenting relationship for years to come.
2. Dating before your divorce is final may increase financial costs.With increased conflict, your legal bills during divorce will quickly expand. If your ex suspects you are using marital resources to date, go on trips, or support your new relationship, expect a hard fight over money. This is especially true regarding spousal support. If you receive spousal support, your ex will feel justified in paying as little as possible. As a Family Mediator, I have often witnessed the agony of a spouse who feels adamant about not paying support. They claim, “why should I support them in being with somebody else! Their new partner is probably helping them financially anyway.” If you are paying spousal support, your ex may demand more from being hurt and want to punish you. They may interpret your reluctance to pay a higher amount as your attempt to save money to spend on your new relationship.
3. Dating during divorce can limit divorce settlement options.Ex-spouses who are civil and accept the divorce as a necessary restructuring of their lives are more creative with the settlement. For example, people may agree for one spouse to receive a larger share of the assets in exchange for lower or no spousal support. Negotiations such as these will be strained with anger, mistrust, or resentment about your new relationship. There are a few states where divorce courts consider the concept of fault. In these states, your relationship can be cast as “adultery.” This would preclude you from receiving spousal support or require you to pay more.
4. A new romance could threaten your parenting time.You will negotiate your parenting schedule directly with each other, with a mediator or attorneys. In either case, your ex may argue that you have less capacity for parenting because you are consumed with your new relationship. Another result of your new relationship enthusiasm is that your ex may develop the following more insidious narratives about your divorce: “You made your choice. You chose to abandon your family. Don’t act now as if you care about the kids.” Your ex’s entrenched position foretells a struggle over parenting time and custody. The comfort and love from your new relationship can also distort your clarity about the amount of parenting time you desire in the divorce. I have spoken to parents who, during divorce, committed to a parenting schedule based on a desire to spend significant time with a new partner. They gravely regretted this decision when the new relationship fizzled out a few months later. If custody or parenting time is a hotly contested issue in your divorce, your new relationship will likely be twisted and used against you in the legal process.
5. Dating during divorce can impair your children's healing.Are you wondering how to protect your children from the effects of divorce? All the research confirms the largest factor for children’s well-being and ability to be resilient through a divorce is the amount of parental conflict. Referring to #1 in this article, your new relationship during the divorce is highly likely to increase parental conflict. Children have their ways of dealing with the loss, confusion, and anxiety of a divorce. They need extra stability, attention, and reassurance during a time that is more challenging for them to provide it. Don’t kid yourself, your new relationship will be a distraction. You might be thinking you can hide your new relationship. This is unlikely. Your children see and hear everything, and their senses are extra acute during the divorce. You might be furtively texting during dinner or having phone conversations after you think the kids are asleep. At the very least, your kids are aware of your divided attention. Children in divorcing families have certain questions that (often unconsciously) haunt them. “Was it my fault?” “Was I too much of a burden?” “Are they going to stop loving me as they did each other?” If they interpret that your love for your spouse is so quickly replaceable, they will fear it is the same for themselves.
6. Dating while still married may strain friendships and community relationships.Your pending divorce may feel to you like long-awaited freedom and resolution; however, vast life changes and uncertainties are difficult for even the most adaptable people. Your friendships and community relationships are like a healing and stabilizing salve during these turbulent times. If you rush headlong into a new relationship amidst your divorce process, some friends or community members may lack respect for you. Few to none of them will express it to you directly. Additionally, if they were friends with you and your ex, your friends may feel awkward or loyal towards your ex upon learning of your new relationship. Should you make your life decisions out of fear of judgment or discomfort from others? No. And, with effort, you can always make new friends. But consider that underneath their hushed recriminations are genuine concerns about the healthiest transition for you and your family. People who jump into a new relationship during a divorce can mistakenly isolate themselves by seeking emotional support, primarily from the new partner. As with any ecosystem, the more diverse your base of support, the more resilient you will be with the unforeseen hardships of life. If friends and family are unavailable, find a divorce support group that is right for you.
7. Your children will probably ruin your new relationship.While the divorce rate is 50% for first marriages, it is 65-75% for second marriages. The children’s systematic rejection of the new partner is a substantial reason for the higher failure rate. Your effort to integrate a new partner into their lives too soon has predictable consequences. Your children will never like, love, or accept your new partner. Kids feel like they need to take sides and blame one of you for the divorce, which has had a real impact on them. They will typically rally behind the parent who appears to be “left” or not moving on because they worry about losing that parent to depression and parental resignation. You may wonder, “how soon is too soon?” Kids operate on emotional time, not calendar time. Many experts recommend parents wait 1-2 years after a divorce before introducing them to a new partner. However, if your kids know that you began dating during or freshly after the divorce, they will assume your new relationship is the cause of the divorce. One renowned child psychologist, Donald Saposnek, Ph.D., explains the fate of the new relationship begun during the divorce process: “The children will spray an emotional contaminant on the new partner that will never wash off.” The bottom line is if you want your new relationship to have any chance of survival, the most strategic thing you can do is to keep the relationship on the backburner and out of the children’s lives for a substantial amount of time.
Are You Saying I Shouldn’t Date at All?
I don’t suggest hard-and-fast rules during divorce concerning dating and new relationships. Your divorce might even have been motivated by a long-withheld desire for a new relationship. The waiting you have already done might feel agonizing, particularly if you have been dealing with a spouse in denial about the divorce. However, if you leap into the relationship before or shortly after your divorce is finalized, you will likely experience some of the seven identified consequences.
If you believe your new relationship is your true “soul mate”, then slowing it down and waiting to explore it in depth should not alter that outcome. Waiting to date until after the dust clears has many additional personal benefits. The extra space and time you invest in reflecting upon and learning from your ended marriage will pay off with more clarity and satisfaction in your next relationship.