Dating after a divorce is just like getting back on the horse, right?
Well, not so much.
It certainly is not the same as dating before marriage, and frankly, I think it takes a lot of courage on the part of both the male and the female to “get out there again.” You’ve got to feel ready to date, you need to find the right place to look for a date, and you’ve got to find the right one to date. At least it seems those are the right questions to answer before dating, but I found – and you may have as well – that it’s just not that simple.
Popular belief in today’s society holds that the key to getting over a divorce is to find someone new. Friends and relatives always had “the perfect person” they wanted to set me up with and went to great lengths to talk me into going on dates. But what they didn’t understand and I found a difficult time articulating was a new relationship would not be the cure for the massive emptiness I felt from my divorce.
In my opinion, there are three key mistakes people make when dating after a divorce and I would like to help you avoid them. The first one, and the main subject of this article, is very simple and almost always overlooked: Many people are simply not healed enough to date and begin new relationships.
I remember once during my post-divorce years going to confession to a very wise priest, Fr. Carlton, and discussing with him how I was feeling about my ex-spouse and the frustration he was still putting me through three years after our divorce. During this confession, Fr. Carlton said to me, “You say you want to love, but how can you love when your heart is so full of resentment and bad feelings?”
That was a potent question and one that gave me much to think about. How could I love another man when my heart was full of these unresolved, painful feelings? Where was the room for love?
An imprisoned heart
I knew Fr. Carlton was right. I needed to rid my heart of the bad feelings toward my ex-spouse. I needed to forgive him.
I realized that my heart was like a prison where he was locked in a cell. Periodically, I would take him out and argue with him, telling him all the things I wished I had said when I remembered our arguments. Then I’d put him back in the cell and leave him there until the next time I decided to abuse him.
It was awful.
The worst thing about this was I was the one suffering the most from my lack of forgiveness. I expended an incredible amount of energy just being angry or upset. It also led me to believe that I could not trust men anymore, and that also had to be dealt with. A new relationship and possibly marriage would have to be, must be based on mutual trust and respect. Without it, there is nothing but a meaningless attraction.
So I worked hard on truly forgiving my ex-spouse. Forgiveness is a process and something I found I needed to do every day. The way I was able to achieve this was through practicing something else, too: acceptance.
I needed to accept the fact that I could not control the things my ex-spouse was doing, saying, or thinking. His leaving our marriage, his new lifestyle, and the reasons he gave others for all that was a source of incredible pain for me.
But I had to accept the fact that I could not control him. There simply was nothing I could do about it, so I had to let go of that and look to what I could control. That was my own actions, thoughts, and words.
I also had to accept that even though I was a good wife and fought for my marriage, I was not perfect. I had contributed to the break-up of my marriage in my own ways and I needed accept my faults and contributions to the divorce. This was not easy to do, but gradually, it helped me stop laying all the blame on others for my anger and pain.
Taking these two steps helped me tremendously in getting rid of the terrible feelings that were taking up room in my heart. In good time, I felt confident that if my ex-spouse ever walked into the same room I was in, I could walk up and shake his hand. And my heart became truly a place for love. Not simply love for someone new, but more importantly, for Christ. Through that exercise I found a greater love for God than I had ever experienced and it gave me joy and a great sense of peace.
I encourage you to take some time to reflect on these things; to see if your heart is available for a new love or if you need to do a little housecleaning… and we’ll talk about another big mistake in post-divorce dating next Thursday. In the meantime, count on my prayers for you!
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