The desire to love and be loved is hard-wired in us all. Divorce trips that wiring up in a massive way. Nothing feels like it will turn the lights on again quite like a new relationship. Here’s why avoiding the pull of the new relationship and staying in the dark for awhile might ensure you won’t blow a fuse down the road.
Chuck was devastated.
He never in a million years would have predicted his marriage would end. He had a good job, four great kids. His wife was bright, funny and loved her part-time job. They’d moved into their dream home on some land just 14 months earlier. It was good. But apparently only for him. Carrie was so calm and measured when she told him it was over. Chuck not so much. He called the office, took the day the off and fell apart.
He was embarrassed that he’d choked up when we met the first time. His knee bopped up and down the entire time I explained the divorce process. He was a bundle of nerves. The next time we met, he was a different person and told me he had a new address. “Deb, I really think God sent the perfect person for me. You can’t believe it. It’s like we are hand and glove, just made for each other.” They’d moved in and Chuck’s knees were motionless this time as we prepared for our first joint collaborative session with his wife and her attorney. I knew, as I tried to throw some water of caution on the fire of his new found love, that I was wasting my words. The hard-wiring would win.
A marriage ending makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about love, and sometimes even yourself. Examining those changes is hard and takes a certain degree of bravery. A new relationship means you can focus on that and not the deep, painful, hard stuff, including your end of your dysfunctional marital system. If you are the one who’s thought about divorce for years, you may feel that you’ve been operating with faulty wiring for a long time and so what’s wrong with turning the lights fully on with someone new? Here’s why you might still want to exercise caution as you approach the breaker box.
“Lust is nature’s way of tricking us into attachment”
according to Bela Gandhi, founder of Chicago-based matchmaking service Smart Dating Academy. Emerging from either the shock of an unexpected announcement or from years of starving for connection and caring, the newly separated are particularly vulnerable. Some attention feels so good. Like Chuck, it feels like “hand and glove.” But is it? Or does it feel that way because sitting in the dark, getting comfortable with who you are, independent of a spouse or significant other and figuring things out, is so very hard? It takes time to heal and let go of regrets and resentments. It’s best done with the assistance of a skilled therapist. First come to an emotionally healthy place and then open yourself up to a new relationship. It’s only fair to that new person too. I’ve handled second divorces over the years and the vast majority of those involved marriages entered into quickly after divorce. I like and care about my clients but I don’t really want to represent you twice. I want you to be happy. You have the best chance of achieving that if you do the hard work of emotionally processing your marriage and divorce.
Your kids are reeling too.
It’s a lot to process when your foundation shifts. That’s true for kids who are two, twelve or twenty-two. Let them deal with what life is going to look and feel like when mom lives in a different home than dad. Let them settle into putting their stuff together on a regular schedule to transport to the other parent’s home. Let them get used to telling their friends, “my parents are getting a divorce.” Don’t complicate their own deep emotional work by asking them to accept someone new in their lives. Want to ensure that your new love will forever be resented and that the lights in your new world will forever flicker on and off? Then introduce him or her before your kids have processed their way through to a new norm. And once they have, most parenting experts still recommend dating seriously for four to six months before introducing your new love to the kids.
Relationships don’t just happen.
What happens to us as children can affect the attachment style we carry into adult relationships. It’s no coincidence that the woman who was starved for attention from her father as a little girl grows up to marry someone significantly older than she. It’s not happenstance that the person who needs to be the rescuer in every friendship becomes attracted to someone who was abused in his/her last relationship. But that abused person is likely more attracted to another abuser if that’s what was modeled for her as “normal” when she was a child. How our own neurosis interlocks with someone else’s neurosis is complex stuff. It’s the reason therapists have therapists. Understanding your own attachment style is important and can take some time and effort to excavate based on your childhood experiences. It’s a whole other inquiry to learn how yours might mesh with another person’s. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201708/4-ways-traumatic-childhood-affects-adult-relationships
People who move quickly, within a year of divorcing, into a new relationship are highly likely to repeat the same
dynamics at play in their first marriage and divorce again. Without examining the deeper layers of your marriage forces, and yourcontribution to its ending, people often recreate the same basic relationship dynamics, just with someone new. People who haven’t made any personal progress since the last breakup shouldn’t expect their next relationship to be any different.
Chuck’s story has a tragic ending. There were no doubt many forces at work but when Chuck’s second relationship didn’t work out, he took his own life. I so often wished that he had worked with a therapist to help in processing overwhelming emotions. While an extreme example, I’ve also worked with many people who were devastated that their marriage didn’t work out but who dug deep, came to understand themselves more completely and why they married their partners, and ultimately became comfortable and content with being alone. Only then did that meet that someone (who had done their own hard inner work) for whom they could be a good second partner. The lights came on in their lives and stayed bright.
Wishing you courage and wisdom,