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I am in the process of getting a divorce from my spouse. We both married young and have a young child. We both want this divorce and I was the one to file. However, I met this co-worker of mine and we started hanging out and went on a few dates. The relationship feels right, but I’m questioning if this is acceptable, especially as I’m ending one relationship and starting a new one in just a few short months. I feel stuck trying to figure out what I really want in life now as I am finding new standards, but a part of me is afraid of being left alone.
Leaving a relationship is a really vulnerable time, and it doesn’t surprise me that you’ve already over-connected to a new relationship before finishing your divorce. I always try and slow people down when they’re leaving a relationship, but most people are in so much pain that they end up seeking comfort from others before they intend to.
I believe it’s a betrayal to your marriage to date before you’re divorced. Even if the divorce is in process, I believe you remain faithful until the end. Once you’re officially divorced, then you can assess your next move. You’re not only betraying your husband by dating while married, you’re also betraying yourself and your future marriage. You don’t want to start out a new relationship based on deception.
I think the biggest reason people jump into new relationships so quickly is due to the deep loss and pain of divorce. In other words, the thrill of new love is a powerful painkiller that numbs the pain of losing a marriage. Even if you believe that getting divorced is the best option, there is still grief and loss over losing the dream of a stable long-term marriage.
Look closely and see if you’re using this new relationship as an escape for the relationship pain you’re experiencing with the loss of your first marriage. This takes honesty and courage to admit how you’re mismanaging your pain.
Another risk of moving too quickly toward a new relationship is that it prevents you from learning important lessons from your first relationship. It’s easy to blame your partner and believe that the marriage failed due to his dysfunction. This is a good time to explore any blind spots you may have that led to the downfall of your union. This is hard work and often requires collaboration with a dear friend who can tell you the truth. It also helps to find a counselor who can ask questions and help you explore your relationship patterns.
You obviously want to do things differently, so make sure that you don’t jump into this new relationship and consider it the final solution to your problems. This is an important time to first figure out what went wrong and then identify what kind of partner you want and what kind of partner you would like to become. This is virtually impossible when you’ve already committed to another person physically, relationally, and emotionally.
Give yourself the gift of insight by really clarifying how you want things to be different this next time around. If you’re in a new relationship so suddenly, how are you supposed to know what kind of husband you want? Whatever happened to dating around and having time in between dates to think and process? Having a comparison can really help you dial in the things you need from a marriage and what you have to offer.
At a minimum, I recommend you do some reading and pick up a copy of “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk” by Dr. John Van Epp. This will give you a framework for slowing down this new relationship and exploring your vulnerabilities and blind spots that could leave you in the same situation in which you find yourself.
Divorce is traumatic and there are many things to learn in the aftermath of losing such a significant relationship. Be careful that you don’t numb out your pain with the exhilaration of new love and forget to ask hard questions of yourself and your marriage. Use this time to explore personal weaknesses and beliefs. This is an important time and you don’t want to fill it with avoidance and numbing. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s right. Lots of wrong things feel right because they activate the pleasure centers of our brain and can become counterfeits to peace. New love and infatuation are powerful mood-altering experiences and can compromise our ability to think clearly about our reality.
It won’t hurt to do this work even if you’re not ready to give up this new relationship. It will just take tremendous courage and honesty to ask for the room from your new boyfriend while you try and understand what you’ve been through and what you want. He may or may not make the final cut, but at least you’ll be that much more certain the next time around.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.