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Dating After Divorced: What Do I Do?

Dear CMR,

How do I date someone who has been hurt by a previous marriage? What should I be aware of? How should I encourage them in our relationship?

Signed, Dating After Divorce

Dear Dating:

Your concern for the health of your new relationship is a sign that you’re starting off on the right track! There are many ways to support a new partner who has been hurt by a previous marriage. Consider the following:

  1. Divorce can impact a person’s self-concept and self-esteem. Fortunately, dating again can give both of these a boost. Remind your new partner of his or her good qualities and be as specific as possible. You might be the one to help your new partner feel like himself or herself again.
  2. Re-entering the dating world can be stressful. However, dating may be the least of your new partner’s stressors, which may include financial difficulties, custody issues and changes in housing, friendships, and churches. You can help by listening, being patient and demonstrating compassion as he/she manages these new struggles.
  3. Coping with an ex-spouse can be difficult. Your new partner may continue to interact with his/her ex. This will be especially true if they share children. Be patient, your new partner may not have figured out how or when to talk to you about these struggles. When he/she decides to open up, validate the experience and be ready to offer suggestions if asked.
  4. Previous hurts may manifest in your current relationship. The impact of previous hurts on the current relationship will depend upon the depth of pain and how your new partner has dealt with it. Be willing to work through the hurt with him/her by developing empathy. Picture yourself in his or her shoes and imagine what it was like be in the same situation. Demonstrate this empathy through statements like, “It must have been painful to have that experience.”

So, how do you encourage your new romantic partner?

  1. Be present-focused. It could be easy to focus on your partner’s past relationship problems. Instead, focus on your current relationship and work together to build healthy relationship habits.
  2. Accept his or her past. Despite the need to stay focused on the present, you will also need to accept the complexities of your new partner’s past. Reminders of his or her past could rear-up when least expected. These may cause hurt feelings or fears. A gentle self-reminder that the past “is what it is” and cannot be changed, may help relieve some of your uneasiness.
  3. Listen actively and communicate openly. Your new partner may vent a bit about his/her prior relationship. If this raises negative emotions in you, communicate this gently and directly. For example, “I feel scared about our relationship when you talk like this.” Avoid blame and criticism and “…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Work on yourself. A healthy relationship starts with you. Look inside and assess the ways you can be more like Christ. Nurture the “fruit of the spirit” in your life–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities set a foundation for any good relationship.