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Beginning a New Relationship in the Wake of a Divorce

When divorces happen — and they happen frequently these days — pain and complications can carry into future relationships.

Frankly, any relationship in which an ex-wife or ex-husband is still in the picture (because of proximity, child custody, or financial entanglements) is a landmine that must be navigated carefully. With so many remarriages occurring, the “ex” issue affects many, many people. While it’s difficult to speak generally about an issue that is specific and unique to every situation, let us offer a few guidelines:

Make an early and upfront determination if your partner (or you) has emotional baggage related to a divorce.

Some divorced people are able to work through the pain and get on with their lives relatively quickly. Other people stay mired in regret and anger for years. If you are dating someone who keeps talking about the former spouse, this is a clear indication that the person has lingering issues to work through. If you notice old photos and mementos around, this could also be a sign that the individual has not let go.

Make sure the past is in the past and the future is as clear and uncluttered as possible.

Forming new relationships is challenging enough without old relationships getting in the way. However, a former marriage is a significant part of your one’s history. You should try to deal with every last emotional and practical issue related to a previous marriage long before getting seriously involved with someone new. Because divorces are usually extremely painful, many people want to avoid delicate concerns. They may leave paperwork or financial issues unsettled, and they may have unresolved problems with the former spouse. To give a new relationship the best chance of succeeding, you need to start with the slate as clean as possible.

Wait an adequate amount of time before getting into a new relationship.

So what exactly is an adequate amount of time? Many people require two years to emotionally work through a divorce (or death of a spouse) and should not pursue a serious relationship until that period has ended. A good test: If you spend 10 percent of your waking hours thinking about your ex-spouse, you are not ready for a new relationship.

Don’t fool yourself! You want your next relationship to be a great one, so do not minimize any lingering feelings you have. Work them through—completely—before becoming involved with someone else.