While new technology allows us to jump right in from the comfort of our own homes, it’s important to be thoughtful about your approach, including understanding what your interests and limitations are in any new dating endeavors. If you have children, re-entering the dating world comes with some additional complications, including how to incorporate dating into your co-parenting relationship with your ex.
If you decide to move forward with dating, remember that your children may be adjusting to the new lifestyle change at a different pace than you will be. Some children accept and understand immediately that their parents relationship has changed and that they will never again be an intact family, and others take longer to adjust to such a new reality. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to freely date or to be in a new relationship, but most parents want to be sensitive to the adjustment of their children in deciding how best to invite potential new partners into their lives.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the dating scene:
Consider waiting until your divorce or separation is finalized before you start dating: In some states, like New York, adultery is still a crime—albeit one that has not been prosecuted in decades—so even if you and your spouse are separated and living apart, dating could lead to allegations of a criminal activity. Nonetheless, many people start dating again during the divorce process while they are still legally married (and sometimes the dating habits of a spouse are what prompted the divorce). In the most extreme cases, the divorce process may take years to complete and it is understandable that parties may be ready to start dating before reaching the end of that process. Before doing so, however, it is a good idea to take some time to grieve the loss of your marriage and ensure that you have processed the emotional fallout in order to make sure that your dating is motivated by your own interests—whether they be for short-term fun or another long-term commitment—and not a desire to get some reaction from your spouse.
Set reasonable expectations: Having children makes dating more complicated. It’s important to be mindful of how your children are processing the separation and divorce. Just because you feel emotionally ready to date does not mean that your kids will be ready to accept a new romantic partner in your life or even think about you dating. If you are considering introducing your children to a new partner, discuss with your co-parent whether the children can or should be introduced to such new partner during the divorce process (something we do not recommend unless both parties agree to it and/or the divorce process is particularly protracted). And recognize that how new partners are introduced will have a long-term impact on the children’s relationship with them: a new partner who a child feels was kept a secret and then sprung on them seemingly out-of-the-blue is not likely to be well-received. However, that does not mean the children should meet a new partner right away.
Make your own priorities clear: Once you dip your toe into the dating pool, be honest about yourself, your commitment to your kids, your life and your interests. It doesn’t serve you or a potential future partner to withhold information, ongoing commitments or deal breakers as you want to find a partner who is understanding and on the same page. If rushing into a new, serious relationship is not appealing to you and you prefer more casual dating, you do not need to—and probably should not—introduce everyone you date to your children, especially if your children are younger.
Don’t speed up the timeline even if it feels “right”: Regardless of whether you have children, you want to make sure that you do not get so wrapped up in a new relationship that you neglect to take the time to understand what did not work about the last one. It can be exciting and confidence-boosting to leave a relationship that is not working and walk into one that is fun and stimulating in ways your prior one was not. But we find that clients who rush from a divorce to a new marriage too quickly often end up back with us to start the cycle again. Also, plans (or fantasies) about your future with the new partner might influence your position on the financial issues in your divorce. You might either take less than your share or pay more than you should in order to finalize it and move on with the new relationship. If the new relationship doesn’t work out, you could be left with regret about your divorce
Keep the other parent in mind: While it’s never fun to hear that your ex is dating, it’s important to keep an open line of communication and to review your custody agreement to make sure both of you are on the same page and to make clear that you respect your co-parent and recognize that no new partner should or will be presented as a replacement. A new partner is more likely to be well-received by your children if your co-parent is approving of the relationship, and such approval is more freely given when the co-parent feels that his or her role as the children’s parent is not in jeopardy. Divorce is never easy, but dating during or after divorce can be manageable if you take your time and are respectful of your children’s needs and your co-parent’s role. Take cues from your children, and don’t be nervous to enlist the help of a mental health professional if you think that the divorce is affecting your children more than you had anticipated