By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “What is the biggest threat to the success of early dating?”
Divorce leaves us broken. Always. Regardless of who wanted it. A transition relationship acts like an emergency room doctor who helps us heal. Want to know how that works?
You just got (or are getting) divorced. You are ending a relationship that, at the end, had more negatives than positives. That is a good thing. However, divorce also skews our perception of the world and wounds us emotionally. In the vernacular, divorce leaves us screwed up.
Divorce Messes with Our Head and Threatens Our Future
What we believe and why we feel the way we do after a divorce is, at best, less than congruent with reality. Hence, if we are to have any hope of developing a new, healthy long-term relationship, we need to make some changes.
If we don’t do this, we are not fully prepared to start a new committed relationship. In fact, failure to adjust our beliefs, feelings, and behavior after divorce is a big part of why 66% of 2nd marriages and 75% of 3rd marriages fail. In other words, we gotta change.
A Transition Relationship Can Help Us Make Those Changes
Early dating, that is, dating before or shortly after the divorce is final, typically results in a “transition relationship,” even though the two people usually are not aware that that is what it is. The purpose of a transition relationship is to help you make the conversion from being coupled to being uncoupled with your ex. It will allow you to re-experience validation and realize you are still lovable. It will also help you change the flawed beliefs and feelings caused by divorce that now hinder your forming successful, new relationships.
We Need to Make Some Changes
Normally, several shifts or changes need to occur. Some shifts involve how we look at our transition relationship itself. Other changes involve what we believe, how we feel, and how we act because of our divorce.
Shifts in the agenda for the transition relationship itself. The initial elation fanned by the exhilaration of heaven-sent validation feels like this new relationship is a long-term, permanent bond leading to marriage between two willing and independent equals in which there is no need to change. Aren’t we told that love is, “to accept you as you are?” We are convinced this is it! We have found our soul mate!
This is way too much, way too soon. Right now your transition relationship can only help you let go of your attachments to your past life with your ex, not plan out the next several decades. “Accept me as I am” is a romantic fantasy. Your job is to institute the changes in you that will make a successful long-term relationship possible. It is too soon to know if it will last. You have plenty of time. Use it to get settled from the divorce and get prepared for the future.
Shifts in beliefs. Typical defective beliefs that survive divorce include: “I need an apology from my ex.” “I need an explanation from my ex.” “My ex is the villain here.” “I will never find true love again.” “I am unattractive and unlovable.” “I am unworthy of the relationship of my dreams.” “I am too old to have the relationship of my dreams.”
Shift in feelings. Some normal, damaging feelings include guilt, anger, hate, shame, embarrassment, invalidation, resentment, revenge, victimization, etc. The transition relationship offers a setting to trade in those hurtful feelings for more useful ones like being grateful for what the marriage and breakup has taught you and excited and hopeful about what the next chapter can bring.
Shift in behavior. Some common behaviors that make early dating difficult include checking out your ex’s Facebook page, asking friends about your ex, talking frequently about your divorce and your ex with your current partner. Other problematic behaviors include talking, texting, and emailing with your ex and treating your new partner the same way you treated your ex. Some discussion of your divorce is normal, but when it becomes a routine topic of conversation with your current partner, it is a problem worthy of change. Do different things with your new partner that distracts you from the situation such as going to cooking classes dc. Take your mind off your old relationship.
However, We Don’t Want to Make Changes
We almost never “feel the need” to make a change. The relationship feels like the real thing. Neither partner thinks it is a temporary “transition” relationship, preferring to believe it is the beginning of the next long-term, committed relationship. So, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
And the Point Is…
It needs fixing, anyway.
You got divorced. And divorce gives all of us some dysfunctional beliefs, feelings and behaviors that threaten our future happiness. Any hope of finding a new healthy relationship requires that you fix what the divorce broke. This means you must change. Then, and only then, are you a safe partner for someone else seeking a long-term, committed relationship. Then, and only then, can you have confidence your next long-term relationship will not fail.
How do you do this? Dissolve your natural resistance to change.