Dating while separated is a tricky place to be: You’re looking for companionship and maybe even love, but here you are, coming out of a relationship that you thought would last forever. It’s enough to scare you away from putting yourself back out there, but we’ve got tips to help you check that baggage. Relationship counselors and experts share their insights on when to get back out there, navigating new boundaries with your spouse, and take care of yourself.
Make sure you have the right intentions. “A lot of people start dating during their separation because they’re used having someone ‘there’ (almost like a placeholder), not out of a readiness to date,” says clinical psychologist Erika Martinez. This leads to rebound relationships that are an unconscious effort to fix what went wrong, all for the sake of closure.
Relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca suggests that you ask yourself a number of questions to prepare yourself for dating: “Are you feeling clear and complete regarding your divorce? Are you emotionally comfortable and ready to move on? Did you learn the lessons you need to learn so you don’t repeat past mistakes?”
She explains, “Dating won’t resolve anger, conflicts, and insecurities, so do the inner work first before getting out into the dating world—regardless of how long it takes. Otherwise, you are destined to repeat old patterns and behaviors that will set you up for disappointment and pain.”
Date yourself first. Martinez recommends that you not jump right into dating early on in your separation. Her rule of thumb is to wait 2-3 months for every year that the relationship lasted, using that time to date yourself. “This helps [you] figure out a few things for the next relationship,” she explains, including “what went wrong in the broken relationship; take ownership for [your] role; who [you] are now, post-relationship; and identify areas for personal growth. After all, you can’t be a good partner to someone else if you haven’t practiced being good to yourself first.”
Be clear about where you’re at with potential dates. “It’s important to be upfront right from the start about your marital status with someone before you begin dating,” says psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman. “Otherwise, the other person may feel they were misled and/or that you are less than honest and trustworthy, which will have a negative impact that could derail the potential for a new relationship.”
Set goals with your spouse. Coleman also advises that you and your spouse have a clear understanding regarding each of your goals for the separation: “Is the goal divorce, or is this supposed to be a time for one or both of you to figure out what you want or need from each other/the marriage? Have you decided to take a break and work on the marriage together while living apart? Depending on the goal, you have agreed to, your partner may not be OK with seeing other people; and if this is your expectation, it needs to be clearly spelled out beforehand. If there is a continued disagreement, you should work it through before dating, or it’s a sure bet that this will lead to issues between you and anyone you may want to begin dating.”
Remember that it’s different from single dating. Try as you might, you won’t be the same person you were before you got married. Whether or not you have children, you will undoubtedly have more boundaries to navigate than when you were single. “If the dating of the other person(s) is the reason the separation occurred,” says marriage and family therapist Lisa Bahar, “probably be more mindful and considerate of the circumstances and respect the spouse and family by cleaning up what you started before starting something new.”
Overall, she says, “be intuitive about it; be mindful of rebound dating, know it for what it is; listen to your gut.”