What happens when the marriage thing is a No-Go? Are you the partner ready for love, completely committed and eager for them to say “yes” to a lifetime contract? Or are you the one who’s still reeling… I mean healing, after having suffered through a divorce or two?
The conflict between those who want a marriage commitment and those who are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Divorce Disorder™ creates a big chasm when it comes to personal needs, values, desires, and fear. Coupling up after divorce isn’t as romantic as one wants to believe especially when you don’t understand what you’re up against. Still thinking you can get them to marry you? I argue you can’t.
If you’re the one dating the divorcé, you’re going to want to understand what you’re up against.
There’s no amount of nursing that will take a broken-hearted, angry, scared individual and magically be the one who’ll make them view their futures differently. It takes way more perspective and work then you’re aware of. Wide-eyed and in love, you think your love will heal the broken-hearted man or woman you’re with. I remember those feelings acutely… all I wanted to do was love him to health. Boy was I wrong!
The reason isn’t that you don’t love them or that they don’t love you. The problem is that they’re operating from a different set of rules. The problem is that we, as a culture, have yet to grasp a universal process for the loss, loneliness, and grief that divorce brings. This loss affects everyone going through the experience - young, old, wealthy or not, any color - there’s no race parameters for divorce - a parent or not. The process for overcoming Post-Traumatic Divorce Disorder™ has nothing to do with falling in love again. That’s why you won’t get them to marry you. And why dating a wounded divorced individual is such a painful kind of love.
You have to think long and hard about sacrificing your values and needs in order to keep them comfortable and safe.
Relationships aren’t supposed to be safe from our heart-centered fears. They’re supposed to help us open up, help us step into the strength of our vulnerability and overcome our most cherished doubts. That’s a tall order for someone who’s just had their broken-heart dragged through a courtroom or mediator’s office.
As a divorcé, you’re going to be cautious about falling in love. Those fragile whispers of “I love you” have nothing to do with the passion of having sex. You can easily connect sexually. You may even truly enjoy your partner’s love, affection, and attention. You may even be saying, “I love you.” But when confronted with their need to marry, to commit, that’s when your fears raise their ugly head.
You think something’s wrong with you. You imagine you’re broken (well you are but only in the heart). In truth, you’re more confused, overwhelmed, scared than you are damaged. There’s nothing inherently wrong with you that another divorced adult can’t grasp. The problem isn’t that you’re the one who’s wrong or that your lover is wrong. It’s just that you’re the one who has to do the work to heal. To put yourself squarely in the face of your pain and deal with it in a safe environment.
The loneliness, loss, and pain of divorce do not automatically go away with a new lover, a promotion at work or a new home and even a new family.
Divorce doesn’t work that way. And up until now, rarely do we talk about that fact. We just assume, if we’re still scared, there’s something wrong with us. Nothing could be further from the truth!
As the one in love with a broken-hearted divorcé, all you want is to have your love and affection for them, your support and understanding to be enough.
Sure you love the passion, especially since they probably came out of a sexless marriage. But you don’t understand why you feel this underlying anxiety. You’re confused by their on-again, off-again attention, why they seem totally there in person but disappear when you’re out of sight.
When you date a man or woman who’s gone through or is going through a difficult divorce, you become the respite from their anger and fighting. You’re the distraction from the disappointment and pain of breaking up a family. You’re the playmate for a fun weekend away, playing hooky from the office or a romantic evening away from their kids. You help them immensely since the stress of a divorce can take down the strongest among us.
As the playmate, the distraction, their feelings for you are real. Genuine even. However, the pace with which you want that commitment to come and the time it takes to heal their hearts (if they’re doing any sort of work, to begin with) will not be in sync. Most of the time, you’ll be the one who suffers waiting. You’ll want to be understanding and compassionate, to not make waves and to tolerate their emotional unavailability. You’ll talk yourself out of that gut feeling, you’ll bend over backward even more to keep their attention.
There’s little more you can do.
You see it’s not you. You’re lovely; kind, warm, understanding. You’re probably terrific with their kids and great with their parents. Their friends think you’re the best thing for them… much better than the spouse they just left. If they let you meet their inner circle.
With divorce, shame and fear get to run rampant. You can’t shake a divorcée’s inner beliefs. You can’t redefine how they view the breakup of their marriages or their families. That’s their inner healing work to do. The truth is, that when you’re the distraction, you also can’t be the one who calls them on their stuff. It doesn’t work that way and that’s the anxiety you’re feeling. You know that to be true.
When you’re in love with someone healing from Post-Traumatic Divorce Disorder™ when you love a man or woman struggling with separation and divorce; when you see their best but can’t get them to commit to you for the rest of your lives, do your best to let go. Until this person you love commits to figuring out how to heal, they can’t be there for you emotionally. Would you have a pitcher with a broken right arm be pitching in the Championship game? Didn’t think so.
People coming out of a divorce are deeply wounded. They need love and affection. They need others to be patient and kind. But in truth, they also need to decide to heal, to take down the mask of perfection and allow the feelings of vulnerability to be exposed so that they can heal their broken heart.
Choosing to do so is a personal decision and the longer a divorcé is distracted and having fun, the longer it’ll take for them to feel the pain and loss and get to work to feel better. I’m a big fan of doing the healing work and putting a failed marriage into perspective even as it’s dissolving. That way, when a divorcée does fall in love, there’s a real chance at a lasting union and an open willingness to say “I do” again.
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura's a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce™ School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.