Watch Out! Dating A Separated or Newly-Divorced Man
He says his marriage is long over. He says he’s ready to date again. But would it be wise for you – a woman who is ultimately seeking a serious relationship – to throw caution to the wind and dive right in?
I’d definitely say, “No way.”
Getting involved with a separated man usually comes with a host of issues and complications that spell drama, stress and heartache to a woman. The bottom line is that going through a divorce requires a lot of him – he must grieve, heal, hash through legalities, potentially adjust to single parenting and financial limitations, as well as rediscover a new sense of who he is today. It is a process that requires time, self-awareness and hard work. And there’s a strong chance your separated man has a long way to go.
(Psst – You know there’s a chance he might reconcile with his wife, too, right? He is still married; just saying…)
Now before anyone accuses me of picking on men, let me hasten to say that separated women can be just as “challenging” to date as separated men. In fact, I pity any man who dated me when I was separated; I was messed up, and didn’t even know it! I also hasten to add that not every separated man is disastrous to date – and should be considered as a unique individual.
My concern, however, is that women are blindly and/or naively getting involved with separated men without understanding the huge risk: that is, that he’s working out his garbage using your time and your heart as collateral. If you chose to proceed in dating him, I caution you to proceed slowly and with eyes wide open. Here are seven flashing warning signs to heed:
1. He acts like his divorce is no big deal.
If your separated man consistently avoids talking about his divorce or says things to minimize or downplay it, consider it a warning sign worth flagging. Comments like, “Bah, I just want it over,” or “Doesn’t matter, we’ve been strangers for years,” may seem casual, even confident — but they also mask what’s going on underneath and behind the scenes.
When a man has truly processed his divorce and moved on, he should be able to speak to it with compassion, kindness, and wisdom. When he minimizes or avoids the topic, however, it suggests that either he has not yet worked through all the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance); or, he hasn’t yet hashed through the legalities (or possibly even begun).
Going through a divorce is a big deal. He can’t just flick it off his shoulder as he would a bug. This is a man who once loved his wife, believed in marriage and the family dream, and committed himself to making it work. Accepting that that dream has died – and that he failed –is a painful process that requires the healing hands of time. Throwing himself into dating or another relationship may temporarily make him feel better – but it only postpones the inevitable inner work that needs to be done.
2. He’s not pushing to legalize his divorce.
It amazes me how many men are two, three, even five years or more into their separation, and still not officially divorced. And when you ask them why, you’ll hear something like, “It’s not that important. We know that the marriage is done.”
Speaking as a woman who is officially divorced, let me tell you that a divorce decree is important and it’s far more than “just a piece of paper.” In addition to providing some legal closure, it brings more emotional closure. It symbolizes the completion of an old life – a finished chapter – as well as the freedom and independence to create a new future (ahem, and a new relationship, possibly with you!).
Ask him this: If, in fact, the divorce decree isn’t a big deal (like he says), then why doesn’t he just get it done? It’s certainly a fair and reasonable question. Then ask him if he thinks it’s fair and reasonable to expect you to continue dating a married man. Hmmm…
The real reason his divorce hasn’t been finalized could be because of unfinished legal business. Maybe it has gotten messy. Maybe he’s just avoiding it. You know it’s possibly because he’s still emotionally “holding onto her”, too, right? He may not even be aware of it. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
3. He’s angry.
Anger is a normal and healthy phase for your separated man to go through. But that doesn’t mean it’s your job to deal with it, especially when he might be stuck in this state indefinitely.
Your separated man could be angry at many things: himself, a legal battle, women in general, even life. If you pay attention, you’ll see flashes of it — in his eyes, his periods of silence or in his body language. Often, his anger will be directed towards his wife – not necessarily through long rants but through small jabs, backhanded remarks and seething sarcasm disguised as humour. I remember one separated man I dated would seethe as he referred to his wife as the “Succubus” — she’s a demon that takes on a human form to sexually seduce men.
The thing about anger is that it uses up a lot of energy and space in your separated man’s brain and heart. That’s energy and space that he can’t and won’t channel into you in positive ways. You also end up keeping company with someone who is aloof, moody, defensive and/or crabby. How incredibly draining for you.
4. He doesn’t consistently spend time with his children.
If your separated man isn’t seeing much of his kids, this should be seen as a warning, not a “bonus” (cause it’s more time spent with you, right?).
One reason he’s not parenting could be because he and his wife are disagreeing over child custody and access. Maybe she’s maliciously blocking the kids from seeing him, maybe she has excellent reason to block him, maybe a court date (or five) lies ahead in his future. Whatever the case may be, these kinds of circumstances are extremely stressful for him, which will inevitably ripple into your relationship together in some way(s).
Another reason he doesn’t regularly see his kids could be because right now, he despises his ex, himself and the divorce situation, more than he loves his kids. By avoiding his “Life #1”, which includes his ex, all-things marriage and the kids — and throwing himself into “Life #2”, which includes dating you, feeling successful and good about himself, he can run away from the burden of his heavy emotions.
What this means for you, however, is that you have a rebounder on your hands; a rebounder with some major inner work and big responsibilities in tow.
5. He complains about having to pay child support.
Without a doubt, child support payments are a huge responsibility and a source of emotional and financial stress for many men. But if your separated man is bitching and complaining about it, it’s a big red flag flapping in your face.
For the number of men who claim to be destitute and “victims of an unfair legal system”, you’d think there’d be a line-up of trucks parked by the Bow River with separated dads living out of them. Please, before you buy into his tale of woe, veer on the skeptical side. Child support payments are based on the cold hard numbers reported by both spouses in their tax returns. Numbers are numbers; they speak for themselves. Like it or not, he has financial responsibilities in taking care of his kids, period.
I would be gravely concerned about a man’s character if he did not want to fulfill those commitments.
More often than not, it’s anger, self-pity, and feelings of entitlement that fuel a man’s complaints over support. He might feel he deserves more of a say, more control over how she spends the money, among other things. It’s a mentality of “this bitch owes me” and he’s speaking from the Victim position. Not very attractive down there, is he? Hardly sexy in a potential new partner either.
6. Infidelity catalyzed his divorce.
Whether he was the perpetrator of infidelity or the victim, the tailwinds of cheating bring an ugly stench to the divorce process. So if you decide to stick around, I’d recommend you prepare for more than a nose full.
If he was the perpetrator:
Though some experts say, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”, I personally think that some people can learn from past mistakes. That being said, if your separated man was unfaithful in his marriage, you need to proceed very slowly and spend extra time assessing his character, behavior, and moral code.
Two important warning signs to watch for are self-justification and blaming. Though his reasons for cheating were probably very valid and real to him, he and he alone decided to problem-solve his unhappiness by betraying his wife. If he continues to blame his wife and doesn’t express remorse, it means he hasn’t taken responsibility for his actions and will feel more entitled to cheat again (on you).
If he was the victim:
Depressed, angry, and mistrustful. If your separated man was cheated on by his wife, these fallout emotions will likely rear their heads in some form as you get to know him. Hopefully he doesn’t decide to withdraw his trust from all women and relegate them to “only being good for one thing.” If this is your separated man, you might have a ‘Wounded Player’ on your hands.
7. He’s getting too serious too fast
There’s one word that best explains why your separated man is getting really serious really fast: he’s rebounding. The high and excitement of getting involved with you is essentially distracting him from the pain of his divorce. And not to say that you aren’t special, but his infatuation with you has less to do with who you are than how this relationship is presently making him feel. Rest-assured, his garbage is going to come out – and lucky you, you’ll end up helping him sort it. The biggest risk you face is that once his inner work is done – within the safe, loving cocoon of your relationship – he won’t want or need you anymore and leave.
Now I must point out that some rebound relationships do have happy endings. Getting there necessitates that you, as the “healthy one”, remind him that he is rebounding and in need of slowing down; that you encourage him to do as much inner work as possible on his own or with the help of friends or a therapist; and that the two of you keep communication lines strong and clear.
Please, just don’t do anything drastic — like move in together or get pregnant with his child during the first two years of your relationship. Why risk being heartbroken and broke and a single parent!
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