We get a lot of questions regarding separation, divorce, and dating. Many of them center around when it’s okay to start dating again and if you should do so while you’re separated but still married. There are many variations of separation and divorce, but for all of them the challenges and problems remain the same. Below is a question a reader sent about dating a married woman who is separated and my answer.
I have been dating a married woman who is separated for about a month, but we both agree it feels like we have known or been dating for years. She has been separated for over a year, but her husband has been dragging the divorce out. She was married to this individual for 10 years. She is now 35. I am 38 and never been married. She has been dating prior to me, but I don't think it has been as serious as us. Things had been going really well until this last week and could feel her getting a bit distant. I finally asked her about it last night and of course it was a bit late. I asked if she did not feel the same way about me as she did. She said no she does. She felt circumstances were freaking her out. She is still married and doesn't know if she get into a serious relationship with me because she still is. I feel like she is scared of our relationship for fear it may end up again like her last? I have been treating her like I treat my other relationships, but I don't think she has been treated this well or nicely. I believe this may be adding to the freak out. I asked if she felt like she was missing out on some part of life of not being married? She said no again. What should I be asking or saying?" -Richard L.
Richard isn’t alone in his confusion. The process of divorcing takes some time and many people are eager to move on with their lives and find someone new while still in it. And that’s understandable, but there are many issues for both the person going through the separation and the person they are dating. Here’s the answer I gave him.
A common mistake a lot of people make is getting involved in new relationships while old ones are still unresolved. And I don't just mean unresolved in regards to the divorce process being finished, but unresolved psychologically and emotionally.
A typical scenario is that when people finally decide to separate, often after years of being unhappily married, they immediately start looking for more positive relationships. This usually leads to getting involved in a new relationship too soon after the separation.
I'm counseling a man right now who within weeks of finding out that his wife was cheating on him, separated and started dating. Within 60 days of separating, he was in a pretty serious new relationship. That was 2 years ago and he admits now that he jumped into the new relationship way too soon. And as a result, it didn't last.
I can't say precisely what's going on with the woman you're dating. Dating a married woman who is separated is complicated. I would bet that the emotional and psychological baggage of her marriage is causing your girlfriend to be distant.
What can you ask or say? Probably not much, other than suggesting that the marriage is having an affect on you guys. Here are some suggestions of what you can do:
Give her some space
Don't pressure her or force the matter of her being distant to get resolved
Don't take it personally
Suggest that she talk to a counselor for help
It sounds like she's not ready to have the relationship you want right now. Sometimes the timing is just not right. This doesn't have to mean that you can never have a relationship together, but maybe just not right now.
The Problems With Dating Someone Who Is Separated
Couples that are separated or in the process of divorcing have likely struggled with their relationship for a long time. Divorce typically isn’t an overnight decision. Because of that it’s not uncommon for one or both partners to feel starved for affection. When things have been bad for so long they’re eager to feel a positive, romantic connection with someone - sometimes anyone - again.
A person who’s still married but separated is vulnerable to making poor choices when it comes to dating. This doesn’t mean that you, as the person they want to date, are a poor choice, but that they’re unaware of, and unrealistic about, what they can give to a relationship and their own emotional state.
If you’re considering dating a woman (or man) who’s married but separated you should reconsider. As strong as the attraction may be, the likelihood that the relationship will last is small. And taking that chance will put in you in a very real position to be hurt. It’ll also cause problems for the other person and their healing. If the connection between the two of you is strong enough, it’ll survive the time he or she needs to become someone fully available and ready to commit to a new relationship. And that relationship will be much more stable and less complicated as a result of you both waiting.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published June 5, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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