Dating After Divorce: The New 90-Day Rule
Dating after divorce. This is a topic that comes up in my office frequently. After a divorce or break-up from a long-term relationship, dating can seem daunting, exciting, confusing, overwhelming, fun, and scary all at the same time. If dating is nothing else, it is certainly a trial and error process, or as my “therapist-self” likes to refer to it: an experiment in patience, soul-searching, and getting clear about what you want. I could write a whole book on dating after divorce, and there will be more blogs to come about different aspects of this process. Today however, is focused on the time period that evolves when you encounter a special someone to go on a second or third date and with whom you might even decide to entertain developing a relationship. Below is some guidance that I have garnered from listening to the myriad of stories and experiences in my office as well as some of my own personal trials and errors. Along the way, we discovered and upheld that the first 90-days of a new relationship are a crucial trial period that require your attention and discretion. A lot is revealed in this early phase and thus a new “90-day rule” was born.
Red Flag alert!! Pay Attention!
The beginning of a relationship is often called “the honeymoon phase” where everybody is on their best behavior, potential seems endless, and everything looks great. And most people can keep this up for a few dates, even a month or two depending on how often you see each other. But eventually truth and reality prevail and you will both show each other who you are by your behavior, how you communicate with one another, and how well you pay attention to and address any “red flags” that emerge. I know if you are honest with yourself, because we have all done it and lived to regret it, you can identify at least one time in your life when you noticed a red flag, or encountered a dealbreaker, and chose to ignore it or pretend you didn’t see it, rather than address it. The 90-day rule is here to help you avoid this in the future.
What is a red flag? Anything that goes against what you want in a relationship. Red flags are those nagging truths about someone that show up as you get to know them. Now, not all red flags are horrifying or dealbreakers but they do require a conversation with your newfound partner. They set the stage for the potential challenges between you and deserve attention, honest feedback, and enough scrutiny to provide clarity on whether or not the issue is something you can or want to work through.
A “dealbreaker” is something that you absolutely will not tolerate in a relationship. This is different from a red flag because it is non-negotiable. These need to be communicated up front or very soon thereafter. When encountered, it is your responsibility to honor yourself by discontinuing the relationship. Following through with this is the key.
Discernment is very important here. The 90-day rule helps you to get clear about what you want and at the same time calls upon you to advocate for what you already know you want. When you view the first 90-days as a trial period, there is less risk and it may not seem as scary if you determine that this is not the relationship for you. It also builds in a secure boundary to help pace your relationship and not jump in too fast. Give yourself and your partner the gift of time. There is no rush and you both deserve the opportunity to get to know each other in a deep and profound way.
There are intentionally no set rules for this trial period, except to view it as such. Go on dates, meet friends and maybe even some family members, have sex, travel together, whatever you want to do as you see how this person fits into your life. My only caveat to this is to please use discretion with introducing or involving your children if you have any. If you know in your heart this is not the relationship for you, do NOT bring your children into it. They are not here to help you get clarity. However, if you get towards the end of the 90-days and it feels right to do so, go ahead, as there may be some red flags lurking around that corner as well that you want to be aware of.
How do you know when a red flag appears? Your body tells you. You may have a little uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, hair stands up on the back of your neck, a tightness or pain in your chest, a block in your throat, or your thoughts start to race. These are signs that something is not sitting well with you. If you continue to participate in the relationship without addressing these signs, you will slowly pull yourself out of integrity (ie., your inside feelings and outside behavior don’t match). If you hear yourself saying these sacrificial words, “Oh, that’s fine. It’s okay. It’s no big deal. Maybe that will change over time. It’s not that important. Nevermind. Just forget it. Etc,” you are denying a part of yourself that is trying to speak up and you are out of integrity. As a result, you will become more and more uncomfortable in the relationship.
What do you do as you move through these first 90-days and/or when you encounter a red flag? Be you and tell the truth! I cannot say these words enough. And the more blogs I write, the more I realize that this is my essential message. I truly believe there is no other way to do a relationship. Its just that simple, although I know and you know its not always easy.
When you encounter a red flag with someone that you are attracted to, enjoy spending time with, and like very much, take a risk and speak up for yourself. Tell the truth about your experience. If something doesn’t feel good, say it. If you are hurt, confused, lost, sad, scared, or trying to understand something, share that! Even if you believe you are making up a story in your head about your partner, check it out with them! And if they ask you something, or check something out with you, share with them the deepest and most honest answer you can muster. This is how you show your true self and allow another into your internal world. This is how the foundation of a truly intimate relationship is built. Have no regrets. When your fear of abandonment or rejection pops up, remind yourself that no fear is worth the cost of sacrificing yourself just to have a relationship. If the relationship is not working for you and the flags and resulting information you gain from the conversations about said flags are pointing in a clear direction of “NO.” Do yourself both a favor and let go.
You are the only person who is going to advocate for your best interest and who is going to create the life and relationship that you want and deserve. Your partner cannot do that for you, your family and friends cannot save you from yourself. This ability to speak your truth and be the fullest expression of yourself in each moment is the muscle that dating helps you to build. The 90-day rule affords you space to practice and develop patience with yourself. Your heart and soul are precious and worthy of all the time, space, and patience in world. Take your time, the quality of relationship you will eventually experience will make it all worth it!