Make no bones about it, dating is challenging, overwhelming, and emotional. You have to make the investment to meet someone that is good for you, not change for someone just to be good for him or her. And finding that person, takes effort, intention, attention, showing up, and time. It also takes a hefty dose of laughter and fun. That last ingredient being the most important one. It’s also about self-discovery. So, how you approach dating is key whether it’s after a divorce or the ending of a relationship. Dating entails doing the necessary work to find someone who is good for you. In essence, this means taking the time to tackle and work through underlying issues so not to repeat unhealthy relationship patterns and choices that often keep people stuck. Do the work at the front end, to get what you want and need at the back end.
Emily, 36 and Mark, 37 were married for twelve years, together for fifteen. They have two children together. They met while they were seniors in college through mutual friends. He was good-looking and dazzling. He swept her off her feet. She had two previous relationships that didn’t end well, so she decided just to date here and there but up until Mark, as she put it, ‘nothing to write home about.’ So when they met, it just clicked. And according to Emily, he felt the same way. They both felt connected and shared many of the same interests. After graduation, despite living in different cities, they decided to continue the relationship, long distance. After about a year, Mark landed a job in the same city as Emily. They seemed on top of the world. They moved in together. Although Emily would experience what she calls ‘a subtle form of emotional abuse that at first glance, didn’t appear all that bad.’ However, upon reflection, she realized she ignored what was hiding in plain sight.
There were many instances of Mark picking on her. He could be rude, disrespectful, and off putting to her but in front of his friends, he was different. She couldn’t reconcile the two different ‘Marks’ in her life because his subtle abuse was peppered with moments of kindness. The abuse was unpredictable. She chalked it up to having a bad day and would often blame herself. And he was good father and provider. They were financially secure. On the outside, it looked like they had a great life. Looking back, she also believed she was a confident person and would not tolerate that type of behavior. But as she discovered through her own self-discovery in therapy, she did. She would come to realize that her self-esteem and confidence had major cracks in it. Cracks that needed to be repaired before she would venture out to the dating world. And although her divorce was complicated, emotionally draining and a time suck, she discovered she was both hopeful and terrified – two all too common feelings when dating.
Over the past several months, Emily has transitioned from we to me, going from a married and now divorced woman embracing her singlehood. She is ready to date again, so she believes. Yet, her thoughts quickly turn to fears as she cannot fathom going through another divorce even though she knows it was the best decision. She wrestles with the thoughts of dating again. Getting back out there. The dating world has changed over the past 15 years. She knows this. She sees her friends struggling. She consoles them. Will she be the same way? Will she be able to find a better partner? What if she has a ‘bad picker?’ She hears about the horror stories of dating through her friends and wonders how it will be for her. In therapy, we explore some of her fears. But we also discuss hope – hope for herself, her future, and her children’s future. These are the things she wants most in life.
Her fears and apprehensions often hijack any rational thought. And her negative thoughts keep her stuck and prevent her from recognizing and embracing all her positive qualities. I share with her that it’s possible to hold two opposing thoughts – feeling hopeful and excited at times but equally overwhelmed and terrified – at the same time yet still move forward and through her fears. We speak of her fears and what she has come to realize is that she is fearful about picking the wrong person (again), repeating patterns, and learning how to trust again. I share these are all too common fears. In a survey conducted by Worthy.com, 1700 women responded about dating after divorce, their concerns, the type of person they are looking for, and where they look to find love again. For Emily, this was validating. Maybe she wasn’t alone after all. Maybe there is hope for her and by working through her fears, she would be able to find love again and a healthier relationship.
- Picking the wrong person, again. Many people think, ‘I have a bad picker.’ This isn’t necessarily true but certainly a common feeling. Often we think this way when we move from one person to another too quickly. Often do this to avoid pain, but the paradoxical thing is by doing this, you continue to pick the wrong person, creating another layer of pain and self-loathing. Slowing yourself down to examine your choices provides you the bandwidth and opportunity to deeply explore what traits, values, and lifestyle in a person that are important to you so that unhealthy relationship patterns are not established or repeated. Doing this also bodes well with the compatibility factor and being able to manage the incompatibility as well.
- Repeating patterns. The fear of repeating relationship patterns is part of picking the wrong person. These two elements – relationship patterns and picking the wrong person – often go hand in hand. Relationship patterns are created when the necessary time to think about your choices and decisions around relationships isn’t taken. To not repeat patterns, you must examine what the patterns are that you are establishing in relationships. Do you have a type? Is there is certain type of person that you are attracted to? How unhealthy are these relationships? What are the defining factors that now as you take a step back, highlight the patterns that you have created for yourself? To move through and past old and unhealthy patterns, these questions need to be answered to help you understand your relationship landscape and recognize the need to change the lens in how you see your relationships. And part of this process is also recognizing your triggers in what makes you stay or leave relationships.
- Not being able to trust again. Emily is fearful that she will not be able to trust another person. Her trust has been lost in her marriage and how things unfolded. Often, we fear that we will not be able to trust another person, when the reality is, we fear that we will not be able to trust ourselves again. This can be an unsettling time for Emily, and for all people. However, taking the steps to take a step back and examine why you stayed in the relationship and what made you turn away from truths about the relationship will help reinforce the trust you do have in yourself even if in the moment it doesn’t feel that way. Trust in self influences our decisions thus helping make healthier choices. And building trust in our self and decisions, will ultimately allow us to trust people and their intentions again.
For Emily, these main concerns contributed to her relationship choices and ultimately uncovering patterns that at first glance didn’t look like patterns at all. Her ability to give herself the time and bandwidth to think about her situation also provided her deeper introspection that she needed to install lasting change. She was able to eventually recognize how she became lost – and eventually – found her voice. And despite feeling uncomfortable during the process, she knows it was and continues to be a needed process. She feels positive about her future. And so, will you.
Self Discovery. It’s a journey worth taking. Take the time you need – as Emily did – to embrace it and move through it.
This blog was originally posted on ThriveGlobal.