Five Tips for Dating During Separation
So you and your spouse are separated. You’re living in your own place. Your spouse is living somewhere else. You’re waiting out the requisite year of separation to file for divorce, but you’re feeling antsy to move on with your life, to meet someone else, to date. … It’s not unusual at this juncture to start wondering whether, and when, it’s okay to date.
It may seem surprising how many people separate without ever having a conversation about dating – it’s one of those difficult discussions that strikes at the heart of vulnerability, especially if the separation is not mutually desired or if kids are involved. Here are some guidelines for dating that I’ve seen couples discuss productively in mediation:
Agree to abstain from dating if you are trying to reconcile. If you’re uncertain about whether you’re headed for divorce or are trying out a trial separation, most professionals advise against dating someone else. In most of these cases, dating outside of the couple renders reconciliation impossible. Most couples seeking reconciliation benefit from seeking professional help to try restoring their marriage and limiting dating to each other.
Have an agreement about what’s appropriate. Naturally, dating is a sensitive topic, but it’s critical for couples to talk about it. Otherwise, each spouse is moving forward based on his or her own ideas of what’s okay and what the other spouse expects. While traditional separation agreements don’t tend to address rules of dating, that’s not true for mediated separation agreements. It is a common provision. The primary goal of a separation agreement may be to lay out financial and parenting agreements; however, it can also lay out the guidelines of dating, permitting each of you to see other people without fear of putting your financial and parenting agreements at risk.
Establish a timeframe for introducing the kids. Keep in mind that your separation is not just a traumatic event in your life – your children are feeling unsettled, too. Dating at this stage may put you at risk of damaging your relationship with your child. Caution and foresight can go a long way to sidestepping misunderstanding. While not all couples agree on what the timeframe should be for introducing your children to new partners, most agree that there should be some kind of waiting period.
Talk about how these ideas might work for your family: Is it ok to introduce the kids after three months of dating? Six months of dating? Only when it is exclusive dating? Or only after the divorce is final? Will a new partner be gradually introduced?
Some parents agree that first they will introduce a new partner as a friend and limit interactions with their kids to group settings. They may establish a mutually agreeable “ritual” for the types and frequency of outings with the children before finally introducing the “friend” as someone more serious, a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
Talk about sleepovers within the context of your shared values. Obviously, adults decide what is appropriate for them personally, but most parents use a modified yardstick when their children witness their behavior. When, if ever, is it appropriate to have your new partner sleep over when the kids are with you? An agreement about when, if ever, this is appropriate will allow you to manage expectations.
Tell your spouse. Mommy or Daddy’s new love interest is not information best conveyed by children. If you agree to inform one another about a new partner, you achieve some important goals: You show one another respect, you keep the kids out of the middle, and you prepare yourselves (instead of being shocked) when your kids ask inevitable questions.
Talking about the rules of dating with your spouse is a good way to build respect, handle expectations and help your family manage a divorce that works.