Divorce is a tricky issue. Like it or not, it’s often associated with all those nasty things like failure, neglect, philandering, irreconcilable differences, the division of assets and toxic custody disputes. It’s little wonder then that many of us cringe at the idea of getting involved with a man who’s officially on the D-list. But just because he’s been there, done that – unsuccessfully – it doesn’t mean he’s a write-off. After all, if he’s already ‘marriage trained’ doesn’t practice make perfect? But how do you differentiate between someone carrying an industrial-sized container of emotional baggage and a second-time-round singleton ready to be your Mr Right?
Ready for round two
Everyone deserves a fresh start; at the end of the day, who hasn’t been in a failed relationship? The only difference is that he committed legally, whereas you just had to adjust your Facebook profile. “It’s virtually impossible to date in the 21st century without, at some point, dating someone who’s divorced,” says Dr Christie Hartman, author of Dating The Divorced Man (www.amazon.com, Dh13). “The older you get, holding out for someone who has never been married is increasingly unrealistic.” She’s not wrong. Divorce figures are rising year on year, and official statistics published at the end of 2012 revealed that 42 per cent of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce.*
However, while there’s no reason to think you can’t be his ‘second-time-lucky’, getting involved with a man who’s had a previous trip up the aisle comes with certain complications, which is why it’s important to proceed with caution, says Dr Hartman. “When it comes to dating divorced men, the amount of baggage they carry can vary greatly, from very little to tons,” she says. “And of course some are more ready to date than others. They may believe they’re ready to move on, and then realise later that they’re not.”
Family and relationship coach Maria V Chatila (www.bpacoach.com) agrees. “Closure and learning are very important when a relationship has ended. Moving on to a new relationship too quickly may cloud one’s ability to have closure.”
This was something Jemma**, a PR executive from South Africa, experienced first hand. “I was over the moon when Clive** [an IT analyst from the UK], asked me out on a date. Everything was going really well for about five dates and then he just didn’t get back in touch.” When Clive finally returned Jemma’s calls he confessed that he was recovering from a break-up. What he didn’t tell her was that he had recently been divorced from his wife of seven years.
This, according to Dr Hartman, is a major red flag. “While it’s difficult to assign arbitrary dates for when it’s OK for a divorced man to begin dating, those who haven’t been divorced for at least six months are often still dealing with the divorce fallout – grief, angry exes, hurting children, financial problems... If he’s recently divorced, be cautious, take things slowly and make sure you get your needs met before getting too involved.”
It’s also fair enough to expect him to be honest about his past, says Dr Hartman. “It’s important to be upfront about the divorce. He may want to save the details until he gets to know you better, but he should offer the basics, such as how long he was married and how long he has been divorced.”
Ever scrolled through a boyfriend’s Instagram and come across some cutesy snaps of him and his ex? Ouch. Well, when there’s an ex-wife to contend with the situation gets more complicated. For a start, she’s not just a photograph, but a reality and, depending on the situation, you may need to come into contact with her on a regular basis.
Emily’s** divorced boyfriend James** has maintained a close friendship with his ex-wife, and this has sometimes created tension in their relationship. “I’m very proud that James is able to be mature with his ex-wife, and she and I are always polite when we meet. However, there have been times when I’ve resented the friendship. They often talk on the phone and in the past she has texted him ‘goodnight’ messages, which I find infuriating. It has caused me to question if our relationship is secure.”
“This is an emotional situation for everyone concerned,” says Chatila. “You may find the situation difficult to accept and jealousy may creep in, but remind yourself that he is not with her and that he chose you. They were not suited and that is why they got divorced.”
And while your partner’s healthy relationship with his ex may be a little disconcerting, Dr Hartman suggests being open. “When the time is right, it’s up to your partner to introduce you to his ex-wife. If they’re friends, you should be included in the friendship and contact should be polite and respectful. That said, he should avoid doing things for her like household repairs or talking to her about personal problems, because you shouldn’t have to share him with his ex-wife.”
Of course, not all splits are amicable and you may find yourself in a scenario where there is tension between your partner and his ex-wife. “This is a complex topic,” says Dr Hartman. “It’s important for the divorced person to ‘manage’ their ex and have good boundaries. Avoid reinforcing bad behaviour and try not to be drawn into conflicts.”
And remember, while you may secretly enjoy his ex-bashing, it’s actually a warning sign he’s not ready to be on the market. “Bad-mouthing the ex is another huge red flag,” says Dr Hartman. “It’s an ironclad sign he’s not over the marriage. A man who talks about his ex may only be grieving his marriage, but it’s also possible he’s grieving the ex herself, which means there’s no room for you.”
A family affair
When children are involved things could be more complicated and a degree of understanding is required. Chatila says, “If he has children, you need to put your ego to rest and allow your partner to keep a very pleasant relationship with his ex for the sake of the children, because chances are they will be wounded, sad and hurt.”
This is something Antonia**, a sales manager from the UK, can relate to. “When I first met my husband Steve** six years ago, he was newly divorced with a 10-year-old daughter, Kayleigh**. He wasn’t on great terms with his ex-wife and that made the relationship between me and Kayleigh very stressful. It’s not that she was openly horrible – she wasn’t – but because of the disharmony between her parents, Kayleigh shut me out. I felt like an interloper who had to be tolerated.”
According to Chatila, this reaction is quite normal. “Many times children feel like they are abandoning their other parent if they accept you. Loyalty is one of the things I see amongst children of divorced parents. They are afraid to show disloyalty by accepting a new relationship.”
In this situation Chatila recommends treading softly. “Be patient. Mum and Dad chose to get divorced but the children didn’t have any say. For that reason they will feel wounded. Give them space and they will be more open to you when they are ready.”
Antonia agrees. “Kayleigh and I turned a corner after about a year. Allowing her to get used to me at her own pace brought us closer together in the long term.”
The M word
While you may be ready to get married, there’s no guarantee he’s about to jump in feet first and you may have a battle on your hands to convince him otherwise. “Divorced men may have a lot on their minds, including unresolved grief, financial concerns, being a single parent and generally trying to rebuild their lives,” says Dr Hartman. “Some can manage these and still have plenty to offer a new woman, while others cannot.”
But, like with most things, honesty is the best policy and if you’re open and upfront about your expectations, you stand a better chance of receiving transparency in return. “I always promote a conscious and aware attitude in relationships,” says Chatila. “You should be clear that you want to be in a long-term relationship, but try to do it without frightening him.
“I recommend simple conversations like, ‘Is marriage something you may want in your future?’ And, ‘how will you know when you’re ready for marriage again?’ It may be that he wants to get married again, but he is still wounded from his divorce, so the way you approach it is key.”
But if you do decide to get married, the good news is that the statistics work in your favour. According to the Marriage Foundation in the UK, while 45 per cent of marriages between first-timers are destined for the divorce courts, just 31 per cent of second marriages will end in failure.