Should I date while separated?

Question: Should I date while separated?


Don: No.

Not until you clearly define with your wife the purpose of this separation. There are no rules for it except the ones you make or don't make. Dating is one of the first issues that need addressing from the very first moment of the separation. Here is why:

Marital separation can have many different purposes.

1. It can be a cooling off period. You and your wife have wisely called “Uncle”, and now you need to use counseling to get to the underlying conflicts that fueled your relationship 

problems. It doesn't mean you will stay married and reunite in one home, but it will be a time to see what is actually possible before taking the next step. It can be a time to slow down and find clarity about what each of you really want.

2. It can be a warming up to the reality of divorce. Some couples have things happen that are not repairable, and a separation is just a step to take for the children and for each person to be able to face the end of a marriage.

3. It can be a time to step back, to work on the relationship issues, and to reconnect and rebuild the friendship that has been lost.

Whatever the reason for a separation, it is best to get the dating option out on the table and clearly decided. If you don't make a conscious choice, you are creating a potentially volatile situation if one spouse thinks one way and the other spouse thinks another. The rumor mill is very active now, especially on Facebook. If left vague, your children could end up in the middle when you or your spouse is spotted in public being affectionate with another person.

So, if you want a cooling off period to work on your marriage and to see if a future is possible, then DO NOT DATE. Talk with your spouse up front. If she wants to date, then it is very unlikely you will be able to focus on the trouble in your relationship and repair it successfully. As long as either of you dates or has a romantic friend, neither will be honest about the issues between you that need to be faced. You will end up sharing more with your date or romantic friend than you will with your spouse. You will compare her--who knows your worst side--with someone who is trying to impress you. Don't mix apples and oranges. Get clear about what you want.

If either of you want to date, agree that dating is okay. Agree to keep it far away from the children and not in each other's face. See your separation as a time to take thoughtful steps forward but know that the dating makes divorce more inevitable. See the separation, in this case, as a transition to divorce. Work on getting along for the sake of the children, not to rekindle a possible relationship. Start thinking about child custody, visitation schedules, and creating a parenting partnership for your children, not remaking a marriage. That will soon be over.

Good for you for asking this question! Many people don't realize the consequences of dating during separation until it is too late to take back what has been done. This is a line that once crossed is hard to recover from. The breach of trust and hurt that results is hard to undo, no matter what was assumed.

So, don't assume. Discuss. Decide up front. If your old high school girlfriend wants to go out to revisit old times and maybe create some new times, don't go, if you want your marriage to last. If you don't want the marriage, then be upfront with your wife about wanting to date, otherwise you will be ignoring this advice. Instead, you will need to visualize your children seeing you holding hands and kissing your high school sweetheart in a public place. Visualize your wife finding out on Facebook that you are dating without her knowing it, while she has been in counseling with you for weeks. Visualize how this will affect her attitude in the divorce settlement. Often people will do exactly what you expect in order to burn bridges, and end a marriage in a way they don't have to be upfront. Be kind to yourself and don't add more suffering to the pain that is already happening to you and your family. That you want to date is a signal that you believe that your marriage is already over. Talk to a therapist before you act. Give yourself some room to make a decision to be honest with yourself and your wife.

Know that you are not the best catch right now. You are wounded. No matter who you meet a big part of yourself and attention is devoted to your painful marriage and family situation which you will most likely use your new girlfriend possibility as an ear to support you through you real life istuation instead of creating a new possible relationship with someone you care about. 

Give yourself time before you jump into another committed relationship. You are not emotionally available to your next relationship until you heal from this one. If you must date, keep it very light, don't mate until at least year or so after the divorce is final. Give you and your children a chance to adjust, heal and recover from this unexpected turn that life has brought. But if you want to try and work things out with your spouse, bring your whole heart to the matter and do whatever is possible to bring the best of you to the hardest issues that you and your wife are having. If you don't want this marriage, bring that same heart to end it with clarity and respect with a parenting partnership in the future.