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How Do You Know When It's Too Soon to Move On

It's hard to know when it's OK to start dating again after a long marriage.

People often have strong opinions as to how soon after the end of a marriage or long-term relationship a person should date. Some believe six months, some say a year and others say two years.

But as a therapist, I don't think there is a "too soon." I don't see the choice to get into a new relationship as one of timing at all. I see it as a matter of emotion and healing.

Rather than quantify the space between relationships in amount of months or years, I'd like to see people focus more on how "healed" or "emotionally raw" or "in grief" someone is or isn't.

Obviously, some time needs to pass to have healing happen and perhaps we focus on time because it is the only thing we can truly measure. We can't get inside someone else's heart or mind to know whether they are ready to get into a new relationship; whether they have shed all the tears they needed to, or gotten back a sense of self.

What is important to know for anyone getting into a new relationship following a long term relationship is that, if you are not done grieving, the new person or situation may serve as a temporary distraction, but the anger, sadness, fear or hurt you need to feel will not go away until it is fully expressed.

Although men and women differ greatly on how they deal with their emotions, it is generally true that men move into new relationships sooner than women do.

But, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, what I have seen in my work is that it's often the leaver who gets into a new relationship before the leavee does.

This is so for a few reasons: the leaver may have done most of his or her grieving during the relationship—perhaps even before the leavee knew anything was wrong—and the leavee has much more to process than just the end of a marriage or long term union. He or she may also need to recover from the sense of rejection and abandonment that comes up.

It's also important to consider other circumstances such as the death of a spouse after a long illness versus the sudden death of a mate through an accident, for example. If someone has had a long time to integrate that an end will take place, she will be able to move on sooner that someone who couldn't.

Relationships are complicated and grief has its own timing. Check in with yourself and do your best to make an honest appraisal of how "ready" you are to date again.

Here are some indications that you may not be ready to move on:

  1. You often bring up your ex in conversation and refer to past experiences you had together.
  2. You compare every aspect of this new person to your ex and this person often comes up short (by the way, it's a natural tendency everyone has to compare new and old relationships).
  3. You call your new partner by your ex's name.
  4. You try to recreate the life you had with your ex with your new partner.
  5. Your grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression) is still quite present whether you are with your new partner or not.

The CBS Early Show aired a piece on this topic recently; find it here.

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