Loving Someone Who Just Came Out of a Divorce

I never realized how devastating the effects of divorce can be until I started dating a woman going through one. I’ll call her Pam, though that’s not her real name.

After ten years of marriage, Pam’s husband filed for divorce to marry someone else. She didn’t want a divorce, but it wasn’t her decision to make. By the time I met Pam, they had already filed the paperwork and separated their assets. While she moved into a small apartment with her dog, her ex-husband was living with his soon-to-be new wife. She didn’t know it at the time, but they already had a child.

I knew my relationship with Pam would present a unique set of challenges, and I was ready to stand by her side through everything. I was prepared for the insecurity, the breakdowns, the anger, the resent, and even the possibility of being compared to her ex-husband and not making the cut.

However, I wasn’t prepared for her to use our relationship as an attempt to recreate her marriage. I was even less prepared to deal with the aftermath in my own life for allowing it to happen.

It didn’t take long for me to notice what was going on. She had specific preferences for the way I cut my hair, and the clothes I wore; certain patterns were better than others. We took the same trips to Reno and Vegas that she and her ex-husband used to take, although I didn’t know that until later.

I was helpless to help her.

I don’t know exactly what she lost with her divorce, but her whole lifestyle was uprooted. Though she lived in a small apartment, she got most of the furniture, and a small (very small) alimony check that barely made a dent.

I didn’t understand why her check was so low, and why she was willing to cram so much furniture into her apartment. She said she felt guilty for keeping the dog so she caved.

Furniture was stacked high against every wall, making her apartment look like an episode of the TV show Hoarders. Since she had the lower income, the courts gave her the majority of their marital possessions. I thought everything got split up equally, but I was wrong.

Researching how assets are divided, I read that equal division isn’t necessarily fair. There is a difference between equal and equitable.

This lawyer explains what equitable division looks like.

When dividing assets equitably, the court will take individual circumstances into account in order to determine long-term fairness for each party. For example, one person’s income might be much lower than the other’s, and if they aren’t likely to receive retirement income, the court may provide them with a bigger piece of the asset pie.

She got more “stuff” because she made less money, but it didn’t help. In fact, it was the root of much suffering. Rather than have access to resources she could use (more alimony) she had a one-bedroom apartment crammed with heavy furniture that reminded her of what she had lost. I understood her anger. I’d be mad, too.


What I’ve learned

When you’re in a relationship with someone who came out of a divorce, even if it’s been years, it’s not going to be easy. The hardest thing to accept is that no matter how much they love you, if they haven’t worked through their pain yet, they’ll do it through your relationship.

Not everyone will try to recreate their marriage in a new relationship, but it’s important to be aware of that possibility.

Be authentic about what you want.

Whether you’re divorced or dating someone who is, if you want full support in the relationship, you need to be open about your intentions from the start. Know what you want in your own life, and from the relationship. If you’re not clear, take some time to find out before getting involved.

Perhaps the hardest thing to admit is that you can’t save them; they have to do the work.

It’s important to love unconditionally, but that only works in a relationship when both people are committed to mutual growth and completing the past. When one person wants to hang onto their pain, growth is impossible.

After two years in my relationship with Pam, I learned that the best way to love her was to give her the space to heal on her own. I also had my own healing to do, so I let her go.

This post made possible by site supporter Larry Alton.

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