Learn about The Hierarchy of Dating and Relationships in the Coaching Workbooks:
I'm A Man, That's My Job and I'm A Woman, It's My Time
Separation and Dating
By Frank Kermit
One of the most damaging actions an individual can take is to start dating someone new when going through a separation with their serious long-term partner (spouse, common-law partner or a defacto-union).
When I use the term separation here, it is not to be confused with a Legal Separation, which is a legal status, and an alternative to divorce for couples that have moral or religious objections to legal divorce.
I am specifically referring to when a couple goes through a separation where they are taking time apart from each other, living separately, in a period of limbo where there is an equal possibility of either a divorce or a reconciliation. This period can be especially difficult when there are children involved.
Some therapists recommend that individuals date other people. I completely disagree with this stance. Involving anyone new into a dynamic that is already in a vulnerable shape that turns it into an emotional triangle can wreak havoc on both partners, cause incredible distress on any children who rely on the partners who are separated, as well as cause confusion for the people you date.
The point of such a separation is not to experience it as a trial divorce, as many couples unfortunately assume it to be. In fact, the whole reason that separations occur is to work at every possible solution to give the relationship every chance it can have to survive. You do not need to separate first in order to file for divorce (except in the rarest of cases where you must be separated for a specific period of time for a court ordered divorce when one of the partners refuses to agree to it). If you want a divorce, get a divorce. Do not sugarcoat a divorce with a separation if you have no intention of working on your current relationship while separated.
What to do during a separation: Work on yourself and whatever issues you may have that contributed to the separation. Get tested for depression. Seek out therapy and coaching. Sober up and deal with your demons. Learn about how to address emotional needs and how to have your own emotional needs addressed.
Spend your time alone doing self-reflection and bettering your understanding of love and relationships. Ask yourself why you would have made the choices you made that got you into this situation to begin with. Ask yourself what you have to change to build a future life plan where you will not end up here again. If you invest in a couple of years of this kind of time into healing, then so be it. What is a couple of years compared to the lifetime you can have when reconciled with your partner, and other parent, of your children? It is worth it.
What not to do during a separation: It is not a time to form a close bond with new people that would threaten your relationship. Do not hang out with friends and family that have always encouraged you to break it off. It is not a time to be hanging out in bars playing the pickup game. It is not a time to be part of any unplanned pregnancy. It is not a time to be isolating your children from your partner as revenge on your partner. It is not a time to live out all those things you always wanted to do, but were prohibited by your relationship. It is not a time to make significant asset purchases like a new home. It is not a time to make any life altering plans given the lack of emotional stability in your life. It is not a time to uproot your kids from the remaining stability in their lives.
Separation does not automatically lead to divorce unless you let it. It is up to you and your partner to put in the work so that it does not happen. In the event you are the only one trying to work on yourself and your partner is not, the exercise is NOT in vain. Do it anyways. At worst, you may influence your partner into participating. At best, you will reach a level of emotional health and be able to teach your children from a broken home what it is to be able to manage an emotionally healthy relationship by serving as an example. If you do not make the efforts to heal, you will likely find yourself in a similar situation again in the future. If you do heal, but do not get the co-operation you need to save your relationship, you can take comfort in the fact you will be able to form better relationships for yourself in the future, which will benefit you, and any children who will be touched by your new relationships.
People are their repeating behavior patterns, and it is likely that whatever the issues that broke up your first serious relationship, are likely going to break up the second one as well, unless you work on yourself to correct those behavior patterns. Changing your partner will not solve the issues you carry inside. When the second serious relationship ends, is when most people realize they likely would have had an easier and possibly happier life (for their children as well) if they had just worked out the issues with their first serious relationship.
At the very least, be ethical if you are enacting a separation with your partner. You are dealing with another human being, and giving any false hope when you have already decided that this is the beginning of the end, is a horrible thing to do. It is not just your partner you need to consider here.
Even if you are too angry and resentful at your partner, and have reached a point where you just do not care, any children you have with your partner will surely be affected by the negative emotions. Your children are half you, and half your partner, and will internalize your negative feelings towards your partner, no matter how much you try to shield them from it.
If you do date someone while in the middle of a separation, the worst thing you can do is throw it in your partner's face for your own satisfaction, or as a means of getting a reaction out of your partner. In fact, this is creating a divide, not just with your partner (which you may be too drunk on negative emotions to care about); it has the incredible potential to also turn your own children against you, through no encouragement from your partner. This type of violation of security in your children is more difficult to heal than the problems you have with your adult partner.
If you want to end it and leave, then file for divorce and be done with it. Telling your partner that you are separating to think about things and that you intend to make the effort to work things out, when in actuality you are just making it easier to manage your secret affair that you plan to leave your partner for, is a mistake. The odds are high that you will surely end up alone, or in a worse situation than you are in now. Statistically, new relationships that start out as affairs rarely last any significant amount of time, but the damage done to the children who learn of the affair is longer lasting.
Separation is no time to start dating new people.