It’s hard to even imagine falling in love after a loss or a break-up, but it may be just what you need to move forward, says Thozama Nozuko
Finding love after your marriage or a long-term relationship ends is a very different ball game to the first time around. For one thing, it will require letting go; especially when a partner has passed on, we have a tendency to think that if we don’t continue to mourn, we have forgotten about the other person.
But as psychologist Dr Athena Pedro explains, ‘It is possible (and healthy) to honour the memory of someone you love without allowing it to ruin your life. For example, you could do something that reminds you of them each year on the date of their passing.’
Similarly, when you are dealing with a divorce, it is essential that you allow yourself all the stages of grief, until you truly accept that you will never again have that relationship. It is only then that you really will be open to giving and receiving love again.
The problem with projection
Navigating the dating scene after years of being in a relationship can prove to present a challenge for even the most composed. A common tendency when coming out of a long-term relationship is to look for a partner who is similar to your ex.
‘When a previous partner has set the bar really high, people naturally want to hold the next person to that same standard,’ says Dr Pedro. This can be problematic, however, as the message you are sending your potential new partner is that he or she just doesn’t measure up. On the other hand, some people tend to go in search of what was missing in their old relationship. So if you were with someone who valued safety and stability when you yearned to explore your wild side, you may find yourself gravitating towards the very first bungee jumper you meet. ‘This is perfectly normal, although it’s important to remember the 80/20 rule: it’s highly unlikely that you will get everything you want in one person. At the very best, you will probably get about 80%,’ says Dr Pedro.
So bungee jumper or not, it’s up to you to decide whether you’re happy with the 80% you have and accept the 20% you will not get.
Remember that you’re dealing with a person who, like you, has strengths and flaws. Drawing comparisons between the new and old partners will only lead to resentment. ‘Your partner will feel
it – and nobody wants to remain in a relationship in which they’re constantly being measured up to someone else’s standard,’ says Dr Pedro.
The good news is that this stage doesn’t last forever. ‘Eventually, there comes a time when you will be able to make peace with the loss of your previous relationship and see your new partner for who they are,’ says Dr Pedro. ‘Even if they show similarities to your ex, you won’t hold this against them
or use it as a crutch to stop you from moving forward.’
The kids are all right
Dating as a divorcee or widow can be particularly testing if you have children. It is difficult to maintain their routine when you are exploring the changes in your own life. Dr Pedro advises parents to keep things as normal as possible. ‘If the children are accustomed to hot chocolate and story time every night before bed, don’t break this routine. Younger children can be especially susceptible to feelings of insecurity, reasoning that they are no longer as loved as the new person in their mom or dad’s life.’
In cases of a death, the parent left behind often forms a much deeper bond with the children than before. If the parent starts dating, it could make the kids feel like that bond is compro-mised. Try to make the transition easier for your children by maintaining the stability in their lives.
Of course, this change will become even more complicated if your new partner has kids of his or her own, as merging two families can be extremely demanding. ‘Open communication is vital between both sides of the family,’ advises Dr Pedro, ‘because now, you have to work together to create a new normal. And while ideally there will be great joy, this is a process that requires consistent work for the duration of your relationship.’
Ultimately, finding love for a second time can be a very rewarding journey. It is gratifying to know that all of the mistakes you made in your previous relationships can now be corrected.
‘So every fight you had, every tub of ice cream you ate, all of the nights you cried yourself to sleep were not in vain,’ says Dr Pedro. ‘You have the opportunity to use the lessons you’ve learnt as pearls of wisdom to foster an intimate connection based on mutual love, respect and a commitment to your growth.’