Some of the signs are obvious — and some are not so obvious. But how do you really know if you’re getting in over your head by dating someone going through a divorce? Especially if they’re in constant drama with their soon-to-be ex.
Divorces can linger for years between delays in starting the legal process to getting all the official numbers and plans in place, and cementing the final court rulings and orders. For some high-conflict divorcees, it seems to never end.
Even after the divorce is final, problems with financial reimbursements or non-compliance with the parenting plan can derail any hope of peace and personal freedom.
While the divorce drags on, many men and women start to move on with their lives, eventually feeling ready for a relationship again.
Here are 3 deal-breakers to watch out for when you’re dating someone going through a divorce.
1. They take their frustration out on you.
The first sign is when your new love interest gets so absorbed in the conflict that they lose all awareness of your experience and take their frustration and stress out on you.
Support should be mutual — time that you spend supporting your new partner must have some balance with time spent supporting you — no matter if your issues are less intense or immediate. They are still yours and partnerships should focus on the needs of both parties.
If you notice your new boyfriend focusing entirely on his problems, that may be fine for a short time like a few days, but not if it comes at your permanent expense.
If he’s irritable, stressed, and unable to listen to the woes of your day, don’t bet on the tide turning.
It’s bad enough that the drama causes him to react to every disruptive text, email, or phone call. The person you’re dating must be able to give you attention, too.
John was going through a divorce from his high school sweetheart and wife of 12 years.
Even though he looked forward to spending time with a co-worker, Anne, he was so consumed with his wife’s accusations of poor parenting that he didn’t put any energy into supporting Anne as she prepared for a big presentation.
He didn’t give her much of a chance to share her critique of the event.
Anne was understanding but definitely noticed the red flag that John may not have any space amidst his own chaos to be present for her.
Anne decided it was worth hanging in there to see John through to the other side of his turmoil. However, she discovered after six months that she felt almost invisible during their time together.
Even though she was still attracted to John and admired his tenacity in dealing with his ex, it was time to sorrowfully say good-bye.
2. You’ve bonded over a common enemy.
Another red flag in the relationship is bonding over a common enemy. Psychology today referenced studies that show people unite even more over a negative situation than a positive one. It can create closeness in a new relationship.
However, relationships based solely on agreement about a common enemy and who is to blame can be a dead end. Relationships thrive when both partners are in growth mode.
Being able to disagree and lovingly challenge each other is key. When the basis for the relationship is support to “hate” the ex, the relationship could feel shallow and unsatisfying in the long run.
Jenny TeGrotenhuis, contributor for the newsletter of The Gottman Institute, recently reported, “some people aren’t ever comfortable taking a side, for fear of being misaligned with their partner. Others feel they can’t be in a relationship with someone who thinks differently. But these aren’t good strategies for creating a healthy relationship, which requires the thoughts, feelings, and needs of both people to be expressed and to hold value.”
In short, both people have to fully show up in the relationship and when only a full agreement is tolerated, the relationship is crippled.
3. They initiate drama.
The final deal-breaker is that your new partner is actually initiating the drama.
As much as they say that they’re “so sick of his lies and bossing them around,” you find them reaching out, asking unnecessary questions, and claiming there are problems when they could just as easily realize things are good enough to leave alone.
In cases like this, it’s tempting to wonder if they’re still entrenched with the ex as a way to continue to receive attention and self-esteem from the old relationship.
This red flag shows that they may not be ready to move on, in which case you may just be an audience for them to continue to give their attention elsewhere.
As much as they may claim innocence, you can see — or at least sense — that they’re more curious about her ex than they are with you.
They may be ready to fully invest at some time in the future, but for the immediate time being, they’re probably too distracted to be a sincere partner for you.
Dating can be an important part of the next chapter after a high-conflict divorce.
It allows a person to have fun and imagine a bright future in a new relationship. Yet, some people stay stuck in the dynamic with their previous partner, still trying to prove wrongdoing, gain approval, or redeem a clouded reputation.
Harassing communication and harsh words fly between cell phones and car windows.
Social media gets jammed with “He said, she said.”
If you find yourself attracted to someone who’s going through a laborious divorce process, it’s essential to watch for red flags. Endless conflict and drama can cause an insurmountable spiral of emotion that could sabotage the budding relationship.
Many people in conflict may have the capacity to be fully committed and present for you in a new relationship. But be warned, these red flags may be just what you need to turn back and not forge ahead in this one.
Amy Armstong is a family coach, therapist, court-referred mediator, and certified parent coach®, who has dedicated her career to the productive resolution of conflict. She is also the co-founder of The Center for Family Resolution, LLC.