Unfortunately (or fortunately…depending on how you look at it), there is no simple mathematical equation, or test, or quiz that can predict whether or not your relationship will be a lasting success.
Our life is an experience—not a foregone conclusion (and that’s a good thing!).
But the more aware you are of what, potentially, you’re getting into when you enter a relationship, the better you can mitigate your chances of heartbreak and relationship disaster.
And with that awareness you make yourself more available for long-term love with the right guy.
Raising your awareness means being clear on the facts of your relationship.
In other words, what exactly is a separated man or divorced man? What are they going through, and what should you be concerned about if you’re in a relationship with a man who might be in a given stage of divorce or separation?
Here are some of the basics to help you get clearer on his situation… And ultimately help you get clearer insight on whether or not this is a relationship where you want to go into deeper levels of commitment.
The questions that follow each section are questions to consider when you’re thinking about whether to continuing seeing him—especially if you have the intention of dating with the purpose of finding a life-partner.
These questions might not be as important to you if you’re just dating recreationally and short term.
But if you’re trying to date with the intention of finding a life-partner, and are looking for a long-term relationship, the questions below will help you see his situation more clearly, manage your expectations, and decide whether you want to stay in the relationship or leave.
The Separated Man
A separated man is one who is still legally married. He might be in the process of divorce, or the divorce papers might not have been filed at all.
Nolo.com, which is an online resource for legal information, explains the different types of separation this way:
Trial separation. When a couple lives apart for a test period, to decide whether or not to separate permanently, it’s called a trial separation. Even if the spouses don’t get back together, the assets they accumulate and debts they incur during the trial period are usually considered marital property. This type of separation is usually not legally recognized, but is instead a specific period in a couple’s relationship.
Living apart. Spouses who no longer reside in the same dwelling are said to be living apart. In some states, living apart without intending to reunite changes the spouses’ property rights. For example, some states consider property accumulated and debts incurred while living apart to be the separate property or debt of the person who accumulated or incurred it. In other states, property is joint, unless and until a divorce complaint is filed in court. Also in some states, couples must live apart for a certain period of time before they are permitted to file for a no-fault divorce.
Permanent separation. When a couple decides to permanently split up, it’s often called a permanent separation. It may follow a trial separation, or may begin immediately when the couple starts living apart. In most states, all assets received and most debts incurred after permanent separation are the separate property or responsibility of the spouse incurring them. However, debts that happen after separation and before divorce are usually joint debts if they are incurred for certain necessities, such as to provide for the children or to maintain the marital home.
Again, a couple’s decision to permanently separate may not be considered a legal one unless one party files for legal separation instead of divorce.
Legal separation. A legal separation results when the parties separate and a court rules on the division of property, alimony, child support, custody, and visitation — but does not grant a divorce. This isn’t very common, but there are situations where spouses don’t want to divorce for religious, financial, or personal reasons, but do want the certainty of a court order that says they’re separated and addresses all the same issues that would be decided in a divorce. The money awarded for support of the spouse and children under these circumstances is often called “separate maintenance” (as opposed to “alimony” or “child support”).
If you want to go deeper into understanding the separation and divorce process, Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce (2014) is a great resource that guides you through all stages of separation and divorce.
If you’re in a relationship with a separated man, and are thinking about whether you should continue to see each other, it’s better to get clear on what’s happening in his life right now and how that might affect your relationship. This will help you decide whether or not you’ll be truly happy being with him at the present time.
Also, first realizing what you want in a happy, fulfilling relationship, and then figuring out what relationship requirements you have that comprise a happy, fulfilling relationship, will make it easier for you to determine whether or not this relationship meets your personal needs.
In general, separation in the case where the still married couple is living apart (and not yet legally separated), is a very volatile time.
They might either be considering divorce, or maybe they haven’t even decided yet on whether to pursue divorce.
So if you are getting into a relationship with a separated man, with the intention of considering him as a long-term partner or a life-partner, it’s like trying to build a house on really shaky ground.
While he might want and fully intend to get divorced, his separated status might limit his availability to have normal relationship interactions with you… This could be in the form of situations that include having you meet his friends and family or having you spend time with him on a regular, predictable basis.
And the question isn’t when he’s going to get a divorce, but whether you’ll be happy in a relationship with him as you’re experiencing it right now.
Important questions to consider when dating a separated man:
- How long has he been separated?
- Why did they decide to separate?
- Do he and his wife still live together?
- Are he and his wife working towards reconciliation?
- How do they split parenting duties if they have children?
- Do you they have plans to divorce?
- Have they each agreed to see other people?
There are couples who make things work after meeting, while one is in the middle of a separation. In many cases, however, even if a man is ready to be separated, this can be a period of huge change and turmoil for him.
He may not yet know what he wants next, or how fully prepared he is to commit to someone new.
When you find out the answers to those questions, be honest with yourself about the kind of relationship that you really want to have, and whether his current situation is aligned with that vision.
The Divorcing Man
Once papers have been filed, a couple moves from separated to divorcing.
In this case, the decision has been made to officially end the marriage and stop working towards reconciliation.
Understanding the circumstances surrounding his divorce can be helpful in determining whether or not this is a relationship you want to pursue.
The thing is to try and be as honest as possible about his intentions, and pay attention to your experience with him to help you decide whether you want to keep seeing him.
As with men who are separated (or any man who is out there on the “dating market”), men who are in the middle of a divorce might not always be looking to go into another relationship right away. He might just want to date for a fun for a while—or he might be unsure of what he wants.
And there may be some cases where a relationship was over years before the divorce paperwork was actually filed, in which case the man you are dating could have long since moved on and may be more than ready to fall in love again now.
Treading carefully until you fully understand the situation is always the best way to protect your own heart.
Important questions to consider when dating a divorcing man:
Since he’s divorcing, he’s also separated. Here are some additional questions to consider next to the questions to think about when dating a separated man.
- Why did he and his wife decide to proceed with a divorce?
- Who initiated the divorce proceedings?
- How does he feel about the divorce proceedings and how are they handling it (mediation, family court, etc)?
- How does his wife feel about what’s going on?
- How would he characterize the divorce proceedings (bitter, not bitter, very difficult, relatively painless, etc)?
- Is there a possibility that he and his wife might try to reconcile their marriage at some point?
- If they have kids, how do they divide parenting duties?
You may also want to pay attention to how his friends and family react to you, if he’s introduced you to them; their reactions may give you an indication of how ready they believe him to be.
Try to remember that the actual act of going through a divorce can be quite trying, no matter how prepared a man may be for this part of his life to be over.
If kids are involved, there can be a lot of emotions from them, and from all parties, about the dissolution of the marriage and the family unit as they know it.
Because he is dealing with the divorce proceedings and any emotional upset from his ex, kids or friends and family, he might not be as available—both physically and emotionally—as you’d like him to be for normal dating activities such as date nights, weekends away, or meeting your friends and family.
Again, thank about what you really want in a fulfilling relationship, and whether dating him while he’s going through a divorce will offer you that desired experience.
The Divorced Man
When a divorce is final, a judge has ordered the dissolution of the marriage.
Child custody and division of property, as well as child support, alimony, who gets the dog and the Christmas china, etcetera, are all part of that settlement.
The list can go on.
They say that divorce is like the end of a civilization.
And depending on how long they’ve been married and whether they have kids, it could be a large or small civilization.
Think about how much stuff you as a single person accumulate in eight years, which is the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce in the United States.
From the money in your bank account (or the debt you’ve accumulated), to the stuff in your living space, and the relationships you’ve built with friends and family, eight years can be a lot of stuff and a lot of history.
In a marriage, all of that “baggage” is community property.
And in a divorce, all of that “baggage” and their whole civilization is affected in some way, by the dissolution of the marriage.
But now that the divorce is said and done, how does his past affect your current relationship with him?
Important questions to consider when dating a divorced man:
- How long has it been since their divorce?
- What were the reasons for his divorce?
- How often do he and his ex communicate with each other now?
- How do he and his ex split parenting duties? (Assuming kids are involved)
- How does he view marriage now?
- Does he see himself getting married again in the future?
- Are there things he would do differently in his relationship if he got married again?
How to Go about Finding the Answers to These Questions
The best way is simply ask him.
Your first date with him might not be the best time to ask him those questions.
But who knows—you might have built up a kind of rapport with each other, perhaps through communicating online (if you met online), where you do feel comfortable asking those questions very early in the relationship.
The thing is, the sooner you know the answers to those questions, the sooner you’ll be able to discern whether he’s a good match for you, and whether you want to continue seeing each other.
And it’s not a bad thing to show him that you’re curious about him and his past.
He might even appreciate that you’re interested.
It’s normal to want to know where our potential partner is coming from, and what he’s going through right now. How else are we supposed to get to know someone, other than to experience them and ask relevant questions?