Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about how to determine if he’s really over his ex-wife. In my response, I provide the tell-tale signs that he’s not over his ex-wife, how to tell whether he’s ready for a relationship with you, and how to know whether you should “stick it out” of run for the hills:
I met my guy a month ago online. Long distance relationship. We met just once walking around a city and kissed and held hands. We decided to be exclusive for two months to get to know each other.
He divorced his drug-taking wife of 14 years a year ago when she became violent and abusive to their two kids and him and when she refused to stop taking drugs and sleeping around. But he then tried to win her back after the divorce and last slept with her within three months of meeting me.
He talks about her a whole lot and says she wants him back but he wants to move forward and sees me as the next chapter. I’m not convinced he’s over her. It’s too soon. His children also have special needs and he comes from a really dysfunctional family. He is a recovering porn addict and no longer uses drugs. Something else to bear in mind.
We get on SO well, have the same faith and interests. I don’t know whether to stick it out and get to know him more or walk away. I have a great life where I am. Great self-employed job, home, friends. I look after my elderly parents who live locally. I would need to locate to his city, very far away in order for his kids to continue their education and keep their stability.
He’s worried I might regret leaving everything for him. We’ve talked / texted every day for the past month. Early days but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with his situation and really don’t want to be his counsellor for his wife. Yesterday he asked me to have compassion on his wife as she’s lost everything – he had just told her about me. Should I run for the hills?
–Brave and Wanting Wisdom
Dear Brave and Wanting Wisdom,
I feel your concern. Thanks so much for reaching out. I know this is not an easy field to navigate and I’ll do my best to address your questions.
From your description, I get the sense that he is not over his ex-wife because it appears that he still carriers a lot of emotional energy about to his former relationship.
Signs He’s Not Over His Ex-Wife
When we think of major events in our life as transitions, we can visualize these life transitions as a continuum where there are stages, just as there are stages of grief when we lose someone close to us.
Divorce is often described as the “death of a civilization” because a marriage is like a civilization with its own people, norms, and complex history…
And divorce can feel like the dismantling of that civilization.
So, like any major loss, there are stages of grief and time needed to heal.
Other experts say that it takes at least a year for every ten years of marriage to recover from divorce.
But it will take much longer if they are not coping with the loss in healthy ways or practicing healthy detachment after divorce.
The bottom line is: He’s not over her if he still carries a significant emotional charge about her and their relationship.
And that emotional charge can show up in different ways such as anger, attraction, nostalgia, etc. However it shows up, it shows up as a preoccupation with her and the past.
So, sleeping with his ex-wife within three months of meeting you is definitely a red flag that he hadn’t moved on.
Talking about her a lot might not necessarily mean that he’s not over her.
It would depend on the context.
If he is talking about her a lot because there’s a practical concern that he needs to think about like childcare or custody arrangements, that’s one thing.
But if you find that he is still doing a lot of emotional processing out loud with you about his ex and his divorce, and you’re starting to feel like his therapist, it could be a sign that he still has some healing to do (in which case he might really benefit from working with a professional counselor if he is really struggling emotionally).
And to your concern that he had asked you to “have compassion for his wife as she’s lost everything,” I do feel that his ask sounds a bit odd because it is also coming from someone who says that he “wants to move forward” and “sees you as the next chapter.
His asking for your compassion for her indicates a level of protectiveness that he feels for her, and I wonder if he’s feeling somewhat responsible for her emotional well-being (rather than letting her take care of her own emotional well-being).
I mention this because you indicated that they’ve both had addictions so there might be some codependent tendencies in their relationship or perhaps there’s some unhealthy emotional attachment to his ex.
I want to make clear, though, that compassion, in it’s purest form, is a wonderful thing. It’s what allows us to be empathetic toward our fellow human beings.
But I wonder whether he is truly asking for compassion or if he is using his ex’s emotional state as an excuse to not move on from his relationship with her and calling it “compassion.”
There’s a difference.
If he wants to move forward, as he says, he needs to not sleep with his ex and he needs to let her be responsible for her own emotional well-being.
That would truly be the compassionate thing to do.
Is He Ready for a Relationship with You?
There are a number of factors that support relationship success.
I recommend taking a look at my article Is He Ready for a Relationship After Divorce? as it goes deeper into how to gauge relationship readiness.
One of those readiness factors is that he is available—physically and emotionally—for a relationship with you, and that there are few, if any, glaring readiness issues that could interfere with the success of the relationship.
But if he’s still getting over the dissolution of his marriage or still physically and/or emotionally involved in his previous relationship (for example, if he is not yet separated or if he is still hoping to reconcile), then he’s not truly available at this time for a new committed relationship.
He might be making himself available for a relationship with you (spending time with you, etc), but the relationship might feel very limited.
It feels limited because as far as being able to commit and function in a new relationship with you in a normal, healthy, open way—he would not be available to do that if he hasn’t resolved his previous relationship.
Should You Run for the Hills or Stick It Out?
I don’t doubt it when you say that you get along so well and have the same faith and interests.
Those shared interests and chemistry are likely what attracted you two together!
And they are important elements in a relationship.
But shared interests and chemistry are only part of the equation when it comes to long-term relationship success.
You might want to check out the article on Is This Relationship Worth It? because it will be extremely helpful to answering the question about whether you should stick it out or run for the hills.
Knowing whether he’s a good long-term fit and worth investing your time really depends on whether he is aligned with your life vision, and can meet your relationship needs and relationship requirements.
You mentioned that you have a great life, you love where you are right now, you have a great self-employed job, home and friends, and you look after your elderly parents.
And if you were to be with his man long-term, you would likely have to relocate.
You’d be farther away from your friends, and maybe have to find someone else to look after your parents.
It sounds like there would be a lot of things that would change in your life if you committed to a long-term relationship with him.
So I would encourage you to think about:
What is your life vision?
What does a happy, fulfilling life look like for you?
Is being close to your friends and parents part of that vision? If not, then maybe relocating might not be a big deal for you.
But I really encourage you to think about what makes you happy and what is the kind of life that you really want?
And would being with him support that vision?
And also think about your vision in terms of relationships.
What is your criteria for a happy, healthy, fulfilling relationship?
What are your non-negotiables when it comes to relationships and what do you need in a relationship in order for it to really work for you?
And has he shown that he’s able to support those needs and doesn’t go against your non-negotiables?
The bottom line is, you’re always empowered with choice.
And you get to decide what’s worth it to you and what’s not worth it to you.
Whether you should wait for him to be ready for a relationship really depends on what’s worth it to you and/if how long you’re willing to wait.
The questions above can help you get clearer on which path is best for you.
You also might want to read my article on Should You Wait for Him to Be Ready for a Relationship? as it offers more things to think about as your consider whether to stay or go.
I know these things take a lot of time and thought to consider, but I hope this helps provide some guidance!
Please feel free to reach out if you need any other support.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.