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3 things I wish I knew about those first relationships after divorce

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Eighteen months after my marriage ended, I jumped into a heady, sexually intense year-long relationship with a fellow writer and parent who was 20 years older than I was. In hindsight, it was no surprise it ended — his kids were grown, mine were tiny, our lives were at different points. But that did not make me love him any less, and did nothing to tamper the absolute devastation that pummeled me when we broke up.

Even months after we split, Sundays when my kids are with their dad and I would have otherwise spent with my ex-boyfriend, I instead engaged in unseemly behavior like walking around the streets of Manhattan while bawling uncontrollably, listening to John Legend on a loop, and reading the Wikipedia page on Carrie and Mr. Big.

I was a steaming-hot mess, deeply in a painful heartbreak like I’d never experienced — even more than what I endured in my divorce in many ways.

Not only was all this embarrassing, it was also incongruous with the events at hand. Something else was at play.

It took me more than five years of blogging about single mothers and connecting here and on social media with literally hundred of thousands of moms who are single by way of divorce, choice, separation, or other, to really understand what was happening to me.

Turns out, this pain is specific to that first post-divorce/relationship breakup, and it is universally brutal (but worth it).

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Here are three things I wish I knew about dating after divorce:

1. First thing: It can be intense 

That first big relationship after divorce is BIG, and DEEP and very sexually intense. 

2. Second thing: It can hurt 

The second lesson I learned about dating after divorce is that first relationship HURTS LIKE HELL when it ends. 

3. Third thing: It can be fun

Final big dating-after-divorce lesson: Dating is new and fresh and fun and exciting at this phase of life. You invent the rules! Try anything you like! 

Here’s what I wish I knew about first relationships after divorce:

Understanding your first relationship after divorce

What are the stages of a relationship after divorce?

After a divorce, relationship stages are similar but different than other relationships:

  • Stage 1: infatuation + intense sex
  • Stage 2: love 
  • Stage 3: turmoil — post-divorce relationships can be really hard, especially if there is co-parenting involved
  • Stage 4: (more typically) heartbreak
  • Stage 5: (sometimes) lifelong partnership 

Does the first relationship after divorce last?

It seems to be a universal experience: When that first relationship after divorce ends it just kills. When that relationship ended, it hurt like a motherfucker! Holy shit did that hurt. Ouchie!! Owwie ow ow ow! Mommy! Make it stop! Please, ow ow owie ouchie ow I can’t take any more!!!

It took me a long time, and a lot of interaction with other, divorced people to figure out why post-divorce rebounds are akin to your body dripping with infected hangnails while, at the same time, a rusty scythe strikes your guts. Again. And again. And again.

Even more than an ending love, all that pain and torment is really about contending with unresolved heartbreak from divorce. You are likely as I was: needing to go through that rebound and the subsequent pain. It served as a critical point of reference through which I dealt with the dissolution of my marriage.

Divorce often robs us of the opportunity to mourn the romantic relationship itself because there is so much practical and logistical hell to contend with at the time of the split. Including:

Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?

No! Not all first relationships after divorce end. But most do. That’s OK!

5 tips for dating after divorce

Why are relationships so hard after divorce?

Post-divorce relationships can be hard for a number of reasons:

  • You and/or your partner are nursing broken hearts and trust issues from past relationships
  • Lots of divorced people are not good at relationships to start with 
  • Co-parenting can be great, but also messy with a step-parent in the mix 
  • One or both of you may need to have some fun first — maybe casual encounters, FWB, younger-man/older-woman dating, or any kind of adult kink.
  • Parties involved are older, more set in their ways, and have more years under their belts to accumulate baggage and emotional wounds 

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First relationship and sex after divorce

After my post-divorce rebound, I needed another rebound relationship. I happened to be his first post-divorce rebound relationship. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, especially after fear that I would never find love after divorce.

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My first serious relationship after divorce

Me: “I’ve been thinking about how the first time you sleep with someone, you’re not really sleeping with that person — you’re really sleeping with all the other people you’ve had sex with before them.”

Him: “That’s right. You’re really sleeping with your point of reference.”

In essence, before you get to know a new lover’s body and preferences — as well as how your own body and preferences fit with that person — each of us is really just sorting through all of the bodies and preferences that came before in order to truly enjoy current company.

Relationships are no different. And this analogy holds most true in a rebound relationship.

There has been plenty written on the perils of the rebound. The old maxim suggests that the recently heart-broken is too angry/vulnerable/hurt to be truly open to a new love. The rebounder is at risk of attaching too quickly to the wrong person, and those dating a rebounder are subject to wandering into the line of fire of scatter-shot devotion.

I’ve written exhaustively about my own post-marriage rebound with a man who was also recently divorced. It lasted a full year and was thrilling, wonderful and dysfunctional.

When that relationship ended, it hurt like a motherfucker! Holy shit did that hurt. Ochie!! Owwie ow ow ow! Mommy! Make it stop! Please, ow ow owie ouchie ow I can’t take any more!!! Even more than an ending love, all that pain and torment was really about contending with unresolved heartbreak from my divorce. But I needed to go through that rebound and the subsequent pain. It served as a critical point of reference through which I dealt with the dissolution of my marriage.

Falling in love too soon after divorce

But no matter how much I tried to stay true to my belief that anything is possible in love, there was no escaping that I am three years out of my marriage while he is a mere three weeks. This guy’s giddy openness about starting life anew reminded me of just how I felt at that juncture.

Divorce rates for second and third marriages

I also sensed a vulnerability and neediness that was woefully familiar — in this man I could see myself two years ago when I, too, first ventured into post-divorce dating. It evoked being on a third date with my own rebound boyfriend. Anxiously, across the table in a dimly lit West Village restaurant, I stammered: “Are you dating anyone else? Because I’m not.” My barely salvaged heart could barely stand the risk of being dinged yet again.

Today, I feel differently about emotional risk, heartbreak and dating. On the one hand, bring it on! You don’t get to the good stuff in relationships without putting yourself out there emotionally. But now I don’t feel quite as vulnerable and needy. I am feeling strong and free and optimistic about love in a different, more grounded way — one that allows me to see obvious love landmines before I enthusiastically dance on one. As such, I couldn’t figure out how to make my own phase of divorce jibe with that of my recent amour.

So in a breakup email exchange, I shared more or less what I said here. I added that I hoped we could stay connected in some way, keep open the possibility of finding each other in other phases of our journeys. What I got in response was one of the most touching compliments I’ve received in a very long time. It said:

“I can’t think of anyone I would rather have lost my divorce virginity to.”

What to know about dating while going through a divorce

Can you find true love after divorce?

Answer: Yes.

One data point: Me.

I separated from my husband when I was 33. I was pregnant and had a toddler. A year and a half later I started to date. I dated like a maniac and had a blast meeting all kinds of wonderful, mediocre and weird men. Tons of sex, fell in love once or twice, made some new friends and a bunch of stories. Three years ago I fell in love with a wonderful man who loves me, loves my kids, and wants to spend his life with me.

I’m not special. I’m a little fat, pretty loud, frequently grumpy and fickle.

Is love different after divorce?

Love is different after divorce just like love is different after any major life experience. 

Love after divorce can be more intense if you are coming off of years of a loveless, unhappy or sexless marriage. You may appreciate what you have now compared with your spouse. 

Love can be more complicated if either party is still dealing with their divorce — logistically, legally or emotionally. Any kids in the mix can also make things more wonderful — seeing your new partner love and care for your kids, and vice versa — as  well as messier as you try to parent together.

Dating a widower: 6 things you need to know

Should you get back together with an ex after a breakup?

Lots of people do, with a lot of success. Here are reasons not to get back together with an ex after breakup:

  • You want totally different things and you believe you will change him.
  • You want totally different things and you are ready to make major, soul-crushing compromises to make it work.
  • Abuse.
  • You know in your heart is wrong but you’re so lonely. Or horny.
  • You tell yourself you’ll just hook up with no feelings involved.
  • You’re miserable with him, if comfortable.

Bottom line: First relationships after divorce can be tough, and enter them with your eyes wide open

You’re going to date, have sex and maybe even fall in love — go for it! But you are older, maybe wiser, maybe more broken, and your life and your partner’s life are more complicated than before. Enjoy — and watch out for red flags.

What are the stages of a relationship after divorce?

After a divorce, relationship stages are similar but different than other relationships:
– Stage 1: infatuation + intense sex
– Stage 2: love 
– Stage 3: turmoil — post-divorce relationships can be really hard, especially if there is co-parenting involved
– Stage 4: (more typically) heartbreak
– Stage 5: (sometimes) lifelong partnership 

Does the first relationship after divorce last?

You are likely as I was: needing to go through that rebound and the subsequent pain. It served as a critical point of reference through which I dealt with the dissolution of my marriage.

Is the first relationship after divorce doomed?

No! Not all first relationships after divorce end. But most do. That’s OK!

Why are relationships so hard after divorce?

Post-divorce relationships can be hard for a number of reasons:
– You and/or your partner are nursing broken hearts and trust issues from past relationships
– Lots of divorced people are not good at relationships to start with 
– Co-parenting can be great, but also messy with a step-parent in the mix 
– Parties involved are older, more set in their ways, and have more years under their belts to accumulate baggage and emotional wounds 

Can you find true love after divorce?

Answer: Yes.
One data point: Me.

Is love different after divorce?

Love is different after divorce just like love is different after any major life experience.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

246 Comments

I have been with my husband for 13 yrs married for 5 with 4 kids together then this summer we argued and I asked him to leave shortly after so I regreted knew we could work on it but he moved on within a month was officially with a work colleague a single mum herself!
I have just spent my first Christmas alone with my kids and it was the worst year ever. I hope and pray that one day my ex who is yet to divorce me or even close our joint bank account will come back and I hope he is in a rebound! I am struggling to find anyone else because I have 4 kids and limited time/friends to go out with but I still hold hope that my ex is in a rebound and will return to me! I pray!

I have been a single mother for 5 years after my husband disappeared with his mistress in to the thin air. I have done all my possible best to get my husband back home but instead he filed for divorce.
The summary of it all is that Just last month my husband has gone to meet my parents with loads of apology, he has gone there like 15 times without my knowledge asking forgiveness. He has come back to his rightful sense and right now my family is on my tail demanding that I forgive him.

My husband left me for his ex wife, This was just 2 years of our marriage. The most painful thing as that I was pregnant with our second baby. I actually thought it was over that I lost it all until my best friend connected me to

My husband left me for his ex wife, This was just 2 years of our marriage. The most painful thing as that I was pregnant with our second baby. I actually thought it was over that I lost it all

I stupidly married my rebound after only dating a year (and met her only a few months after my divorce) and I’m now stuck in a marriage with a wife I do not love and am not compatible with at all. We are little more than housemates only two years into marriage. But I feel as though I would disappoint my mother to get divorced yet again so soon after my last divorce. I rushed into everything as I was feeling so low at the time and I feel completely trapped now. I’ve since met another woman who is everything I want and need as a partner and I would be very happy with her if I hadn’t been so quick to rush into another engagement. I’ve known this woman long enough to know that we are compatible and I’m in a much better place to view things objectively. I am not and will not cheat, despite how bad things are. But it is driving me mad to know I’ve finally found someone who ticks every box after decades of looking, but because I was so quick to marry the first ‘ok’ woman that came along (I did the same with my first wife), I have likely made it impossible to ever be happy now.

Uhmm, wow. I could have written this comment, with the exception I have not yet married that rebound. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into the future if I make the mistake. It is just that I was so lonely, and I felt like my life had been stolen from me by somebody who I thought I knew. I jumped into a relationship that is at that tipping point; break up or get engaged. Your comment was very important.
So, I am so sorry for your pain and feeling of loss. But you have helped someone gain perspective.

Hey sorry to hear that you are stuck in a bad situation. I was separated and I met someone else whom I fell deeply in love with. She was everything to me and I wanted to marry her. We talked about marriage and building a new life together. We both have kids from our previous marriage. She was single for 4 years and a serial dater. I was separated 2 years and still living under the same roof as my ex.
My new gf didn’t like that I was living with my ex. She even tried to help me move out. For one time I believed her and tried to leave. I realized I was a single income and I had to provide for my kids and family it was my duty. My new gf wanted our families to meet and have x-m’as dinner. She wanted our kids to play and become a family. All of this was in a span of 3 months of dating. We broke up and got back together a lot.
Finally my ex had what she needed to move out and she moved. I finally had my own place and think my new gf and I would have a great moments again. I was wrong my new gf at this point only found and pointed at things I did wrong. Constantly putting me down, to even telling me I’m not good at vocabulary, not an intellectual nerd and that my standard were too low. Yes she had standards and expectations that I tried to meet but it was always raised. I walked out of that relationship because I got depressed and I forgot who I was. I almost went back for me abuse. I realized I put up with a lot and lost my value. I’m glad I didn’t marry her.
Your story kinda helps me to see what my future would look like.
If I were you divorce again and be happy this time. You only have one life so why spend it with some you can’t stand. Don’t jump into your next relationship. Date yourself man. I’m single now and living fine on my own. I rather live with a gold fish and use my hand to pleasure me than to put up with a woman that just brings me down.

Is it just rose coloured glasses though Sam? It is easy to see the best in someone you are not in a relationship with. My thoughts are -you are not happy in your m=new marriage- that is clear- you need to make a change. But not into a new relationship because that would likely end badly. Perhaps some time alone, to really find you and deal with old wounds, once they are healed you may might just be in a perfect spot to meet that perfect lady.

Well is your current wife happy to be with you? Why are you allowing yourself to meet other women when you are married already?

I was a recently divorced and met an old flame from 15 years ago. He was just separated and new to the divorce scene. We had such an amazing connection, chemistry, late night conversations, many laughs and although we didn’t live in the same city we made work. It was like sunshine and rainbows! But as much as I enjoyed our conversations and fun times together I knew he wasn’t in the same place as I was and we parted ways. He thanked me for helping him though some difficult times. Maybe I was naive And I was his rebound but he made me feel beautiful, sexy and smart and we shared some pretty amazing experiences. I never regretted a thing. Our days are short. Life is all about lessons and each experience teaches us what we “don’t” want in a relationship. Never settle. You are in charge of your own happiness. Live the life you imagined!

I need help with a divorce issue, I need an answer to a question. I don’t know where to get an answer for my questions. Can you help?

Thank you, your article has helped calm me somewhat as I’m going through a similar situation. I’ve been having a hard time getting over a rebound relationship that ended recently. It look a lot of effort and so much work to actually try again after my husband’s passing two years ago (he died relatively young). I suppose, besides the upside of feeling intensely connected, there were other problems with the rebound relationship. But the pain of moving on from it feels like it’s quadrupled compared to previous relationships.

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Been heart broken isn’t a thing of joy you know. My wife got me divorced after she caught me cheating on her with my ex lover. Was so ashamed and felt so disappointed at myself. I couldn’t bear the fact that I no longer have a life partner so I decided to try get my wife back with everything I could possibly do but nothing worked out. Not till I was referred to Lord Zakuza who made what I thought was impossible to be possible by bringing back my wife within 48 hours after I made contact with him. I can boldly and joyfully say that my marriage is working just fine and more beautiful than before and I’m so happy to have got in contact with Lord Zakuza for he’s really a genius. Thanks to May Albert too for connecting me to Lord Zakuza. If you have any issues regardless of how big it is, Lord Zakuza will sort it out for you. Email address: doctorzakuzaspelltemple @hotmail. com for urgent response.

Hi viewers, I don’t really know how to thank Lord Zakuza enough for what he has done me. My husband ignored me and went back to his mistress for the past 3 months. If not for the intervention of Lord Zakuza, i wouldn’t have gotten back my husband. He’s powerful spell brought back my husband within 12 to 16 hours. Is there anyone out there who needs to get back to he’s or her lover back? Then, i suggest that you get in touch with Lord Zakuza now through his Email ID: doctorzakuzaspelltemple @hotmail. com for more information. God bless you sir.

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Has anyone realized that Emma left her Husband after he got hurt?

What ever happened to the Wedding Vows of;

“For Better or Worse, In SICKNESS and In Health”???

What a quitter.

I’m in post divorce relationship at the moment, have been for 2 years. It has been the most exhilarating and confusing two years. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the good side and sometimes I feel like “holy shit why am I here”. I say that because when I was married, I was the money maker, decision maker, strong (maybe forceful at times) to get shit done. Then this relationship I’m in now, this man handles everything and I feel like the meek and weak female. I still don’t know how to adjust and it pisses me off. Hell, last week I was so somber at work I thought I was going to get picked for a random drug screen. I am worn out of being in my damn head. I’m tired of beating myself up mentally. How the hell do I finally overcome this vail of being meek and weak?

Anyway, I appreciate your article. I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time. Thank you to everyone who has commented. I haven’t been able to read everything but plan to today.

Thank you for this. It gives a lot of insight to a situation I didn’t know was so common after divorce. This really made me feel a little better.

This article helped me to look st the breakup from a different perspective. I was married for 39 years to the only guy I had ever dated and then it fell apart. I felt discarded, rejected, ugly and alone. Then after the hardest year of my life, along comes this fascinating, intelligent, incredibly sexy guy. We dated for 8 intense weeks of great sex, long talks and romantic moments where he told me all the wonderful things he loved about me. And then it ended. It felt like being thrown away for a 2nd time and pushed me back a few steps in my recovery. This has given me such food for thought as to what REALLY hurt and what I was REALLY grieving. Thank you.

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Nailed it! My post divorce breakup is 2 weeks fresh. In my attempt to find some kind of answer to this gut wrenching pain my google search lead me to your blog, in turn bringing much insight, along with uncontrollable rain drop sized tears and a few laughs. Much appreciated!

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This is what I’m going Through now and you literally summed up every ounce of my emotions in this article

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