In both my therapy and coaching practice I help clients navigate the new waters of singledom after their marriages and partnerships have ended. Not only do I help them understand what they and their ex-partners contributed to their relationship that may have weakened the relationship but I also encourage them to look at the strengths they have gained emotionally, psychologically and sexually.
When beginning to venture out into dating life again, it's important to ask oneself these five questions to help clarify what you're looking for in a new relationship. These aren't resolutions, but rather internal conversations that will hopefully fortify your resolve to be connected to the most important elements of the life you want to have. While I have written these for newly single people, they're also helpful for those that are single and dating.
Which people in my life give my life the most meaning and how much time do I want to spend with them?
The longer I counsel people and live my one life, the more I see that time is the thing that is the most valuable asset in the construction of a life well lived. What I mean by this is that as goals like money, possessions or looks are either not attained or depleted from a person's life, the essence of what a person values are their relationships to others. Whether it's time spent with family members, your closest friends or your co-workers, take an account of how much time you actually spend with those you love most and the time you would prefer to spend with them and make that a priority in the new year especially as you begin dating.
When a past client of mine began dating a new love interest, she began to feel pressured by this new man to leave her children with a babysitter for a weekend so that she could go away for the weekend with him because he didn't have his children that weekend. She felt torn because on the one hand she was struck by how good she felt when she was with him after only a few months of dating him but on the other hand, she had been working long hours at work and her children were acting out their missing her at bedtime by refusing to go to school on school mornings.
We discussed what her priorities were (letting her kids know she was there for them, having fun times with them, helping them with school work) and what she was seeking in this new dating relationship (companionship, sexual pleasure, intimacy). How much time did she want to give to her children and how much time weekly to the relationship? She decided since it had only been six months since her separation she felt that a once a week date was all she was looking for from this new relationship. She let her new friend that she couldn't go away for a whole weekend at this time but was taking a rain check and would like to plan a trip in the future so she could coordinate with her ex-husband.
How much time do I want to spend taking care of myself and how do I go about doing that?
When clients of mine have begin to date, many of them feel anxious about how their images are being perceived through their online photos, what clothes they should be wear on dates, and how their bodies are viewed when they undress in front of a new lover.
For clients whose sex life with their ex-partner had either slackened to low frequency or a non-existent experience, getting back into a sexual relationship can cause much worry over how their looks will be perceived by new sets of eyes. Their Sex Esteem has been depleted or bruised and they need to feel more aligned with a healthier embodiment. One man I counseled had been left six months earlier by his wife because of her impatience with his lack of interest in improving their relationship. The man admitted he was a workaholic and had uncontrolled ejaculation which he had neglected to address throughout their 15-year marriage. He began addressing his sexual concerns in therapy and in so doing discussed how he would feel more comfortable in his own skin.
He said he wanted to learn techniques to gain ejaculatory control, lose some weight and feel more tone before becoming sexually active with a new partner. We began to focus on exercises he could practice at home to gain more control over his ejaculation. In my assessment, I also asked him if he ever did a sport or some physical activity that he enjoyed when he was younger and he responded that he used to love to play tennis but he had been so busy taking his kids to their sports games on weekends he didn't have time for himself. I asked him how much time he could realistically play tennis and he said twice every other weekend when his wife had the kids.
He joined a community tennis club and began a round robin class that also enabled him to meet new people. He also bought a treadmill and commit to waking early once a week to run on the treadmill for 20 minutes on a morning he didn't have his children. After four months of this new routine, he felt stronger and more confident in his strength, stamina and sexual technique and asked a woman out who he had met in the tennis class. Through our sessions on how to improve his sexual functioning and the time spent exercising three times a week, he felt more physically confident.
What activities do I find social, energizing and meaningful?
I subscribe to the belief that when you're involved in an activity that hooks one of your passions, your inner joy and fun are experienced and easily seen by others allowing you to be seen authentically in an alluring way.
Many times, clients will tell me they were drawn to their past partners because of the way they could hold a crowd with their joke telling, the manner in which they lovingly hugged a friend who was having a rough time, or the warm smile they flashed at them when they passed one another at a party.
I also find that when you're doing something meaningful on a regular basis you are more likely to meet like-minded people who you can befriend or possibly date.
A client of mine broke up with her husband due to his total refusal to work on their non-existent sex life. Although she had initiated the break-up, she was deeply saddened by the loss of her husband who had been her best friend and with whom she spent most of her free time. I asked her what in her past life had given her a sense of joy, passion or excitement. She recalled her work counseling teen girls at a nearby school when she was in college for community service and how meaningful that was for her.
I asked how often she had counseled these young teens and she said weekly. I encouraged her to find a weekly volunteer position that she could do each weekend when she would formerly have been with her husband. She began volunteering with a local church in their soup kitchen on Sunday mornings. She felt useful, engaged and spiritually fulfilled each week when she returned home. She noticed that the same volunteers returned each Sunday and had become friends with one another over the years, sometimes going out for an early supper after their shift was over. She asked if she could join them and made a whole new group of friends with whom she began to socialize. Although she was still recovering from the loss of her marriage her loneliness slowly faded and the new energy gained from the soup kitchen work led her to join a weekly ski club where she met a man she began to date.
What parts of my erotic self need tending?
Like a garden that needs attention through sun, water, weeding and re-seeding, our erotic life also needs re-nourishment in order to grow. When relationships end, sometimes people either go on a bender of having many new experiences of sex or they withdraw from dating entirely due to the hurt, rejection or shame they've experienced. Neither of these two extremes helps people specifically focus on ways in which they want to grow erotically by choosing new partners with deliberate thought.
I counsel single people to think about what they were missing in their former relationship and how they want to feel in the future regarding their Sex Esteem. One gay man talked about becoming more dominant in his next relationship since he had assumed the role of a bottom with his past partner and most of his past relationships. He had avoided topping most of his adult life in long-term relationships because of his experience of losing erections due to anxiety.
I asked him if he had ever acted out his fantasy of being a top and he said he had when he had had hookups between his long-term relationships. Therapy sessions were focused on steps he could take to speak with more Sex Esteem with new partners in order to be clear what kind of sex interested him. I helped him with exercises on reducing anxiety, focusing on resilience and understanding the meaning he attributed to being dominant in a loving relationship. He began turning down dates from men who only liked to top after learning the language to use to let them know what he was looking for.
Am I okay spending time on my own?
It's important during the time after a relationship ends to get one's bearings and figuring out that they're okay to be without a partner. Discovering (or in some case rediscovering) aspects of you that are at times powerful, knowledgeable, fun and challenging is important in human growth.
Figuring out how to enjoy oneself alone or in a group can be awfully difficult in that first six months to a year after a break-up of a long-term relationship especially in the American culture that romanticizes couples. I encourage clients to seek out supportive family and friends, take time to spiritually revive their soul and learn ways to find pleasure in their own company without the distractions of alcohol, drugs, emotionally eating, gambling, or video gaming. You'll find a more confident, centered person you can depend on.