After a marriage meets a painful end through death or divorce, the loss and grieving can be devastating. You desire to find connection and comfort in a new relationship, but worry about carrying the pain of your past along with you. How can you be sure that you are ready to take on a new relationship? Consider this checklist for helping you determine if you are ready.
Relationships struggle enough without the added challenge of having your compasses pointed in opposite directions. Scripture is clear in its instruction not to become unequally yoked. This wisdom in scripture is to spare us heartache by helping us bond with those who also share God’s kingdom purposes.
Never rush into a new relationship before giving yourself time to process the loss of the last one. A relationship built on the broken shards or painful loss of the last relationship has a poor footing on which to begin. Take the time to grieve and process the last relationship and to grow into the new one. Take a year with a new someone, for example, to see who they really are through all of the seasons.
Attempting to find healing for one relationship by running into another is rarely successful. Get comfortable with your own companionship instead of trying to soothe your loneliness with a relationship. A new relationship should never be for the purpose of calming your anxiety. Connect with supportive friendships to support you through the isolation after a death or divorce. Lean on the support of your community so that you are not tempted to rush into a romantic relationship just to avoid being alone.
Readiness includes being able to look back on your relationship and see it for the blend of good and bad that it was. If it is glorified as a perfect relationship or painted with an entirely negative brush then you may need more time to process your experiences realistically. If you consistently speak in terms of always or never, you are probably generalizing the experience rather than looking at it honestly.
If, especially in cases of divorce, you see your ex-spouse as the only cause of all of the conflict, then you are not ready to enter a new relationship. You have yet to acknowledge your own contribution. The baggage of the previous relationship will only carry into a new one if it's not unpacked fully. Process your ownership in whatever conflict the first relationship encountered, preferably with a professional counselor. Owning your mess is a step toward finding healing before entering a new relationship.
Take advantage of your time outside of an intimate relationship to change any negative behaviors that you have developed. Take the wisdom of acknowledging your contribution and commit to change yourself and practice being a better person in your friendships. Taking an anger management course or spending time in AA or grief support can bless your next relationship by bringing healing to your past. Regular conversations with a pastor or Christian counselor can provide you with the needed tools for going forward in a healthy way.
A lack of forgiveness can eat away at you and seed bitterness within a new relationship. Don’t make your new spouse pay for the sins of someone else. When you are able to forgive your former spouse, you can find joy again as you learn to trust and lean on one another. A bitter heart has no capacity to trust because pain and anger have become the focus. Have you put aside your anger? Can you wish your previous spouse well? Can you forgive your spouse for leaving the relationship without painting yourself as the victim? If so, then you may be ready to move on.
If you are still angry with yourself over your past failures, you may need some time to find personal healing before stepping into a relationship. It can be very normal to hurt and question, but it cannot become a long-term residence. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness to free yourself to be open and vulnerable in a new relationship. Jesus told us to forgive generously as we have been forgiven and we need to extend that courtesy to ourselves as well.
If there are children in the new relationship, you need to be ready to love them for better or worse. A marriage-relationship transition can rock the equilibrium in a household and bring out the worst in people. Be prepared to face some difficult challenges and commit to doing it as a team. Blended families require a extra measure of God’s grace so don’t sign up unless you are ready to commit for better and worse over the long haul.
Second relationships can be a significant blessing, if they are entered into thoughtfully. A blended family living together exercising God’s forgiveness can be a tremendous witness to the God of second chances that we serve. Take the time to get the healing that you need before going forward into a new relationship. Consider the guidance of a Christian counselor to help you heal the wounds of the past to give your relationship the best chances for going forward. God can use the pain of the past to redeem the present and bring hope for the future.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken