Don’t Date After Divorce—Without Doing These 11 Things First

After you're over your marriage, it could be time to get back in the game.

Spend time alone first

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When you're used to married life, being single can be scary. But spending some time alone will help you re-center and figure out who you really are when you’re not attached to anyone, says dating and empowerment coach Laurel House. “In a marriage, you are a slightly different person,” she says. “As much as we want (and try) to maintain our identity, the reality is that’s not always the case.” Take time to figure out how your old relationship changed you, and who you are now. And remember, there’s nothing wrong with being alone. Embrace the single life by going to bed early or seeing a movie by yourself, says House. When loneliness is getting the best of you, try these ways to connect with others.

Make sure you’ve totally moved on

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Before you can start a new relationship, you have to be completely over your ex. Allow yourself time to grieve over your marriage and heal, says licensed marriage and family therapist Kate Campbell, PhD, owner and director of Bayview Therapeutic Services. “If you're still having a strong emotional reaction when you hear their name, or stalking them on Facebook, that should be a sign you're not ready.” These habits hold you back from moving on from a breakup.

Figure out what went wrong before

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Even if you think your ex drove the split, take a step back to see how your actions affected it. “I’m not saying you are at fault, I’m not saying that you need to take responsibility for everything—it’s just taking responsibility for your contribution,” says House. Maybe you stopped putting in effort when the marriage started going downhill, or maybe you let little things get under your skin too quickly. By addressing your past mistakes, you can set a new relationship up for success. Check out these signs that you're headed for divorce.

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Define what you want from a relationship

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Now that you have a chance to start over, ask yourself what you’re looking for. Maybe you need a deeper connection, more consistency, or a sense of adventure. “It’s checking in and seeing what you need in this relationship that you were missing in your last,” says House. Don't miss this marriage advice from divorced people.

Go in with self-confidence

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“Some women have lower self-esteem after divorce and feel like they’re flawed,” says Dr. Campbell. “They have a fear of being hurt again or being rejected.” As scary as it is to be vulnerable again, put those worries aside—you aren’t destined to be alone forever. Boost your self-image by delving into hobbies, volunteering, or relationships with families and friends, and use these tricks to stop negative self talk. When you’re more confident with who you are, you can consider introducing a romantic partner into that life.

Be real, not perfect

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“Perfection is what we think it should be, but it’s also boring and it’s forgettable,” says House. Be authentic starting on your very first date, and you’ll be able to find a better connection. If there’s no chemistry, that person isn’t right for you. Avoid these other annoying dating habits, too.

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Keep divorce talk to a minimum

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“Talking too much about an ex or past relationship on a first date is a huge red flag that somebody isn’t over it,” says Dr. Campbell. You don’t have to avoid the topic completely—after all, everyone has a past—but your ex shouldn’t come up more than a couple times. After you’ve been on a few dates, you can start delving into deeper topics. Don't miss these science-backed facts about breakups.

Don’t make ex-talk awkward

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No matter how happy you are that your marriage is over, don’t start bashing your ex on a first date. You don’t want to seem too sad or angry, but jokes about the divorce will make you seem “emotionally inept,” says House. Keeping your emotions neutral, describe your past relationship in a U-shape, she says. First explain why the relationship started great, then dip down into what made it fail. Finish on a high note with what you learned and why you’re a better person now. “Tie that relationship up with a bow,” says House.

Use online dating strategically

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Long gone are the days when online dating had a stigma. If you’re looking to start a new relationship, you might want to consider a matchmaking app or website. Try these opening lines to land a date. House recommends getting on the phone before you decide to meet in person. “Have a one-hour phone call where you get to know the person,” she says. “It’s easier to call it off after a phone call than a first date.” If you do decide to meet face-to-face, Dr. Campbell suggests starting with a casual meet-up like grabbing coffee or taking a walk. You’ll be able to sense the potential without committing to a formal dinner date.

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Put your kids first

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“If you have a child, your child is your priority,” says House. “If the person you’re dating has a problem with that, they’re not for you.” Include a picture of your kid on your online dating profile so there are no surprises. (Hide their face if you’re worried about your child's online safety.) Make it clear that your child comes first, even if that means rescheduling dates or arriving late to take care of your kid.

Decide when to introduce your kids

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When you introduce a romantic partner to your kids depends on how old they are and how they’re coping with the divorce. Let them meet “after the relationship is serious and you’re confident it will bring a sense of calm and stability to your children and family,” says Dr. Campbell. Some kids might cope better if you introduce your date as just a friend, says House. Plan a casual meet-up with no hand-holding or kissing to make sure your children don’t feel left out, she says.

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