How to Be the One After the One
When Karen*, 33, started dating ex-soldier Ryan*, 40, she thought she’d met her perfect guy. He was charming, funny, kind and handsome, and as a school football coach, he was also great with kids. He was exactly the sort of guy she could see herself settling down with. But just weeks into their relationship, Ryan dropped a bombshell: he’d been married before and was a dad to three children. He’d been separated for two years and his divorce was close to being finalised. Though he no longer lived in the same country as his ex and his kids, he spent every school holiday with them.
Reeling from the news that her knight on a white horse had a few chinks in his armour, Karen, a marketing executive in Dubai, tried her best to accept Ryan’s past and continued the relationship, but ultimately, his baggage proved too much for her to cope with.
“I tried to tell myself that the past was in the past but then, out of nowhere, his ex would suddenly pop into my mind,” says Karen. “I remember one day seeing a family with two small kids getting ice creams at the beach. My mind flashed forward excitedly to a day when Ryan and I might be doing the same thing with our kids. Then I remembered he’d been there, done that, and it stung,” says Karen. “What made it worse was that I’d never seen or met his ex. She was a perfect stranger, yet she became this mysterious entity hanging over our relationship. A few months after Ryan had told me he’d been married before, I ended it.”
Rebound to Real Thing
And Karen is not alone. The UAE has the highest divorce rate in the GCC and, according to data from Dubai Courts, among the city’s expats the rate has soared by 40 per cent since 2009. In a city of approximately two million people, there are three divorces a day in Dubai, meaning Mr Right is statistically much more likely to come with excess baggage than ever before – especially if you’re single and in your 30s.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker if your guy has been married before. In fact, if you handle it right, it could spell the beginning of the most fulfilling relationship you’ve ever had. The key, says Tonja Weimer, relationship coach and author of Thriving After Divorce, says the secret is in recognising that he has earned his relationship stripes. After all, every relationship is a learning curve, and they don’t come much steeper than divorce.
“It is likely he has gone through a growing process because of his divorce and used the experience to become more insightful, so he will probably be a kinder, more appreciative, and more patient person,” says Tonja.
To discover if your guy has come out of his break-up more emotionally evolved, you need to first check that he’s not still emotionally involved. “The biggest question one needs to ask is whether or not he has worked through the issues that arose in his marriage that caused it to end,” says Tonja. “If he is still talking wistfully, longingly or angrily about his ex, he has baggage. These are big red flags and this guy is not really emotionally available. He may be divorced, but he’s still tied up with the ex.”
In order to take your relationship from rebound to real thing, talk about what went wrong in his marriage. You don’t need to spend hours dissecting every agonising moment of his break-up, but getting the abridged version from him will help you decide if you have a future together.
“You should have some idea of why his marriage ended in order to build and maintain a healthy future relationship,” says Christine Belfry, author of self-help book Ladies Keep It Movin...10 Steps for Staying Sane & Fabulous With Kids, Your Man and a Dream. “Find out if his marriage ended because of infidelity, lack of communication, finances, or something more extreme. Having this information can help you decide if you want to move forward in the relationship. If you do, discuss the ways the both of you could handle similar situations when they arise.”
The Ex Factor
Even if he’s worked through his own relationship issues, there is always an eerie figure lurking in any divorced guy’s past that you must confront before you can move forward: his ex. And depending on how nasty the break-up was, that figure can cast a pretty dark shadow on your relationship. Just ask Mila Kunis, who started dating Ashton Kutcher after his six-year marriage to Demi Moore broke down amid a storm of publicity.
But you don’t have to be living in the shadow of a Hollywood superstar for insecurity to take hold. When Gemma*, 35, an animal charity worker in Abu Dhabi, first began dating Dan*, a 39-year-old divorcee, she became obsessed with his ex-wife after a chance meeting. “I was with Dan at a party when we ran into her unexpectedly. She was nothing like I had imagined: she was really warm and friendly. She was also stunning with blonde hair and long, tan legs. I immediately felt crippled with jealousy. After that, I started poring over her Facebook pictures comparing myself to her. When Dan and I went somewhere new, like a nice restaurant, I wondered if he’d ever been there with her. It got to the point where I was obsessing over her.”
While it’s tempting to compare yourself to his ex, allowing yourself to dwell on these feelings is only feeding your insecurities and stopping you moving forward in your relationship. “Comparing yourself to his ex speaks to a number of underlying insecurities,” warns Tonja. “If you are happy with yourself, you shouldn’t need to compare yourself to anyone. The larger issue here would be to address what your boyfriend sees in you, and whenever you are seized with doubts, ask him to reaffirm it for you. If you can ask for that, and if he can communicate that to you, then your concerns about measuring yourself against the standard of his ex will be greatly diminished.”
If, like Karen, your divorced guy is also a father, it can bring a unique set of challenges to the relationship. “If he has children, you are not only dating him, you are dating them too,” warns Christine. “Kids are fragile and divorce can affect them in an adverse way, so they may take some time to get used to dad moving on.”
By equipping yourself with as much information as possible, you can face this challenge head on – and your relationship will be richer for it. “You have a lot of questions to ask,” says Tonja. “What are the custodial arrangements? What is his relationship like with his children? What are his exchanges like with his ex around the co-parenting of the children? Where does he see you fitting in?” Weimer adds, “Children are a huge issue in a relationship with a divorced guy, and the number one reason second marriages fail. They can definitely make your life richer, but they can also make your life miserable if the two of you are not on the same page.” So talk the issue through thoroughly with your guy and vent your concerns – and rest assured, you are not alone.
“Blended families are very common,” says Trisha Swinton, marriage counsellor and author of Picking up the Pieces: Life After Divorce. “The most important thing is to give the children time to process your relationship. Let them know they can talk to you about their fears and concerns.
Divorced & Dating
If you are yourself divorced, it can take some time before you’re ready to commit again (look at Jennifer Aniston who is set to tie the knot to Justin Theroux eight years after her divorce from Brad Pitt).
“It’s important to process all your feelings which usually include grief, abandonment and/or guilt, depending on who instigated the divorce,” says Trisha. “Also make sure you are okay on your own for a while and that you can be independent. You don’t want to jump into a new relationship because you are scared to be alone.”Accepting responsibility for your part in the break-up is the only way you can learn from it, adds Trisha “Be careful not to blame the whole divorce on the other person. Look at yourself and the mistakes you made that contributed to it. This will help you avoid these in the future.”
Like Justin Theroux, Stephen*, 36, an accountant in Dubai, is engaged to a divorced woman, Emma*, 35, a primary school teacher. But he says her openness about her former marriage has made their relationship stronger. “Emma was upfront about the fact that she’d been married before from the start,” says Stephen.
“She got married at 25 and the relationship crumbled after two years. She wasn’t bitter or angry, she simply said they got married too young and that no one was to blame. She told me she didn’t need someone to rescue her and she didn’t need an agony aunt. She came into our relationship older, wiser and more self-aware, which put us on the right footing straight away.”
And, says Linda Franklin, a divorcee and author of How to be Happy After Divorce, it’s this kind of self-awareness that makes second-chance love so rewarding.
“I say I’m happily divorced,” says Linda. “After all, why would I want a potential new partner to see my divorce as anything other than something I handled that’s now in my past?”
*Names changed to protect identity.