If you’ve gone through divorce, Valentine’s Day may not have the sparkle it once did. If you are suffering the effects of enduring an unhealthy relationship and the grief and trauma of its ending, you might not experience the joyful optimism or that sense that “love is in the air.”
Far too often, divorcees who have suffered in toxic or abusive relationships lose their sense of self, including feeling worthy of a powerful, intimate and deeply fulfilling romantic relationship. As a result, many of them find themselves settling for less than they deserve, or even worse, becoming addicted to the emotional highs and lows that are a trademark of unhealthy relationships, and as a result, perpetuate cycles of relationships that lead to pain and unhappiness.
I asked health educator and relationship coach, Stephanie McPhail, MS, the author of Being Loved Shouldn’t Hurt: Recognizing and Overcoming Toxic Relationships So You Can Live Your Best Life Now to provide the secrets of how to date up and create future healthy relationships.
As a woman who has suffered through unhealthy relationships, divorce, self- doubt and low self-esteem, I know first-hand how disheartening it can be when you end one bad relationship with hope for the future, yet wind up only attracting more of the same.
Yet as a relationship coach who has learned the secrets of emotional healing, breaking the cycles of unhealthy relationships, and attracting and creating the life and romantic relationship of my dreams, it has become my great passion to serve women who are where I once was, by sharing the guidance, support and tools to help them reclaim their power to create the lives and relationships they truly deserve.
What does it mean to “date up?”
“Dating up” can be interpreted a few ways.
- It means preparing yourself for your perfect relationship by improving how you show up in the dating world: having clear goals and setting clear expectations.
- It means knowing your worth and not settling for less than you deserve: viewing yourself as “top shelf” rather than a “clearance rack” item.
- It means only considering partners who match or exceed your level of ambition: someone with high standards for themselves and their lives.
- It means a willingness to decisively end relationships that do not meet your non- negotiables: partners who honor love, commitment and devotion for its own sake, and those who willingly give more than they take.
While part of the joy of finding your true love is a willingness to be open to the unexpected, serendipitous ways that love can show up in our lives, there is an art and science of dating. With the right mindset, you can give yourself the greatest chance of finding the love you truly deserve, while minimizing the likelihood of undue heartbreak along the way. With that in mind, here are my top five tips for “dating up” after divorce:
Drop your emotional baggage.
We can’t invite in the new if we keep replaying the past. To help decisively put your past in the past so it doesn’t sour your future, go “no contact” with your ex. Don’t get sucked into new conversations that replay why the marriage did not work. Once you make the decision to end the relationship, it is important not to fall back into old patterns, try to explain, “help,” get into arguments, feel pity, or try to get them to understand how their behavior affected you. This is a VERY important first step and often the hardest. Too often we have played the back and forth for so long we have gotten used to it, and so have they! We give more and more chances, only to see that things don’t improve, they actually get worse.
When you make the decision to end contact with a toxic person in any way, it shows the universe, and yourself, that you aren’t going to be involved in the drama anymore. If you are still finding yourself wanting to go back to a toxic person, then ask yourself why you would allow someone to treat you so badly? It may be all you know, but that doesn’t mean better isn’t available to you.
However, if you keep going back, you will never give yourself the chance to create a better life, and this will be the way things will always be. The ability to “date up” happens after you begin to heal. The toxic person won't change, in fact the relationship will often get worse the more chances you give it. Make the decision and block/delete and do everything in your power not to have to have any communication with them under any circumstances. Unless you have legal obligations with your ex such as children or shared assets (in which case communication should be minimal and strictly about the legal matter itself), you want to sever all contact with this person if you’re going to begin to create an environment in which you can heal and grow, putting the past behind you once and for all. Make sure you have supportive friends and stay away from friends that you had in common. I know it can feel bad to lose people that were once important to you, but in your fragile state, anything that brings the abuser back into your life or your mind will be detrimental to your healing. You don’t need to hear about what they are doing or who they are dating. They will end up being the same to the new person as they were to you. If anyone tries to share rumors or news, tell them you don’t want to hear it. Make sure that the people that you do spend time with are helping and not hurting your recovery. We tend to see who our real friends are when we go through a major life event. If they are trying to create drama for you in any way, remove them from your life. You may start to do this naturally anyway, as you learn how to create better boundaries and your self-esteem increases. Remember, closure is a mindset, not a conversation.
Rediscover your passions.
Often, the unhealthy relationship slowly took away our identity; we’ve compromised, sacrificed and traded away our interests and desires for the sake of trying to keep our partner happy. We may feel like we aren’t deserving of love, success or happiness ourselves. Remind yourself of everything positive you have achieved in your life. Rediscover the things that bring you happiness, and open yourself up to newbetter experiences. Volunteer and join meetups in your area for anything that sounds interesting to you. Learn self-defense, travel, take that cooking course you wanted to take, start a healthy eating and exercise plan. Not only will you figure out what you like but you will also meet people that have similar interests! Just because you didn’t work well with someone else, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there looking for exactly who you have hidden or lost along the way. Make yourself whole again by learning to love and appreciate yourself first. Be patient like you would with a child, and rediscover what makes you excited to be alive! This part of the process may take some time. Be patient.
It took years for you to get to where you are, and it’s going to take some time to rebuild.
Trust your gut.
But maybe not right away. In the beginning, it’s hard to differentiate between your gut, your heart and your brain. This one was a big one for me. There is a lot to be said for intuition. When I speak to clients, they often say they knew they had to leave or should have ended the relationship sooner, but didn’t because they feared being lonely, judged by others, or feeling too old to start again. When we are ready to start dating again, be very aware of the feeling inside your body telling you that someone is right or wrong for you. Too many of us avoided this voice because we wanted to avoid the pain of ending what might have felt like the best we had up until then or the insecurities that we did not heal in between relationships. You have to start listening, and taking action on that little voice that is tugging at you, telling you to end a relationship. There is more out there and you deserve better, but you can’t find it staying with someone who is not the right fit for you. “You cannot fit a square peg into a round hole.” Find the right fit for you, starting by getting really clear on what you want as you heal and get to know yourself again. Once I started to listen to my gut, and acted on what was best for me in spite of the discomfort, things got much easier and it saved me so much future pain! It’s actually more stressful to go against what my intuition tells me because no other voice is as clear or reliable. It’s usually much easier to just listen to your inner voice the first time, and it makes life seem more magical when you tap into this source of guidance. Take the time each day to simply be still and allow any conflicting thoughts to simply be “heard”. You’ll get better at letting go of any static or confusion and begin to hear the voice of your inner truth and follow it’s sage advice more.
Be the creator of your new life
Go out there and start creating the life that you are excited to wake up to every day. “Take the bull by the horns” and make plans and do the things that you may
have put to the side. Your ex didn’t make a big deal about Valentine’s Day? Are you feeling lonely? Get your single friends together and make plans for that day, heck…make plans for every weekend of the month! Lost friends because of the relationship? Join, or even create, a meetup.com group to find some fun things to do. The important thing is not to spend your precious time LOOKING for your new relationship. If you want to “Date Up” you will fill up your time doing all of the things you love. You don’t want to come from a place of neediness, your perfect partner will find you alluring simply being you.
Create a new support team.
As you are going out there and finding out who you are and what you want for your life, it's important to find people who will help inspire and motivate you even in the times you may not be feeling it. Make sure that friends and family are helping you elevate your life, not bring you down. As you heal, it’s important to be around other people who are also looking to learn and grow. You want to limit time spent with anyone who brings your energy down. This will make it easier for you to say “no” to any potential new relationship that doesn’t add to your life in a healthy way.
Aside from having the right circle of friends, it’s also wise to hire a mentor/coach at this time to keep you from replaying the same patterns in new relationships.
We don’t know what we don’t know; “you can’t see the label from inside the bottle.” After all, if we knew what we were doing wrong we probably wouldn’t be doing it, right? Too often, I see clients not getting the right support between relationships and think they are choosing differently, only to end up with the same type of relationship they got away from.
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Stephanie McPhail, MS is a relationship coach, speaker and author of Being Loved Shouldn’t Hurt. You can join her Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/beinglovedshouldnthurt/ where she offers free training and support, and more information on her powerful coaching programs. You can also text her directly at (631) 317-4027 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.