Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) who is struggling in her relationship with a separated and divorcing man and wondering whether their relationship will survive his tumultuous divorce. In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this question, including the key factors needed for relationship survival, whether you should even attempt to maintain a relationship while he’s in the process of divorce, and what to do if he is asking for space but still wants to see you.
I’m dating a separated man and he is in the process of an extremely tumultuous divorce. He has asked for more space in our relationship. He says he still wants to see me, and he initiates contact. His ex has been incredibly threatening (i.e. trying to burn his house down). And he has young children.
I really don’t want to lose this man. I have been crippled with anxiety since he asked for more space and I am feeling unsure and lost.
I just want to know what are our chances of maintaining this relationship through all of this?
-Scared and Insecure
Dear Scared and Insecure,
Thank you so much for reaching out. I hear your concern!
It’s very challenging to have a “normal” romantic relationship with someone whose life is undergoing a huge transition such as a divorce, and not just any divorce—a highly contentious divorce.
You ask “what are the chances of maintaining this relationship through all this”?
It depends on several really important factors.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
There are actually two hurdles here.
There’s a difference between relationship survival and longevity.
In order for your relationship to survive the immediate crisis, it is needs to overcome the crisis.
And in order for the relationship to last beyond the crisis, you both need to be on the same relationship path, which includes having a shared vision for the kind of life and relationship that you really want and meeting each other’s needs and relationship requirements.
But within the first “hurdle” (surviving his divorce) there are multiple issues to overcome, aside from finalizing the divorce, such as dealing with an incredibly threatening and high-conflict ex.
Will Your Relationship Survive His Divorce?
It depends on his commitment to resolving the issues, your tolerance for the circumstances, and his and your readiness for a relationship.
How committed is he?
How committed is he to resolving the issues that are in the way of deepening and growing your relationship?
There are some things in this divorce battle that are beyond his control such as his wife’s erratic and dangerous behavior and her unwillingness to cooperate throughout this divorce.
But despite all that, he can still try and do everything within his legal power to protect his interests and finalize his divorce.
But he needs to be committed to that task, committed to the journey.
He has to want it and take meaningful action toward attaining it.
If he’s unsure if he really wants to get a divorce and if he’s dragging his feet and making excuses, then there’s no real end date in sight for the resolution of these issues.
In other words, who knows how long you’ll be dating a married man.
What’s your tolerance level?
The other factor to consider is your tolerance for the circumstances.
When my boyfriend (now husband) was going to grad school, he had to take classes every other weekend in Sacramento, which is about two and half hours away from San Francisco.
Most of the time he just stayed there at a hotel on the weekends.
This was yearlong program.
It was challenging not being able to spend much quality time with him because during the week he’d have to work at his day job and then on the weekends he’d had class.
But I knew it was temporary.
And once he earned his certificate, we’d be able to spend more time together.
It was uncomfortable, but I was willing to tolerate the discomfort because I was certain the phase would end, and it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.
You said you’re “crippled with anxiety.”
How is this anxiety affecting your life, your work, and your other important relationships?
In other words: what is it COSTING YOU mentally and emotionally to stay in this relationship?
And how long are you willing to pay that price?
How ready are the both of you for a relationship?
And then the other important factor to consider is: assuming he makes it out of this divorce, how ready will he be for a new relationship after divorce?
Will he be over his divorce and over his ex so that he can be emotionally available to a new relationship?
Will he have resolved any financial and legal obligations so that they don’t interfere with a new relationship?
Will he be clear on what he wants in life and in a relationship so there’s no uncertainty on his part on whether he wants to go into deeper levels of commitment with you?
And the same goes for your own readiness for a relationship.
Is there anything in your life that could interfere with the success of a new relationship?
Should You Maintain a Relationship Through His Divorce?
This question goes back to your tolerance level for not getting your needs met while his mental and emotional energy are going toward this divorce, and how long you’re willing to go without getting your needs met.
Most of us can tolerate not getting our needs met if we know how long we’re going to have to wait and we’re fairly certain that our needs will be met at the end of the waiting period.
But when you’re waiting indefinitely, you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth it to you to indefinitely deny that need.
When our needs aren’t being met, we’re unhappy.
And unhappiness can foster anger and resentment, which can poison a relationship—sometimes beyond repair—if it goes unresolved.
So can you maintain a relationship with a divorcing man?
It depends on your tolerance level.
But I would NOT recommend it unless you’re certain that he’s headed toward divorce: meaning he’s taking meaningful action to resolving the divorce and any other issues on his part that are in the way of you two having a happy, healthy relationship together.
What Do You Do If He’s Asking for Space but Still Wants to See You
This is often a real quandary for women because they really WANT to maintain a connection with the man they love, but they’re not getting their needs met in the relationship because their man asked for space.
Meanwhile, he’s getting HIS needs met because you’re she’s making herself available to him.
My honest advice: give him the space he says wants and tell him “call me when you figure it out.”
And then walk in the other direction.
If you’ve ever been in a one-way relationship, you know that it ultimately doesn’t feel good.
You might feel good staying connected to him, but you also end up feeling short-changed or worse: feeling used.
And that just breeds resentment and even more anxiety.
It’s not fair to you.
Your needs matter.
Your time matters.
The dream that you have for yourself and your life matters.
And if he doesn’t know what he wants or needs time to resolve things and “figure it out” and he doesn’t know how long it will take, the best thing that you can do for yourself is devote your time and energy to reconnecting with yourself.
The best thing that you can do for yourself is to work on creating and living a life that truly brings you joy from the inside out.
And you don’t need to wait for him to make that happen.
I know these things take a lot of time and thought to consider, but I hope this helps provide some guidance!
Please feel free to reach out if you need any other support.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.
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