I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life so far, many of which came from the season when I was previously married. Looking back on that chapter in my life, I can see clearly my mistakes and the red flags I missed.
After my annulment went through and I felt ready to begin dating again, there were times I felt a little overwhelmed and worried. I wondered how I would do better and get it right this time around.
How could I make choices about a relationship after my divorce? How would I avoid the same mistakes again? If you have been previously married, perhaps your questions are similar (or a bit different!) from my own.
In the aftermath of my divorce, I brought these questions to my counselor. Gracious and encouraging, she would gently remind me, “Patty, now you get to put into practice all these tools that we’ve talked about and learned. They’ll help you listen more to your gut and trust yourself in new ways. You can do this because you have done a lot of hard work.”
You know something? She was right.
I have learned a lot and grown in new ways. I am dating differently this time around. Someday when I do remarry, I know it will be for the right reasons and with my eyes wide open.
If you’re a Catholic who is just beginning to date again after a divorce and annulment, here are some things to keep in mind. I hope these tips are encouraging for you if you find yourself in this space like I did.
1. Take responsibility for yourself
Learning to take responsibility for myself was one of the most important things I learned after my divorce and annulment. Before you start dating again, take responsibility for your part in why your marriage ended. Claim the past mistakes you don’t want to repeat again.
For me, the annulment process was incredibly helpful in this. Asking for the declaration of nullity helped me take responsibility for myself and my actions. I had to take the time to name and identify the things I did wrong and faults I committed in my marriage. That kind of work is hard but important in moving forward and working to have a healthy relationship some day.
When I owned my part, I was claiming what I did and how I acted. I want to do better and learn from those mistakes and make healthier choices moving forward. As I eventually began to date again, I realized how this initial step of being responsible for myself was an important step in doing things differently this time.
2. Date from a place of wholeness
When you begin to date again after a divorce and annulment, do so from a place of healing and wholeness, rather than loneliness and insecurity. Do the deep soul work on yourself before you enter out in the Catholic dating world again.
If you haven’t worked through a previous marriage or your own issues from it, you’re probably not ready to date yet.
I knew I wanted to do things differently this time around. I can see now how working on myself first helped me become a better, healthier dater in the long-term.
3. Establish healthy boundaries
There are lots of different types of boundaries: emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual. For boundaries to work as intended, you need to understand some things before you enter a serious relationship. For instance, what are your non-negotiable boundaries? What are the things you will not allow yourself to be compromised in? How will you use boundaries to keep yourself safe while also respecting the other person?
A great resource in better understanding and implementing boundaries in life and relationships is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Know what you are looking for and what is important to you as you begin to date again.
4. Wait with openness
As you begin to date again after a divorce and annulment, trust in the slow work of God. He works slowly, silently, and steadily. While your story may have gone very different than you wanted, God is still working and moving in new ways for your good.
Trust in God’s plan and goodness over my life is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Sometimes I get too involved (literally or mentally!) in telling God what I want or how I want the story to play out and look. But in the end, I have to trust God what he is doing, even if it looks radically different than what I hoped for.
Be open to life looking and feeling different than how you imagined. Show up to live your life well. Remember, there is no formula for life.
5. Strive for authenticity
I hope it doesn’t sound too trite, but sometimes we just need to be reminded of the importance of just being yourself as you begin to date again. Don’t be fake as you begin to date again as a Catholic who has experienced a divorce and annulment. Instead, come as your unique, authentic self.
I have found reminding myself about this helps me better enjoy dates and takes some of the pressure off. When my focus is on being my radiant, confident self, I am able to have fun and not get overly focused on how a man perceives me.
Bring your great smile. Wear something you feel good about yourself in. Just show up as you, because that is always enough.
For those of you who are divorced and beginning to date, what have been helpful things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this new space?