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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I have been dating this woman for two years while she was separated from her husband. She recently divorced him. We have been pretty much in love for the last 18 months, but after divorcing, she feels her feelings for me have cooled down and she needs some space, maybe even to date other people. Is this a normal set of feelings after a divorce?

Answer

Unfortunately for you, this is a very familiar story. I am glad to have the opportunity to address this issue in print. Perhaps my response will help many others who are experiencing what you are going through.

When people are in the throes of divorce, their emotions are in a state of turmoil. There is a mixture of pain, hurt, anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear, to mention but a few of the common feelings. Sometimes they are suffering from a loss of self-esteem for having a failed marriage. They often feel needy of affection, companionship, intimacy, support, and friendship, in addition to sex and love.

A new relationship frequently provides all of the above and offers a feeling of comfort and a respite from the anguish and upset of divorcing. The person on the other end of the relationship, in this case you, is viewed as an oasis. However, you are getting only part of the divorcing person. She is not totally available to you. Part of her is still invested in her marriage, albeit the dissolution of it. You are only seeing a part of her; the needy part, the hurting part, the part that is seeking comfort.

By the same token, she is only viewing you through the eyes of someone who is leaving an unhappy relationship. Therefore, by comparison, you may look very good. You are what psychologists call a "transitional object." This means, a person who is available to assist in the separating process to whom a great many feelings are transferred.

By analogy, when you are starving and go to a restaurant, the food may taste especially good. However, when you go back to the same restaurant, order the same food, but are not particularly ravenous, the food does not taste quite as good. Nothing has changed, only your appetite. Likewise, when someone is leaving a marriage, they too are hungry. They have certain needs which are primary at the moment. Once those needs are met, however, or the pain subsides, their needs change. Such is the case with the woman you describe. It is not that you are not valued, but her needs have changed. She is no longer starving and wants to try her wings to see what other restaurants are out there.

Getting involved with a divorcing person is risky business. There is a high probability that you will get hurt. My advice to people is to avoid becoming seriously involved with someone who is in process of divorcing for just these reasons. It is better to wait until the divorce is final so that you can meet the person on a level playing field, when they are available emotionally and physically to be involved in a new relationship.

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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