Welcome to Monday’s regular feature of Q&A with J. Today’s question is from a reader whose wife left him for someone else. Here’s his situation:
I am a 54 year old divorcee. I should have relationships and sex all figured out by now right? After all I am over half a century old with an adult son and a daughter in High School. However, what I thought I knew about life and marriage was completely upended a couple of years ago when my wife of 24 years at the time abandoned my daughter and me for an openly gay woman. . . .
[He gives more details of the breakup and family circumstances.]
Now that is exposed, I want to tell you where I am now and seek some prayerful wisdom. Some advisers tell me that I need to wait until I am dead, well almost dead to start dating again. I have already failed at that advice, because I am dating and I am enjoying dating. They problem is that the sexual landscape for Christians has changed tremendously during my lifetime. Even very Church oriented Christ centered Christians are having a hard time staying sexually pure. This is even an order of magnitude greater in my opinion for divorcees my age.
At my age, I’ve witnessed a lot of marriage breakups and post-divorce dating. As intrigued by relationships as I am, I paid extra-close attention and drew some conclusions. When I started writing my response to this man’s situation, I realized I had a ton to say. Way too much for one post. So get ready for a two-parter.
Let’s start with the dating aspect of his question. Because who and how you choose to date makes a big difference in staying pure.
Wait a little while.
You don’t have to wait until you’re dead. Of course not. But every expert worth even a minute of your time will tell you that divorce is like amputation — you don’t just wake up the next day and feel good to go. You really do need time to grieve the loss of an important relationship in your life and to figure out who you are and who you want to be without this person in your life.
All too often, I’ve seen hurting people come out of a divorce and jump right into another relationship. Even if that relationship lasts — and many don’t — it’s filled with baggage.
You need maybe 1-2 years on your own before you begin dating. Yes, some can go a shorter time. For instance, I know a few people who lost a spouse in their 70s and within months remarried someone they’d known almost their whole lives. Because, let’s face it, if you’re 76 years old, you may not have even a year to wait. But most of us do — we just don’t wanna. And that can be a big mistake.
What to do while you’re waiting.
Grieve. You may want to find a support system, like a DivorceCare group, to process through your breakup. You may need time with a Christian counselor, your pastor, or a mentor. You may need to cry. Several times.
Your marriage was something that was supposed to last “until death do us part.” And it didn’t. Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, you’re bound to have lingering emotional pain. Allow yourself to mourn this loss.
Then invest in yourself — specifically restoring your sense of identity and fostering your relationship with God. You’ve been one flesh with someone else for a while, and now you’re on your own. It can be difficult to have a solid sense of you apart from her. But you need to be a whole, healthy person before you can enter into relationship with someone else.
So use this time to learn more about your separate identity — whether that’s finding new hobbies or redecorating the house or taking always-wanted-to-go-there vacations. Spend time with friends, even those you haven’t seen a while. Focus on your spiritual life. Take a Bible class, join a prayer group, attend a worship conference. Invest in yourself, so that when the time is right, you can invest in someone else from a good place.
Consider your goals when you start dating.
Are you eager to get married again? Are you taking it slow? Do you simply want to get to know others of the opposite sex to figure out what you want? You can get entangled into something you didn’t intend if you don’t know your goals going in. Or you could end up misleading someone and breaking their heart.
Be clear about what your intentions are, so that you are responsible in the way you date. Also, please consider your children. Whatever age they are, they don’t need to watch dad “playing the field” and don’t need to be introduced to every date you have. They are grieving too — the loss of their parents as a set. Be respectful and kind in the way you date around your children.
Don’t get bound up with the wrong person.
2 Corinthians 6:14 is usually quoted as “Do not be (unequally) yoked with unbelievers . . .” However, since most of us have never seen oxen yoked together, maybe this version will make it clearer: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NAS).
The Word of God makes it clear that we should reach out to unbelievers, but your close associates should be people who preach and practice the Christian faith. If you’re dating someone seriously, that’s a close association — and you shouldn’t be having that with someone who isn’t pursuing a relationship with God.
Listen, this purity thing is just way too hard to do when only one of you wants it. Of course, it’s possible that two want-to-do-the-right-thing people will make mistakes. But that’s not in the same realm of having to fight against someone who doesn’t really care whether you maintain purity or not.
Point being: Be careful whom you date. Seek out Christian women who are actively pursuing righteousness. And be that kind of person yourself, so that the right woman will recognize you as the catch you are.
Channel your sexual energy.
I’ve written before about what to do with sexual urges when you’re single. But it can be harder after you’ve been married and experienced sexual intimacy to keep your desires in check. My advice remains about the same, including:
- Praying for strength and wisdom
- Finding ways to be physical that don’t involve sex (e.g., some people channel it into hobbies or exercise)
- Letting friends and family help meet your affection needs, so they don’t all fall on a romantic interest
But I’d also include some accountability with a mentor or friend. Be humble enough to seek that support. And listen if they have concerns about your choices or behavior. Tell them if you’re struggling. Ask for wisdom and help.
This is an overall perspective. But next Monday, I’ll offer practical tips for staying sexually pure while divorced and dating.