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The dos and don’ts of dating when you’re separated but not divorced

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

The etiquette of dating other people before your divorce is final

Dating as a divorcee is difficult enough but when you’re still legally married — well, potential minefields are magnified. Follow these guidelines to help ease the path.

1. Don’t date unless you are emotionally divorced

The first factor to continue is whether or not you are still emotionally tied to your estranged partner.

Two weeks after catching her husband of 15 years cheating and almost immediately filing for divorce, Dani (all names are changed) told me during a session that she was going on a blind date. We discussed why she was leaping into the fray. The 38-year-old said, “I need to show Jeff that other men are interested in me. It’s his loss.”

More: Taking back my last name was the secret to healing after my divorce

I advised her to wait before jumping into the fray. She was understandably a walking emotional wound after the shock she’d just undergone and needed time to heal and embark on self-discovery. Dani acquiesced and held off dating for a solid year.

How to judge that you are emotionally divorced and ready to date:

  • You have no desire to reconcile with your ex.
  • You have looked at the positives and negatives of your marriage, and understand why you were in the relationship and why you are ready to leave it.
  • You are not looking to fill a void and end the loneliness of being single.
  • You know what your romantic goals are at this point — i.e., a chance to socialize and meet new people or to eventually find a new partner.

2. Don’t antagonize your ex

While there is no law barring you from dating while separated, you should be careful not to do anything your ex and his lawyer can use against you. Certainly consult with your divorce attorney.

Debra, 26, made what turned out to be the costly mistake of posting pictures of herself and her new boyfriend frolicking at the ocean on FB. She felt safe doing so because she and her soon-to-be ex Carl had long ago unfriended one another. However, the two still had many mutual acquaintances — several instantly shared the photos posted by Debra. About to sign a generous agreement, Carl reneged and ordered his lawyer to play hardball. The divorce became a protracted battle and the end result included much less favorable terms for Debra.

More: Signs your divorce lawyer is causing more problems than they're solving

Other than sharing details of your dating life on any social media platform, here are other tips to adhere to:

  • Keep your dates away from your children. No need to confuse them until you are involved in a serious relationship. Minneapolis divorce attorney Mike Boulette also cautions, "If your new partner is spending time around your children he/she may get sucked into a whole world of custody litigation... So, until the divorce is final, schedule dates when your kid is with the other parent."
  • Resist any impulse to forward your attorney’s emails or include your new partner in legal proceedings. Boulette warns, “Communications between lawyer and client are privileged, meaning your ex can never force you to divulge what you and your lawyer talked about.” That privilege can be lost if third parties are brought into the mix. In that eventuality, a new beau might have to testify about sensitive discussions with your lawyer.

3. Do date yourself

This might sound odd but it’s crucial for you to get to know yourself as a single woman, to know what you like about yourself as well as what you will look for in the future in a relationship.

After the first shock of her separation passed, Katie felt relieved. Her nine-year marriage had been bad for a long time. But being in a toxic situation for so long had negatively impacted the 40-year-old’s self-esteem. “I needed to start feeling good about myself and enjoy spending time by myself,” she explained, adding, “I went for walks alone, to movies, I even took a solo vacation to Club Med. This was all healing for me.”

More: After years of abuse, divorce was my only option

Develop a support system. You need good friends and family around who are on your side and can be counted on when you need a shoulder or ear.

4. Don't lie to your dates

These days many of us meet partners online. Nothing wrong with that. But it is wrong to lie on your profile about your marital status.

Sheila’s profile listed her as “divorced”. When the 33-year-old who was in the midst of a divorce from her husband of eight years met someone she liked online, it became more and more difficult to fess up and confess her lie. “By the time I finally told him, we’d been dating a month and he was so hurt and angry that he ended it with me, saying, ‘How can I trust you?’”

Other points to be honest about:

  • Let your dates know if you are looking for a serious relationship or just getting your toes (and perhaps other parts) wet.
  • If you’re nervous about dating again, say so. Don’t pretend to be anyone other than who you are. You'll have to end the facade anyway, so why create a false self in the first place?
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