In my coaching practice, I work with a variety of people: men and women, those ranging from mid-20s to early 50s, and interesting people from various walks of life, from a small-town Mountain Man to a career woman in a big East Coast city. And while my clients seek me out for a variety of challenges, one particular challenge falls across my desk on a regular basis: a woman is dating a separated or divorced man.
In Dating the Divorced Man, I talk about the myriad of challenges a woman can encounter when dating these men. Clearly, not all of these men pose a problem; but the ones who do tend to have one thing in common: they aren’t progressing with the relationship. They get out of their marriages (whether by separation or legal divorce), begin a new relationship, but the relationship runs into an obstacle that keeps it stagnant. For example:
- He doesn’t want to file for divorce because he’s afraid he’ll lose his kids/money/home.
- He keeps sharing holidays with his ex and kids (his new partner isn’t invited) because he feels it’s better for everyone.
- He gives his money or time to his ex, above and beyond what’s appropriate for a divorced couple, because she “has no one else.”
- He won’t introduce his kids or family to his new partner, despite having dated for many months or even years, because he doesn’t feel they’re ready.
- He isn’t taking the next step in the relationship, whether seeing one another more, moving in together, or talking about marriage/the future despite claiming he wants to.
In all of these examples, what these men are really dealing with is FEAR. Fear of upsetting the ex, fear of upsetting the kids, fear of doing more “damage” to the kids beyond that of the separation/divorce, fear of disapproval from family, fear of losing money or property, fear of conflict, fear of commitment to a new person and having that “fail” too.
And hey, these fears are understandable. Divorce is no easy endeavor. But the real problem here isn’t fear of all those things I listed above; the problem is a fear of CHANGE, of venturing into the unknown.
When a man behaves like a Divorced Husband, keeps one foot in the present and one in the past, compartmentalizes his ex/kids/family away from his new girlfriend, and/or drags his feet on filing divorce papers, he commits to staying in a comfy cocoon of relative safety. He is in what appears to be a sweet spot: free of his ex and any burdens she came with, while getting to have a new relationship to offer him love/support/sex. He gets to avoid the pain of the legal process of divorce, the weirdness of trading off who gets the kids on holidays, the guilt of having broken up the family unit and left his ex alone and unsupported, the awkwardness of his kids seeing him with a woman other than Mom, or the risk of committing to someone new and making new mistakes with her. And by choosing to obey that fear and remain in that false sweet spot, he essentially takes himself out of the running for a new and better life.
It’s easy to knock these men as cowards. In some ways, they are. But fear is an extremely powerful motivator, perhaps the most powerful of all, and we are all guilty of staying stuck and avoiding change from time to time. In many ways, the women who date these men are also avoiding change, knowing if they step back or leave the relationship it will thrust them into the great unknown.
During the years I snowboarded (I eventually went back to skiing), I took a woman I worked with up to the mountains. She was a novice boarder but said she could keep up. Snowboarding involves doing alternating heel and toe turns to carve your way down a slope. The transition between heel and toe turns can be tricky for a novice. When we got up there, I discovered that this woman could do a heel turn, but not a toe turn. The latter scared her too much, so she would do a heel turn, then wrangle her way around until she could do another heel turn. This slowed her down, to say the very least. She could get down the slope, but she wasn’t snowboarding. The kicker? She was fine with doing it that way. Safeguarding her fear was more important to her than actually snowboarding.
That’s how these men are. They care more about their fear than creating a better future for themselves. So they do anything to remain attached to the past, rather than embrace the change they signed up for by separating or getting divorced.
If you wind up with a man whose fear is holding back your relationship, contact me for coaching. Just because fear runs his life doesn’t mean it has to run yours.