Today I want to talk about building relationships after divorce. A lot of people struggle with relationships during this time. Maybe you had certain friends when you were married. You knew how the relationship worked then, but now things are different.
Or maybe you want to start making new relationships. Some clients tell me they “find out who their real friends are” after getting divorced. But maintaining relationships takes thought, honest communication, and understanding what each person wants.
When I say relationship, it can be anything — friends, family, coworkers, business associates, or romantic. Some people are great at being proactive in the relationships they want, while others aren’t so much.
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Proactive Vs. Reactive Relationship Personalities
There are two ways to be in any relationship: proactive and reactive. It’s possible to be both ways in a relationship, but you may be more inclined to act one way over another.
Proactive is when you’re the one to reach out or initiate the contact. This is the person you know who always makes the plans. They might start the conversation with, “Hey, let’s get together.” Reactive is how we act in a relationship based on someone else’s actions. When you’re reactive, you generally wait for the other person to do something like reach out first, and then you react to the reach-out.
It can also depend on how you’re feeling, where you are emotionally in the divorce process, and what else you have going on in your life. For many of you, your focus might be on getting the basics in place after the divorce. Things like settling into a new home, finalizing the divorce, getting into a new routine with the children, and the time-sharing/custody arrangements might be top of mind. Determine how much time you have to nurture your relationships and what that looks like for you as a starting point.
Since the kids went to college and are out of the house generally, I’ve become more proactive because I’m looking to rekindle relationships with my girlfriends. I made some mistakes throughout the years when raising kids and trying to balance work and home life by not being open and honest with certain friends.
I should have let them know that I valued our relationship and that my limit on time was not a reflection of anything more than my other commitments. I failed to do this. I didn’t properly communicate with them, and they likely saw it as me not caring, which is not what it was at all. It was all time and commitment issues to the business and family first. I don’t want you to make the same mistake, as honest communication can save and nurture relationships. We will discuss this later.
Identify Where You’re At Emotionally Right Now
Be kind, loving, and honest with yourself about where you’re at emotionally right now, what you can give, and what you want from your relationships. Some clients going through a divorce want to get out there, stay busy, and be social. These are the ones who are proactive in setting things up because it helps them to be active and mingle. Others feel like they may need more alone time to heal first.
Again, these stages can change as the divorce progresses and time goes on, depending on what is going on for you personally. Knowing yourself and where you are emotionally is important.
So, let’s circle back to proactive and reactive in a relationship. When you are reactive or more passive in a relationship, you may be waiting for someone else to make the plans, to ask you out, or to provide more insight about what they are looking for or want from the relationship.
Take Time to Analyze Your Relationships
One nice thing about divorce is that it can provide you with an opportunity to analyze your relationships. Here’s a look at how you can do this.
Think about your marriage and what you liked and didn’t like. Are there things you might have done or want to do differently next time? What did you learn? What do you want in a romantic relationship in the future?
Maybe take the time to list out the following “wishlist” of what you’d like in your future relationships:
- Must-haves (i.e., financial security, a sense of humor)
- Nice-to-haves (i.e., education, attractiveness)
You likely know the answers already based on your past relationships and getting to understand yourself. I believe that divorce forces these thoughts, which can be a good thing if you use the insight.
Look at your current relationships. Consider who you enjoy spending time with and why you like spending time with them. How about those people that you don’t really click with anymore? Do you want to keep them in your circle or start moving on from that relationship? Time is limited, so keep that in mind here. Relationships take time and commitment.
Thinking about who you may want to get to know better is also fun. Identify who these people might be and why you think it would be a good idea to get to know them better. Maybe you share a common interest, maybe you enjoy the same fitness or social activity, or maybe your kids like to play together. The reasons depend on what is important to you.
Considerations When Building Relationships
From here, you can build on this and decide if you want to be reactive or proactive and what that looks like and means to you. To do this, there are certain things you may want to consider:
First – The first question I suggest asking yourself is, “What are your expectations of yourself?” Not what is your expectation of the other person in the relationship, but what are your expectations of yourself in the relationship? How do you want to show up? How do you want to be as a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or a friend? What do you want out of the relationship?
So many people don’t think about it from this angle — the angle of what you want to be, act, and give to the relationship. Thinking about the expectations of yourself in that relationship, rather than having someone else set the expectations for you, is a very different way of thinking about things. Because when you have a sense of knowing this, you likely will show up differently.
When you consider this, you may say, I want to be a person in this relationship who shows up and is on time and engages, makes plans, has fun, is kind, is honest with their feelings, and so on. And then, when you know this, you can decide to be honest with this.
Second – The second thing you may want to ask yourself is, What do you want to do for this other person? Because when you know what that is, you can decide to take action on this instead of procrastinating. For example, I would like to do X, Y, and Z with or for this person.
It’s like when I ask a client what they like doing or envision doing with this person. They ramble off a few things, and then I will ask them what of these things they’ve done. They usually tell me they haven’t done any because they’re too busy.
Building solid close relationships takes effort, but it can be easy or hard. Picking a restaurant might be easy, but planning a weekend trip is more involved.
The other thing you can do is ask them what types of things they like to do. But be mindful that you want to assure you’re not people-pleasing (LINK TO EPISODE 32) — aka doing it just to get them to like you or for some other motive. Be authentic with yourself and what you like also, and do things you also enjoy. If you are doing it just for them you can be honest with that. It’s ok to do it because they want to so long as you know why you’re doing it
Third – The third question to ask yourself when building relationships is, What are my expectations of the other person? You have to really think about this. But remember that whether they do it or not, your happiness shouldn’t be tied to it. That’s when you start getting into control issues, called Manuals (when you have these unwritten and unshared instructions on what the person has to do for you).
People get to be who they want to be, and if you don’t like who they are or what they are or are not doing in the relationship, you can decide not to continue the relationship. I have had a lot of issues with this one in my marriage with Jeff.
There is nothing wrong with letting the person know what you would like or expect. That’s ok. But when it gets controlling, everyone loses. Keep in mind that we can’t expect the other person to read our minds, so you should communicate clearly. Don’t determine your emotional life based on whether they follow through on your expectations or not.
Don’t we want to be in a relationship with someone who does what they want to do? I don’t want someone to be in a relationship with someone who is doing a bunch of stuff they don’t want to do all the time for me at their own expense. That doesn’t mean that every once in a while in a relationship we aren’t going to do something for the other person that we don’t want to do. That’s part of it as well.
Now, there may also be dealbreakers. You may say, “I expect that you do not date other people or that you show up on time, or that you are not on your phone when we are at dinner.” You may have some expectation dealbreakers. Communicating this is key.
And what you may find is that you have a lot of common ground and that things will be wanted and agreed to on both sides. This is what we call want matches.
Focus on Improving Communication
The biggest issue we see is a lack of communication on expectations. Then what happens is rage, frustration, and reaction when someone isn’t meeting your expectation that they didn’t even know you had. That is truly not fair to the relationship or yourself.
Maybe you’re anxious in relationships and you notice that sometimes you fly off the handle when your expectations aren’t met. Or perhaps you get frustrated when you don’t know what the other person’s expectations are. Maybe you get upset when you haven’t heard from them, and you start making up stories and drama. If this is the case, you may want to dive into that.
How do you react that may be harming your relationship? When you make a list of these things, you can decide how best to address them.
Set Realistic Expectations With Your Relationships
Another thing that we feel is important in many relationships is setting expectations around communication. For me, it’s important that I let people know, especially friends in my life, that I’m not a fast responder.
For example, I don’t text back right away. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in what you had to say, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to reach out. It just means generally that I look at my personal messages after hours, so please know that about me. It’s that open and honest communication and respect that can bring you and the person closer.
If you go through the things we discussed today and take the time to look at and think about your own relationships and the ones you want to cultivate after divorce, you can have more satisfying and beautiful relationships.
This is just another piece of what I consider a beautiful part of creating your new existence, a life on purpose, after divorce.
We think most of us want to be the best we can be in our relationships. One of the easiest, most simple ways of doing that is being proactive, thinking ahead, setting expectations, and communicating kindly and honestly.
Do you want help creating the best relationships you can after divorce? We can help you identify the areas in your life you want to improve, then work with you to build the best life possible through one-on-one divorce coaching. To find out more about working with us, set up a free Discovery Call today.