Jennifer is a single woman who recently divorced. Even though she has decided to wait a few years until her daughter is grown to reenter the dating scene, she's confused about how to proceed. "When Madaline is out of the house I want to date, but I don't know how."
Samantha has been divorced for only a year, but would like to start dating again even though her two boys are still in elementary school. Like Jennifer, she needs some advice but is concerned about how she can make the transition into dating easy on her children.
John is separated from his wife. He'd like to date again, and some of his friends say he should start looking for a woman now – after all, he's getting divorced soon. But John knows better because he's still married, and dating now would go against God's desires.
Jennifer's, Samantha's and John's concerns are common, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.3 million Americans get divorced each year, and many of them date and eventually remarry.
Perhaps you share their concerns, as you're also wondering how you can reenter the dating world after divorce – and do so according to God's standards. Here are four practical ideas.
Heal First, Date Later
Divorce is the death of the dreams you had when you committed yourself "for better or for worse." As a Christian, you can't simply separate from your spouse one day and hit the dating field the next. And as with any loss, big or small, time is needed to grieve and to reassess who you are, where you've been and where God wants you to go. Healing is also necessary to follow God's command to" do unto others what you would have them do unto you," (Matthew 7:12). If you start dating prematurely, you could be hurting – rather than honoring – those you date.
When Becky was invited to lunch by a man she met at a bookstore, she was excited. She was ready to date and had taken time to seek God and heal after her divorce three years earlier. She thought her lunch date had done the same, but she quickly discovered otherwise. Instead, he was still drowning in grief. During their lunch, his eyes filled with tears and anguish. When Becky asked him how long he'd been divorced, he admitted that it wasn't final yet, that he was living in the basement of the home that he and his wife shared, and that they'd only been separated for three weeks.
Becky gently told her date that he needed to first pursue emotional and spiritual healing. She suggested that he develop relationships with other Christian men for support, rather than seek out women for emotional comfort.
Perhaps you know someone like this man. Understandably, he is lonely. But dating so soon will almost inevitably lead to heartache, since he's neither emotionally nor legally available. And, until he heals, he won't be able to relax and commit his entire heart to his new partner the way God intends.
To begin healing, you'll want to seek counsel from committed Christians who are willing to walk through the grief process with you. This may mean seeking out your pastor for support, joining a Divorce Recovery group or visiting a Christian counselor.
Guard Your Sexual Integrity
Some divorced church-goers try to convince themselves that God's command to abstain from sex doesn't apply to them – that it's for the never-married crowd. However, Scripture is clear that it doesn't matter if someone has been married or not, sex with someone other than your spouse is still fornication (I Thessalonians 4:3, I Corinthians 6:9).
Don't wait to put some practical boundaries in place, such as not staying at your date's home overnight. You can also establish an accountability group made up of those who know and love you. That way, when you feel tempted, you can call on them for prayer and support.
Be aware that when you commit to remain celibate until you remarry, there may be some people who will try to convince you that you are being unreasonable. If a date pressures you, don't compromise. Instead, run the other direction and resolve to date only fellow believers who share your convictions. The Bible is clear about this: Maintaining your sexual integrity is not optional; neither is getting romantically involved with someone who doesn't share your faith (2 Cor. 6:14). Above all, God wants to come first in all you do (Matthew 6:33).
Think Before Involving Your Kids
Sharon has been single for many years. During that time, several men have come and gone from her life. And each new boyfriend has developed a relationship with Sharon's son, Branden. Unfortunately, Branden's father abandoned him, so it's understandable that he longs for a relationship with a father figure. Whenever Sharon meets someone new, she hopes that "this is the one," and Branden does, too. Sadly, when Sharon's relationships don't work out, not only is her heart broken, but so is her son's.
Scripture warns believers to "guard your heart" (Proverbs 4:23). For the single parent, this means that you will have to do some "guarding" for your children by not involving them with your suitors too soon in a relationship. Some people hold off until engagement before introducing their significant other to their kids. (Granted, this can create other complications because you want to know how your children will respond to a potential mate prior to engagement.)
Bryan, a single father of three, always meets his dates on neutral ground with his children, such as at a church picnic or at movie theatre with friends. He never introduces his date as his girlfriend, but a friend. This spares his children from the complicated emotions that will inevitably come with adjusting to a new stepparent prematurely.
Stick With God's Plan
After experiencing the comforts of marriage, it can be tempting to settle for less than God's best. You may believe the lie that you'll never find a godly man or woman, that you'll have to accept whoever comes along. One way to avoid the temptation of settling is to know what's acceptable and what's not, to both you and God, before you start looking for love.
This is where slowing down before getting into a serious relationship helps. Not only does going slow give you time to heal, but it also helps you better assess those you date. If you have taken the time to understand yourself and the dynamics that contributed to your divorce, you are more likely to make a godly choice in choosing the second time.
Shortly after Sam divorced, he was desperate to meet a woman and start over. When Ashley showed a strong interest in him, he started spending time with her. She was kind and enjoyed her company – but she didn't share his faith, which was also a problem with his first wife. Unfortunately, Sam ignored God's clear directive in this area, and only after they had dated for several months did he decide to end the relationship. As a result, Ashley's heart was broken, and his was, too. If Sam had taken time to seriously commit his personal life to God, he could have made the choice not to get involved with Ashley in the first place.
If you're contemplating dating someone new, take your time in getting to know them, and if they fall short in one of your major criteria such as faith, children or sex before marriage, make the wise choice early on by saying no to the relationship. Remember, too, that navigating the dating jungle is not easy. But, if you seek God and put Him first, He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5).
The issue of remarriage after divorce arouses even more controversy, and not all theologians agree. Focus on the Family holds that there are three sets of circumstances under which remarriage appears to be scripturally justified:
1. When the first marriage and divorce occurred prior to salvation. God's promise in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (NASB) – applies to divorce as well as all other sins committed in the believer's past.
2. When one's mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. However, we must be careful to not make Jesus' statement to this effect (Matt. 19:9) into a broad, sweeping, simplistic formula. Instead, we must evaluate each case independently, bearing in mind that "immorality" here refers to persistent, unrepentant behavior, and that divorce and remarriage is only an option for the faithful partner – not a command.
3. When an unbelieving mate willfully and permanently deserts a believing partner (I Corinthians 7:15). This does not refer to a temporary departure, but to a permanent abandonment, where there is little or no hope of reviving former commitments and salvaging the relationship.