Advice on how to manage a new relationship while I'm ending another
July 13, 2013 6:55 PM   Subscribe

After quite a few years struggling with my second marriage, finally we realized we needed some time apart. In the meanwhile, I met another person without looking for it and we've been dating since then. We're not living separately with my wife yet. Is it wrong to feel and behave like this before formalizing out new status?

I've been married (second marriage) for almost five years and met my wife since 2004. We've always had issues communicating but somehow we managed to get along well. She's 12 years younger than me and before we married in 2008 I told her I didn't want to have kids. Even I had a vasectomy. She was ok with that when we married and afterwards for some time. Nonetheless, she changed her mind two years ago and we've been trying to reach an agreement with a marriage counselor and other therapies. Unfortunately, we couldn't. So we decided to live separately for a while.

In the meantime, I met a woman during a seminar and we became friends there. I was not looking for some kind of romantic relationship at all and even told her my situation with my wife. We started to write each other mails and messages regularly and met every now and then to have lunch and talk. Soon afterwards we realized we had a lot of things in common and started to feel attracted in many ways to each other. We noticed the situation and decided to "take it slow" at least until I solved my marriage situation (My idea was not to take anything to the next level until my wife left our flat). Nothing physical has happened so far (aside of some kissing) but I feel so comfortable with her that I'm kind of confused. She's single, very similar and compatible to me in lots of ways and most important, is a happy and healthy person (unlike my wife that worries about almost everything). She has showed me that life need not to be suffering and problems all the time. I now have a smile on my face during the day and wake up willing to do many things I haven't done in years.

I don't plan to get married again anytime soon, just want to be happy and relaxed. I feel this way with my new friend. My question is: should I wait until I "mourn" my current relationship before taking the new one to a higher level? Is it healthy to be with another person just after breaking up? (I'm just waiting for my wife to leave and she's currently looking for a new flat, because she decided she needed to go). For what's it worth, I think I've been preparing for this moment (breakup) for some time, since I realized long ago we didn't have any common projects to fight for. We don't want to rush things with my new partner and she even told me it doesn't matter is she has to wait for me for while things clear up.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
posted by Matrod to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is breaking up with one woman and quickly taking up with another a pattern in your life? It seems like your reasons for wanting to be with this new woman are sort of textbook for a person who just jumps into new relationships simply because they're new -- not because they're actually a better match than the previous mate.

You state that your current wife worries about almost everything -- did you realize this about her when you met her? Or did she seem just as happy and healthy as this new woman does? What I'm getting at here is that you don't need to "mourn" your current relationship before getting into a new one, you need to reflect on why you got into that bad relationship in the first place -- and maybe learn something from it so that you don't just do the same thing again with this new woman.

She has showed me that life need not to be suffering and problems all the time. I now have a smile on my face during the day and wake up willing to do many things I haven't done in years.

This. These feelings happen at the start of ANY new relationship -- even terrible and poorly-thought-out ones. You may have even felt this way at the start of your relationship with your current wife. I say tread carefully. Relationships will always get more difficult as time passes. Be prepared for that and the inevitable work it will require on your part to make it last.
posted by RingerChopChop at 7:11 PM on July 13, 2013 [17 favorites]

I feel so comfortable with her that I'm kind of confused.

It would be a good idea not to move in with her or even to really escalate the relationship until you have lived on your own for some time and feel less confused.
posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it would all depend on how how your relationship wife your wife has been done. I would posit that if you are still living together that it's not done.

This said, you're a consenting adult. As long as all parties involved, including your wife, have knowledge of your current situation, then more power to you. Be happy. Just don't expect this to last, since I can't imagine most women would be understanding of your current situation, so you have to ask why the new woman is. She either likes drama, likes you, or just doesn't much care what people's situations are (I can come up with other reasons as well).

I would suggest the healthy thing to do would be to take a break from both women, end your current relationship formally, mourn the loss of your marriage, then when you are ready move on, but again, consenting adults get to do what they like.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:22 PM on July 13, 2013

Aside from the salient points mentioned above, I'd like to point out that it's a lot easier to be cheery and relaxed in the beginning of a new relationship, especially when you're not embroiled in a failing marriage and dealing with stresses about children.

No judgement, but tread carefully.
posted by Zelos at 7:34 PM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would say that after two marriages that have ended, you may find having some time alone with no dating at all could be a nice change.
posted by xingcat at 7:41 PM on July 13, 2013

"My question is: should I wait until I 'mourn' my current relationship before taking the new one to a higher level?

Yes, but will you? And if you were to do so, would that be okay with your new partner?

"Is it healthy to be with another person just after breaking up?"

Depends upon what "be with" means. And the length and level of commitment of the former relationship, as well as the conditions of its dissolution.

But a nine-year relationship, five of them married, and only recently separated — and not actually separated at that — I'd say that "very casual dating" should be the limit of your sexual/romantic relationships for the time-being.

This is hard to do because testing the waters and redeveloping your sense of romantic possibilities is a perfectly natural thing to do when a relationship ends, even a marriage (perhaps, for many people, especially a marriage), and within the context of this emotionally turbulent time and the heady experience of rediscovering the exploration of the newness of another person and an evolving sense of self it can be very easy to plunge into very deep waters.

But waiting is usually the better thing to do — not just for yourself, but for others.

Long relationships create patterns and habits of thought and behavior. Or, put another way, who we are is strongly influenced by who we are with the people closest to us and so who you are will continue to be, for a while, the unhappy person you were in your marriage. While this is true, a new relationship will tend to recapitulate your old relationship.

The "mourning" period you mentioned isn't about propriety, and it's not even about being "ready", exactly. It's about being able to be in a relationship in a way that's really about being in that relationship, and not the one you just left. It's about seeing the person you're with as who they are, and not as an image — positive or negative — of your former partner. And it's about having some personal space to redevelop a sense of self independent of the old relationship such that you can grow into a new version of yourself with a new person.

Inasmuch as the former relationship is defining the terrain of this one, you're not actually being the happy person you want to be and your partner is moving in a relationship space that's not fully their own, which is very unfair to them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

First off, you feel what you feel. Feelings aren't wrong, and certainly feeling happy, especially after a couple tough years have just passed, is a good thing.

For you.

As far as your wife is concerned, although you say you mutually decided to seperate, I notice you, (perhaps deliberately?) did not say how long this separation has been, or how long after the decision to seperate you met your new girlfriend. It hasn't even been long enough for you and your wife to actually physically seperate, apparently; you are still living together.

So I would sincerely counsel you to try for some empathy for how your wife must be feeling right now. Her marriage is breaking up. She is not a mother, and the man she hoped would be the father of her children (not saying this was a realistic hope, just that she felt that hope) wants nothing to do with her. You are keeping the home she shared with you for five years (where she surely had some good memories, so there is an emotional tie there too). She has to find a new place to live.

You've been married twice now--how long after your first marriage ended did you meet your second wife? Did you start dating her right after the first one ended?

Take a good hard look at yourself and be honest --did you work on this marriage, really, or in your head, had you already let this romantic notion of the new pretty girlfriend take over? If you have a habit of sabotaging old relationships when a new option, in the form of a pretty girl who shows an interest in you, comes along, yes, you are wrong, and you have a problem. You might need to grow up a little. Just putting that out there, if it fits or not is up to you to decide.

I think it would be extremely insensitive for you to flaunt your new relationship in your wife's face. I know you say you haven't...consummated...this new relationship, but you're obviously pretty involved with this girl already. Does your wife know about the girlfriend? If not, I think you need to cool it a little and keep away from the girlfriend, at least until your wife has moved out.

if she already knows about this new girlfriend, well, you can't do much about that now. But she may suspect that the two of you were on your way to an affair before the separation even started, which is not at all a crazy conclusion for her to come to. So there's even more hurt your wife might be feeling.

Obviously, the children/no children divide is HUGE and a perfectly valid reason for ending a marriage on its own, though! So if that's the sole reason this marriage ended, you can move on with a clear conscience soon enough.

But you and your wife shared five years together. Show some sensitivity and give her the respect and consideration she deserves. Don't make her feel worse by showing up with a newer, younger woman on your arm in the house she is still sharing with you!
posted by misha at 8:17 PM on July 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

I started dating after being separated but before my marriage was officially over. I moved out in January (2010), signed papers in April, didn't start dating until July. My girlfriend knew I was still married on paper.

Despite grieving after signing papers I still ended losing it again when it was finalized - which was shortly after my girlfriend and I had gotten serious. This was someone I had been together with for half my life, so I still took it pretty hard.

As for my girlfriend, she had to sit idly by while I tried to process all of the pain and confused emotions, including whether I wanted to be with her. We did stay together. Ultimately things didn't work out and we went our separate ways in February.

Do I want to date now? Yes, very much so. Which is a pretty clear sign that I should not. I do not want to put the burden of fixing me on someone else. So I am working on myself and staying single even though it's hard and I don't like it.
posted by O9scar at 8:34 PM on July 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

Seconding O9scar, specifically the last paragraph. Doing the same thing myself, and benefiting from it, and the only people who offer an opinion that I shouldn't be doing it are people who happen to have an interest in dating me (meaning: take council on this from friends and family, not from any potential love interests.)
posted by davejay at 8:44 PM on July 13, 2013

A question of clarification -- what does the "next level" mean here? Do you mean a sexual relationship? Do you mean a girlfriend label?

But to directly answer your question, the next step you should be taking involves your current wife, not your new friend. Putting aside the semantics of saying you're broken up when you're still legally married, your "marriage situation" and how you plan to resolve it is really the thing you should be focusing on most right now.
posted by sm1tten at 8:51 PM on July 13, 2013

Is it healthy to be with another person just after breaking up? (I'm just waiting for my wife to leave and she's currently looking for a new flat, because she decided she needed to go).

You're going into this new relationship while you're still reacting to the breakup of your marriage. And that means you're not really standing on level ground in regards to what you want or even who you are.

Take a moment and ask yourself: What's the rush? Be honest when you answer.
posted by mochapickle at 8:52 PM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

So this basically happened in my family when my parents split up.

Both of my parents moved on to other relationships very quickly after the split. Both of them made rash decisions based on those relationships that probably didn't help anything in the long run.

Don't rush into anything. Not so much because of appearances and what would be "right", but because, I'm going to tell you straight, as much as you think you've healed and that this new relationship is a lucky fluke, you haven't healed and this new relationship is much more likely to be a roadblock to processing what's happening than anything else. Even if it's a good relationship that deserves to stand on its own merit otherwise. You still have a lot of grieving and healing and maturing to do, whether you are with this other person or not.

It's not a race to see who can "move on" the fastest. You don't win anything by being in a new relationship before the ink is dry on what, from your post, seems to be your second divorce. Slow the fuck down. You're doing the relationship equivalent of ripping out the stitches before the wound has healed, and while it may not kill you, it's still not a great idea.
posted by Sara C. at 10:38 PM on July 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Don't know about "healthy". That seems like a pretty nonspecific goal. What I know, and I am similarly placed, is that you've got to live, and even if you're the sort of person who feels compelled to ask strangers on the internet whether you're doing it right, you are the only one who can make your own decisions. You have to be prepared for pain as well as joy, and bullshit as well as happiness. But, you know what? Your timeline is your own, and no one else can tell you what is right. Know that it may be a rebound. Know that you might get hurt and end up hurting your new love, or your soon-to-be-ex-wife, or both. If you know all these things and it still seems worth it, don't let metafilter tell you not to go for it. Only you know your heart. And, while you have to be a decent human being and consider any harm you may do to others, you also need to follow it. Be prepared for wreckage. Try to avoid it. But don't let normative and generalized notions of what is Healthy (TM) get in your way. Some of the best decisions are the ostensibly stupidest ones. Also many more of the worst.

Despite the fact that we will try, we cannot answer this. Only you can. Is it a stupid idea? Okay, then. Is it a bad stupid idea, or a good stupid idea?

I don't know. Maybe you don't either. If you do, great, go with that. If you don't, consider it carefully and decide.

It's not for the internet to tell you what to do. And you can't rely on it to be right. The above posters are probably correct-- it's probably a terrible idea.

But whether it's a good or a bad terrible idea, only you can decide.
posted by Because at 1:12 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned, but: you're still living with your wife, you haven't even actually separated yet; you've merely *agreed* to "live separately for a while". And that 'for a while' says you (or at least your wife!) is still fighting to repair your marriage; it sounds like you two've been talking about a *temporary* separation, not a permanent one or that you have already made clear plans to divorce.

Meanwhile, you've got a girlfriend on the side --- and yes, the lunches and emails and kissing say this IS a girlfriend, unless you prefer the term 'mistress'? (How about 'cheating on your wife' or 'having an affair'?) No WONDER your wife is unhappy and "worries about almost everything": she's been going to counseling and trying to make the marriage work, while you've been playing around on the side.

Seems to me the best thing you can do for everyone involved --- you, your wife, your girlfriend --- is to hold off completely with any new relationship. No romantic little lunches, no loving notes and emails, no kissing or anything else. Get your current emotional upheaval settled BEFORE you start the next one, or by the time you're done you'll have racked up a lot more than just a SECOND marriage.
posted by easily confused at 3:04 AM on July 14, 2013 [19 favorites]

You sound so lacking in empathy, values, and self awareness that I have trouble answering this question. And, if your wife was 12 years younger 5 years ago, you must be at least 40 or so. I am having some trouble with this.

Why do you seem to lack empathy? Because there isn't even one sentence in your post about what your wife might think or feel, nor any consideration that it's important. How would she react to the news of you dating? Do you think that's important? How might she feel? What does she want? Is it a trial separation in her opinion, or a final divorce? And, if in her opinion it's a trial separation whereas you're now seeing it as permanent, how and when do you plan to inform her? How will she likely react to that, and why? And, what is the emotional impact likely to be? How do you plan to address that emotional impact on her? Do you feel any responsibility to? You said you decided to live separately "for a while." How is she seeing this situation and is it different from how you are seeing it?

Why do you seem to lack values? Because you're apparently lying to your wife, at least by omission, and there is nothing in your post about that. It seems this almost doesn't even phase you. There is nothing in your post about values at all. A lot of times, emotional questions are phrased with at least some reference to, "This is what I think is the right thing to do, but I'm not sure." I don't see any of that. Most people in their 40's or above have developed at least some strong values, and if not, oh boy.

Lastly, self awareness. Do you know that your feelings and actions are typical for a guy who's met a new partner in the midst of a separation? They are textbook classic. Down to the, "She's so carefree, my wife is a worrier," type of sentiment? Have you thought about how your feelings might change, or how long they might last? Have you thought about this divorce in context of your last divorce and what might be the same or different? Your post comes across as someone who is flitting about life rather than being thoughtful about it. See davejay's and Oscar's posts above for a contrast.

So rather than just berate you, here is what I think you should do practically: spend some time thinking about this situation from your wife's shoes and having empathy for her. Then make some decisions based on that. Second, think about what your broader values are and ask yourself whether you are meeting them, and change something if not. Lastly, self awareness... I don't know how to develop that... so maybe I'll just pass the buck and let other people answer.
posted by htid at 5:48 AM on July 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you and your wife have just agreed to "some time apart" and "to live separately for a while" then you are having an affair. Or is this something people say when they separate with the intention of making it permanent, and is it understood on both sides in your and your wife's case?

Either way, I'm voting with those who suggest more empathy for your wife. Look, even your girlfriend is willing to wait until "things clear up." Which, yikes, it makes it sound like you're talking about the weather or something. You seem to be minimizing your marriage throughout your post; it's not clear why but a new relationship founded on this kind of rhetoric is going to have a strike against it from the beginning. You sound like you're not really being straight with anyone, yourself included.
posted by BibiRose at 6:13 AM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not clear from your post that your spouse doesn't realize at this point that the marriage is ending and that it's not merely "time apart".

If she is aware of this, then with regard to your question, the issue is whether it's a good idea for you to begin a new serious relationship and otherwise doesn't concern your spouse. And, as I wrote earlier, I think the answer to your question is that it's not a good idea.

If she isn't aware that your marriage is ending, then you need to make this clear to her before you continue with your new relationship as it is, or escalate it. That is to say, you should not progress in a new relationship while you have not properly attended to the ending of your current relationship. That doesn't mean that you have to wait for a divorce or even a physical separation; it means that a fundamental, unambiguous requirement for progressing in a new relationship is being responsible and mature about ending the old one.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:44 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it healthy to be with another person just after breaking up?

This is your classic rebound. Everything you said is what everyone says when they meet someone new after a long-term relationship.
posted by empath at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have never observed a "mourning" period after a relationship ends. In my subjective opinion, this approach served me well. I have found that arguments for waiting, while they sound nice in theory, don't hold much water in actual reality.
posted by 99percentfake at 9:44 AM on July 14, 2013

Well, I'm going to differ from many here, only because I've seen this work for someone. If you like this person and can be honest with her about where your life and emotions are at (so that she can evaluate the risks for herself), and if you can be clear with your wife that you're truly moving on, and if you know yourself well enough to know that a relationship with her is one that would be good for you, then I don't think you need to stop slowly getting to know (and like) her due to some normative idea of what's "healthy."

Your relationship ended, it sounds like, due to an incompatibility in needs, and you put in two years mourning that and fighting for it. If you have now reached a place of acceptance, that could be understandable.

Here are a few things to consider. This time may be particularly complicated and intense for you, due to the mixing of happy and sad events, and due to having two emotionally intense things happen at once. That intensity could rattle or overwhelm you or this new woman. If it completely overwhelms you to the point that you have to totally shut out the new friend, that could hurt her and cause her to give up on your budding friendship / relationship, compounding your loss. Your soon to be ex could feel more abandoned and cast aside by this breakup than she otherwise would were you to keep the divorce as the one and only big emotional event in your life. You might feel more guilt as a result. Or, none of this may happen. As I say, I've seen this work. A lot depends on how simple and at peace your emotional world tends to be. Some depends on what your ex and your new friend expect of you.

Now, if you're asking this because you secretly feel you DO need more space and time alone before starting some thing new, then by all means, do that. In any case, since you're starting to emotionally move on from your soon to be ex, you should be really clear with her that this is happening, and that if she wants something other than a divorce, then you guys need to make a big shift in what you're doing.
posted by salvia at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with htid and easily confused. You are having an affair. You are still living with your wife and you are getting emotionally involved with and making out with another woman. This is deplorable.

You probably won't do this, but you should break up with the girlfriend completely, move out of your house with your wife, start the legal divorce process, and go to therapy.
posted by 3491again at 2:47 PM on July 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

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