Ask Coach Delaine: “Why is my newly-divorced boyfriend retreating from me?”
I have been happily dating a separated man for the past year as he finished up his divorce. His divorce was finally finalized last month. They were married for over 20 years and according to him, it wasn’t a good marriage.
I’ve noticed, however, that ever since the divorce came through, he’s been acting different. I sense something weird. I’ve asked him if he is okay and he said he feels relieved, but then, in the next breath, he tells me he feels like his head is in a hundred places at the same time.
Our relationship was all good. We didn’t and don’t have problems with each other. Or at least, not that I’m aware of. But just a few days ago he said he needs space and doesn’t know when he’s going to come back to me. I don’t know what’s going on with him…
I know your situation is confusing and troubling for you. But please be aware that it’s not an uncommon one when it comes to dating the separated or newly-divorced man.
Men are different from women in that when they are experiencing mental/ emotional turmoil they need “space.” Us women, on the other hand, tend to need to “talk about it.” When a man asks for space in ANY situation, it is important that you do your best to give it to him. When a man is recently divorced and asking for space, it’s a good sign he has unresolved grief to work through. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings for you, but all the feelings that he has suppressed while he threw himself into your relationship, are now coming front and centre stage. Divorce is a big deal. And the internal shifts take time to work through; they aren’t like turning off a light switch.
I know this leaves you in a difficult situation – after all, in your eyes, now is finally your chance to really enjoy each other, yet he is retreating. “What’s up with that, it makes no sense!” you might think. But his response is classic rebound — and very common in men who got involved with someone else too quickly.
I’d recommend you give him the space he asks for, be clear that you understand he has stuff to work through, but be careful not to offer too much of a listening ear to him, as you are not his “counsellor”; HE needs to fix himself and his inner work is not yours to take on and own. I know this can be very difficult for many women as we’re often eager to help in any way we can, especially when someone we love is hurting. I’ll remind you again, however, that this is HIS garbage to sort through, and in making it a focus of your relationship with him, it can taint it, as well as become a huge burden to you, possibly for a much longer period of time than you’d imagine.
I’d also clearly tell him that you are going to focus on your own life and doing your own thing for the next while, and recommend you do just that. Respect yourself, don’t put your life on hold for him, and proceed most carefully and slowly with him. You’re about to find out just how messed up he really is. Moreover, your communication skills (his and yours) will be put to the test.
Please have your eyes wide open as this relationship progresses. Be honest with yourself as to whether it’s truly giving you what you want/need, or, if it’s turning into more trouble than it’s worth. Most women don’t know the scope of what they’re walking into when they get involved with a separated/newly-divorced man – and for that, I also recommend the book, Dating the Separated Man: Sort Through the Baggage to Decide if He’s Right for You.
Best to you Jodi,