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A Most Important Exercise (aka Are You Ready for a Relationship?)

This disclaimer will sound familiar, but I have to say it – I am not a dating or marriage expert. I am just a guy who’s been through the darkness of divorce and who has, with God’s help, navigated the perilous road of singleness, dating, and remarriage. What I offer here are merely thoughts that have been brewing in my brain for 7+ years.

I’ve talked a lot about making a list of qualities you’re looking for in a future spouse – the “negotiables” and the “non-negotiables.”  I’ve talked a lot about how it’s vital that you don’t compromise, that you don’t settle. But I’d like to suggest something that’s of even greater importance before even stepping a foot on the dating path, post-divorce (PD).

It is essential that people who go through a divorce (whether it was a deeply painful experience or if the two are still “really good friends”) take time to evaluate themselves. Again, the best advice I received PD was to resist the urge to date for at least a year. Heal. Grow. Recover. Discover. Live. Once you come to a place where you think you want to try your hand at the dating scene again, I suggest this exercise:

A MOST IMPORTANT EXERCISE

Write down on paper (a journal, a notebook, etc) these categories – Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Financial, Career. Underneath each of these categories, write “Where I Want to Be,” and under that write “Where I Honestly Think I am Right Now.” As you contemplate these areas of your life, the point isn’t to look for perfection. Heck, if that were the case, no one would do very well on this self-evaluation. The point is that you are making forward progress in these areas.

**Spiritual

Even if you don’t see yourself as a “religious person,” I assure you, this is the most important category of your life. It must receive the most attention. You were born (Who constructs a baby in the womb???), and you live (Who equips your lungs to breath, your heart to beat, and your cells to reproduce????), and you will die (What happens in the end? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven? A hell?) These are spiritual questions. I urge you to come up with at least something for the “Where I want to Be” section here. How spiritually mature would you say you want to become? Where are you now? What are some things you can do to get there?

**Physical

it’s not a for sure thing, but there is a good chance that in the aftermath of your divorce you dropped the ball regarding your physical health.  Rate yourself on how well you are eating, sleeping, and exercising. Do you have any habits that feel beyond your control, i.e. smoking like a train, drinking like a fish, eating like a pig, flying high like a kite? Before you’re ready to be a stable man in some woman’s life, you need to have enough self-control to say “yes” to what’s good for you and “no” to what is not.

**Mental/Emotional

These two areas are certainly interconnected. How is your mental health? I would be willing to bet that PD you have experienced at least a little bit of depression. At this point, how are you doing? Are you managing your depression (any necessary medication AND counseling/support network)? Do you feel mentally sharp? How’s your motivation for doing life? Are you able to experience a healthy range of emotions in appropriate situations? How are you feeding your brain – Are you a voracious reader (I encourage you to become one!)? Are you a student? Are you learning new things? What brings you the most joy in life now?

**Financial

Do you have a budget? Are you sticking to it? Do you control your money or does it control you? Do you have a debt-destruction plan? You don’t need to be debt-free to date, but I’d suggest that it’s important that you have a plan and that you’re working that plan.

**Career

Before your divorce did you have a dream to become an engineer? A mechanic? A baker? If your divorce derailed your goals, I want to encourage you to either get back on the same horse and move toward those goals, or find a new horse to ride. Come up with an updated dream job. How can you get there from here? Find a career you love and love the career  you find…

The Litmus Test

Again, the point of this self-assessment is not perfection. Are you moving forward? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Have you slain the codependent dragon?  I think that dating is a fun way to get to know someone. But I do believe that dating long-term should be for the purpose of testing the waters for marital compatibility.  Give yourself time to grow in the areas above where you need some work. Also, one of the most important litmus tests is when you can say,”I’m okay if I remain single the rest of my life – While I WANT a relationship, I don’t NEED one to be okay.” Once you’re there, I’d say, let the dating begin!

However, if you find that you have a LOT of work to do in the above categories, if you feel like you just HAVE TO HAVE a girlfriend to be okay, I assure you, that is the last thing you need. Surround yourself with guys who exhibit wisdom, men who could be a PD group of advisors for you. Get healthy in these categories, THEN re-enter the dating world.

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Something Her, Something You, Something New (aka ingredients for maintaining a solid relationship)

I am not an expert in dating nor do I pretend to be one. But I would like to offer a way to breathe life (or new life) into a growing relationship. Whether you are just getting to know the woman from work, church, neighborhood, etc, or if you’ve been married (or remarried) for 15 years, it helps to have shared interests and experiences. I’m calling this approach to connecting “Something her, Something You, Something New.”

Something Her
Be the gentleman. Ladies first, right? Take the initiative here. Ask questions and find out hobbies, interests, and activities that this gal has. You pick one that she mentions. And offer to join her in that endeavor. Does she absolutely love going to movies? Even if you haven’t been to a movie in years, ask her which movie she wants to see and treat her to a movie of her choosing. Does she love to cook? If she likes to ham things up, invite her to cook her specialty while you film her, Food Network Style, complete with color commentary and interview. Does she like scrapbooking? Pay for her to go to a workshop with a friend, then when she’s done, sit down with her and ask her to show you all that she has made. Better yet, go to the scrapbooking workshop WITH her with a joyful (not begrudging) spirit. You get the idea. Join her on HER turf. Genuinely showing interest in what she enjoys doing.

Do this on a regular basis – not a one-time exercise.

Something You
Now that you’ve been able to get a glimpse into some of the things she enjoys, kindly invite her to join you on YOUR turf (but never force her. Just invite). Do you like to go hiking? Find your favorite mountain or nature trail to explore together. Do you enjoy archery? Go rent a compound bow and some arrows at your local archery range and show her how to shoot. Do some target practice together. Do you like to play disc golf? Invite her to come play with you for a round of 18. Be patient with her. Show her why you enjoy this stuff so much.

Do this on a regular basis – but always give preference to the things she likes if you have to choose between the two

Something New
Now there is something really cool about discovering something new with someone you’re dating. Let’s say neither of you have been to a professional hockey game. Save up a little bit and go watch the Blackhawks play the Avalanche. Where’s the closest museum that neither of you have been to? (The top two museums I’ve been to are the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.) Regardless, go explore one together. Make a day of it. Take in the IMax experience. Pick out together the exhibits you both want to be sure to catch. When you’re all done, talk about what you liked over dinner. You get the idea here.

Make a habit of this one, especially. You will learn a ton about each other as you discover and explore the world around you together!

It’s so important to find ways to keep things fresh in your relationship, whether you’re dating or married (you should still be dating after saying “I Do,” anyway!). This is just an idea to help move you in that direction.

For me, here’s where I’m at:

Something Her – My wife loves crime shows and I can go without tv for months on end. However, over the course of our 2+ years of marriage, we have watched numerous series together. Bones. Crossing Jordan. NCIS. Poirot. Murdock Mysteries. Murder, She Wrote. The list goes on and on. Not only have these shows grown on me, they have given me a conversation point with my wife. We often will talk about the issues uncovered in the shows or character qualities or flaws in characters. Pretty priceless, if you ask me. Any opportunity to engage my wife in meaningful conversation is awesome.

Something Me – I have always been a huge fan of football. I love it. I have my favorite team, but I just thoroughly enjoy the game of football. My wife is a big fan of her home team, and she knows some about football. But my love of football has been a relational entry point for us. Not only has my wife played fantasy football with me and others, this season we’re doing a pick ’em contest to see who can predict more winners at the season’s end. Hilarious but awesome! (Not to mention, at this point in the season, she’s beating me!)

Something New – Right now my wife is pregnant, due in December, so this is not an option really YET. Years ago my wife took some dance lessons and thoroughly enjoyed them. She’d go dancing with friends on a regular basis. Over the last few years, these opportunities have dwindled. While this is something more new to me than her, once she has recovered from giving birth to our second son, I would like to take some swing dance lessons (maybe ballroom, too) with her. I’d like to tap into something that I don’t have a lot of experience with. I think the new experience of learning some dance together would be beneficial in many ways! Looking forward to it! (If I break a leg, I’ll be sure to post a pic!)

Anyway, your turn. What might you do in terms of Something Her, Something You, Something New? Inspired? Let me know in the comments!

The Most Important Compatibility Category (aka Don’t Be Afraid to Abort the Mission)

I have so many dear friends who have either divorced or who have gone through intense struggle in their relationship because of differences in one of the most important categories in life – Religious Preferences. These friends of mine are having a tough time because they tried to fool themselves during the very beginning of the relationship.

“She’s a Mormon and I’m a Catholic. We can both go to both churches.”

“She’s an atheist and I’m a Baptist. I think I can win him over in time…”

“I’m a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. But she is a very spiritual person. We’ll get along just fine.”

Unless you prepare The List beforehand, you will be susceptible to a loud heart and a quieted brain. It will be much easier for you to make excuses. It will be easy for you to justify the pursuit of this woman who seems like a great catch but with religious differences. You must have a list of negotiables and non-negotiables before you jump back into the dating scene, AND you must not compromise.

FREQUENCY OF RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY

When you are getting to know a gal and are considering moving forward in a more serious relationship, consider the Religious Preference issue THE MOST IMPORTANT compatibility category. For you, you may land in once of these:

*I honestly have no religious preference

*I have a background in ______________ church or religious affiliation, but I no longer have ties to that group.

*I sometimes attend _______________ church or religious organization. Just depends on what else is going on.

*I attend religious services at _______________ on a regular basis and I like it, but it’s not the most important thing to me.

*I am extremely active in the life of ______________ church or religious organization. This is the most important thing to me, or at least I want it to be.

The woman you are considering pursuing will fall in one of these  religious descriptors, as well. I urge you to move forward ONLY IF she has the same descriptor as you. Otherwise, it will be like puling teeth. You will butt heads. AND, I assure you, most likely your relationship will be characterized by the lower of the two descriptors within a short amount of time. If you have a differing level of priority for religion, ABORT THE MISSION RIGHT NOW. Both of you will be happier for it in five, ten years. Don’t be fooled by her amazing looks or her charming personality. Your religious preferences will make or break your relationship.

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

Not only does the level of priority you put on your religious activity matter, the actual religion you are affiliated with matters. I assure you, there are deep, essential, foundational differences between all of these major camps of religious thought – Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Wiccan, Universalist, new-age, etc. etc. etc. If you take the tenets of your religion and compared them side-by-side to those of the woman you want to pursue, I assure you there are going to be unavoidable differences, i.e. how one must live, what does the afterlife consist of and how do I get there, the origins of evil, what religious activities should I partake in, whom should I worship and how should I worship?, etc etc…  Catholics and Hindus are not spiritually compatible. Mormons and Christians are definitely not compatible spiritually. Again, if the woman you want to go after is in a different camp of religious thought, I implore you, ABORT THE MISSION! Hang out with women of like mind, and have them make up your pool of possibilities. Otherwise, you’ll be drowning in further heartache.

A NOTE TO CHRISTIANS

Now, a note to Christians of different denominations. Some denominations are more compatible than others. Lutherans and say, Pentecostals, not so much. But perhaps Baptists and Presbyterians are more. Here’s my point – before you pursue the really cool Christian chick that has caught your attention, do a side-by-side comparison of your statement of beliefs and hers. Doctrine is important. Probably the most important question you should start with is, “What do you both believe about the Bible?” If one of you believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God and depicts historical men and women in history and is literal, and the other believes that the Bible is simply hyperbole or analogy and is just an inspirational book for living, I would have to say, ABORT THE MISSION. This is an impasse and you should not try to force a relationship to work that has this fundamental of a difference.

Another important question, then, is how much of an authority does the Bible hold in your life? Do you find yourself easily obeying whatever it is you read in the Bible, or do you prefer to adhere to what you personally agree with and disregard what seems out of date or just too hard to do? You both need to have the same general response to Scripture to be compatible.

This might be coming across as too narrow-minded. This might fly in the face of the culture of tolerance that has been emerging in our country. But I assure you, just a few weeks or months into a marriage with a difference of Religious Preference or Practice, you will begin to feel the tension. You will begin to notice in yourself either frustration or a growing sense of compromise. The divorce rate is higher for second marriages. I have a hunch that your differences spiritually could have the potential to escalate the odds for a second (or third, etc) divorce. You can’t afford that level of heartache.

If you do find someone, though, that is thoroughly compatible with you on a spiritual/religious level, there is almost no greater joy. My second marriage is centered on our core, religious beliefs in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, marriage is hard, but we have a firm foundation that won’t erode. In our very imperfect way, we are navigating life and marriage and parenthood through faith, one step at a time.800px-Broken_bridge,_Madagascar

Make a List (and Check it Twice!)

The three and a half years following my divorce were some of the most stark, life-changing, life-giving moments of my life. As I mentioned before, I followed the advice of a friend and I refrained from dating for about a year. Smart, smart move. Those three and a half years were filled with self-discovery, healing, and a reawakening for me.

I actually came to a place where I knew that, although one day I WANTED to have another relationship, I finally knew that I didn’t NEED one to be okay. I had become spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and financially okay enough where I could stand on my own two feet (only with God’s help, for sure). I remember telling a good friend of mine that if I didn’t find a gal who was just right, I’d be okay with being single the rest of my life.

MY LIST

Part of my healing process including coming up with a list, split into two columns-  “NEGOTIABLE” and “NON-NEGOTIABLE.” I thought of the traits of a possible spouse / girlfriend that were either important to me to be present or noticeably absent in this woman. The categories I covered followed my priorities – spirituality, personality, habits, hobbies, interests, goals, gifts, talents, etc. I knew that it would be pretty tough to find a gal who fit this description. But I decided in my heart of hearts that I was not going to settle on EVEN ONE of my categories.

One of the absolute best things I’ve ever, ever done. Drawing that line in the sand that said, “I will be a man of conviction here. I will not compromise what I feel is important in a relationship.” If I were to compromise again, then I’d be a fool. I’d only have myself to blame.

THE ONE

I’ll tell my “story” in more detail later. Long story short, though. I found a woman who was a perfect match according to this list. Not one area was overlooked to make an exception. Fast forwarding – we’ve been married now for over a year and a half, and we have a 10-month old son. Do we have the perfect relationship. No. Did I find the perfect wife? No. But I found the perfect wife FOR ME. Our compatibility was through the roof, and we have a great marriage based on faith, forgiveness, and communication.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

Your turn… if you are going through a divorce, go back to square one. As I suggested before, take my ONE-YEAR CHALLENGE. Figure yourself out first. THEN, and only then, make a list and check it twice. Don’t just make your list in fifteen minutes while watching tv. Take a week or so to carefully craft this list. And don’t just look at the physical characteristics of a woman. That’s gonna change as time goes by. Focus on the deep, meaningful stuff, matters of character. Share it with a trusted friend (Again, if you don’t have anyone, send it to me!).

And, my friends, DON’T COMPROMISE. DON’T GIVE IN. DON’T SETTLE. KEEP TO THE LIST. AND RESOLVE TO BE OKAY IF YOU REMAIN SINGLE FOR A SEASON. Focus on becoming healthy, happy, focused, and growing.