I often hear from people who are separated and trying to save their marriages. One recurring theme that often comes up is dating your spouse while you are separated. Many people intuitively know that this can be an important part of the process. After all, if you can regularly date your spouse again and this goes well, that's part of rebuilding your marriage and showing your spouse that the two of you can have fun, connect again, and still have a spark on which you can and want to rebuild.
But, many couples aren't quite sure about how to approach this. I'm often asked for insights on how to best handle dating while you're technically in a trial separation. I recently heard from a wife who asked the questions that most people want to know. She said, in part: "are there any guidelines about dating my husband while we're separated? Are you supposed to plan the dates or just let them happen? Can I ask him out or do I have to wait until he asks me? Are there any topics that are off limits? I know that when I'm with my husband I'm going to want to ask him if he's come to a decision or has any opinions about the chances of us getting back together. Is it a good idea to have sex on these dates or should I keep things strictly platonic in order to lure him back? What is the best way for me to handle this?"
I will try to cover these concerns and offer some tips on successfully dating your spouse during a trial separation in the following article.
The optimal way to approach this is to agree with your spouse on how this is going to go before one of you actually leaves the home. So many couples leave this open ended and when they do, it's my experience that things are less likely to go well.
If it's possible, it's a good idea to define how often you're going to get together beforehand. If you both have this agreement in place, you're both less likely to see other people or to do things during the separation that could be detrimental to your marriage. It also gives you a common goal and something to look forward to.
However, sometimes setting things up beforehand isn't possible because one spouse wants to "wait and see" or is reluctant to commit to regular dating. In this case, it's best not to push and to just take advantage of the time that you do spend together. If you get the sense that your spouse will be reluctant to commit to anything beforehand, then it's better not to push for this and to just make things seem spontaneous (even if you were planning them all along.) It's OK to ask your spouse out on a date. I don't think you always have to wait for them to ask you. But make sure that you sound casual and allow them to ask the next time around.
This is a very common mistake and it's also a very detrimental one. Many people feel as if they have to take the temperature of their marriage during these dates or they use them to "work out" their problems. In my opinion and experience, this is truly a potentially costly mistake. The whole idea for these dates is to bond with your spouse again and to prove to both of you that you can get a long, have fun together, feel the spark again, and reconnect.
You make this less likely if you insist on diving into your problems when the marriage is already struggling. While I concede that you will eventually need to address any problems, the time to do so isn't during a date that really should be fun. Many people don't even realize that they are doing this until they look back on the date and ask themselves what went wrong.
The vast majority of people who contact me about this issue also tell me that their date destinations are usually either the old standbys or based on attempts to evoke nostalgic memories with their spouse. They'll take their spouse to the location of their first date or continue on with their Friday night traditions.
This is fine every once in a while. But I would suggest not always relying on what you did in the past. You want to create a sense of new adventures and fun. You want to laugh and feel very alive during this experience. Try things that you haven't done together before and always keep everything very light hearted.
I know it's easy to fall back on the familiar, especially when you might already be struggling emotionally during the separation, but it's very important that the dates go well so that you both want to have more of them. So the last thing you want to do is to find yourself on the other side of the same table where you've always sat having the same conversations you've always had. Shake things up a bit. I think you'll be happy with the results.
People ask me about this a lot. Wives in particular usually ask if it's a good idea to limit sex when you're separated. The thought process behind this is that if she has sex with her husband when he's not living with her, then what is his incentive to come back home?
I understand (and usually agree somewhat) with this thinking, but I also know that this is easier said than done. And, many people see things quite differently and think that if they can have good and regular sex with their spouse during the separation, this is going to improve their relationship, strengthen their bond, and make their spouse less likely to cheat or date other people while they aren't living in the same house.
Both of these approaches have points with which I really can't argue. I truly think that it depends upon the couple and where they are in the separation process. I would caution you against using sex as the main way to get your spouse back. I also have to tell you that sometimes having sex while separated can create some conflict and misunderstandings as this can mean different things to both spouses at the time. As a result, hurt feelings and resentment may follow.
I would suggest that if you're going to have sex while you are separated, make sure that you are doing so because you want to express and share your feelings at the time, and not as a way to lure your spouse back or to play emotional games that may backfire.
If you are involved with online dating at all, you have likely been confronted with the possibility of meeting someone far away. There’s something very romantic about this notion, almost (or, um, exactly) reminiscent of Sleepless In Seattle. I mean how killer is it to go half way around the world for the right woman?
Granted. And if it works out, it’s amazing. But lets talk for a while about all this. From this conversation I trust you will be able to go into such potential situations armed with more wisdom than ever before.
Before all else, let’s discuss how two people get in this situation to begin with. It’s no secret that some dating sites have built their software so as to put as many people in touch with each other as possible. If a site is one of the minor players, which translates to fewer subscribers, you are likely to be encouraged to communicate with more people from other states (or countries) than you would at a Match.com or Yahoo Personals. IM “pen pals” come of this, and this is cool, but sooner or later, you are likely to notice–and talk to–someone who amazes you but is either in Alaska or somewhere that may as well be. If you don’t want to be tempted by someone on another coast who is giving you warm fuzzies, join a bigger dating site and keep your searches close in proximity.
Now, if you live in a very remote area with a very small dating pool to fish in, this kind of long-distance interaction made possible by the magic of the Internet may flat-out be the best thing that could ever happen to you.
I however, like the vast majority of us in this country, am fortunate enough to live in a major metro area. My thought process has gravitated towards the notion that if I live in a city of over a million people and can’t find someone to hang out with here, I need to look in the mirror and consider the problem might be my own. Read that last line again. Does it speak to you?
On the other hand, there is the whole concept of the perfect soul mate. I am on the fence about this one (see future article), but there is no doubt that the possibility exists that your absolute best choice in a long-term mate might not live in your city. I will not discount that.
OK, so if you are going to do this sort of thing, what is there to know?
First, do all the qualifying you can before the meeting. Talk. A lot. Forget the pictures, spring a whole $20 on a web cam and use it. Pictures do not capture mannerisms, etc. like the cam does.
Next, if you are in a remote area and the one you are talking to is in, say, Los Freaking Angeles you have got to ask this person what is driving him/her to look outside a metro area of 12 million people. Do it. And don’t accept some Pollyanna answer (e.g. “You are special”, “I’ve been wanting to move to Egypt, ND anyway”, etc.). Refer to my previous article titled “Signs Your Date May Be Married” for a refresher course as to other reasons why these conversations are important. Use judgment here. An example of an acceptable answer may come in the form of “I’m a native Texan here in NYC, and I really want to settle down with someone I can relate to better.” Take the blinders off and listen during this conversation.
Next, figure out who is going to do the “heavy lifting” as far as travel goes. As chivalrous a man as I consider myself to be, this one should not be automatically shouldered by the guy. Let’s use the potential situation in the previous paragraph as an example. If Boy lives in Los Angeles, and Girl lives in Egypt, ND common sense says that the two of you would have a much better chance of having a great weekend together if Girl flies to Boy. As far as the costs of all this, consider who has more resources. If Girl travels on business and has 500K frequent flier miles she’ll never get around to using (unless, ironically, she meets the right guy to travel with), then there is no sense in having the guy buy a ticket. You get the idea. I personally believe that when both people have an investment in a weekend like this, both are more committed to its success.
Next, make all the logistical arrangements for the visit, and communicate clearly about it. The one who is flying in should reserve a hotel. This takes a lot of pressure off the situation, which believe me will be a plus. If you two decide to cancel the hotel, that’s your own business, but having the option there was good planning nonetheless.
Read the sentence that follows this one twice: If you fly out to meet someone you have never met or barely know, absolutely positively make flight and hotel reservations that have great flexibility. If it costs a reasonable amount more for a fully-refundable reservation, do it. This way if things go awry quickly (or heck, what if the other person flakes out on you completely at the last minute) you are hassled less as a result.
We’ve all but established that if there are plane tickets involved for a first meeting, you are almost 100% doing this because you are expecting something SPECIAL to happen. People are not flying cross-country for casual flings, and even if they are, what I am about to say still will probably hold true.
OK, so where does the rubber meet the road? Right here: ONLY TWO THINGS CAN HAPPEN when people meet each other like this:
1) “I’m Frustrated!” v1.0 You learned (and typically very quickly) that there was no chemistry in real life. Or worse, the other one did. You feel angry and/or deceived, disappointed, empty, hurt, ripped-off. A lot of time, emotion and $$$ were wrapped up in this, and it didn’t go well. I’ve even heard the tale of someone getting off the plane, meeting the person, and immediately going right back to the check-in counter to change the ticket to the next flight out. That’s sure to cause an empty feeling. And what’s more, now what are you going to do all weekend?
2) “I’m Frustrated!” v2.0 Unlike casual first dates close to home, these weekend trips are inevitably hyped like mad by both participants. So what if It lives up to it? It’s everything you dreamed it would be. Um…Now what? You part ways after Some Enchanted Weekend and you are still 2000 miles away from each other–except now you are obsessed! How often are you reasonably going to get to see each other? And how will you develop this relationship? Who is eventually, and inevitably, going to move? And when the move happens, how do you know that things will still be wonderful when you start spending more casual blocks of time together?
Don’t kid yourself. Ending the weekend with a sentiment of, “That was so nice. It was fun to get away and have some fun, and now I’ve made a nice friend I can reminisce about from time to time and keep talking to as before” is a fairy tale. There is zero chance either person will leave the weekend feeling like that, let alone both. If you disagree, I’m open to your counterpoint, but I do believe this is truth.
Blind optimism translates to being straight-up naive when it comes to this stuff. Always keep that in mind. If you have good stories, hook a brother up and I’ll print some of them in the next “Letters” segment.