Previous marriages are a difficult topic of discussion, especially in new relationships. Although divorce has become as commonplace as 10-year anniversaries, many divorced people still fear they have a mark on them -– that they’ll be judged or rejected if someone finds out about their past.
Learning how to talk about your past openly and honestly is a signal that you’re ready for a new relationship. Plus, it shows your partner that you’re able to learn and grow from the unending challenges of life.
The Challenge of Talking About Marriage and Divorce
On the flip side of divorce, talking about tying the knot can be difficult as well. Confronting a situation where you and your new love have diverging views on marriage can have major consequences for the fate of your relationship. Kayla Knopp, a clinical graduate student at the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies, explains that marriage feels extremely consequential for many people. If one partner wants to get married and the other doesn’t, for example, confronting this fact can greatly complicate things.
While bringing up a history of divorce might feel outright taboo, discussing your past relationships is an important way for you and your partner to bond, says Dr. Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and the author of “Dating From The Inside Out.” “That is one way to reveal who you are and what you want without putting pressure on them to make any immediate decision about you,” Dr. Sherman says. “Oftentimes when you bring up your life and relationship vision in general, the other person will reveal theirs too.” She adds that talking about marriage can give you both an idea of whether you’re on the same page.
Someone who hasn’t been married may be afraid to talk about the subject for a different reason. As Peg Streep writes in Psychology Today, “Each of us brings into marriage a boatload of unarticulated thoughts about what it means to be married based on what we’ve seen, heard, experienced, or formulated in contrast to our parents’ example—and those unconscious thoughts influence our behavior and reactions.”
So, someone might feel uneasy about topics like marriage because of experiences with their parents’ divorce, for example. Acknowledging the fact that your partner might also have reservations and fears about discussing marriage, even if they haven’t experienced divorce themselves, can level the playing field in that you both have fears about the topic.
Embracing Your Relationship Past
Dating after divorce is daunting, and you may feel more guarded and emotional than you were before marriage. However, you might need to jump into the dating game before you think you’re ready. As The Art of Charm’s A.J. Harbinger explains, “…for divorced guys who are looking to get back in the game. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s necessary for you to completely heal and move on.”
In a similar way, talking about your divorce might accelerate the healing process. In order to be whole, you have to embrace all of your failures and challenges as part of who you are, explains Erik Newton, founder of the relationship-media platform Together. The ability to be open about your past shows that you can overcome challenges and learn from them.
Plus, your partner will likely want to know how your past will influence your relationship with them. Being transparent can help your partner know that you have nothing to hide, and show that you’re ready to start anew regardless of your past.
When to Talk About Your Past Marriage
There’s no perfect time to bring up your past marriage because every new relationship moves at a different pace. But if you’re open and ready to start dating again, sooner might be better — even if this means the first date.
“I’d recommend the topic be raised during a first date,” says California State University psychology professor Dr. Kelly Campbell. “People don’t have to force the topic, but whenever prior relationships naturally come up in the conversation, they should mention their divorce.”
If the topic doesn’t come up naturally during the first date, be ready for it to arise at any time. There’s really no need to hide what you’ve been through, so if your partner starts asking questions about it, you should be prepared to talk about it.
Talking about divorce early on is especially important if you have obligations that bind you to your previous spouse, such as child support, divorce fees, or a mortgage. Being upfront about these obligations can prevent your partner from harboring resentment should you get more serious in the future, says Beth Kobliner, a writer and personal finance expert.
Sometimes you might notice that you have an urge to get this topic out in the open as soon as possible. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to check in with your intentions around why. Sometimes people have an agenda to share things for shock value or in an effort to come across as “open.” Or, there could even be a hidden desire to sabotage a potential connection out of fear of getting close to someone.
Whether you want to clear up a misunderstanding or simply gain a better perspective of your partner’s opinion on the issue, it’s important to check in with why you want to talk about divorce before you bring it up.
How to Talk About Your Marriage History
Taking the right approach to conversations about marriage can make it easier to discuss your past marriages and divorce.
First and foremost, it’s important to approach these topics when you and your partner are both in a relaxed setting. This will help your partner feel like it’s more of an open and natural conversation rather than an interrogation, explains Anita Chilpata, an author and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Chilpata adds that it’s best to approach this topic slowly, understanding that it may take many conversations to get to the heart of the matter. Be patient, stay open to the other’s questions, and as marriage consultant Sheri Stritof advises, “Maintain eye contact.”
If you’re dating someone who’s also divorced, asking the right questions can help to open a dialogue about what you’re both looking for, wellness and relationships writer Korin Miller says. It’s important that you’re both willing and able to talk openly about your pasts. If people are carrying a great deal of anger toward their exes, for example, this will impact their current feelings toward one another.
Asking your partner if they believe they can spend their life with someone will show you how their past has influenced them, positively or negatively. Be aware that in asking the question, you’ll want to be prepared to answer that same question openly and honestly yourself.
Lastly, while your divorce is an important part of your story, it doesn’t define you, Woman’s Day writer Stacey Freeman shares. It’s just one of many things that have happened to you throughout your life. The right partner for you will want to be with you for who you are, with all of your past experiences having shaped you. Don’t rob them nor yourself of that opportunity.