# 1. Follow the advice below
This potential situation is one of the most common inquiries my patients have brought to me over the last four decades. Despite the media’s tendency to define them in simple terms, I am continually surprised as to how many different variations of this dilemma actually exist. The ways in which they are strikingly similar is in the fact that two women are in some kind of relationship with the same man.
Triangles are stable when all three legs are solid. What that means is that each dyad is securely connected. A psychologically floppy triangle exists when the man is at the apex of that triangle and the two women represented by the two legs are not connected to each other. That gamut can run from two women who have known one another in the past, even possibly friends, to total strangers who are now connected to each other by being attached in some way to same man. Floppy triangles are essentially unstable and the outcomes are often unpredictable.
There are many factors that can affect these triangulated relationships and can affect the outcome in different ways.
A new separation is clearly more undefined. Committed couples often hit major snags in a relationship and lose each other, sometimes only temporarily. A person in grief, angry, unhinged, or feeling newly free of cumulative stress is a vulnerable target for another, or an unwitting seeker of undiscerning escape. Anyone, who is in an unstable situation, lacking a clear path, can make in-the-moment decisions that have nothing to do with what he or she may need or want as time elapses. If those newly separated partners are searching for validation and support, they often only focus on that aspect of a relationship, blinded to what the eventual problems would be.
If, on the other hand, a separation has been in effect for quite a while, multiple attempts to reconnect have failed, and both partners are coming to the conclusion that divorce may be inevitable, that compulsive hunger to immediately reconnect is not the driver it might have been at the beginning. Those quieter reasons for seeking another relationship can give both people the time to choose another relationship more carefully.
If the separated man is concerned that a new relationship may inflame the other partner, he may choose to keep a new relationship quiet. Many people considering divorce are in the throes of conflict and don’t want another source of trouble adding to what is already a difficult situation. That is especially true if the new relationship can threaten the other partner’s potential access to resources or loss of what they have. If the separated man isn’t sure about reconnecting with his partner and a new relationship would make that option far less likely, he may not want to lose those choices by keeping his two worlds separate.
The heartache that arises if and when those clandestine relationships emerge is never good. A partner who may have understood a one-night stand is much less likely to weather feeling a fool for some period of time. She will likely assume that person was there from the beginning and the reason for the break-up if her partner asked for the separation.
Volatile, unstable relationship that have had a history of break-ups and reconnections, are often laden with unresolved issues. Intimate partners, who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other, often take semi-legitimate breaks from the relationship from time to time, either with or without other partners in between. When they are initially back together, they are in renewed ecstasy and often don’t want to deal with their recurring problems. As they must eventually emerge, they become quickly allergic to those deal-breakers and disconnect. Over time, and especially if they’ve been in disappointing other relationships, they miss each other and valiantly try to “make it work again.” If they don’t see those patterns and correct them, that process will occur until they either wear each other out or find someone they’d rather invest in.
Committed partners who still care deeply for one another, on the other hand, often separate because of external stressors, worn-out interactions, infidelities, or a slow drift-apart that neither realized could have ended up in a separation. They are at a loss when it happens, but still feel attached to their history, friends, children, financial situation, mutual families, and a deeper caring. After a time apart, they realize that they want to make the relationship work and are highly motivated to make that happen.
The man in those unfinished relationships may be unknowingly available to a new partner, but is highly likely to go back to his other relationship.
Time the prior relationship has existed
All committed relationships go through stages where the partners feel connected and that they wouldn’t want to be with anyone else, and other times where one or both starts to feel that the partnership is on a collision course. Those drifts can come from so many causes: illness, financial strain, too many obligations without reward, personal insecurities, stages in life that produce self-doubt, boredom, neglect, too much hostility without reparation, or just plain growing apart.
Relationships that are new have not had the time for enough negatives to accrue that can outweigh the reasons to stay together. Long-term commitments are filled with attachments to meaningful experiences, people, material goods, and history that may go beyond the loss of personal intimacy. These attachments can bring people back together after a separation in ways that new relationships are less likely to do.
It can also have the opposite effect. If one or both partners in a relationship have drifted too far apart to repair the loss, that separated man may be soured against getting involved long-term again or authentically seeking a new long-term relationship. In the midst of a separation, especially if many other people want that relationship to keep going, he may be overwhelmed with indecision and unable to see clearly what is best.
Men who have had relationships with other women throughout their committed relationship have either had partners who have regularly left and returned, or have been successful in keeping them clandestine. In either case, a relationship they begin while being separated is just another kind of infidelity. Men who do not find themselves ever satisfied with only one woman are clearly not likely candidates to change that behavior in the future. Women who feel they can corral that man because of their specialness often find themselves broken and disillusioned when that man continues his prior behavior.
There is one exception. Some men have had dual relationships for a long time. They are in committed relationships with two women at the same time, most often without their primary partner knowing of the other woman. If their clandestine relationship ends, they find themselves unsatisfied with only that remaining partner, and want out of the relationship. They are earnestly looking for someone new to commit to, but triangles are highly likely to eventually happen again.
Quality men who are truly torn
Lest it appears that all separated men are untrustworthy and unstable, I must mention a sub-group of men who come to me torn apart by their loyalty to the person they have truly loved and the need to move on. They have deep and current needs to be soothed in their conflict but do not want to hurt the person they’ve left or are not over the loss of a woman who has left them. They are the most vulnerable to any predatory woman who, knowingly or unwittingly, seeks the opportunity to be that man’s solace. He may prematurely commit to that relationship, without resolving his internal conflict first. Once he does that, he may find himself feeling trapped by the woman who moved in the situation too quickly.
Here is what to watch out for.
1. Whether or not that separated man talks well of his established partner. No blame, no attacks on character, and no created rationale for why he had to leave or how bad she was for leaving him.
2. His indecisive state of whether or not he’s doing the right thing.
3. Any promises that do not materialize in the time committed.
4. Hostility, judgment, or invalidation of “women.” You will be next.
5. How, and in what way, he has tried to make that prior relationship work. Did they go to couple’s therapy?
6. How clear he is on why the prior relationship didn’t work, his part in it, and how much he wants to, or feels obligated to, stay connected to her.
The last, and perhaps most important, caveat
Women who are trusted by, and trust, other women, do not create triangles where they are in competition, clandestine or out, with other women for the same man. Remember the demise of floppy triangles. If you are going to create a relationship with a separated man, insist that his separated spouse know about it, that she is emotionally done with the relationship, and that she would want to know you were the relationship with her ex to actually end. That is especially true if children are involved and you will eventually become a co-Madre. If you have children of your own, that man must know you are a package, not just an available woman. If he is a father, pay attention to how he feels about his children, especially if you have your own.
Only enter these triangles if you are fine whether or not this relationship works out or doesn’t. Be a friend to both he and his ex in terms of your support for what is right, over what you may legitimately want and need. If you can remain that neutral supportive person, despite your love for him, you will have the best chance of a successful outcome.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
# 2. Find out if there is intent to divorce
Relationships are complicated. You meet the perfect guy and find out he’s not exactly divorced, but is separated. So what does that mean? It depends.
The first thing you’ll want to determine, of! course, is what the terms of the separation are. Is there the intent to divorce?
Have divorce proceedings already been started but the case hasn’t yet made it to court? Are they ever planning to divorce or stay married in name for the sake of the children, finances, or some other reason? Being separated doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that it’s a legal term. And if there are children involved, you will be involved with this other woman for a very long time.
Now that you know the state of this man and his other relationship, you’ll have some decisions of your own to make. Are you willing to work through this divorce process with him? It could get ugly, and now you are smack in the middle of this, and could become part of it. You’ll need to decide how much of this you’re willing to be involved with. There will be legal, financial, and emotional fallout along the way as the relationship goes on. Make sure you know that and are ready for it.
If he hasn’t been separated for long, be aware that you may be a rebound. It often takes a person more than a year to grieve their divorce and to truly move forward and make the right decisions for their new life. If he’s looking to you to keep him from being lonely and from not having to face the problems that occurred in his marriage, you may not be in the relationship you think you are. And if he’s asking you to support him through this difficult time, make sure your needs get met, too.
People change during the process of a divorce – a lot! He may be an entirely different person in a year and you may not be dating who you thought you were. You may not be what he wants anymore once everything settles, either. Figure out what you want to invest in a relationship that may not be as long-term as you hoped.
And depending on the reason for the break-up of the marriage, you’ll want to be looking for red flags. If his wife was cheating, he may be thinking you will do the same thing. He may accuse you or be waiting for you to make a wrong move. On the other hand, if he was cheating and that ended the marriage, chances are good he’ll do the same to you. The good news is that having conversations about the relationship and how it ended can open your eyes and save you a lot of trouble on the front end.
Becky Bringewatt, MA, LPC, NCC – www.mantiscounselingandcoaching.org
# 3. Follow the 6 tips below
Separated but not divorced. What a large category to consider! Since it is such a large category, the following tips may not all apply to you.
#1: How long have the man and his wife been continuously separated? Some people separate every time they have a conflict. When the conflict dies down they invariably get back together. You don’t want to be the one providing comfort to a man who may be using you until his wife will let him come back.
#2. On the other hand, it can take a long time to get a divorce and it may not be in your best interests to turn down a man you find attractive because his divorce process isn’t complete. However, you do need to have some kind of realistic timeline so that you can make your own plans. If you are someone who wants children, you need to be looking for a serious relationship and you don’t have all the time in the world. While you are waiting for his divorce to be final, you might be passing up other opportunities.
#3. Consider whether or not you are a rebound relationship. You need to know if this man has processed his marriage and mourned its loss. Men (and women) who enter into a new relationship quickly are probably going to be dragging into it a lot of baggage. Your baggage is your responsibility and his baggage is his. The less baggage either of you have the better the chances for a good relationship.
#4. Do you have children? Does he? Children can be a hugely complicating factor in the formation of new relationships. During separation and divorce the biological parents have a lot to figure out with regard to the kids. When people with children separate and divorce, the kids are often actively hostile to new people in their parents’ lives. Kids can carry the hope that their parents will reconcile for a very long time. You, or you new partner could be seen as competition and a threat.
#5. Guilt often plays a big role with people who separate. Depending on the circumstances, guilt can often complicate the establishment of the healthy new boundaries that are necessary for the divorced family as well your new family.
#6. How did his relationship end? Was there infidelity? People who cheat on their partners are generally too immature to engage in the necessary process of figuring out what went wrong. They avoid the difficult conversations and often escape into new relationships. They need a place to go before they can leave. You don’t want to be the safe haven and hopefully the man you are considering isn’t just a safe haven for you. You both need to understand what happened in in your prior relationships and what your roles were in the demise of the marriages. Otherwise you are probably doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com