Q: How long should I wait before dating again after my divorce?

A: Most of us have heard this advice about looking for love after you've just ended a marriage or intimate partnership: "Don't jump from the frying pan into the fire." In other words, to avoid re-bound love, take time off from dating and mating. The big unanswered questions are: How much time do I take off? And what am I supposed to do with my time if I'm not dating?

In general, major life events such as trauma and loss, including relationship break ups, do require healing time. Many cultures, for example, advise the widowed to wait a year before remarrying. The psychological foundation of this suggestion is that the brain, body, and emotions need the time to readjust, mourn, reflect, and learn.

There are no firm rules, and many of my widowed or divorced clients begin to forge new intimate relationships after about six months. In fact, widowers tend to fall in love, remarry, or move in with a new partner before or shortly after the first year anniversary. There is an old saying about widowed men regarding relationships: "They don't necessarily fall in love, but they do replace (the deceased wife with the new one)." Similarly, it has been said that widowed women who had good marriages are slower to fall in love again. The reasoning is that they know what a good marriage requires and are therefore wiser, slower, and more discerning about choosing a new man.

But what if you are divorced or recently split from an important intimate relationship? Should you wait at least six months? Naturally, every situation is different. Perhaps you are ageing or your biological clock is ticking. Or, your financial situation is dire. Or, as for one of my clients, she sped up her dating after her divorce because she felt compelled to make a healthy match before her mother died. There may be few rules, but there sure is good old common sense. Here are some things to think about.

1. Aim for a longer time frame before you seek love.

Six months to a year is a good range. Yet, keep it in your mind as a loud reminder and not a rule. I had one client who reconnected by accident with his childhood girlfriend within four months. She was widowed, too. They felt comfortable with each other, knew each other's families and values. I wish I truly could give you the perfect amount of time to wait, but life planning can be both easy and complicated.

2. Use your time to examine yourself in depth psychologically.

It's not all about time. Arguably, the most important factor that increases your chances of making a wise relationship choice is withstanding a long, detailed, honest—and, oh yes, emotionally painful—self-reckoning. You don't want to risk repeating the same kind of relationship mistake again-which we all risk doing. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What am I angry about?
  • What are my fears? What makes me feel insecure?
  • What would I do over?
  • How have I contributed to what went wrong?
  • What attracted to me this person?
  • Why did I get married when I did? Was I in the midst of a bad experience? Getting older? Feeling especially lonely?
  • How did I act in my relationship in a way that is similar to how I acted and reacted to one of my parents?
  • How did my relationship resemble in unhealthy ways my parents' relationship?

3. Don't overcorrect your mistake.

Even if you have toughed out a serious self-examination, you still might be vulnerable to overcorrecting the mistakes of your previous relationship. For example, when wealthy Frank divorced Francine Elizabeth Horton of the distinguished Horton dynasty in town, he vowed he would not choose a woman whose main activity in life was shopping.

When he married Annie, who came from a lower socio-economic background, Frank thought that she would be appreciative of the lifestyle he could offer her. But Annie accustomed herself quite well to diamonds and designer clothes, and most of their arguments were about money. Frank felt as though he had married one more gold-digger.

In another client's situation, when Joyce divorced nice but limited James, she promised herself that she would marry a man with ambition and a larger playing field. In her marriage to James, she hated that she ended up bossing and criticizing him and not feeling that he was pulling his weight. She was a very successful investor with a major company and she carried the relationship financially.

When she met George, she thought she had found her match. He was a player on Wall Street and many other investors sought his advice. They married within four months of her divorce. Joyce was in a hurry because she was almost forty and wanted a child. George certainly did turn out to be a player—and an abusing, disrespecting, dismissive, and critical husband as well. The tables had turned, and Joyce found herself on the other end of the same kind of relationship she had in her marriage.

4. Date casually.

Hang out in groups or go out for brunch or other time-limited daylight events such as an outdoor concert or tasting festival. Avoid those big dates—you know the kind—the ones where you try to impress the other person with tickets to the next big thing. And, of course, don't let yourself be seduced by people just because they have boats, big homes, or fancy cars. Be yourself—your usual self. You know—the one who hangs around the house in your favorite clothes and eats chips out of the bag. Date lots of people and see what you can learn about yourself.

5. No sex.

Yes, you heard right. Keep your wits about you. No sex without mutual love. And, yes, men want to fall in love just as much as women do. Take your time to get to know each other. Once sex enters the picture, your powers of clear-headedness go down the drain.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D, MSS, MA, is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues in love, life, work, and family. Sign up on her website, http://www.lovevictory.com, to receive free advice, blog, cartoon, and information about her two upcoming research-based, self-help books for women: The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie-a cartoon, self-help book and Smart Relationships. You can follow Dr. Wish on Twitter.