A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: When to start dating again

My broken heart feels like it is mending, and with much support from friends and healthy doses of exercise, socialising, eating well and a new job, things are starting to look a bit more on track. I must admit I'm surprised with how much better I am feeling, especially considering the short amount of time that has passed. I still have my highs and lows, the lows are certainly not as low as they used to be. How will I know when I am ready to date again?
How do you know when you're ready to start dating again? Photo / Thinkstock
How do you know when you're ready to start dating again? Photo / Thinkstock

I am so pleased you are feeling better and it sounds like you have been doing all the right things. Of course you will still have low times, because that is the nature of the grief process. We can be feeling pretty good then suddenly hear a song, or see someone who resembles our ex-partner, and in a flash we go back to a dark place again.

That being said, even the descent back to a low place becomes easier, partly because you learn you can rely on coming up again, especially with a carefully balanced programme of healthy activities and diversions.

I won't dispute the old adage that time heals, because in good measure it does. One of the big things time does is that it allows our resilience and adaptation to kick in - a process which research explains is frankly hard wired in us to make sure we all keep marching on to the drumbeat of evolution. So that part is certainly on our side as we recover.

But time is not the only factor in this. Some people remain stuck in grief, despite the passing of time. The real reading of recovery - and whether we are ready to date again - is the extent to which we have worked actively on the way we derive meaning from the heartbreak we experienced.

This part is the endgame known as 'acceptance' in the grief cycle. When people become immobilised in their grief it transmutes into a lingering melancholy or entrenched bitterness. In that situation the passing of time can be of no real assistance. Being told you should be "letting go" and "moving on " can feel like blunt clichés.

On a bad day it can feel like being told you should jump into darkness - holding onto our pain at least feels like our identity is still connected to the lost partner.

Betrayal, abandonment, and the unravelling of life plans as a result of break up, are deeply painful and challenge our fundamental sense of who we are. This all calls for brave redefinitions and courageous forecasts at a time when you really just want to curl up under the duvet.

Read more: How do deal with a broken heart

Taking that leap from the past and into the future, but with a roadmap under your arm, is the safest way forward. One way of looking at this work is that by developing your deeper understandings you explore wisdom. This wisdom will allow you to become a benevolent interpreter who can speak to that very hurt and afraid child within about what actually happened - rather than buying into a narrative, which is only about pain and rejection. A big difference.

Learning what else that journey with your ex-partner was about will not only give you mastery over grief, it will also restore your confidence and self-esteem. When we shine a torch of understanding at the grief of break up it can be like the impact of the sun on a block of ice. It is also a very interesting process, which can provide answers we sometimes didn't even know we were seeking.

If you do this work - either on your own using books and research, or with the help of a skilled therapist - you will feel the negative thoughts continue to give way to a deeper and more compassionate self-understanding. Add this to the time factor and your healthy routines, and you will know when you are ready to date again. Ruminations about your ex, negative thoughts about yourself, pessimism about your future, will all be replaced by a quieter mind, and renewed hope and interest in your life and plans, big and small.

Moving forward because you feel ready to love again - and not because your ego needs a boost or you want revenge - means you are ready for the next part of the journey.

Everyone's hearts are tender, so take care of yours as well as that of the new person you might start dating. Being conscious and sensitive and brave and hopeful is very different from feeling fragile.

Everyone has baggage, which actually it makes you compassionate and aware and interesting. What matters is understanding which of the contents of your baggage are best discarded.

Travelling lighter will give you the opportunity to again seek out a special love and to enjoy the adventures on the way.

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A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be. • Jill Goldson is a Family Dispute Resolution mediator and counsellor, and Director of The Family Matters Centre in Auckland.

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