Editor's note: This article originally appeared on LauraPetherbridge.com. Used with permission.

“If I had a gun right now I’d shoot you, and my ex-husband.” No words were verbalized but the hazardous thoughts charged through my brain. Sitting next to me was the unsuspecting gentleman who had foolishly asked me out on a date and then had the misfortune of my accepting. My obnoxious mood was the result of the recent abandonment by my husband. Why accept the invitation? The loneliness was overwhelming and I naïvely assumed an innocent date would be the cure. I was wrong.

Images of me snarling “Make My Day” as I gradually inched out the same cool one-sided grin that Clint Eastwood flaunts in Dirty Harry danced in my head, with gun in hand.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that asking my date to stop at a pawnshop to make the purchase might seem odd. The rest of the evening was uneventful, and I was eager for it to end.

My re-entry into the dating scene didn’t go very well, mostly because I attempted it too quickly. Laughing at the memory comes easily now (I wonder whatever happened to that poor guy?), but it definitely was not funny then. I detested the awkward adolescent feelings, and I resented having to return to the dating world. That stage of my life was supposed to be over. Dating slapped reality into my shattered heart and forced me to admit the painful truth of my deceased marriage.

Adapting to the dating world again doesn’t have to be as excruciating as my experience. If timed properly, and prepared for, it can be a fascinating season in life. 

In my eighteen years of leading divorce recovery ministry I’ve observed men and women of various ages transition back into dating. After scrutinizing both their wise and foolish choices I believe the following “dos” and “don’ts” to be helpful.

DO:

…wait until your divorce is final. Even though you may “feel” divorced, the truth is married people don’t date. You weren’t married until you took your vows, and God views you as married until you have a divorce decree.

…give your emotions time to heal. Most people dash into dating before their weary, wounded heart is ready. Loneliness is a compelling motivator to “get on with your life” but understand that you are extremely vulnerable. There is nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.

…acknowledge your discernment about the opposite sex may be damaged due to the divorce.

…take Christian classes or read books that teach how to detect an unsafe person. Two excellent resources by Dr’s Cloud and Townsend are Boundaries in Marriage and Safe People.

…look for someone who is satisfied in their singleness. If you observe a panic or necessity to get married they aren’t ready.

…before the date, seek out people who can answer a few probing questions about this person’s values, character, honesty, family history, etc.

…before the date, pray and commit to God your sexual purity. It’s the person who doesn’t prepare for temptation beforehand, which often weeps afterwards.

…drive your own car to the first few dates. This gives you the security and peace of mind of knowing you can escape if you’re uncomfortable.

…guard yourself from date rape. Meet in a public place.

…observe how this person treats others such as a waitress or sales clerk. Is he or she rude? If so, this can be an indicator of how they will eventually treat you.

…listen for the ways he or she talks about family

…on the first date, ask significant spiritual questions such as: “What church do you attend?” “Are you in a Bible study?” “When did you come to know Christ as your Savior?” Listen carefully to the answers. Are the responses recited and without passion? Are they vague?  Is your date offended by the questions? Look for God’s warning signs and evidence of the person’s spiritual health. You’ll want to know these things before you are emotionally attached.

…if he or she is divorced, ask a few questions about the divorce. On the initial date this might seem awkward and inappropriate, but guarding your heart is worth it. Determining if he or she hasn’t effectively grieved the death of their marriage is crucial. The person who has completed the hard work of mending a broken heart will understand your need to ask. If your date avoids telling you what broke up the marriage and/or what part they played, RUN…don’t walk. This is a clear sign of an unhealed person.

…have wise friends meet the person you are dating. And then listen when they reveal any detected “red flags.”

…ask God’s protection from anyone who could jeopardize you or your children’s safety. Then obey and escape when He reveals danger. Flee no matter how cute or charming he or she may be!!

…I’ve heard it said that you can know a person’s character and priorities by examining his or her calendar and checkbook. Although demanding a look at the checkbook is a bit aggressive, you can and should closely analyze how your date spends money. Does she mention being in deep debt? Is giving both time and money to God’s kingdom a priority in his life? Does she use things to meet her needs? The use or misuse of money can often reveal a person’s true heart.

…recognize the customary temptation to become “The Brady Bunch”. It was a fake and unrealistic TV show! Do the Brady’s go to court for custody battles? Do Mike’s boys get jealous over the girls trip to Disney with their dad? Do you see them argue over child support payments? Does Marcia ever say, “You are not my real dad”? NO…but that’s the stark reality of step-families.

DON’T:

…ignore the experts. The words “that might apply to others, but not to me” are the flashing hazard signs of a rapidly approaching locomotive headed straight for your heart.

 …place yourself in situations where sexual temptation can be fulfilled. Stay in public.

…use dating to fill the void and fear of loneliness. It often blinds you to the truth and can lead to re-marrying someone you shouldn’t.

…drink alcohol or use drugs. It lessens your inhibitions and allows you to say and do things you normally wouldn’t.

…assume a person you met at church is safe.

…give your address or personal information early in the relationship.

…let a new date into your home. Ladies, don’t EVER get into a car or secluded place with someone you don’t know well.

…ignore the warning signs of an unhealthy person. You and your children are the ones who could pay.

…bash your ex-spouse during the date. It’s a huge turn off.

…introduce your children to your date. Your children shouldn’t meet that person until engagement is on the horizon. If the relationship dies, they will suffer another loss. As the parent it’s your responsibility to shield their heart whenever possible.

…rush into intimate settings that naturally point you to a deeper commitment. Examples might be: weddings, expensive restaurants, and candlelight dinners. Keep the dates light. A movie or play, coffee or lunch, the museum or park, bowling or golf are better choices.

…dash into meeting his or her family. Doing so signifies you are ready to get serious with that person.

…eliminate your time with same sex friends. This is a clear indication of an unsafe relationship.

…“Missionary Date” There is a strong tendency to assume, “This person is so wonderful, I know I can get them to accept Christ.” It rarely happens. And if you are a Christian you will then have the painful process of falling out of love with someone God forbids you to marry.

…ignore even the smallest signs of addiction.

…ignore any use of pornography. If you think this statement is prudish, read up on the traumatic and escalating effects of pornography under the resource section on my web site.

…ignore the dangerous signs of possessive manipulation or control. Phrases such as, “If you loved me you would”, “I act crazy because I love you so much,” “I’ll die (or commit suicide) if you leave me,” are tactics of a manipulator.

…misinterpret codependency and “rescuing someone” as mercy and kindness. Ask yourself: is he or she needy? Is this person looking for someone to relieve the pain of their situation? Do I feel the need to fix the circumstances?

…minimize the vast complexities of second marriage. As difficult as you think it might be, it’s twice as hard.

And the most important don’t of all is…Don’t let any person become more important or cause you to compromise your relationship with the Lord. He alone is the Lover of our Soul. And his passion for us runs deeper than we could imagine.

Portions of this article are taken from Laura’s book, When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce

Copyright © 2012 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved. 

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, divorce prevention, singleness, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. Her newest book The Smart Stepmom is coauthored with Ron Deal. Her website is www.Laurapetherbridge.com.

Check out Laura's upcoming events!

Publication date: October 5, 2012