How To Date After Divorce – Marlisse Testa

Christopher Bruce: Hi, everyone. My name’s Christopher Bruce. I’m a divorce lawyer in the South Florida area with the Bruce Law firm and today I’m excited to have Marlisse Testa on the show. She’s a licensed mental health counselor in the Boca Ratón area. She also sees clients who are in the state of Florida through the telehealth pipe format. And today what we’re going to be talking about is something I think that’s just often overlooked in the divorce process and that’s how to date after divorce. And we’re going to be focusing on specifically women and how women can date after the divorce. But Marlisse, she works with both men and women on this issue. She’s got an awesome book. So your luggage when dating that involves this whole process. So welcome Marlisse and maybe give everybody a little bit of a background about yourself before we get into it here.

Marlisse Testa: Great. Thank you Chris for the introduction and having me on today. It’s very great to be part of this with you. And I am, yes, my name is Marlisse Testa. I’m excited about my new book that was just published and released in November. And a little background about me is that I am a 20 year licensed psychotherapist in Boca. I do work with people within the state, so anywhere within the state I could video with you, I can help you out. I have a background in numerous of things. I’ve worked on a college campus, I was a college professor teaching Intro to Psychology.

But more recently I am also an integrative mental health counselor. So I work with people on supplements and nutrition and exercise in lieu of medications. And there is no real certification yet for narcissistic abuse, but I do work with both men and women coming out of narcissistic relationships and have had all the trainings and read all the books to help facilitate that for people, which is really important. And I’m really excited to be on today to talk about how I can help everybody find the healthy love that they want.

Christopher Bruce: That’s why I’m really excited to have you. Because when we first met, we were talking about, I have my book of my own and a lot of my law practice and my colleagues, we focus on helping people in those abusive relationships when they’re married to a narcissist or someone who has those types of qualities and it’s a hard relationship to leave. And I think there’s so much focus out there on how do you build up the ability to have the guts to get out of one of those difficult relationships and how do you navigate the process. But where I feel some of the stuff, at least maybe in the law field, where it leaves off is, “It’s over, what’s next? When you’re ready, how do you find love? What’s the way to go about it?” So that’s really what really interested me in having this talk.

And I guess my first question, say it’s a female that’s been in one of these tough relationships, the dust is settled, the divorce is over, hopefully they’re now experiencing that piece that many of them were after, and they’re starting to get the point of, “Maybe I want to start dating.” When it comes to that type of person, should they just put themselves out there and then start dating or are there things they should think about first? How do you view that?

Marlisse Testa: And there’s a lot that you just said there. First of all, it’s great that those people are able to [inaudible 00:04:02].

Christopher Bruce: It’s like the longest question.

Marlisse Testa: Because the abuse, sometimes it takes people three to seven times to get out of those relationships. So good for them for even getting to the end there where they have gotten to this situation where they’ve gotten out, they’ve gotten divorced and they’ve found peace. So that’s great. They say that the average, what do they say? When you’re married for so many years, it’s half the time to get over that relationship. So let’s say you were getting out of a 17-year marriage, half a 17 is what? I’m not mathematical.

Christopher Bruce: Eight and a half I think. But that’s a long time.

Marlisse Testa: So ultimately it would take that long for an average person without going to therapy because people like to avoid the painful feelings and people don’t want to have to deal with the feeling of that void. So this is where it gets complicated, and this is where I think society has dropped the ball. And I don’t think anyone really taught the generation because our parents and their parents were married when they were young and they were married forever. So no one was really telling anyone what to do because no one was really having multiple relationships and marriages like we do. So what happens is that people, when they get out of one relationship, they jump into another one because they don’t want to feel bad and they don’t want that ucky feeling, and they don’t want to feel the void, and they don’t want to feel the pain.

But that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. So basically, one of the things about life is that we only as human beings learn from a negative event. We only learn from negative experience. And those negative experiences teach us, if you put your finger on the oven, don’t put your finger on the oven. That’s really basic, but we’re supposed to understand the feelings that we have and why we have them and what happened to us. And I think that magical moment of divorce and breakup, when you have that, I think first of all, it’s really important to really reach out to your support system. So when that’s happening, to have your family and your friends, and it would be really helpful to find a therapist because it would help you process everything so much faster because then you’re not avoiding, you’re dealing with it, you’re facing everything head on.

And then that means that you are recovering, the years that you have to heal are going to go quicker. So you’re going to be ready in a shorter amount of time because you’ve actually processed it, dealt with it, faced it head on and now you know exactly where you are and what you want. Where if you’re just out there doing it on your own, it could take a very long time because people then just jump back into the saddle. They start dating, they rinse and repeat and they find the same relationship over and over and over again because they don’t know really what they did wrong, because they haven’t really taken the time to figure out what that relationship taught them. What was their fault in the relationship? What was the other person’s fault? Was it a healthy relationship? Was it not healthy? What was my childhood? What went into finding this relationship? What am I missing? Do I know who I am? Do I have a self-esteem? Am I codependent? All those really big questions that we just don’t know.

Christopher Bruce: So when it comes to healing from the past relationship and doesn’t… I think you and I both deal with a lot of people who have been in just an abusive relationship really to some degree, at least on an emotional spectrum. But for anybody this could apply, what’s the best way to heal from that previous relationship, but also still being able to effectively date and put yourselves out there for what might be in your future.

Marlisse Testa: Once again, this gets tricky too. And a lot of my clients don’t like hearing this from me from the beginning, and they really resist me and they do it and then they find out that they were wrong and then they stop. But ultimately, I think you need to heal before you date. I look at it like a plate. When you’re in a marriage or relationship, you have this whole plate that you’re holding and you know who you are and what you’re in, and then you get divorced or you break up and the plate’s smashed all over the floor, and you have to rebuild your life. And you can’t really rebuild your life by giving it to someone else. When you decide you’re in a going to be in a relationship, you’re deciding that you’re giving a person a piece of you. So you’re devoting and you’re creating an investment in someone, but you’re not ready for that.

So your heart’s healing. So you really need to start figuring out who you are and what you want. So in the beginning of my book, I have in my book, Stow Your Luggage When Dating, it takes you on a dating journey and it starts at that pinnacle time of basically breakup-divorce of where you’re basically lost, because you are, because half your identity was with the person you were with, and now you’re starting all over again. You’re rebuilding yourself. So you have to rebuild your self-esteem, you have to rebuild your confidence, you have to establish the relationships you had with your friends and your family. Figure out what your hobbies are and your interests, because your happiness is a hundred percent from yourself. And if you don’t know how to make yourself happy, nobody else is. Nobody jumps in your life and says, “Bob, I’m here to make you happy.” That’s a lot of responsibility for somebody.

So ultimately that healing process is trying to figure out who you are again, what makes you happy. And once you figure out all those things and your pain starts to subside and you start to realize what relationship you were in and what you want moving forward, then you get the clarity of being able to say, “Wait, maybe I’m ready for a relationship,” because you have those ducks in a row. And I talk about that in the book.

And I even give you insights on things to fill out as far as childhood and adult triggers, and things that have happened in your past. Because we don’t want to bring old relationships into new relationships. We want to sort through that and we want to leave it behind because it doesn’t belong in a new relationship, especially if it’s a healthy relationship you want. Obviously at some point, further down the relationship, you might talk about some path together, but ultimately you don’t want to be bringing all that in. It’s creating damage in the new relationship. So I think that people need to know that when you have a breakup or a divorce that time and patience is of the essence before you could get back on your feet and start dating.

Christopher Bruce: I guess that could go along with the title of the book, Stow Your Luggage. And I think that’s probably a big part of that. So when it comes to, “I think I’m ready to date,” should people be thinking about things like, “What’s the type of person that might make me happy.” Do you recommend people go through anything like that? Try to think about the type of person they’re looking for, or should they just instead be trying to meet different types of people and see what type of person’s making them happy?

Marlisse Testa: I think it’s a mix. I always tell people that they should have an idea. Like in my book, it says one to 10, what are the 10 things that you’re looking for? And then I tell you to circle the five non-negotiables. So the things that you must have, and I find that generally they’re remotely the same, but people never did that. See what happens is that people, unfortunately in our society, have sex way too fast. And they pick things that, once you have sex and then you’re involved, then they don’t really look for the qualities. They’re just like, “Well, it’s already fun and we’re already having sex and it’s great.” And they’re not realizing that those are not the components to a long-lasting love relationship. So I tell people that at the beginning, you have to try to find those things.

Have somebody court you, date for a month or two. Well, actually I say six weeks to three months before you start integrating intimacy. See if they could communicate, see what a conflict looks like, see how they handle things, meet their family, meet their friends, see what they’re like. Try them on in all different facets of your life and see if they fit before you start putting yourself in a position where you’re like, “Now it’s too late.” Because now you’re blinded by… You’re blinded by the chemistry. So there’s just so many things to know. You want to be able to know how to set boundaries, and setting boundaries with somebody at the beginning of a relationship is easier when you’re not as intimate where you’re still getting to know them and your eyes are open. I always tell people the first year is the year that you learn everything, that as when you’re young and you’re dating, when you’re in your twenties, you hang out a lot because you have a lot of free time. So walls come down quicker.

But when you’re in your fifties or your forties and you might have kids or things going on, you have less time. You might be dating once a week, so it might take three to six months for those walls to come down. So usually at one year you know if this person is somebody that you want to continue with. So it could take that long. I have clients at eight months, they’re like, “Oh my god, now it’s coming. Now I’m seeing the red flags.” I’m like, “That’s a long time.” But I guess if you’re only seeing each other for a minimal amount, it would take longer. So basically being able to set the boundaries, know the boundaries, work on the conflict.

I always tell people to take their time with falling. You want to use your head before your heart in a relationship. You want to be able to see the red flags and think about what’s happening and not just go off emotion. Emotions are great for later, but not at the beginning. So in my book I wrote, “Wear your armor.” So go out and wear your armor, be one of those. I have friends or clients that come in all the time, “Oh my God, I’m in love.” And I’m like, “Great, so tell me about it.” “Well, I met him once-” And I’m like, “What?” Once, I’m in love? I’m like, “We need to cage your heart.” And I’m like, “You need to put that away and leave that at home when you go on a date.” So you can’t rush.

You also have to have fun with it. I think that people get very rigid as they get older and they’re not willing to drive as far, they’re not willing to have fun with people. Like, “I don’t want to play games,” but playing games are fun. So people are looking at the games… Obviously you don’t want to be with a player who’s going to use you, but you want to have a fun dynamic with someone because that’s going to create… If you don’t have that beginning, you’re never going to have it.

Christopher Bruce: So this might sound a little interesting, but when people start dating and reading through your book, I read something about pretzels and rabbit holes and a couple of the concepts that go along with that. Can you touch on those topics for a little bit? Because to me they seemed important for people to be thinking about as they go through the recovery that you’ve talked about, which I think is super important. Basically don’t repeat the cycle, please, you worked so hard to get out of it. But there does come a certain point of, “All right, let’s do this.” And there’s I think some important concepts that you write about that people should be thinking about as they’re starting to date again. And I saw pretzels and rabbit holes, and I was like, “That’s easy stuff to remember.” So maybe you could talk about some of those.

Marlisse Testa: Definitely. The pretzel is what I was just talking about, which is where people just, I think the older we get the more anxious we get, and the more anxious we get the more rigid we get. And I think people are less likely to do fun things and to go travel as far, people like to stay in their little circle. If you were 20 years old and somebody said, “Let’s meet in Miami and go to the Crab House or whatever, you’d be like, “Yeah, I’ll be right there in like… We’ll be right there.” But as you get older you’ll be like, “I don’t want to go all the way to Miami,” but so what? And it might not necessarily be Miami, but it’s being able to be more open to experience new adventures when you’re dating.

Dating is supposed to be a fun thing. It’s not supposed to be something that is a chore. It’s supposed to be, you’re meeting new people, you’re getting out there doing new experiences. So you have to keep in mind that you have to be flexible, that if you’re ready to put someone… If you’re healed and you’re ready to date, that means you’re ready to invest. It means that you’re ready to put yourself out there, you put your heart on the table and that you’re ready to maybe get hurt, which means that you’re ready to open up and give somebody part of you. And if you’re not ready to give them part of you, then you’re not ready and then you shouldn’t be dating. The other thing that I talked about was anxiety and depression.

But the rabbit hole is that, in a nutshell, there’s all these different things they have now on TikTok and Instagram. They talk about stuff like rejection is redirection. And not everybody in the world is going to like you. If you talk about the scientificness of pheromones, if you want to get really… People’s pheromones attract each other. There’s so many levels of attraction and there’s going to be so many people that don’t have that. And just because somebody isn’t feeling the same way you are, doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy, or that you’re not enough, or that you’re going to be alone forever and you’re never going to fight anybody. It just means that that that person is not for you. And thank God you figured it out early. And these things are good, because it’s how you find your person. You don’t just go out date and find your person like that. It might take 80 dates. You don’t know. It’s a numbers game.

And that’s why it has to be fun. And that’s why I talk about the dating breaks, because you could date and then you should, after you date, I always say date multiple people, go on multiple dates, and then if nothing happens… It could be a lot, so then maybe you take a month off, go back to your hobbies, go back to your girlfriends, go back to whatever you’re doing, and then, “All right, I’m ready to date again. Ready to put the energy in again.” So then go back and date a bunch of other people. So it’s just knowing that it’s okay if you don’t find anybody and it’s okay that you’re not going to click or they’re not going to click. And not to take it personal, not to get that upset about it and just to get back up, just like anything else we do. Success means we fall several times before we find what we’re looking for or what we want to achieve, like in business or anything, we have to have some falling.

Christopher Bruce: Well that makes a lot of sense. And I guess one question I thought of as we’re going through this and maybe this was not in the script, so we’ll see where it goes. But some of the clients have actually asked us, “I’m starting to date. Where do I even go to meet people in this day and age?” And I don’t know if you have any advice on that for, I think some of our clients are in the same age demographic of 40 to 60-ish area of the age groups. Do you have any advice on that? How to find maybe people to date in a healthy way?

Marlisse Testa: Absolutely. So I always say every door and every window, once you’re ready let everybody know. [inaudible 00:20:24] work know, let your friends know, let your family know, “I’m ready.” And basically just do everything. Is like you never know what’s going to stick. Single people are everywhere, so you can go online and try online dating, but once again that… Like anything else, it’s all about assessment. I talk about that a lot in my book about how to learn, how to assess healthy people versus unhealthy, available versus unavailable people. You could go out and join a group, you can go to a gym, you could go to parties, you could go to neighborhood parties, you could go with girlfriends, wherever. Anywhere you’ll meet people. You could go out to happy hours, you could go to charity events.

Every weekend, now that thank God COVID is over. Every weekend you can go through and there’s like hundreds of activities, like walkathons, or car shows. We live in Florida, there’s like million things. Actually in one weekend there could be seven main events. So as long as you stay active and put yourself out there, you are going to meet lots of people. But there’s a lot of ways in our society, now with the internet and the technology, that you can meet people more. So I would take advantage of everything. There’s even matchmakers in Boca, there’s tons of matchmakers that are out there, matchmaking. And I think a lot of the women are very low cost or free because the men pay.[inaudible 00:22:05] a free.

So that is always helpful. So there are lots and lots of ways to meet people. It’s really about where you’re at and are you ready? And I always press that you have to really make sure you’re ready because if you put yourself out there and you’re not ready, hurt people, hurt people. And when you’re hurt and vulnerable, you will get hurt. And that’s what I find when my clients say to me, “Oh no, I got this.” And they go out and date and then they end up in my office crying and heartbroken all over again. It’s because they’re not realizing that when you’re hurt, dating isn’t really the best thing for you.

Christopher Bruce: Say somebody’s followed your advice and they’ve really prepared themselves to get out there, start dating, actually have some fun doing it in a healthy way, and then they find somebody that maybe they think they really should consider getting serious with. And I think you touched on it a little bit earlier, but do you have any special tips for somebody maybe especially when they’ve been in a difficult relationship before and they look to really become serious with one person?

Marlisse Testa: Definitely. Well, I always say, go slow. Go slow, be patient, take your time. So that’s my huge thing is, go slow, go slow, go slow. Because the slower you go, the more your eyes are open and the more you see everything because you really want to see what’s happening. Because there is those fears, the shoe is going to drop for people who’ve come out of a hard relationship in the past, they get nervous. But that’s where the slow comes in, and that’s where the really good open communication with the other person is. Not that you should be saying to them, “Oh my God, is the shoe going to drop?” Because you’re going to scare them away. But for you to know that… When you’re in a healthy relationship and you meet somebody and you’re communicating and you’re going slow, you’re going to find it calming and easy that you’re really not going to find that you’re having triggers or different things that are making your alert go up.

So if you’re in a situation where you’re dating somebody and you want to take it seriously and you’re having triggers, it’s because there’s something wrong. So then you should be looking at that. But ultimately, go slow, keep your eyes open. Like I said before, try this new person on in every venue, have other people meet them, have their eyes on them, have other people tell you what they see because that might be helpful. Because people might see things that you don’t see, because we never see outside of our own little bubble. And then look for that… Feel that feeling, I think that people forget that our body will tell us a really a healthy relationship quickly. What’s healthy and not healthy. If you’re in a calm, healthy relationship, things are going to feel calm and they’re going to seem a little easier.

Nothing’s easy, but they’re going to feel like it’s easy to talk to that person and it’s easy to communicate, it’s easy to set up activities and it’s easier to do those things because it feels comfortable and safe, which is the good word, safe. Where if you’re with somebody who might have red flags or might have issues, it will be more complicated, it will feel not as safe and not as calm and not as easy. It will feel like there’s a challenge and you might feel your body having anxiety or having other things. And that’s really important to listen to when you start a new relationship, because we do have a habit, especially if you don’t go to therapy, to rinse and repeat subconsciously.

Christopher Bruce: And I guess as you bring up therapy connected with all of this, how does working with the therapist, somebody like your yourself, maybe even you, how does that help somebody as they’re going through exiting the relationship and maybe being on that journey, so to speak, of finding love again? How the therapist help in this process?

Marlisse Testa: It’s the best thing you could ever do because we become your instant support system. So not only are we there for you when you’re processing the grief and rebuilding, and helping you rebuild. We’re educating you, we’re teaching you what healthy looks like versus unhealthy. When you go out there and you start dating, we can actually coach you through what good communication styles, what to look for, what are those feelings that you’re having to process, all of that with you.

Plus at the same time, when you’re in the healing part, we can help you go through maybe some of the childhood stuff that you might have that created you to be in the relationship that you were in the first place, that we could then work with you so that we can heal from all of that, so that you can then find that healthy relationship. And that’s really where the gold is at, because we’re going to keep going out there and we’re going to keep trying to fix those wounds that we have, either from childhood or past relationships, until those are healed. And once those are healed, it’s amazing how quickly you will see and you will be in healthier relationships. So I think it’s ideal.

Christopher Bruce: Makes a lot of sense. We tell our clients, even if they’ve never done therapy before, it’s way more than coaching, but we tell them, “Look, this person can help you get the result quicker instead of hanging out at the Barnes and Noble and reading all of the books and trying to figure it out yourself.” Deal with an expert on this so you can get to the point faster and it could be the best investment that you’ve ever made in yourself.

Marlisse Testa: Absolutely.

Christopher Bruce: For the people that are listening to this, and they’re like, “Marlisse seems to know what she’s talking about.” Or they’re identifying with this journey that we’re talking about. Maybe just speak for a minute about your practice, who you help, how to get in touch with you so that people can take the next step.

Marlisse Testa: I have a private practice in Boca Ratón. It’s called Tested Counseling, where I do see people in my office. And I also have video times as well where I could see people all over Florida. I also work at another practice called Boca Behavioral Health, which is nice because they take a lot of insurance, which I don’t take. So if you can’t see me at mine, then sometimes there are slots there to see me. And they’re a wonderful office as well. And basically, what you’re saying is a hundred percent right, is that coming to it, you could go pick up a book, all these books, and there’s a lot of amazing books. I’ve read, probably all of them.

And what I do is, I still will probably make you read those books, but I go through them with you and I want you… I’m not like a therapist that’s going to keep you… I know people think, “You’re in therapy, you’re in therapy forever and you’re laying on a couch.” I don’t want you with me forever. I want you to get the tools. I want you to heal. I want you out there, I want you happy. So I’m going to create that for you in a way that we can get to your final goal based on your motivation and on your desire. So if you’re motivated to do the work and you want to get back out there, it’s going to be faster for you than somebody who’s slower or not doing the work. But it really is ideal.

And I think that no one should really have to go through a lot of that alone. And you’re going to see the big difference it makes to learn why, because we’re people of why. Why we were doing what we were doing? And it will be amazing to learn for yourself. I must tell you that one of the best things I love about working with people, not only changing everyone’s lives and making them better, is that I love when they’re in my office at the end, it’s priceless. And they’re like, “I am the best version of myself than I’ve ever been in my life.” And I don’t think I really have anyone leave my office without telling me that, because that’s priceless.

Christopher Bruce: That’s amazing.

Marlisse Testa: Ultimately, that’s the person you want to be. So how are you going to get there? We don’t know how to get there without help. Everything in our life, we learned how to walk from our parents, we learned how to read and whatever. By going to school, we learn… You learned how to be a lawyer by going to law school. There’s no way that you’re going to learn how to be a healthy person and get out there and find a healthy relationship, unless you go out there and find somebody who helps you facilitate those things. So you should call me and I can help you do that.

Christopher Bruce: And again, we were talking about, a lot of this involves the topics that are in your books, Stow Your Luggage While Dating. And I think you were telling me you might have a special giveaway related to that.

Marlisse Testa: I do. So on my website,, at the very bottom of the page it says, I wrote it down, it says, “Get in touch.” And if you hit that get in touch button it will take you to an email, and you write on there that you heard me on Chris’s podcast for Bruce Law and I will give the first five people a free book.

Christopher Bruce: That’s pretty awesome. I think everybody should take advantage of that. And again, my name’s Christopher Bruce, I’ve been here with Marlisse Testa, she’s a licensed mental health counselor in the Boca Ratón area. And Marlisse, just thank you so much for taking the time out of your life, your practice, to sit here with me and give all this valuable information. I really appreciate it.

Marlisse Testa: Absolutely. And I appreciate you having me on. And I think that this would be such a beneficial tool for everybody getting out of a divorce. Absolutely. So send them my way.

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