Ask Dr. Keith

I’m a 62-year-old woman who, after three years of being divorced, decided to get back into the dating pool, as deep and scary as it looked. My ex-husband was jealous, controlling, verbally abusive and unaffectionate. For years, I felt lonely and miserable and planned on leaving as soon as our two children were grown, finished college and were out on their own. However, as the years moved on, and the kids moved on, the fear of being alone and starting over terrified me. I chose to stay, thinking maybe I could fix him and the relationship. I wasn’t prepared for what was to come and, even knowing for years this is what I wanted and the best thing for me, I was devastated. After 32 years of marriage, my husband asked me for a divorce. Fortunately, finances weren’t an issue, however, the roller coaster of emotions took its toll on me. It took me a while to rally and gain the courage to explore the dating world. I signed up with a couple of dating apps and connected with a gentleman who was charming, attentive and knew exactly the right things to say. My defenses started to evaporate and, soon, he told me he loved me, wanted to move in together and was planning our future – his version, not mine.

Here’s my dilemma. I’m still in a relationship with this man, the first person I’ve dated and been with since my divorce. We’ve been together for a couple of months, and the red flags are starting to show. He doesn’t like doing anything with my friends, criticizes the way I do things, what I wear, my make-up and how I spend my money. When I get upset, he’ll apologize and promise to be better, bring me flowers and temporarily be loving and kind. It feels good to have someone in my life, however, I’m fearful of repeating the past. Do I give it more time to see if he lives up to his promise to be better, or should I move on?

Terri R.

Charlotte NC

Hey Terri,

This is not a gender specific issue. The good news is I’ve had many clients throughout the years experience similar situations, learn, grow and create a wonderful life for themselves after moving on. Negative events, experiences and people in our lives are our opportunity to learn and grow, if we choose to. I believe one of the greatest things we possess is our free will, our freedom to choose. Stay or go, only you know what you’re willing to put up with in a relationship. However, red flags, like a stop sign, are there to signal danger. We may change them in our minds to blue, yellow or some other color to mitigate any fears we may have of being alone, starting over or to justify staying in a negative situation or toxic environment. If you choose to keep the flags red, you’ll gain clarity and eliminate confusion. Actions do speak louder than words; pay attention to his actions and don’t buy into false promises. “Don’t tell me, show me” is a good mantra. You mentioned this is the first person you’ve dated since your marriage, the rebound guy. A rebound is great in the game of basketball, but in the game of dating, not so much. For the first six months of a relationship, most of us are on our best behavior, a false representation of who we really are. The person we start dating is presenting their best side, as well. In about six months, you’ll get to know the real person, their positive and negative traits. The question is, are you able to live with his negative behaviors? Are they deal breakers? The person you’re with hasn’t even made it to the sixth month, and the red flags are already popping up, and they’re not little, they’re huge. When we go to the grocery store and want to buy apples, we’ll look at the different varieties. We’ll pick up a specific piece of the fruit, touch it, feel it, make sure it looks good and purchase it not knowing it’s shelf life, or how it’s going to taste until we get home. People can be like apples. They look good at first, however, the problems may arise when we take them home, incorporate them into our lives and find that they’re bruised or rotten to the core. One bad apple can spoil your whole life, so choose wisely. When I speak at events, I use demonstrations and visuals to clarify messages. One example is when I invite people to join me on stage and have them sit in a chair next to me with their hands resting in their lap. I start firmly tapping on the back of their hand and ask them,”does this feel good?” Their consistent answer is, “No.” My response is “What are you going to do about it?” Their response is to remove their hand because it doesn’t feel good. Relationships are work, however, they shouldn’t be hard work. Is this the kind of relationship you want for the rest of your life? Do you want to grow old with this person? If the answer to either one of these questions is “no,” be true to yourself and pay attention because the red flags are there. Maybe it’s time to remove your hand… 

Keith O’Neill Ph.D., C.Ht is a Psychotherapist, Professional Speaker, Author, Clinical and Sports Hypnotherapist, Mental Performance/Self-Esteem Coach and survivor of a life threatening head injury. If you’re struggling emotionally, need a speaker or a mental performance coach, visit for more information.

If you have questions for Dr. Keith, email them to


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