Relationships after divorce


This question is not about me - I’m not divorced - but it arises from a discussion elsewhere, where I wanted to know the Catholic position, so I’d be very grateful if somebody could explain to me.

Jane is a Catholic who has been divorced for many years. Her children are grown up and her former husband has remarried. She has been lonely for a long time when she meets a nice man called John and they become friends. He wants to be more than just friends. She has no intention of marrying him, or of having sex with him. He is not a Catholic, or even a Christian at all, but he understands and accepts this, and would still like to have a more than just platonic relationship. They begin a relationship in which they go places and do things as a couple, and enjoy some kissing and cuddling that stops well short of having sex. They continue to live separately in their own houses.

Jane wonders what implications this has for her as a Catholic. She is encouraged by the Pope’s comments a few months ago about divorced people. She finds something online about Catholics who are divorced and remarried who cannot separate without seriously hurting the children they have had together and are raising together. She reads that these people have been advised to live continently even if both in the same house with the children. She ponders her own situation and wonders if the fact that she is not having sex with John is what matters. Or is the kissing and cuddling with John sufficient to mean that she should not take Communion?

She goes to her priest for advice. She expects that he will tell her she should give up the relationship, or else eliminate all the physical aspects of it. She is not sure she is ready to do this, and she wants to know if she can take Communion if she does not end the relationship.

What should the priest say to Jane?

Thanks in advance for your help and information. :slight_smile:


Disclaimer: I’m just a layman, and this is my opinion.

The priest should tell her to stop seeing this man, as it is an unnecessary near occasion of mortal sin. She should not receive Holy Communion until she confesses this sin, with the firm intention to stop. Let me unpack that a little.

What you describe is called “company keeping.” You’re going to get a lot of people disagreeing with me here, as most people have embraced the mores of mainstream culture; but traditional Catholic thought holds that we ought not to keep company (i.e. regularly spend time alone with) persons of the opposite sex, unless we are either married to them or discerning marriage with them, and in a position to do so.

The reason it’s a sin is that she has no intention of marrying the man (and may not be able to do so even if she wanted to, since her previous marriage may be valid and still exist in God’s eyes). Romantic attention is very powerful, and to give that to someone without the intention of making, or considering making a lifelong commitment is a sin against charity, which seeks our neighbor’s good and not merely momentary happiness.


Thank you. That was more or less what I thought.

Does it make any difference if John has a disability that means he is unable to have sex? Is the keeping company itself a sin even though it is not a near occasion of anything further?


I won’t attempt to answer your question, which I think only the protagonists can answer, but I remark that the impotence of John does not eliminate the temptation to sin that the behaviours described may entail.


I’m not sure, but I think it would still be wrong, because it’s like “playing married.” Even if John is impotent or gay or whatever, he’s still a man. And there’s the danger of scandal. Not to mention that the more Jane enjoys this kind of affection with a man she’s not married to or even dating, the easier it would be to enter into a similar relationship with someone else.


Thank you for your input, both of you.

Ad Orientem, I would say that they are dating. When I said “going places and doing things as a couple” I meant “dating without any aspect of discerning marriage”. They are regarded as a couple by their friends, for example.

Do you think the priest should also tell her that in keeping company with John she is being yoked with an unbeliever in contravention of 2 Cor 6:14, or would that muddy the waters by giving her the impression that it would be all right to behave in this way with a Catholic man?


I can’t imagine that the religious views of another person are in themselves reason to terminate a friendship.


Of course not - we can all be friends with all sorts of people. :slight_smile: Friendship doesn’t consitute “being yoked”. But this isn’t just a friendship, is it? The image of two oxen being yoked together to pull a cart indicates that “yoked” means “sufficiently joined that you go in the same direction as each other”. So “being a couple” with somebody outside the faith is surely problematic because it is likely to draw the Catholic person in a direction away from the faith.


Yep, the Church certainly does not teach that “intercourse outside marriage is a no-no but everything other than that is just fine!”

Although I can think of cases of couples of a certain age, where the man is impotent, or perhaps the woman finds intercourse too painful, and they still pleasure each other sexually without having intercourse, I have seen/heard this question come up on CAF and on other Catholic venues such as EWTN Radio, and the answer has always been that deliberately engaging in such acts to “completion” without intercourse is not allowed, although sincerely attempting intercourse and failing is a completely different issue.

Also, even if John’s condition has made him somehow incapable of lusting and not just physically impotent, what’s to say that Jane isn’t capable of lusting? Just because she’s a woman?

I assume you mean the danger of “scandal” as in inspiring others to sin, not just “scandal” as in idle gossip.

AFAIK dating or marrying outside the Catholic faith is considered problematic but allowed, though I think when it comes to actual marriage couples must still get a dispensation. I don’t know if that’s true for all non-Catholic faiths, or if it’s only for mixed-faith marriages where the other spouse is not even a baptized Christian.


I’m going somewhat agree with this but…Jane is a married woman (you didn’t say if the first marriage was annulled or not) and as a married woman she shouldn’t be “dating” any man.

Maybe another little objection I have is the discerning marriage part. For a younger woman I believe all dating should be toward the discernment of marriage. As a divorced (annulled) older female, lets say probably in the neighborhood of Jane’s age, I’m not sure if I would want to marry again. I’ve been divorced for close to 25 years and have lived alone that whole time, with the exception of my kids before they grew up. I’m not closed to the idea of marriage but if I were to meet someone, I would want to spend a bit of time with him socially, dating chastely, before discerning marriage. I would want to make sure this was someone God put in my life and not me trying play God.

I hope that makes since.


One is not yoked even when in a “couple” relationship. The relationship presents opportunities - both good and bad. And it need not be permanent.


Wow! What a lot of helpful informative replies in such a short space of time. Thank you all very much.

To answer the various queries people have raised: In the circumstances I envisage, Jane’s marriage was never annulled. Jane is still capable of lusting, but while it is John’s disability that means that nothing can happen “to completion” for him, it is Jane’s conscience that prevents her from letting him do anything to bring her “to completion”. John, meanwhile, is quite happy to go along with Jane’s conscience on this point, since doing so would merely emphasize what he’s missing.


I’m not sure what you think you heard. I assume the context is a married couple? “To completion” is not necessariliy the factor determining an immoral act.


Interesting. I would feel that a “couple” relationship with an unbeliever would pull me in wrong directions from time to time - which is why I wouldn’t get into one. But then, I wouldn’t get into a “couple” relationship with someone I was certain I wouldn’t want to marry, which would rule out unbelievers, anyway.


AFAIK lust is a mortal sin even if it doesn’t result in “completion”. Isn’t it? :confused:

And even married couples are allowed to engage in certain acts of “foreplay” only if they’re not motivated by lust.

Though I must confess I do get a little confused about the difference between sexual attraction and certain physical reactions that are not inherently sinful and actual lust.

And of course lust is different from sexual sin. Most prostitutes do not choose the profession to indulge their lust, but even if they “accommodate but don’t react” that doesn’t mean they aren’t sinning – though certainly many also are coerced into the “sex trade” and their culpability may be diminished enough so that the sin is venial, not mortal. Or perhaps not even a sin at all.


“To completion” is not necessarily the factor which determines the immorality of the act, particularly noting Jane is married.


These are judgements each of us is very free to make, and for some of us they may be wise judgements.


I realize that, as I noted in my last post I certainly don’t believe that not having “completion” during sexual acts means people who engage in them can get off scot-free.

“To completion” is not necessarily the factor which determines the immorality of the act, particularly noting Jane is married.

Anyway, as you point out, since Jane is married it is immoral for her to “date” or “keep company” with a man not her husband. Most husbands would not be happy if he found her wife “keeping company” with and kissing and cuddling some other man. (Excepting I guess the ones who have cuckold fetishes).


I didn’t know that. Could somebody elaborate, please?

I have always understood that lust is sexual desire for the person as an object for my pleasure rather than as a whole person including everything else about them as well as their body. In marriage, because the two people have a lifelong relationship with each other as whole people, it is OK to focus largely on each other’s bodies when they are in bed, although of course it should be a “mutually giving and receiving” thing, not just a “taking for one’s own enjoyment” thing.

But I’m not a Catholic, so this may not be the correct Catholic answer.


The essential question is: Is Jane married or not? If she believes her marriage to be invalid, she can pursue a decree of nullity. If she is “encouraged by the Pope’s comments a few months ago about divorced people,” she should know that the Pope is insisting on streamlined processes for diocesan marriage tribunals.

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