One of the questions that crops up regularly in conversations with separating parents – both in mediation and outside the process – is the topic of introducing new partners. This can be a tricky subject and it’s challenging to balance the needs of the different people involved. Here are 10 top tips for anyone wanting support and guidance on managing this issue in the most loving and constructive way possible.
- If you’re a separated parent then you need to be up front with any potential new partner about your situation and the fact that there are other people who are important in your world and that you will need to tread carefully and sensitively in raising the subject of a new relationship with them. If any new partner isn’t prepared to also be sensitive to the needs of your children and their other parent then ask yourself if they’re the right person for you to be in a relationship with.
- The timing of introducing new partners is often a tricky subject. Most people are unlikely to introduce a new partner to their children when they’ve only had a few dates but equally most people want their children to have met their wonderful new partner before they make a substantial commitment to each other like moving in. It helps to be sensitive to the length of time you’ve been separated from your co-parent. If it’s only a matter of months then your children may still be adjusting to the separation and may need more time before being open to meeting mum or dad’s new partner. It helps to remember that children can often be behind their parents in the grieving cycle and they can harbour wishes that their parents will get back together. So knowing that mum or dad are in new relationships can sometimes be a blow to this which can make them upset.
- When you do decide to tell your children that you’re in a new relationship then make sure you’ve created a space where you have time to talk and to answer their questions and see how they react. It also helps to give the other parent the heads up that you’ll be having this conversation (and therefore that you’re in a new relationship). Children often worry about their parents being OK and if they are happy that you’ve met someone but go home and see their other parent is upset at this news then that can affect how they feel about it. If your co-parent has the heads up and is expecting the children will share this then it gives them time to react in the way that they’d like to without being “ambushed”.
4. If your children seem positive about the new relationship then it maybe the right time for everyone to meet. Think about how this can happen in the best way. You will want your children to be able to spend time with your new partner in a place where they will feel comfortable and to not feel it’s too intense. You can always ask your children for ideas about where the best place to meet your new partner might be!
5. If it becomes a regular feature spending time with both your children and your new partner (and possibly their children) together then do remember that your children may also want some one on one time with you as their parent too and to not to always have to share you with other people.
6. Ensure that you are open with your children so that they feel able to share with you how they feel about your new partner. Feeling able and comfortable to have conversations with you – even if they’re difficult – will help to keep channels of communication open with your children. If they feel they can’t share things because you won’t listen, or get angry or sad then they will probably stop sharing them.
7. It also helps to keep channels of communication open with your co-parent. Many difficulties are caused in co-parenting relationships when one person begins a new relationship. Sometimes this can be because things weren’t shared openly and the co-parent found out through someone else. It can also be because this stirs up feelings in the other person related to the relationship breakdown. This is normal and natural and may just take a little while to settle down.
8. If you and your new partner decide to make a commitment to each other by moving in together or getting married then it helps to think about how the child and step parent relationship will work. Creating boundaries helps everyone to understand what’s OK and what isn’t. Questions such as how a step parent can deal with issues that crop up if they’re alone with your children can be really helpful. Managing dynamics between your children and your partner’s children can also require some thought and patience.
9. As with all relationships there will of course be bumps in the road and it won’t be plain sailing all the time. If everybody involved can follow the 4 Cs of effective communicating: Calm, Constructive, Conscious and Compassionate then this will aid discussions.
10. If anybody involved is struggling or there are particular issues causing difficulties then it’s often best to seek out professional support at the earliest stage rather than leaving problems to become more entrenched. Family Mediation may help you to address issues, or intervention from a therapist or coach can be helpful to get back on track. If you need us to signpost to support then please get in touch.