Introducing a new partner
Introducing a new partner can be one of the most challenging circumstances faced by separated parents. Not surprisingly, this often causes conflict.
For the parent in a new relationship, they often see their new partner as a permanent part of their life and want to introduce the children as soon as possible. But that may not be what the kids want, or even what is right at that time.
Meanwhile, the other parent may still be coming to terms with the end of the relationship and it can feel incredibly hurtful for the children to be introduced to the new partner. So, when is the right time and how should it be done?
Well, obviously it depends on the circumstances and it needs discussion between you, perhaps in mediation. But here are some suggestions to bear in mind:
- It is a common courtesy (and will avoid no end of problems) if you tell your ex about your new partner before you tell the children or before there is any chance that they hear from other sources. Be aware that introducing a new partner without telling your ex first is almost always going to be a bad idea.
- If at all possible, agree between you how and when the children will be told about the new partner. If necessary, consider mediation.
- The new relationship needs to be stable and long term. Children need stability in their lives – especially when things might feel a little uncertain and scary as their parents go through the separation or divorce. It is never going to be a good idea for children to meet a string of new partners.
- Are they children ready to meet someone new? Have you sat down and told them you are divorcing or are they still holding on to hope? How have they adjusted to the idea and to the thought of Mum and Dad being in separate homes? It’s not uncommon for one parent to have been planning the separation for some time - maybe they’ve even started a new relationship, but it may still be early days for the children to know about this. They may need longer to adjust. Go at the kids’ pace.
- If possible, it is usually a good idea to allow the children to adjust to living in two homes before introducing a new partner into the mix. They need to understand the arrangements and feel secure in both homes. They need to have had time to share their feelings with both parents, to have experienced smooth handovers and to have had individual attention from both parents.
- When new partners are introduced, it is a good idea if this is done on neutral territory i.e. not in one parent’s house or the other, but perhaps in the park or at a coffee shop. Keep it happy and short and make sure that the children spend time with the parent on their own before and afterwards, too.
- Never expect your kids to keep secrets for you. So never introduce them to a new partner and then tell them not to tell your ex. Children need to feel able to speak freely to both of you about anything. If you ask them to keep secrets, this will encourage them to close down.
- If your time is short with your children, remember that what your children want most of all is your undivided attention. So make sure you spend time with your children without your new partner present and make sure your focus remains on your children.
- Think about in what activities it is appropriate to involve a new partner. For example, many children will feel uncomfortable if new partners are immediately involved in bedtime routines.
- Think hard about new partners staying overnight unless you are in a long term, permanent relationship or you share a home. It can cause confusion and anxiety and the children want and need your undivided attention.
- Remember that while everyone in the family is emotionally processing the split at the same time, how everyone goes through it is different. One parent may have emotionally distanced themselves from the relationship before the separation takes place while the other may be just coming to terms with separation. One parent may have already accepted the end of the relationship, while the other may feel a strong sense of grief and shock. Parents not only need to pay attention to how their children are handling the process they also need to keep tabs on how the other parent is managing this transition.
- Often children will ask Mum or Dad if they are seeing someone new and it is hard to know how to answer this. It is OK to be honest. But it doesn’t mean that the children want to meet your new partner yet, or that they are ready to do so. Opening the matter up for discussion gives the kids a chance to ask questions and for you to gauge how they might feel about meeting your new partner.
- If you are the parent who has been left or who does not have a new partner, it can be really hard. You may feel hurt and protective of your children - who wouldn’t? However, it’s critical to get some support around separating your feelings from your children’s needs. The truth is that you have no control over how or when your ex decides to move forward with their life. While you may not like the fact that they have a new partner, you need to think carefully about how your reaction will impact the kids.
- If children sense that a parent isn’t OK with something, they may opt to keep quiet about certain things or not openly share their feelings because they don‘t want to upset that parent. Is that a dynamic you want to set up? When the children are with their other parent, what does you want life to look like for them? How does it help the children if there is a tense relationship between the households?
- As Christine McGhee suggests in her wonderful podcast, the best way to decide how to proceed is to ask: “When your children look back on this time, what will you have done to make your children proud?” It might mean you have to manage your own feelings and your own hurt and put your children’s needs first. This is really, really tough, but if you really want your children to be happy and to feel loved and secure, you have to remember to ‘keep it about the kids’!
Mediation can be a helpful to have discussion around new partners in a way that ‘Keeps it about the Kids’. If you think mediation might be helpful to you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 07706 513496.
With thanks, as always, to Christina McGhee for her advice and wisdom on this topic.
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