New Partners - Different Perspectives
It is natural for people to look for and form new relationships after divorce or separation. For some this might have started prior to the separation whereas for others it can be years before they feel ready for another personal relationship. Whenever it happens, it’s worth bearing in mind that new relationships post separation have an impact not just on you and your new partner but also on your children and your ex. Everyone’s perspective will be different and it’s useful to be aware that what is an exciting time for the person starting a new relationship can be a hugely unsettling time for the other people involved.
If you’re the parent with the new partner
Look at the ways children can typically feel about mum or dad’s new relationship:
Jealous – they’re used to having you to themselves.
Sadness – their secret hope that you and your ex will get back together are gone.
Insecure – will they have to compete for your attention?
Frightened – they may lose you completely to the new partner.
Resentment – this is yet another change they’ve got to get used to.
Anxiety about the other parent – will the other parent feel more alone? Will the other parent mind if you like the new partner?
Now think about how what you can do to minimise the risk of your child reacting negatively. (see our top tips below)
Children of course can also feel very positive about mum or dad having a new partner if it means they’re happier and getting on with their life.
If your ex has a new partner
If you feel delighted for your ex (even relieved) and your children feel the same, then great, you can skip this section!
But if you are upset –and don’t be surprised by how shocked you can feel - it can be a big setback to hear your ex is seeing someone. You may need to call on all your resources, friends and family to give you some support to adjust to this new development. Understandably, you will wonder how the new relationship will impact on the children. If you and your ex get on you will be able to talk through any worries that you have. (For advice on this see our top tips below)
When separated parents don’t have this kind of relationship and/or emotions are running high the introduction of a new partner is a common source of conflict. A parenting arrangement that has been working well may fall off the rails if one parent insists that the new partner should spend time with the children and the other parent insists that they should not! You might feel even more strongly that the new partner is bad for your children if they:
- seem to want to spend more time with you or
- complain and criticise the new partner
Before you plough in and give your ex a piece of your mind about the children not liking him/her or decide to make the contact conditional on the new partner not being there. Consider an alternative explanation:
Imagine what your child’s response might be to seeing you hurt?
- Children fear they are betraying their other parent if they accept a new partner. A way of proving their loyalty to you is to say they don’t like them. These loyalty conflicts are particularly bad if parents don’t get on.
- Children are reluctant to leave a parent they are worried about.
If you are worried about the impact a new partner is having on the children and you are sure that they are not telling you what they think you want to hear, then ask to speak to your ex about this. (See tips for talking to your ex etc)
If you’re the new partner
Meeting and being involved with your partners’ children can be daunting. You will want to support your partner in his relationship with the children and hopefully get along with them too. It can be a minefield and the following advice will help you avoid stepping on a bomb!
- Allow the relationship to develop slowly, don’t expect the children to love you or even like you initially. Aim for a relationship where you respect each other and treat each other fairly.
- Be prepared to accept a back seat when the children are around. Accept that your partner’s first responsibility is to his or her children. He or she can give you their undivided attention when the children are not with you.
- You are not a substitute parent; be supportive but don’t expect to take on a parenting role.
- Don’t criticise, complain or even joke about the other parent in front of the children.
- Remember that part of being a good mum or dad is having a good co-parenting relationship with the other parent. Accept that there will be communication between your partner and their ex about the children.
- Try to understand the loyalty conflicts your partner might experience. It will help your relationship if you can empathise (even if you don’t like it!) when your partner feels like ‘piggy in the middle’ between you and his/her old family.
- If there are arguments and disagreements between your partner and their ex, remember that you only hear one side of it.
Top tips for helping children with new partners
- Ideally, do not introduce new partners straight after the separation. Children need time to adjust to parents being separated first. They are also less likely to feel worried that they are being replaced by someone else.
- Only introduce children to someone you want to be part of your everyday life.
- Take it slowly at first and be sensitive to your child’s reactions. Just because you think your new partner is great doesn’t mean that your children will agree.
- Tell the other parent about your plans before this person is formally introduced to the children. Be prepared to offer reassurances about your new partner’s involvement with the children and the continuing importance of the children to you.
- The children need some time alone with you without the new partner being present. This is especially important if the children do not live with you. Their time with you is precious.
- Make it clear that the new partner is not a substitute parent – mum and dad are not being replaced. A new partner should behave as any responsible adult would towards children but this is very different from adopting a parenting role.
- Support your children in adapting to the reality of life moving on. If it’s your ex who has the new relationship, be neutral about the new partner. Avoid asking questions about the new relationship and respect your child’s wishes if they do not want to talk about the new partner.