After a divorce or separation, a time comes when new relationships start forming. For some this might start soon – even before the separation - but 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 can have an impact on your children and your ex. While it can be an exciting time for you, it might be unsettling for the other people in your life.
If you are the parent with the new partner
When parents start new relationships, it can be tough for the children. They might feel:
- Jealous that they no longer have you to themselves.
- Sad that you and your ex aren’t getting back together.
- Insecure about competing for your attention.
- Frightened of losing you to your new partner.
- Resentful of having to get used to more change.
- Anxious about the other parent – will the other parent feel more alone? Will the other parent mind if you like the new partner?
Some children will of course feel very positive about new partners, seeing it as a sign that their parents are happier and getting on with their life.
See the final section below for tips on supporting children through a difficult transition.
If your ex has a new partner
If you and your children feel delighted or even relieved when your ex meets someone new, you can skip this section!
But if you are upset, shocked or surprised to hear your ex is seeing someone, you may need to call on friends and family to give you some support to adjust to this new development. You may wonder how the new relationship will affect the children. If you and your ex are on good terms, you may be able to talk through these worries together.
If you don’t have this kind of relationship with your ex, or if emotions are running high, the introduction of a new partner can be fuel to the fire. If one parent insists that the new partner should spend time with the children and the other parent doesn’t agree, successful parenting arrangements can fall off the rails.
If your children start complaining and criticising the new partner, or even if they just want to spend more time with you, or if they alarm bells can start ringing.
Your initial reaction might be to plough in and give your ex a piece of your mind, or even to make the contact conditional on the new partner not being there.
Take a moment to consider an alternative explanation. You’re hurting. Your children can see that you’re hurting. What do you think their response to this might be?
- Children worry that they are betraying their other parent if they accept a new partner. One way of proving their loyalty to you is to say they don’t like the new partner. These loyalty conflicts are particularly bad if parents don’t get on.
- They might want to spend more time with you because they are worried about you.
If you are worried about the impact a new partner is having on your 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.
If you are the new partner
Meeting and being your partners’ children can be daunting – getting involved in their lives even more so. You will want to support your partner’s relationship with the children and hopefully get along with them too. It can be a minefield. The following tips can help you tread the right path:
- 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 the children.
- 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 and offer an empathetic ear when your partner feels stuck in the middle.
- If there are disagreements between your partner and their ex, remember that you are only hearing one side of things.
Best tips for helping children with new partners
- Try to avoid introducing new partners straight after the separation. Children need time to adjust to their parents being separated first.
- 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. Reassure your ex that the children are still important to you, and be prepared to have a conversation about your new partner’s involvement.
- Make sure you and the children have some alone time without your new partner. This is especially important if the children don’t live with you.
- Be clear that the new partner is not a substitute parent. A new partner should behave as any responsible adult would towards children but this is very different from taking on a parenting role.
- Support your children in adapting to the reality of life moving on. Answer their questions but respect their wishes if they don’t want to talk about the new partner.