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Adoption and couple relationships

Unlike the biological route to parenting, adoption is never unplanned. You and your partner may have done extensive research into how adoption works – we’re here to help you consider how the adoption process will affect your relationship and how you can prepare as a couple.

No matter how joyous, every big life change presents challenges to your relationship. Becoming parents is one of the biggest, and this is no less true when adopting.

The impact of adoption on your relationship

You will find that you have less time for yourself and less time to dedicate to your relationship. Your priorities will change overnight and, while it can be the most rewarding experience of your life, it can also be exhausting. You may also face some additional challenges due to the processes that you need to comply with.

Keeping the communication going can help you feel more confident as you enter the process of adoption. So, rather than seeing this as a list of things to worry about, try to see it as a list of things to talk about as you get ready for the change:

  • Uncertainty. Before you can formally adopt a child, there is an initial period where the child comes to live with you for at least 10 weeks. After this, a court order can be granted, making the adoption permanent and giving you parental responsibility for the child [1].
  • Motivation. If one of you is more hesitant about adopting than the other, the placement period can shine a light on this in a way that doesn’t happen with biological parents.
  • Scrutiny. Going through social service assessments can make it feel like someone is testing whether you are fit to be a parent. All this testing and waiting can make you feel powerless and may ramp up the stress early on.
  • Bonding. The pre-adoption placement can be a tricky balance. One of you may bond closely with the child while the other holds back waiting to find out if a formal order will be granted. This can be a delicate matter if you have different approaches.
  • Additional needs. Many of the children awaiting adoptive parents have complex emotional and behavioural needs. You may need to maintain connections with social services at first.
  • Babysitting. During the placement period, your social worker may need to approve any babysitters you employ.
  • Parental roles. Establishing parental roles, such as who will be the primary caregiver, can help avoid tension, and it’s an important conversation to have before the placement. This is particularly important to consider if adopting older children who might have preconceived notions about parenting roles and family dynamics.
  • Preference. Your child may show preference for one parent over the other. While this might be connected to your child’s history, it can be comforting to remember that many biological parents also go through similar experiences [2].

These challenges are all real possibilities but they needn’t leave you feeling disheartened. Just be aware of them and keep communicating. A big change like this can be a wonderful shared experience that allows you and your partner to figure out new ways of working together. Many couples find that becoming adoptive parents brings them closer together [2].

Talk about your needs, your hopes, your fears, and your dreams. The level of commitment and cooperation between you and your partner can help you feel less stressed – even in difficult times, communication can build trust [3].

Even when the challenges are bigger than expected, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the rewarding feelings. For most parents, adopting is a positive experience, often more rewarding than expected [4].


[1] Department for Education. (2017). Children looked after in England (including adoption), year ending 31 March 2017. Retrieved from

[2] Goldberg, A. E., Kinkler, L. A., Moyer, A. M., & Weber, E. (2014). Intimate Relationship Challenges in Early Parenthood among Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Couples Adopting via the Child Welfare System. Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, 45(4), 221–230. 

[3] Lionetti, F., Pastore, M., & Barone, L. (2015). Parenting Stress: The Roles of Attachment States of Mind and Parenting Alliance in the Context of Adoption. Parenting, 15(2), 75–91.

[4] Neil, B., Young, J., Hartley, L., Sirbu, I., Morcina, M., Holmes, L., & Lushey, C. (2017). A Survey Of Adoptive Families: Following up children adopted in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. Norwich: University of East Anglia, Centre for Research on Children and Families. 

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