Written by Rosalind Sedacca, CCT for the Divorce Support Center.
Dating after divorce can be challenging for many adults who have been out of the market for some time. But it’s even more challenging for your children. It’s only natural for them to be resistant to any new partner you bring into their lives. And sometimes they can be downright belligerent in preventing you from dating long after your divorce.
No matter how much you love your kids they can represent obstacles to your future love life. Whether your divorce was relatively painless or high conflict, as a parent you don’t want to create more emotional pain or trauma for your children. You want to protect them from unnecessary conflict and competition for your attention. When you introduce a new partner, especially one who may be a parental figure in the future, it’s not surprising they want to express their feelings, test their power over you, and play games to sabotage your success.
Acting crude and rude
When kids are not ready or comfortable about your dating, there are many things they can do to sabotage your relationships. Remember, timing is important. If you bring a partner home too soon, your children may act out in several ways to show their disapproval and even anger. If they’re still hoping you and their other parent will still somehow get back together again, this can accelerate sabotaging behaviors.
Even long after your divorce, children can demonstrate rude or even crude behavior to discourage the new relationship. If they feel threatened by your partner possibly replacing their mom or dad, this can become quite intense and awkward. They want to make your date feel unwelcome and don’t care about hurting their feelings in the process.
Pretending illness and pain
Some children play sick as a means to distract you from dating and developing a social life. Right before you’re ready to take off, even with a babysitter onboard, they may start crying or complaining of a stomachache or headache to keep you from leaving. If you’re at home with a partner they can create other sabotaging behaviors: constant demands for attention, not falling asleep, or unexplained aches and pains to distract you from spending time with your date. Children get a sense of power when they can keep you away from a new love interest.
Comparisons and false compliments
Children are not known for their tact. When it comes to making your new partner feel unwelcome, they use many strategies to get the job done. Often they’ll make negative comparisons to their other parent, stating out loud that Mom or Dad is better looking, nicer, smarter, among other things.
They may also make comments about anything that can create discomfort for the new “intruder” – their weight, looks, athletic ability – whatever works at the time. Their goal is to break up the relationship and get you back onboard in focusing exclusively on them – and possibly their other parent.
Children between the ages of 9 and14 seem to show the most resistance to new parental relationships after divorce. They need time as well as your patience. Most important, they need the security of knowing how much you love them. Be honest about the fact that you want to date, meet other people and develop a happy relationship with someone new. They’re looking for safety and stability after having gone through the divorce experience with you. The more secure they feel, the more easily they will accept your moving on. Take it slowly, and don’t be impatient with the process of acceptance.
Also be aware that the more their other parent is in their lives, the easier it is for them to accept another partner in your life. Remind them no one will ever replace their mom or dad. Your new partner will be there to enhance your happiness and add to their life, but not take the place of the other parent they love.
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