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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
My parents aren't really getting a divorce. They just aren't going to be married any more.
While much has been written about dating and re-partnering after divorce, there is scant research on the specifics of dating and the impact on the children. Research suggests 80% of parents are dating in some form within one year of filing for divorce (Anderson & Greene, 2005). Pundits have offered multiple views on the introduction of new partners to children. Personal values are a key factor is such decisions. But there is also consensus on both potential issues and considerations in post-divorce dating.
One common concern expressed by children is a conflict of loyalty. They might feel protective of the non-dating parent or feel guilty if they like the parent's date. They also have concern that if they form an attachment with the new adult, they will once again be part of a painful breakup. Some are put in the position of "informant" when the non-dating parent asks about the other parent's dating. Children may feel they have to compete for attention with the new partner. An often expressed fantasy that parents will reunite is threatened by the new relationship.
For the dating parent, research also suggests that a satisfying romantic relationship is a key factor in achieving a sense of well-being. There are several factors that can facilitate a healthy introduction of a new partner to the children. These include taking a slow approach. Wait for a relationship to become serious before including the kids (at least six months). Minimize displays of affection with the new person in the beginning. Consider the ages (developmental stages) of the children. Insure the new adult does not assume a parental role. Listen to the children. It is very important for children to express their feelings and worries - even though it may not affect the parent's decisions. Do not compare or make negative comments about the ex.
If you are struggling with dating as an issue, take the time to do the research. The cost of being uninformed can be great, while having the knowledge to skillfully navigate the introduction of new adults in the family can have very positive effects.