What happens when you start dating after your divorce? A frequent issue in both divorce negotiations and post divorce conflicts is when, and under what conditions, children can be introduced to a new love interest of one of the parents.
Or say your divorce is one in which the precipitating event is an affair by one of the parents. If that parent continues to have a relationship with the person with whom he/she had the affair, this can become a very hot issue. Suppose it is the mother who has had the affair and is leaving the marriage against the wishes of her husband. Now there are two issues.
- One is when and if the children should be introduced to the boyfriend. That is, when is it alright from the children’s emotional perspective for them to meet this man?
- The second issue is the acute anger and feelings of jealousy that the father feels about the man who has cuckolded him and “stolen” his wife. It is unreasonable to expect the husband to be a good sport and keep his own emotions out of the discussion. It’s one thing for this man to have his wife. He’ll be damned if the guy is going to also have his kids.
From the wife’s perspective it is a complicated problem. If she has no interest in a continuing relationship with this man there is little problem. But if she hopes for a long term relationship or even marriage how the father behaves will be important to the outcome. If the children are told that this is the man who broke up their family they may likely resent the guy from the start reducing the chance of a successful relationship. It does not bode well for a successful step relationship and it also increases the chance that the children will align with their father and condemn their mother. None of this is good for the kids.
The best strategy for the mother is to keep her new friend she is dating far away from the children for enough time to pass so that the children begin to come to terms with the divorce. And the father needs to be coached that he does neither the children nor himself any good by using the affair to poison the children against the man who might end up being their step father. If he wishes to have a successful post divorce life himself it is in his interest to have his children settle down and not generate a lot of bitterness that will contaminate not only his wife’s relationship but, eventually, his own.
Although affairs generate the most drama, any new relationship shortly after a separation presents the same challenges when it comes to dating new people. Most divorcing people will remarry sometime after their divorce and most are seeking new significant relationships. When these happen soon after the separation they pose the greatest challenge because the children have usually not yet accepted the divorce and frequently harbor a fantasy that their parents will reunite. So the new boyfriend or girlfriend is a threat to that fantasy and may be rejected for that reason alone. Most therapists seem to agree that children need at least a year before they are ready to meet a parent’s new love interest.
In my experience the need for this time is born out. Divorced people are well advised to keep distance between the people they date and their children. In the long run the relationship with the new person will have more time to develop before being stressed by the complications inherent in meeting the children. And if a long term relationship does develop the new person has a greater chance of being accepted by the children if the children’s’ need for time has been respected.