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Introducing a New Partner to Your Child: Divorce, Children and New Relationships

About Brette Sember, JD | Divorce.com

By Brette Sember, JD Updated Dec 20, 2023

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Returning to the dating game after a divorce is already quite challenging, but introducing your new romantic partner to your children can present an even more significant hurdle.

You genuinely want your kids to form positive connections with your boyfriend or girlfriend and everyone to become close. However, your children may not be emotionally prepared for you to be in a new relationship.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help your child adjust to your new romantic life.

Read on to discover advice about starting a new relationship after divorce when you have a child, ensuring it’s a smooth experience for them.

Key Takeaways

  • Your children always need to be your first priority when dating after divorce.
  • Introducing a new partner too soon after divorce or early in the dating stages can impact your relationship with your child.
  • Rushing into a new relationship after divorce can have effects on children, including emotional and behavioral problems, as well as blame. Children need time to adjust to divorce before accepting a new family member.
  • Introducing a new partner is a responsible decision requiring thorough preparation and taking into account the child’s emotional needs.
  • Keep the first meeting casual, actively involving your children in the interaction without pressuring them to like a new person.
  • The discussion of a new partner with your children should be age-appropriate and include concepts they can easily understand. Maintain honest communication while avoiding sharing inappropriate or unnecessary information about your relationship with your child.

When to Introduce a New Partner to Your Child

When a marriage ends in divorce, you might feel a strong urge to find a new partner quickly to return to “normal” life. Unfortunately, doing so can affect your children and your relationship with them.

Letting your kids meet with your romantic interest too soon may lead them to resist getting to know the new partner. Child psychology has a few simple explanations for this.

Kids may feel jealous and under pressure to accept a new person in their lives. At the same time, they fear losing their parents’ attention and don’t want an outsider to become part of their parent-child relationship.

They also may wonder if you are trying to create another family and forget about their other parent, and thus half of them, by association. They don’t want to forget your good times as a family pre-divorce.

Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D., suggests waiting until you are in a committed partnership before you involve your child. Presenting a new partner to your kids before you’re confident that there is a future with this particular person challenges and risks your children’s emotional security.

Should your new relationship suddenly end, it can pose additional challenges for your children, mainly if they have already developed a bond with your new partner. The more they go through these breakups, the more significant the impact on their relationship with you.

Additionally, it can affect their ability to form healthy relationships of their own in the future.

How Long to Wait Before Introducing New Partner to Child

The right time to introduce your new partner to your kids is around 9 to 12 months from the start of your relationship AND with definitive commitment

If you have been divorced for more than a year, you may be able to introduce them sooner, but not before you are sure you are in a committed relationship and feel very confident there is a future together. Introducing a partner before the 6-month mark is not recommended.

How to Introduce a New Partner to Your Child

How to Introduce a New Partner to Your Child

When you become seriously involved with someone, it can cause a child to experience a lot of stress or anxiety. They may worry that their life will change again, just as it did after the divorce.

For example, what will happen to family movie nights in mom’s bed or taco Tuesdays with dad?

Where will everyone sleep? Will you need two hotel rooms? The list goes on. Thus, it’s crucial to proceed cautiously and help the child adapt to the new situation.

Here are a few tips to help make it easier for a child to accept a new person into their life:

Be Patient with Your Children in Adapting to the Situation

Understandably, you hope your new partner and children will connect and bond quickly. However, children may require time to adjust to new situations. It’s important to temper your expectations in this regard.

Allow your new partner and child the time to become more familiar with each other and build trust gradually. Don’t expect instant friendship. Encourage your partner to let the child dictate the speed at which they bond.

Schedule a Preliminary Relaxed Time Together Away from Home

Letting the child meet your new partner before starting to live together is essential. But don’t have them come to your home for the first meeting since your child may perceive it as a threat to their territory. Instead, arrange the first few meetings on neutral territory.

An activity is always good because it takes away the pressure of conversation. For toddlers, a park with swings and slides works well. For elementary children, a trampoline park, putt-putt, or even a fun scavenger hunt allows your partner to engage in a low-pressure activity.

For teens, something like Top Golf or go-carts provides competition in a fun way. When you bring your child along, schedule an activity and avoid sending them to play while adults are talking.

After the first couple of times, add a meal to the activity and encourage conversation there! Try to avoid a meal or coffee as the first activity since it can be very awkward with everyone staring at each other!

Talk to Children About Your New Relationship Before Setting the Meeting

Explaining a new relationship to a child before introducing your partner may positively impact your child’s comfort when meeting them.

Start talking about this new person in your life by highlighting some of the good things you like about them. It will help reduce anticipatory anxiety (i.e., fear of future events) and hopefully replace it with excitement.

Prepare to Handle Your Child’s Reaction - Good or Bad

Children may have different reactions to the big news, depending on their character and current mood. Try not to overreact.

Saying something like, “It’s my life, and I get to decide how to live it,” or “My house - my rules” won’t help you build a positive rapport with the child

Likewise, if they are excited, saying “They will be a bonus mom/dad” right out of the gate also will not help with building a positive relationship either, but rather will set up your child for disappointment and your partner for failure.

Instead, help your kids handle their behavior regarding your new relationship. First, don’t ignore them when they say they are dissatisfied with the situation. Acknowledge “I hear you.”

Tell them you understand how frustrated they are about the divorce, AND add that it is healthy for you to move on and create a new relationship.

Explain that your child/children are still important and that you have capacity to continue to love and provide for them in the same way you always have.

The new person does NOT take away from that. And avoid punishing your kids for their adverse reactions at any cost. Instead, be patient and don’t push them.

7 Rules for Introducing Your New Partner to Your Kids

1. Pick the Right Time

Introducing a new partner to a child after divorce should not happen any time soon after the divorce. If you set up a meeting with your partner a few weeks after separation, your children will likely blame them for the split, even if you had other reasons for ending your marriage.

Give your kids time to get over the breakup.

Engage them in counseling if they are having significant trouble as well. By waiting patiently until the emotional turmoil of the divorce has subsided, your new partner is less likely to be perceived as the reason behind the divorce, particularly if you follow the timing guidelines on introducing a new partner.

Inform Your Ex About Your Plans

2. Inform Your Ex About Your Plans

Despite how challenging it may seem, discuss your intention to introduce your new partner with your ex-spouse before sharing this information with children. This approach guarantees that your ex doesn’t hear about it in a distorted way from other sources.

Most importantly, it will hopefully ensure they won’t overreact in front of the kids, potentially making them agitated and confused about their own emotions. The primary goal is to maximize your children’s comfort with your new friend in every way possible.

Not all spouses follow the ideal spouse handbook, but if you let them know, you have done your part for the children.

3. Ensure Your Love Interest Blends in Well

Even if you have strong chemistry with someone, it doesn’t automatically make them a good fit for your family. It’s crucial to consider whether they will blend well with your children.

Consider if they have the same values, similar interests or personalities, and can get along with your kids and other family members.

Ask yourself if your new partner will fulfill the parent or bonus parent role and foster a healthy relationship with your children. Will you be able to agree on things like curfews and consequences and manners?

Will your new partner be able to attend children’s activities without triggering your co-parent?

You have to be sure that all the puzzle pieces will come together naturally before inviting a new person into your children’s lives.

4. Reassure the Children in Your Unconditional Love

Research at UCLA discovered that children who receive unconditional love and affection from their parents tend to experience greater emotional happiness and reduced anxiety. This is even more important when bringing in a potential new family member.

Children need to feel safe and loved by their parents. When a stranger appears on their doorstep, they might become anxious and fearful of losing their parent’s affection and care.

So be certain that you maintain a close relationship with your kids no matter what happens in your personal life. In the early stages of your relationship, try to see your new partner when it is not your custodial time.

When you have your kids, focus on them and let them see how important time together is for you.

5. Prioritize Your Children’s Well-being

Your children’s needs and well-being should always be your number one priority. Make certain their physical and emotional needs are met without disruption. Spend quality time together without your new love interest to maintain a solid bond with your children.

If you always have tacos on Tuesdays, don’t stop

If movie night in mom’s bed is important - send your partner out for a night with friends. It’s not worth risking your parent-child relationship for the sake of dating after divorce.

Another reason to put your kids first is to help them cope with the new relationship. When children know they are a priority for their parents, they feel emotionally secure, which helps them cope with changes more effectively and accept the new partner more easily.

6. Reduce Physical Displays of Affection

Usually, showing affection to one another in front of children is a way to reassure kids that their parents love each other and allow children to feel safer. However, this rule does not apply to one of their parents and a stranger to the family.

So, at least during the initial stages, try to limit physical displays of affection, e.g., kissing or hugging with your new partner before your kids.

They are still adjusting to the changes caused by divorce and will feel weird and protective of their parents and personal space. None of it will help them warm up to your new partner.

And make sure you discuss this with your partner beforehand so they know what to expect! You don’t want your children picking up on any tension!

7. Ask Your Kids How They Want to Meet Your New Partner

If your children aren’t overly pessimistic about the upcoming meeting, you can engage them in discussing where and how to arrange it. Bringing a child to a place they don’t like may put them in a bad mood and reduce the chances for a positive interaction.

So, choosing a fun and familiar location where everyone will be comfortable is essential. And again, activities are helpful. Think about giving your children 2-3 choices. “Where would you like to meet John/Jane? Chuck E. Cheese or the trampoline park?”

That way, you still control setting parameters, but the children have a sense of control.

Plus, when they see that you value their opinion and follow their advice, they will feel more in control of the situation.

What to Say When Introducing Your New Partner to Kids of Different Ages

Care in choosing words and honesty are the most important factors when talking with your child about your new relationship. However, it’s important to remember the child’s age and ensure what you share is age-appropriate while also being honest.

When communicating with a child, you use language and concepts they can easily grasp. Below are a few examples of discussing your new partner with your children at various ages.

And remember, give them choices, but control the choices at the outset! Just like asking a toddler, “Do you want the red shirt or the green shirt?” and NOT “What shirt do you want?”

Toddlers/Preschoolers

Toddlers/Preschoolers

“I’ve met a very nice person, and now we’re friends. He/She likes drawing and watching cartoons and has a cool collection of toy cars, etc.”

“Would you like to meet at the park and bring crayons to color together OR we could go to the playground and then get ice cream? We’ll have a great time.”

(Phrase this so that the child knows that the meeting is happening, no matter what, but they get a sense of control by choosing one of two activities).

“What questions do you have? You can ask me anything now or later.”

(Notice the use of “What questions” instead of “Do you have questions?” This is important for you to acknowledge questions are normal and part of the process, and it leaves the door open for the child to ask whatever they need. And with a toddler, it may just be, “Can I wear my tutu?”)

School Aged

“I’ve met a new friend, and we’ve been spending time together lately. I really like him/her and would like for you to meet them too.”

(Avoid saying that this person is important to you because a school-aged child is very concrete and will worry that they are falling in importance because there is not enough room for two people to be important to a parent).

“I love you, and nothing or no one will ever change my love for you.”

If they start objecting:

“I hear/understand that you’re upset. Let’s talk about it.”

I still want you to meet them and see what you think. You might actually like them. And if you don’t like them, that’s okay, too. Give them a chance, and we’ll see how it goes. We can meet somewhere fun. And remember, nothing and no one changes my love for you.”

(Again, you hear your child and give permission for their feelings, but you also make it clear that the meeting will happen and happen safely).

“Let me know what questions you have now or later.”

Teenagers

“I’m dating someone, and we enjoy each other's company. We have a lot in common and are committed to each other. I’d like you to meet him/her.”

(Avoid saying that he/she makes me happy because that implies that you were UNhappy before meeting them and it teaches your child that you need a partner to be happy, which is completely untrue!)

“I’m open to your suggestions of where and when to meet. I was thinking of Top Golf or bowling, but I’m open to other ideas. What are your thoughts?”

(With teens, it is still good to give choices, but they may want to suggest something else just to exert their independence. This is totally acceptable and try to say yes, assuming it is not out of the question).

“Let me know what questions you have now or later.”

Bottom Line

Introducing a new partner to your kids after separation or divorce is a delicate process that should not be rushed. Ultimately, it’s best to wait until your kids come to terms with the divorce and you are confident about your relationship and its future before introducing them to your new partner.

It’s also essential to provide your children with sufficient time to heal and adapt to the changes in your family and the parenting schedule.

Remember to prioritize their emotional and physical well-being, assure them of your endless love, and involve them in the decision-making as is age-appropriate.

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