Dating after Divorce: The Basics

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Dating after divorce - even the words fill some divorced parents with dread. The idea of getting back into the dating scene after years being married is daunting at best. But, we humans are instinctively drawn to partnering up. So chances are very good that sooner or later you (along with nearly every other divorced parent) will be dipping your toe into the waters of dating after divorce.

There are many things to consider when making the choice to begin dating after your divorce. Here are a few of the questions that parents ask:

Regarding Your Children

  • How do I explain my dating to my children?

    What you say to your children when you begin dating after your divorce will depend largely on their age. If you need a reminder about what to expect at each developmental stage have a look here

    When talking with young children (infants and toddlers) describe the person you are seeing as a friend. For example, "I'm going to see a friend. I'll be back soon."

    With preschoolers (ages 3-5) still describe the person you will be going out with as as friend. For example, "I'm going to see my friend. I'll be gone for about 4 hours. You'll be in bed when I get home."

    With school-age children (6-10) you can begin to provide more information. You will likely want to have a more in-depth conversation about dating. For example, "I'm going to have dinner with a man/woman that I met at work. We're going to talk for a few hours after dinner and then I'll be home. Just as you like to spend time with your special friends, I also want some time to be with my friends."

    With pre-teens and young teens (11-14) you can broach the topic of dating after the divorce. It's OK to actually use the word date. You aren't going to freak out your child. Chances are good that he or she already has a good idea of what dating is all about! And this includes dating after divorce. For example, "I'm going out on a date with (person's name) on Friday. I'm wondering how you feel about me starting to date." Note: This does not mean that you are asking your child's permission to date. That isn't appropriate nor healthy for your child. You are simply initiating discussion that is likely to be ongoing. This is a good time to reassure your child that even though you are beginning to go out on dates, you will still always reserve time for just the two of you.

    With teens (15-20) it is important to be honest about your actions. For example, "I'd like to start dating. It's been long enough after the divorce that I am ready to meet some new people. I'm wondering how you feel about that." Since your teens are also likely dating, it is important to talk with them about how it may be awkward to have a parent dating at the same time. It is also critical that you remain in the role of parent and not turn into your child's best friend where you each gush about your new girl or boyfriend. You are modeling for your teen. Never forget that.

  • How will my children be affected by my decision to date?

    Every child will react in his or her own way to a parent's dating after the divorce. And as has been stated many times on this site, knowing your child will always help you better understand what may be going on for him/her.

The research does offer some information about how children in general are affected by parental dating after divorce.

  • When a parent begins dating, a child's hope that his/her parents will reunite is shattered.
  • Your child must now share you - which isn't so easy to do.
  • It is very awkward for children to adjust to having an adult who is not their parent acting in a parenting role.
  • Children often experience loyalty conflicts between biological parents and new partners.
  • Children fear future rejection if the new relationship doesn't last.

On a more positive note, parental dating after divorce can also offer benefits to children.

  • Happier parents in better moods.
  • A role model of a happy adult relationship.
  • New people who care about them.

  • Should I wait until my children are grown before dating?

    This is obviously a very personal decision with no one right answer. Know yourself, know your children and ask yourself this key question: Is this a decision I think is best for my children, or am I reacting out of guilt or fear? If your answer is the latter, you may want to address these powerful and often destructive emotions before making a final decision about dating after divorce.

  • When should I introduce my new partner to my children?

    Most professionals agree that parents should keep their dating relationships private and away from children until the relationship is serious. Only you can decide what "serious" means for you. What you should avoid though is introducing your children to every person you date after your divorce. Dating after divorce is as hard on kids as it is on parents. If your children attach to every person you date, they are likely to be hurt and experience loss each time the relationship doesn't work. This roller coaster ride is hard enough for adults. Why expose your kids? The other side of this is that children are often not all that nice to people their parents are dating. And why would you want to expose your new friend to that? Take things slowly and give everyone the time they need to adjust to this new world of dating after divorce.

  • How long after my divorce should I wait before I begin dating?

    It takes anywhere from 1-3 years for individuals to emotionally recover from divorce. In a perfect child-focused world, parents would refrain from dating until they are emotionally ready. Obviously the time needed to heal is different for everyone. Some professionals suggest waiting a year after the divorce before dating.

  • What if my children don't like the person I am dating?

    This presents a tricky situation. On one hand, it is important for parents to listen to concerns that their children raise about new partners. Dating after divorce requires some caution on the part of adults. Take your children seriously. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way offers a list of things for parents to pay attention to. If you learn that your new partner is doing any of the following, check it out. Children deserve to be comfortable and safe in their own home.

  • Inappropriate teasing
  • Taking on the role of disciplinarian
  • Using nicknames that your child doesn't like
  • Pry, interfere, or offer unsolicited advice
  • Enter your child's room or other private space without permission
  • Touch or interact with your child in a way that he/she finds uncomfortable, no matter how "innocent" it seems. This includes roughhousing, tickling, and wrestling etc.
  • Break confidences and discuss inappropriate things with your child
  • Attempt to coerce your child into doing anything he/she doesn't want to do.

On the other hand, you should not be asking permission from your child to date someone. This must be a decision you make. Putting your child in the role of parental decision maker is not healthy for either of you. When it comes to dating after divorce, parents are in the driver's seat.

Regarding Your Co-Parent

  • Do I have to tell my co-parent when I am dating?

    You have no obligation to let your co-parent know about your casual dates. You do need to let them know when you introduce someone with whom you are in a more serious relationship to your children. This is common courtesy as well as safety. All parents want to know when their children are being exposed to other adults.

  • What if I don't like the person my co-parent is dating?

    You don't have to like this person, in fact you probably won't. You just have to know that they are treating your child well and are providing a safe environment. That said,it is a fact of life about dating after divorce that you will have no "say" about who your co-parent chooses to date. And vice-versa.

  • Is it reasonable to ask to meet the person my co-parent is dating?

    Yes, it is quite reasonable and should be a courtesy that is readily extended.



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