Dads should always proceed with caution when jumping back into the dating game following a divorce.
While it is certainly possible to successfully make that transition and find a compatible partner, many men make several common mistakes that hinder their divorce recovery and make the healing process even harder for their children.
If you are considering dating again, here are some important things to keep in mind.
Perhaps Jim Halpert, the character from the popular sitcom The Office, had the best description of a rebound relationship while consoling his boss, Michael Scott.
“Don’t’ get me wrong, (a rebound) can be a really fun distraction. But, when it’s over, you’re left thinking about the girl you really like, the one that broke your heart.”
Even if you don’t fully realize the extent of it, your divorce likely took an emotional toll on you. In fact, a recent survey indicated that many men never fully recover from a breakup.
A common train of thought is that the best way to get over a failed relationship is to immediately hop back on the saddle. That might numb the pain momentarily, but as Jim advised Michael, you’re eventually going to have to reconcile those feelings you have about your ex.
Take your time before putting yourself back out there. Think about why your marriage didn’t work and what you, and your new partner, will need to do differently to make your next relationship a success.
Taking some time for self-reflection after a divorce is healthy and should put you in a much better emotional state once you do start dating again.
You’ve moved on from your ex and you’ve met someone you think might be a compatible partner. You’re excited and, naturally, you want to share this excitement with those closest to you. She’s just as eager to coordinate the meeting to meet these kids she’s heard all about.
So is there any reason you shouldn’t arrange a meeting between your new girlfriend and your children?
Yes. Actually, there are several reasons.
First, you need to make sure you and this new significant other are more than a passing fling. It’s often very easy for children to become attached, so if you bring someone new into their lives and the relationship fails soon after, your kids are going to start to expect instability. They’ve already been through enough witnessing their parents split and don’t need any additional disappointment.
Most experts recommend waiting at least six months before introducing someone new. It wouldn’t hurt to wait a few months longer just to be safe.
If this does end up being a long-term relationship, it is even more important for you to ensure the introduction goes as smoothly as possible. By making the initial meeting too soon, you risk creating resentment between your children and new girlfriend.
Remember, your kids have a relationship with both you and their mom. They’re likely to view this new person as a threat and possibly even a source of blame for why their parents couldn’t make it work.
“They’re going to automatically assume she broke up the marriage and they’re not going to like her because of that,” said Nancy Fagan, a divorce and relationships expert. “There’s just a lot of resistance because the children have a strong alliance to their mother. They didn’t choose the divorce and they still want the parents to be together regardless of how things were.”
If you’ve reached the point where you know you’re comfortable with your new partner and you’re confident your children can handle meeting her, you still need to be conscious of how you coordinate the introduction.
Typically, this is much easier to do if your children are younger. You can talk to them and they’ll likely accept the new partner as long as they see that you’re happy with her and that their mother isn’t troubled by the arrangement.
Things are trickier if you have teenagers. They’re much more apt to feel anger and run into emotional issues.
Make sure the introduction happens at a neutral location. After the meeting, talk to your children about how they feel and be receptive to their feelings, even if there is resentment.
Insist that your children be polite to your girlfriend, but don’t try forcing them to like her.
This transition might take time and it might not be seamless, but if you remain supportive of your children and significant other, it could lead to a positive impact for everyone.
“You can expand the child’s horizon,” Fagan said. “But be very clear, this is not your mother. This is just a woman I have a relationship with and I’d like the two of you to be friends. She’s not going to replace your mom and you’re not going to call her mom, but there’s always something that can enrich a child’s life and you have to let the child know that is.”
Don’t forget about morality clauses.
Once you start dating after your divorce you need to make sure you know whether there are any morality clauses in your decree and make sure you understand their parameters.
Morality clauses prohibit overnight guests of the opposite sex when minor children are around. If you violate the clause, you can be found in contempt of court and the punishment can range from very minor sanctions to incarceration in extreme circumstances.
If you have any questions about a morality clause in your decree, make sure you consult with a qualified family law attorney.