Regardless of the circumstances, separation is difficult. This comes as no surprise. However, what does often come as a surprise is the difficulty of introducing your new partner. A happy time for you and your partner in isolation can turn out to be a very tumultuous time – for your kids, your former partner, and for the happy couple.
Often, where separation has been a relatively amicable affair, a separated party is shocked when their former spouse responds negatively to the news of a new partner. This is not an uncommon reaction, even in the most cooperative of separations.
It is useful to keep in mind that there will often be a period of transition, not just for children, but for previous partners. A new love interest may be the final realisation that the relationship is truly over. Even where both parties have new partners, I often hear of uncomfortable feelings upon the realisation that this period of their life has ended and their one-happy-family dream is no longer a reality. A new relationship may lead to questions of how long the love interest has been on the scene. Often a parent is fearful of a parent-replacement figure.
From what I have experienced with my clients, a parent’s biggest fear, when a new partner is introduced, is the impact of the new partner on family dynamics. It is a fear of the unknown. In my observation, some of the most successful and cooperative ways to manage the introduction to children of a new partner and simultaneously manage the former spouse’s concerns have included the following:
- Parents discuss and agree upon how and when a new partner should be introduced to the children before such a need eventuates;
- The former spouse has the opportunity to meet the new partner before they are introduced to the children;
- Both parents discuss with each other and with the new partner their understanding of the role of the new partner in the lives of the children; and
- Both parents will know exactly when the new partner will be introduced to the children so that the former spouse can be available to support the children if necessary, following the news being shared.
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Introducing your kids to a new partner” records the advice of Cheryl Dakis of LifeWorks and Sue Yorston of Relationships Australia, who encourage parents to:
- Address how each parent should manage the introduction of a new partner to the children even before a new partner is on the scene;
- Understand that children of different ages will approach this news differently, and therefore share the news in an age-appropriate way;
- Encourage the children to express how they feel, and don’t expect the children to feel as happy and positive as you do;
- Introduce your new partner gradually;
- Introduce your new partner only when the relationship is serious. This avoids the children becoming attached and having to deal with multiple separations. It also avoids the confusion of how multiple previous partners fit into their lives;
- Be sure your new partner is ready and committed to step into a family environment; and
- Do not question your children about the girlfriends or boyfriends of their other parent.
Of course, all families are different. Please be aware that there are child counsellors, family counsellors, and specialist post-separation counsellors that can assist you in best managing this transition.
Please also be aware that if you are in the middle of litigation, or litigation is likely, there are further considerations to take into account, depending on your specific circumstances. Please see a family law solicitor for further information if this applies to you.