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New Partner Too Fast, Too Soon
Even though a spouse may have contemplated separation for years prior to informing their partner, to the partner, the news comes as a shock, even in view of a tumultuous relationship. For the children, the shock is often even greater.
intensify matters befalling the children, the spouse who is emotionally further
along the separation process may already have or may soon have a new
“significant other”. If the relationship to that significant other developed
prior to separation, the likelihood of the children taking to that person will
be remarkably diminished. If the relationship comes after the separation, but
before the child has an opportunity to emotionally and psychologically adjust,
the likelihood of the child taking to the new person is also quite diminished.
parent may view the separation as an event, but to the child, the separation is
a process. A child’s mourning and grieving the loss of their parents’
marriage typically takes months to years. The process is similar to the
adjustment of a death and include; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and
child cannot believe the change in circumstance. It confronts their belief that
they lived in and would continue to live in an intact family. This is true even
in cases where a child is worried about their parents’ marriage. Worry does
not equal a desire for a parental separation even if they tell you so. Worry
generally means they want the parents to improve and stabilize their marriage.
it becomes increasingly apparent that the marriage will not or is not surviving,
the child feels emotionally betrayed and is hurt and angry. This may be
expressed directly to a parent, or indirectly though a change in behaviour. As
the child sorts out their anger, he or she may next seek to improve the parental
relationship with the secret view of helping them reconcile. The child’s
attempts may only be in their own head by harbouring thoughts, or by action
whereby they make attempts to alter parents or their very own behaviour as a
strategy for reunification. As their attempts are unsuccessful, the child feels
thwarted, impotent and unempowered. The gravity of the situation weighs in as
well as their sense of personal futility to help their parents. The child is
thus depressed. Sometime thereafter, they come to accept the change in family
status and are amenable to moving on. They complete their psychological and
a new partner prior to the child’s adjustment causes the child to recoil
against the new partner. The new partner is seen as a threat to the child’s
secret wish for the parents to reunite. To intensify matters, the degree to
which the new partner is thrust upon the child, the greater the child’s recoil
and resentment. Thus while the parent cannot understand why their child won’t
accept or acts mean spiritedly to the new partner, the child is simply coping
with an assault to their adjustment process. The child is not far enough along
the adjustment process to tolerate the introduction of any new partner,
regardless of the qualities that partner brings.
for the child’s respect or obedience to the new partner only makes matters
worse and runs the risk of a life-long fracture, not only between child and
potential stepparent, but between the child and that parent.
minimize the risk of these conflicts, parents are advised to wait to form new
relationships until after the child has adjusted, easily over a year
post-separation. If a new relationship has been formed prior to the child’s
adjustment, expect the child to take at least a year to several, before the
child is fully able to accept this new person. Resist early introductions to be
sure the new relationship is in fact stable and ongoing. Resist cohabiting
within the first year to minimize the risk of the child feeling overwhelmed and
confronted by the change. The new person should also resist assuming a parental
role until the child has adjusted to the parental separation.
If you have already gone too fast, too soon, you may be dealing with the fallout. Slow down and back off. Forcing a relationship likely didn’t work for your first marriage; so don’t expect it to work for your new partner and your child. Adjustment takes time.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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