Tips for Dating After Divorce

What to Do If Your Child Hates Your New Partner

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Single parent dating is anything but stress-free. Not only is it hard to find the time to date, but your kids are likely to have strong opinions about your choices, too. In fact, having a child that doesn't like who you're dating isn't all that uncommon, but should it be a dating deal-breaker? Not necessarily. Aside from taking things slow and respecting your kids' opinions, here are some things you can do if your kids really dislike your partner.

When Your Kids Hate Your Partner

Your child's dislike for your partner can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It might involve acting passive aggressive or ignoring your partner, or it might entail open anger and hostility. Kids might act cold, yell, not listen, or even refuse to spend time around your partner.

Depending on how your partner responds, this conflict might create a roadblock in your relationship. It also can make your home life more difficult if your child is acting out or refusing to speak to you or your partner.

How you respond when your child hates your partner is important because it speaks to the issue of balancing your needs against your kid's needs. While it's true that your child may not be happy with the person you chose, it's more likely that your child is just not emotionally ready for you to date.

A lot of this has to do with your child's age, but if your divorce or separation was recent, your child likely still needs time to grieve and process the break up of their family. Adding someone new to the mix might just be too much for them to handle.

Likewise, if the divorce or separation was stressful or if your ex-partner abandoned the family, it could be that your child is simply afraid of getting hurt again. They don't want to get too attached to someone new and don't want you to either.

Of course, if the person you're dating is someone that you had an affair with or left your ex-partner for, your children are bound to be upset. In this situation, it's extremely important that you empathize with their situation. In their eyes, this new person broke up their family.

So, it may be a long time before they can accept this person without feeling hurt and anger. It's important that you accept that and allow them space to process their feelings.

Where to Start

The first thing you need to determine is what is bothering you about your child's reluctance to accept your new partner. For instance, if you're bothered by the fact that your child seems disinterested in getting to know your new partner or build a relationship with them, then you may just need to be patient and empathetic toward your child.

They will need time and space to accept your new partner, and this is not something you can force on them. While you can encourage them to spend time together or to get to know one another, it's better for everyone involved if you and your partner are patient and move at your child's pace.

Continue to offer opportunities to connect but respect your child's wishes and try not to force things.

If on the other hand, you have a problem with your child's behavior toward your new partner, then this will have to be treated separately. Your child can dislike your partner, but they still must be respectful. They cannot say cruel things or lash out in other ways when your partner is around.

Likewise, some kids will develop behavioral issues that seem unrelated to the divorce or your new partner, but are a way for your child to express their frustrations, pain, and anger. For instance, they may start struggling in school, fighting with their siblings, or being destructive in some way.

If your child is displaying behavioral issues, addressing those concerns is usually the first place you should start. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and consider enlisting the help of a mental health professional. Together, you can determine why your child is suddenly experiencing behavioral issues and what can be done to remedy the situation.

You may find, too, that you need to cut back on your time away from the kids while addressing these concerns. Often new behavioral issues are a cry for help and attention. Make sure you're prioritizing your kids. While you may feel ready to date again, they may not be ready to move on. Be patient with them while they learn to make better choices when faced with pain and heartache.

Determine the Real Issue

Some people believe that if your child hates your new love interest, you should automatically end the relationship. However, an end to the relationship may not be necessary. It's important to determine whether your child truly hates your partner or whether they are worried about you dating in general. Begin by reassuring your child that they are still your top priority. Depending on your child's age, you also should ask why they dislike the person you're dating.

Some kids will be able to articulate their feelings, and others may struggle to communicate their complaints. But either way, try to be patient, listen to what they have to say, and validate their feelings.

You may not agree with their assessment, but that doesn't make their feelings any less valid or real. Instead of trying to defend your new partner, try to empathize and understand where your child is coming from. Although your child's explanations may vary, here are some common reasons kids dislike who their parents are dating:

  • Feel threatened or displaced
  • Are jealous of the time you spend together
  • Believe your partner is "trying too hard"
  • Attempt to defend or side with the other parent
  • Feel embarrassed that you have a romantic life
  • Remember the divorce and the upheaval that caused
  • Need time to adjust or grieve the loss of their family unit
  • Recognize a character flaw that you haven't noticed
  • Feel unsafe around the new partner
  • Dislike the way the new partner treats them or talks to them

If your child points out a character flaw, says they feel unsafe, or indicates that they feel like your new partner is a bad person, it's important to take those claims seriously. Because it can be challenging to see a new relationship objectively, you need to make sure you're listening to your child.

Sometimes it helps to ask friends or family members whether they have any concerns. People who are close to you and have seen your kids interact with your new partner can give you more objective feedback. Explain what your child has said and ask what they see in the relationship.

If both your kids and those closest to you see an issue in the relationship, you may want to reconsider dating this person.

If, on the other hand, your child's complaints have more to do with the fact that they need time to accept this new person and the changes in both of your lives, then you need to do what you can to help them adjust.

This may mean limiting the time you spend with your new partner initially and prioritizing time with your child. You also may need to establish boundaries between your new partner and your child and limit the time they spend together until your child has had time to adjust. As your child comes to accept that you're dating, you can start to find ways for the two of them to spend time together.

Talk it Over With Your Child

Communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. So, if your child dislikes your new partner, carve out some one-on-one time to discuss their feelings, especially if they are old enough to articulate what they are thinking and feeling.

Not only will this one-on-one time give them a chance to share their thoughts, but meaningful conversations demonstrate that you care about your child and prioritize your relationship with them. Begin by asking your child if there is anything you can do to make the transition easier for them. Also, ask them what bothers them about your new partner.

If your child responds to your questions with "I don't know," try not to push them. Instead, reassure them that no matter what they are still your top priority. Here are some tips to help make your conversation go a little smoother.

  • Encourage them to ask you questions. Perhaps they want to know why you're dating again or what you see in this new person. Or, maybe they simply want to know why this new person wears so much cologne. You never know what is going through a child's mind. So, create an environment where they feel comfortable asking you anything that crosses their mind.
  • Give your child some control. So much in a child's life is outside of their control, and when you're dating someone new, this experience can upset their world. To help them adjust to the fact that you're dating someone new, give them some say in when or how they spend time with your dating partner. Ask them what they might like to do together as a group like a trip to the zoo, a bike ride, or a movie. Instead of announcing a decision, invite them to participate in the decision-making.
  • Empower your child to establish boundaries. In other words, if they don't want to hug your new partner or they don't want them to come to their soccer game, you need to consider allowing that. Building trust takes time. So while you may feel head over heels for your new love interest, your child may not share this joy. Allow them the space to get to know this new person without making demands of them.
  • Share what you like about your new partner. Explain to your kids the qualities you're looking for in someone you date and let them know how your new partner displays those qualities. You can even provide examples if you want. Sometimes just sharing what you see will help your child begin to change their perspective.
  • Remind them that you love them. Hug and kiss your child and assure them that they are still important to you and that this new person is not going to take their place. Also, make a commitment to spend time together on a consistent basis. If you're constantly with your new partner, it's only normal that your child will begin to resent them. So make sure you're striving to find balance in your life.

Help Your Child Feel Included

Sometimes your child's resentment stems from feeling that they're being displaced or left out. Any effort you can invest in resolving those feelings will go a long way toward achieving the sense of harmony you're looking for.

Try creating some opportunities for your child and your new partner to get to know one another better in a way that is non-threatening. For example, try to get out of the house and do something fun together, and see how the opportunity to be playful together impacts their relationship.

Give your child some say in deciding what you do so that they will be more open to the experience.

Also, be mindful of your child when scheduling dates. For a while, it might be better if you schedule your dates when your ex-partner has the kids. This way, you are not forcing your new relationship on your children before they are ready.

Gradually, you can start to include your new partner from time to time, like a dinner with you and the kids. But if you're always leaving them with a sitter while you go out on a date, they may start to resent this new person before they even get a chance to know them.

Meanwhile, make an effort to be extra sensitive to your child while working through these concerns. Coping with divorce can be hard enough on kids, even without adding dating to the mix.

Enlist Your Ex If Possible

If you and your ex-partner have a good relationship, it can be helpful to enlist their help. Although this option really depends on the state of your relationship with your ex, if you have a good co-parenting relationship, talk to your ex about your child's feelings and behavior.

Sometimes children resent a parent's new partner as a way of "siding" with their other parent. But, if the other parent talks to the child and shows support for your new relationship, they might be able to reassure them that they're happy for you and are not resentful. They can help your child understand that this new person will not replace them.

Obviously, talking to your ex is not something you want to do if they are hostile or actively saying negative things about you or your partner to your child. In this case, you should encourage your ex to speak to a counselor or friend rather than directing these frustrations toward your child.

Address Your Concerns With Your Partner

If you feel some of the conflict between your child and your new partner is related to something they are doing or not doing, you need to have a discussion about it. Some actions will be benign, like trying too hard or making too many jokes, and others will be more serious, like pushing them too hard in sports. Regardless of the scenario, talk to your partner about your concerns.

Without breaking your child's confidence, share that your child is struggling with the fact that you're dating. Then, let them know what they can do to help. For instance, maybe you want to take the relationship slower or perhaps your child has asked that they not try to hug them just yet. A healthy dating partner will understand and want to do what they can to make things easier on you and your child.

Sometimes, though, new partners may be less than understanding. They may get angry or may be demanding and refuse to make any changes. If this happens, you need to recognize that this reaction is unhealthy and is a warning sign that things could only get worse instead of better.

Likewise, if you have noticed that your new partner oversteps boundaries, is too hard on your child, or has unrealistic expectations, you need to have a serious conversation about your concerns.

Continuing to date without resolving such important issues is an invitation for more discord between you, your child, and your partner. Plus, you need to make sure your new partner is capable of having a healthy relationship with both of you.

It's also important to watch for indications of unhealthy behaviors like trying to control situations, being condescending, lacking impulse control, being jealous, demanding things be a certain way, or having anger issues. These types of behaviors do not typically improve over time without counseling and a concerted effort to change.

So, while you can talk about your concerns, remember that if you're seeing these red flags now, you may want to evaluate the health of the relationship. You and your child deserve to have someone loving and respectful in your lives, and there is no need to rush into anything.

A Word From Verywell

Although it's not uncommon for kids to dislike who their parents are dating, it still doesn't make it any easier. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your kids come to terms with who you're dating. Focus on hearing them out, giving them some control where you can, spending time with them, and validating their feelings.

But, most importantly, make sure they know that you love them and that they are still a priority in your life. Assure them that this new person is not going to steal you away and that they are not going to replace their other parent. With time, your child may decide that they like this new person and be more welcoming. Until then, go slow and be patient.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Negash S, Morgan M. Family affair: examining the impact of parental infidelity on children using a structural family therapy framework. Contemp Fam Ther. 2016;38(2):189-209. doi:10.1007/s10591-015-9364-4

  3. Weaver J, Schofield T. Mediation and moderation of divorce effects on children’s behavior problems. J Fam Psychol. 2015;29(1):39-48. doi:10.1037/fam0000043

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By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.