Dating again after a divorce or the death of your spouse can be difficult. Things are often complicated further if there are children involved. Jealousy and fears of not being special and loved can originate in any of the involved parties. Some people say that the children should just accept the reality that their parent also needs a relationship while others disagree with this approach. In this article I would like to explore these issues in more depth.
It is important to remember that everyone needs a period of mourning a significant loss before they are ready to move on. At times the loss of your partner or spouse can be so painful that you just want to enter another relationship as soon as possible to avoid the pain. Doing this sidesteps the painful and important process of mourning. Children also need to mourn the loss of a parent or the loss of their parent’s marriage after a divorce. Children are normally not ready to accept a new person in their parent’s life before they have been helped to adequately mourn the loss that they have encountered. Parents often have to facilitate a child’s mourning process by understanding their responses and encouraging them to speak about the loss and express their emotions. This can be very difficult for a parent who themselves may experience the loss as overwhelmingly painful.
Even when there has been enough space for the children and adults involved to mourn their losses, moving on to new relationships can be fraught with complications. For children there can be the fear that their parent is replacing them with a new person who is more loved. Adults can also feel in rivalry with ex-spouses and children. This can result in the children and/or adults involved to feel insecure, jealous, angry and in competition for affection and attention. If you enter a new relationship after a breakup, divorce or the death of your spouse your new partner will have to cope with the knowledge that they are not your first and only love, that you have loved another before them. This can evoke strong feelings of jealousy.
All human beings are born with an all encompassing longing for closeness, security and love. This is found in a strong attachment with a parent when a baby is born. For children (and adults) who have missed out on a secure attachment as young children, relationships can continue to feel insecure and fears of being abandoned or unloved continue to be very strong. When this early relationship between the mother/primary caregiver and the baby has been compromised due to the early loss of a parent through death, divorce, a depressed parent, a parent who expected the child to function independently too early, etc these individuals (as children and later as adults) tend to be more sensitive to loss and have greater fears of rejection and being unloved. Even though you might be faced with a 16 year old teenager or a 40 year old person, internally this teenager or adult can have the left over insecurities and longings of a young child.
Dating again can be further complicated with a fear that many humans struggle with, namely the fear of being replaced. This fear causes jealousy and the fear that someone else will be more loved and that your loved one will choose another above you. This causes some people to want their loved one totally to themselves and they battle with the acceptance of a third person who is also loved by their loved one. The deepest roots of this are found in early childhood. This issue often has its roots in an early sense of having been replaced. For many children the birth of a next sibling can be very difficult. Particularly if a child’s early relationship with his/her mother has been compromised for some reason or when a next sibling is born too soon (before the older sibling is ready to tolerate having to share the mother’s attention) the fear of being replaced can be very strong. When an adult starts dating again this fear of being replaced and of wanting the loved one all to yourself can be evoked in any of the parties involved. Any one of the adults involved can (even without consciously realizing it) fear the other adult loving the children more or even loving the ex-spouse more. The more insecure children are because of early losses, compromised primary relationships and early experiences of being replaced, the more difficult it can be for them when their parent enters a new relationship. Children can express this difficulty through depression and sadness or through rebellious and angry behavior.
In times of stress and difficulties children often regress, meaning that they behave in ways that you thought they have outgrown. A four year old under stress might want to drink a bottle again or start wetting his/her bed. Regression is a sign that your child is battling emotionally and is in need of special care.
Parents do have a very serious responsibility towards their children and therefore have to give their children (and themselves) enough time to mourn before dating again. When your children struggle with you dating again even after an adequate mourning period you need to understand the roots of their struggles. Have they not mourned the loss as well as you think they have? Could they possibly have very strong dependency longings (causing them to want their loved one all to themselves) due to a compromised infancy? Could they have fears of being replaced due to earlier experiences? These same questions can be asked when the adults involved struggle. Have they mourned recent losses adequately? Do they have struggles originating from their childhoods related to very strong dependency needs or fears of abandonment or being replaced? For some people the early wounds are so painful (and possibly unconscious) that it is very difficult for them to deal with this themselves. If this is the case they can benefit from therapy to understand and work through their feelings and responses in this type of situation.
These are some of the factors that could influence the emotions of the adults and children involved when parents start dating again. The age of the children involved also play a role and their developmental phase should be considered.
Even through this might sound daunting, dating again can be negotiated successfully!