There’s nothing quite like the gut-wrenching feeling of seeing your former partner with a new partner for the first time. Of all the countless changes and “firsts” you’ll come up against in the first few years following your separation, this one is definitely likely to cause your anxiety to spike – especially if you’re not dating again yet.
If you’re struggling with how to handle your former partner’s new relationship, don’t worry – this is totally normal. And no matter how uncomfortable the situation might be in the beginning, know that it will get easier and less awkward with time. Here’s how to work on making this new experience as comfortable as possible for everyone:
Work on your feelings on your own time: Depending on where you are in the healing process from your divorce, you’ll likely find that your former partner’s new relationship will bring a lot of uncomfortable emotions up to the surface. Jealousy, heartache, and pain are all normal feelings to go through during this time. If you’re having a tough time coping with this new relationship, try to work through your feelings in the background. When you’re with the new couple, remember to be kind and positive, and when you’re with your kids, always speak about the couple respectfully, and never probe them for more information.
Treat your former partner and their new partner how you want to be treated: No matter what your current feelings are about your former partner’s new relationship, be intentional in how you act towards them. How you treat them will set the tone for how they treat you and your new partner, whether you’re currently dating or looking to the future. And remember, this doesn’t just mean how you behave when you see each other, but also how you talk about them to others – especially your kids.
Create boundaries if you need to better protect your mental health: In some more painful divorces, particularly ones where people have been very hurt by their former partner (whether through abuse, adultery, or neglect), you may find it necessary to make more structured boundaries for your interactions with the new couple. Maybe you don’t spend any social time together as a blended family, and you just interact as needed for the children. It’s okay to make decisions to protect your own mental health, and you can still do this in a respectful manner.
Show compassion towards the new partner: As you start to feel more comfortable with your former partner’s new relationship, try to work on showing more compassion towards their new partner. It might feel painful to watch a new person care for your children, and it might feel like they’re taking your place when they’re with your family. But try to understand how challenging this new situation is for them, as they try to fit into a family that’s not theirs, and potentially learn how to become a new stepparent to your children. Remember that what’s best for your children is the most important, and the more loving and supportive parental figures there are in their lives, the better.
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