The decision to let go of a relationship that cannot be salvaged is one of the most painful that we may ever have to make – especially if we will be rupturing our children's family structure in the process. Particularly when they are young, divorce or separation essentially asks them to accept a situation that they aren't intellectually prepared to understand. We face a similar dilemma when we start dating, enter into a new relationship and want to make our children a part of it. They won't typically relish such a prospect and for good reason. With all the upheaval and displacement that they've already endured, why would they welcome another drastic change? We want to take care, then, not to further fuel their fear.
This may mean setting limits - at least initially - on the number of outings we have with our children and our new dating partner together. This is one of the questions that often plague children of divorce: if we found someone to replace their mom or dad, does that mean that we love this person more than them, too? We should do all that we can, therefore, to reassure them that the conditions of the parent-child interaction that we once shared have not changed.
Our custody arrangements will probably oblige us to continue interacting with our former spouse, as well. We should strive to respect their feelings about our new relationship; no matter how justified we may feel in whatever bitterness and resentment we're still holding on to. The topic of dating the second time around and developing new relationships can be a potential landmine if we speak of it in glowing terms when comparing it to the previous situation with our ex-spouse – i.e., if we say things like, "I'm so much happier now," or "He/she treats me better than you ever did." This is not the time to keep score or inflict further injury on top of what has already been dealt by the divorce.
Children feel much more at ease during this stressful transition if they can at least see that their divorced parents remain civil towards each other and continue to make joint decisions in regards to parenting issues. Also, they derive their sense of identity from both of their parents. Demeaning statements made about their mothers or fathers can often be, by extension, insults to them. Any issues we have with a former spouse should be dealt with privately; also, we should refrain from discussing an ex-wife or husband with our new partner in front of the children. Although it is easier said than done, these crucial steps will not only reassured our love for them and display our respect for their other parent; it will also enable them to more easily accept our new relationship and perhaps even appreciate our new-found happiness. By making gentle transitions and perhaps plan more one-on-one time in the early stages until they feel more comfortable, we are demonstrating to them that change does not always have to mean more loss and pain.