Bravo’s new limited series Dirty John is a cautionary tale about a successful businesswoman, Debra Newell, who falls for John Meehan, despite her daughters’ warnings. While the show is based on the real-life story of Newell, it also bears an uncanny resemblance to RHOC housewife Vicki Gunvalson’s relationship with her ex Brooks Ayers, which was also strongly protested by her daughter. Personal Space spoke to licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert Rachel Dack (MS, LCPC, NCC) to learn how to carefully approach dating a new partner who clashes with your kids, and how to address their concerns.
Should You Continually Defend Your Partner?
According to Dack, when dating someone new and exciting, “the love, infatuation or attention can be blinding and make it difficult to think rationally.” If your children, trusted friends, or family members are expressing immediate concern, it’s important to remember that they have your best interests at heart and could be identifying things you don’t perceive in the moment.
Issues that should be taken very seriously include worries from family that your partner is “manipulative, lying, or attempting to undermine your relationships with others." If you find yourself constantly defending your partner and relationship to loved ones, that is a warning sign that shouldn't be ignored. Dack explained, "Continuing to date someone without addressing the underlying issues means choosing the relationship with your partner over your other relationships.”
Are Your Kids Being Treated as a Priority?
Dack revealed that another priority red flag is when your new "partner does not respect and support you as a parent." That can mean “not getting along with your kids, controlling you for their own agenda, or trying to separate you from your children so they can have you all to themselves.”
If you are dating someone that your kids express distrust in, “give your loved ones the opportunity to explain why they feel distress about your relationship without reacting defensively. Ask questions calmly and understand their objections without interrupting to defend yourself or your partner.”
Struggling to articulate exactly what they’re feeling "does not invalidate their concerns." Once you understand the problem, Dack advised having a serious conversation with your partner where you can face those important issues head on.
How Does Your Partner React to Confrontation?
When you calmly confront your partner about those concerns, observing how they respond to that conversation is very useful information.
“If someone is a master manipulator, they will not take accountability, they will blame others, and they will lie to convince you the concerns are unfounded.” If that is the reaction you receive, the relationship is likely to be toxic and terminating it may prove best for all.
Dack explained, "A healthy partner would own their mistakes, validate your feelings, and commit to making changes,” because they want both you and your kids to be happy. A healthy partner would also want to encourage you to have a positive relationship with your children and would not try to cause division or make you choose between them.
Are You Moving Too Fast?
If the issues your children are expressing seem to be minor or superficial, such as your partner being a bad dresser or boring, their reaction may simply reflect a need for more time to adjust to the new relationship. According to Dack, when this happens check to see if you are moving too fast or progressing at an appropriate pace.
“Children engaging in attention-seeking behavior, regressing, or acting out may be a response to you having less time or attention to give them with a new partner in your life.” Dack explained that parents are entitled "to explore new dating experiences post-divorce, but it is important to balance your own interests with the needs of being a parent." How you handle this type of situation will have a big impact on your children, especially younger ones, so it is important to make sure they have had adequate time to transition.
Here's the Bottom Line...
"If you find yourself trusting a new partner — a stranger — more than your own family or close friends, this person may have gained more influence over you than you realize." Choosing to ignore your children's concerns and staying in a toxic relationship despite the discord may "wreak havoc on your family, and as a consequence your romance and your relationship with your kids will suffer."
If your partner is open to your kids’ feedback, make sure they take accountability and follow through in an appropriate way. Otherwise, Dack concluded, “Your mental health, financial security, self-worth, and important relationships will all be in jeopardy.”
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