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How Dating Can Cause Stress For Your Child

by Shannon Rios Paulsen
March 2014 Shannon Rios Paulsen

The truth about dating is that it can cause stress for your children.

You impact their level of stress by your actions.

It is my view that parents must do all things possible to mitigate the effects of the divorce on their children. One easy way to do this is to be conscious of your dating. Dating done wrong has the potential to cause stress for children for three crucial reasons, and they are important to understand.

To The Child, Parent Dating Signifies The End Of The Marriage Relationship.  The first reason parental dating causes stress for children is that dating signifies to children the end of their parents’ marriage relationship. Children usually fantasize that their parents will reunite. Once children are aware that a parent is beginning a new relationship and that someone else is coming into the picture, they know that probably there is no hope of their parents reconciling and reuniting. This realization can be stressful and can cause sadness, fear and/or anger for children.

Children May Feel Jealous Of This New Person. When you begin dating, the second reason children of divorce feel stress is that they may feel jealous. They may not want to share your time together with a new “outsider.” This is especially true if they only see you for visits on weekends or it is early in your divorce/separation process. It can feel scary for kids to have to “get along” with this new person. Your child may feel threatened by this other person, they may fear this person will hurt you or take you away from them. This is a very common fear for children.

I want parents to also understand that sometimes kids just pretend to like your new partner because they know it will make you happy. Do not force anyone on your children. If you do begin dating someone, slowly introduce them. Do not make your child feel like they are in competition with your dating partner for your time and attention.

The Other Parent’s Anger And Jealousy. The third reason your dating can cause stress for your children, which can sometimes be very emotionally damaging to your child, is the anger or upset their other parent displays now that you are dating. Parents sometimes make children feel guilty that they are spending time with their other parent and their parent’s new partner.

Parents sometimes make it known that they have great disdain for this other person. It is the parent’s own jealousy that drives this behavior but it negatively impacts your child. If they even mention the new person in their mother or father’s life, it sets their other parent off. Once again, this is another good reason to hold off on introducing a new person too early.

What You Can Do.  You should explain to your child that there are many kinds of love. The kind of love a parent has for their child will always be there, no matter whom else comes into the picture. Your child was there first, therefore, they will always be first. Let them know that you as a parent need to have friends and other people in your life; this makes you happy. However, the love you feel for your child is a very different and special kind of love that you will never feel for another adult.

Children are our future, let’s all agree to treat them with the love, respect and caring that they deserve, especially during the dating after separation/divorce process. This includes taking care of yourself, making sure that you spend quality one-on-one time with your children, and ensuring that all potential dating partners will be good role models for your children.


Shannon R Rios Paulsen MS LMFT is a Life Coach and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  She coaches individuals and parents as a life coach through her life coaching business so that parents can move forward and create healthy lives and relationships with themselves, their children and others.  She is also the founder of  She has worked with 1000s of families of divorce and conflict over the past 12 years as a child family investigator, parenting coordinator/decision-maker, children’s therapist and divorce and parenting educator for the state of MN and CO.

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