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Dating as adults can be quite a different situation than dating in one’s teens or early twenties.
By the time someone is in their thirties, forties, or beyond, they’ve amassed quite a bit of life experience. Some of that life experience may include a child from a previous relationship.
If you’re dating (or even married to) a man who has a child from a previous partnership, then you’re entering a relationship with two (or even more) people, rather than just one.
Sure, in many new relationship scenarios, there are extended family members to contend with. We’ve all heard stories about people clashing with their in-laws, or having to deal with their partner’s half-crazed siblings.
That’s quite different from a partner’s offspring, however. When we have difficult relationship dynamics with our partner’s parents or siblings, then there are tensions between adults of equal peership that can be addressed and resolved accordingly.
With a child, that little person has been brought into the world by your partner. As a result, your boyfriend (or perhaps husband at this point) isn’t just responsible for their general well-being; they have significant responsibilities as far as nurturing and guiding their kid.
They’re Putting Their Child Before Me!
Well, yes. Of course they are. It’s completely natural for a parent to put a child before their new partner, because that’s what they’re supposed to do.
If you’re in a relationship with someone, hopefully you’re both competent adults who can take care of yourselves. You’re in this partnership because you love one another, you get on ridiculously well, and you want to build a life together.
Their child is an integral part of this life, but hopefully you realize that the kid’s needs will always come before yours… whilst they remain a child or young adult, at least.
Because they should.
If you’re having difficulties in this relationship because you feel that the kid is getting more attention than you are, consider your expectations for a moment. This can be especially difficult if you don’t have children of your own.
When you’re a parent, your life isn’t entirely your own. You can’t get attached to the idea that tonight will be an uninterrupted date night, because you have no idea how things will play out over the next few hours.
Instead of having the opportunity to talk for hours over your favorite dinner, you may have to pick up the kid from a sleepover because they’re throwing up. Or take them to the hospital because they’ve broken their arm sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag.
You two adults have been through a whole lot of things so far, but you haven’t gotten through all of it alone, have you? You’ve had parents and/or other caregivers who tended to your needs until you were able to be fairly autonomous. Well, now it’s yours and your partner’s turn to tend to their child(ren).
How Do I Cope With All Of This?
If your partner’s child is still quite young, they will be almost completely dependent on their parent(s) for several years yet.
Hopefully you can try to get on good terms with them early on so they see you as someone they can turn to for help and support, rather than a rival for their parent’s attention and affection.
This is, of course, a rather precarious landscape to negotiate. Many people are hesitant to introduce the people they’re dating to their kids until they know things are serious. This can take anywhere from several months to a few years.
Most parents do this for a couple of reasons. Primarily, they want to make sure that the person they’re dating is actually legit, which takes time.
People tend to be on their best behavior for at least the first three to six months of a relationship. As a result, it’s not unusual to date someone for at least half a year before they’re introduced to any children.
The second reason is that the parent might not want to introduce their kid to a new potential step-parent until they’re quite sure their new partner is going to be in the picture for a long time.
It can really mess a child up if they create a solid bond with their parent’s girlfriend/boyfriend, only to have that person wrenched out of their life via a breakup.
This last scenario is devastating to everyone involved, because the kids will have to experience loss several times over. Their parents split up (or one was widowed), then someone they allowed themselves to love and trust suddenly disappeared… You can imagine the abandonment issues they’ll have as a result of all of this.
That doesn’t make things any easier for you though, does it? It’s especially difficult because kids grow and mature so quickly. During the time that elapses between you meeting their parent and actually being introduced to the kid, they might have grown a couple of inches, learned to speak, skipped a grade, etc. Things move really quickly at child speed, don’t they?
From what I’ve gleaned from people who have dated single parents, things tend to be easier if the child is either under age five, or in their mid-to-late teens.
Very young children often adapt to new situations (and people) quite easily, while older teenagers have enough self-awareness and personal autonomy to not feel threatened by another person’s presence.
It’s the in-between stage – let’s say between ages six and sixteen – that can be the most difficult to negotiate.
Kids require an extraordinary amount of time and attention. If your boyfriend or husband has a child, you’ll have to accept that fact sooner rather than later and learn to adapt accordingly.
But What About MY Wants and Needs?
Having an equal balance in any romantic relationship is important. After all, this is the person you’ve chosen to have a long-term partnership with, so you two need to be able to work together.
If it was just the two of you, then you’d be able to negotiate this kind of equal exchange quite easily. But as we touched upon earlier, there are more than two in this relationship, and all need to be taken into account.
Do you feel that your wants and needs are being ignored in favor of your partner’s child?
Are you being neglected while the kid gets all your partner’s time, money, and attention? Do you feel left out?
Or are you being mistreated by their kid and your partner isn’t doing anything about it?
What is it exactly that you’re upset about?
How do you feel that your boyfriend or husband is putting their child ahead of you?
Is it a question of time commitments, such as the aforementioned interrupted dinner plans? If that’s the case, then it’ll be up to you to acclimatize to the idea that such things may always occur. The child’s needs do, in fact, take precedence over yours.
If, instead, it’s a scenario where the kid is purposely interfering with your time together out of jealousy or insecurity, then that’s something you’ll need to talk to your partner about.
Set aside a couple of hours so you can talk about things without being interrupted. Choose an evening when the child is at their other parent’s or grandparent’s place, or if they have evening or weekend classes.
Approach your partner with the concern, but do so in a way that isn’t accusatory, nor needy. Coming right out and saying something like “your daughter is jealous of me and is trying to interfere in our time together” will cause tempers to flare. He will immediately jump to her defense because it will appear that you’re trying to cause friction.
Similarly, coming across as insecure and whiny will be just as damaging. “You always choose time with your son over time with me!” will shut your husband/boyfriend down, as he will feel like there’s another needy child grasping for his time, rather than his partner understanding the whole of the situation.
Instead, speak calmly and rationally, and try to avoid being tearful or over emotional. Ask his opinion on the situation and cite actual happenings.
“I’ve noticed that (child’s name) often wedges herself between us when we hug. Do you think she’s feeling insecure about where she stands in our relationship? If so, how can we address this together so she feels loved and seen?”
Show your partner that you’re interested in working together to make this blended family unit work harmoniously, rather than grasping for what you feel is your share of a finite amount of energy and attention.
Become A United Team
In the previous example, you showed concern for your partner’s child and a willingness to work together to make things work well.
That kind of a united team effort needs to work both ways.
You may find yourself in a situation where the kid lies to their parent about you in an attempt to stir up trouble. Or, if they’re in the 11-16 age range, they might feel like you’re trying to replace their mum, and will act out accordingly.
In a situation like this, you may find that they’re disrespectful or abusive toward you. Your partner might feel like they’re stuck, in that they don’t want to alienate their kid by reprimanding or punishing them, but they don’t want you to be disrespected or mistreated either.
This is a difficult situation for all of you, and it’s important to remember that. You’re not entering into a traditional scenario where you’re meeting one person and cultivating a new family with them: you are the one entering into their established family unit.
You’ll all have to adapt, but as one of the adults here, you’ll have to be more malleable and understanding than the child.
Try to enter into this relationship with love and an open heart. Instead of having ideas and expectations of how things should pan out, learn to respond to situations as they unfold.
Ask for your partner’s help in terms of getting to know their child on the kid’s terms, adapting to the little one’s comfort level and communication methods.
If you can show both of them that you’re on their team from day one, even through difficulty, you’ll soon establish that you can negotiate pretty much everything together.
And that’s what family is for, right?
Still not sure what to do about a boyfriend or husband who puts his child before you? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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