Getting back to having sex after divorce is more than just creating a Tinder account and swiping till you find someone you like.
Sometimes there are kids to think of, and they might not like what you are doing.
Things with your kids will go smoother when you actually take the time to talk to them. That’s how you can help them used to the idea of you having sex after divorce – or at least they won’t be so traumatized if they accidentally surprise you in the middle of it!
But as anyone who’s ever tried talk to their kids about sex can tell you, it isn’t easy.
Sometimes you need a little professional advice to help you on your way.
Sharon Garro is a Registered Psychologist with over 15 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and schools. Sharon has completed a degree in Psychology, a Masters in Counselling and a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (University of Melbourne).
I asked Sharon to offer her advice to parents who are starting to think about having sex again after divorce, and what they should do for their children.
Sharon says, “When there are children to consider, thinking from multiple viewpoints can sometimes be daunting, and this is a time, when hoping they won’t notice or it will all just go away, doesn’t really benefit anyone in the long run.” Sharon stresses that “that there is no ‘right way’ only what is ‘right for you’.”
So here are some age-appropriate suggestions for how to approach that awkward conversation, and ease your path to guilt-free dating and happy kids, (or at least until they have to eat broccoli).
How to Explain Sex After Divorce
Teenagers have often had their own experiences of dating and romance. According to a CDC survey 41% of high school students have had vaginal sex at least once in their life.
At the same time, they may feel weird about the thought of either parent having sex after divorce. By now, teenagers are better able to see adults as having flaws and capable of making mistakes while having the best intentions. They may also object to being told “no sex before marriage” if you then go ahead and hook up casually yourself.
Sharon recommends seeing this life experience as an opportunity to develop your relationship with your teenager. She says, “Taking the time to share with your child the things you value in a person and a relationship, can help model this thinking to them, which will help them develop the skills to make similar choices in the future. For example, speaking to your child about the value of having someone in your life who supports and respects you, treats you kindly, is humorous, shows compassion etc. can highlight the types of characteristics that are important in a relationship. Following on from that, can come the discussion about when it is appropriate to share sexual intimacy, based on your own individual values.”
Try this conversation starter:
“I’m just letting you know I have started going on dates. I miss your mother but that ship has sailed. I don’t know if I am ready for another serious relationship yet, but I do want to meet new people and just see what happens.”
Share your views on how emotionally involved you need to be to sleep with someone.
To Middle Schoolers
Middle schoolers have reached the age of romantic crushes and are dreaming about being boyfriend and girlfriend, if they aren’t in real life already. If they haven’t had the “sex” talk yet, they will have had plenty of exposure to sex from the media and their friends.
They know enough to read between the lines and might be skeptical that your new companion is “just a friend,” and they can work out what is going on from an extra toothbrush or suggestive texts on your phone. They will certainly figure it out if they find a bra or condom left lying about accidentally, and they will be devastated to find out this way.
They will find it awkward to talk about sex after divorce, just like in the teenage years, especially if they haven’t had the regular sex talk yet. A recent study from Georgetown University found that children as young as 10 benefit from open and accurate information about sex and reproduction. So have the “BIG” talk, make it separate to a discussion about you dating again, and do it early, so they hear it from you rather from the Internet or their friends.
Sharon says, “When it does come to have the talk it is important to know what your own values are, and how you want to express these to your child. This talk will not be the same for everyone, due to the age of the child, how recently your separation/divorce from your partner was, and their maturity. It will also vary dependent on the personal values around sexual intimacy that you have. Most importantly, make sure that whatever you want to instill in your children is modelled at this time. Children learn mostly by what they see, rather than the words you use, and will be the first to highlight what they see as double standards. So, if you want your little girl to choose a partner that respects her, respects her family, and for her to wait until the relationship is serious before becoming sexually intimate, then this is the time to show her this is what you expect for yourself as well.”
Try saying this:
“I am seeing someone at the moment, I’m not sure how serious things will get. It might not even work out between us. I hope it’s not awkward. But, I wanted you to find out from me, and not somebody else.”
Share your values about dating and relationships, how you fall in love, and when it’s not healthy to stay in love.
To Young Children
Young children will often still be hoping that the two of you might magically get back together again, and everything will behave nicely to each other. They will resent any new partner as that will further crush their hopes of a happy family.
They may also worry that you won’t love them any more. Reinforce that just because you have separated it doesn’t change the love you have for them as a father. It is far better for you to bring up the idea of seeing someone new in general well before you bring your new partner home.
If your child is extremely distressed at the idea of you dating it may be a sign that they need more time to get used to the separation, or may need additional counselling and support to process their feelings.
Also, it can be useful to have a discussion about when you are allowed to take your clothes off (like at the doctor’s, or getting changed after swimming). Because, if they bust you getting naked with your tennis partner who you have said is “just a friend” the logical conclusion is that they can get naked with their friends.
Sharon recommends, “In general, as awkward as it may seem initially, taking the time to talk about your new relationship with your child, can not only help them with processing the changes, but also become an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.” She stressed that navigating this life change together “could be a valuable learning experience for when the tables are turned, and you are supporting their steps towards developing intimate relationships.”
“I’m going out to meet other grown-ups and see if they are nice people. I might make a new friend, and maybe, if we like each other very much, she will be the sort of friend who I can hug, and kiss, and hold hands with, like I used to with Mom.”
Share how much you love your children and how you have enough love for your children and a new relationship.
Talk To Them About Your Story
With younger children, go through the narrative of how you and their mother got together and got married. Then talk through the story about how you fell out of love, keep it simple but real for them, and then talk about how you both will do the same activities with new people to find love again.
With older children get nostalgic with them, talk about how you and your ex fell in love, and then how it all fell apart, talk openly and honestly, encourage their input, and then talk about how you will go through all that again with a new person.
Emphasize with all ages that you are looking for grown-up love, someone you can share lots of things with, or they may wonder why their love isn’t enough.
Listen When Your Children Talk
If your children are upset by the idea of you dating again, the best person for your children to talk to is you. But for some situations, they may also benefit from a supportive adult who is not emotionally involved in the break up.
A counsellor can be a safe person who can help them process the emotions they are feeling, without worrying about making you feel sad. Talk to your GP or school to see what resources they can refer you to. A pastor, teacher, or coach may also be able to support your children.
So, no matter how awkward, taking about sex after divorce with your kids is an opportunity to be embraced. It is a process that can end up strengthening your relationship with them. However the conversation turns out, it’s important to remember that there is no right way, only what is right for you.
Have you had “the talk”with your kids since the divorce? Share your experience in the comments below.
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