Breaking Up

Unfortunately, marriages do not always last. You may be very aware of this, as you may already be divorced and your partner may be as well. If stepchildren are involved, however, the breaking up affects them as well. Although you are breaking up with your partner you are not breaking up with your stepchild, and this needs to remain clear — even if you will no longer be able to see your stepchild.

In an article published in The New York Times, researchers Frank F. Furstenberg Jr. and Andrew J. Cherlin estimate that, “15 percent of all children in divorced families will see the parent they live with remarry and redivorce before they reach age eighteen. And that figure is a conservative estimate, they say, because it does not include couples who live together instead of remarry.”

If you and your partner have decided to end your relationship, be sure you know that you are definitely ending the relationship before informing your stepchildren. Going back and forth between divorcing and staying together may confuse them more and increase any anxiety they may feel. Once you have decided that you are breaking up, tell your stepchildren in an environment where they feel supported and can react however they need to at the time. Let them be angry and let them be sad — these are normal reactions. They may also shut down or act as if they don't care. This is normal too, but it can be addressed by talking about how they may have feelings in the future and that you and your partner will both be there for them if they need to express these feelings.

Your stepchildren may have experienced a divorce before and be afraid that another divorce indicates that they are the problem. Confirm that this is not the case, but that the adults in the relationship have reached a point where they can no longer have a marital relationship. Try to keep their feelings at the forefront when you and your partner are going through your divorce.

If your partner agrees that staying in touch with your stepchildren is appropriate, you should do so, and try to maintain as consistent a schedule as possible. If you are going to commit to keeping a relationship, commit to the time and energy it may take. The worst thing you can do is promise your stepchildren you will stay in touch and then not follow through. If you know that a relationship with them is not feasible, do not promise them what you cannot give. For more on the subject of divorce, see Chapter 21.

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