We spoke with Timothy Gauthier, a certified life coach and the founder of SMARTLife Wellness Co. in Ottawa, about finding our footing when a parent starts dating again. "Open communication between the parent and the adult children is the only sure way to know how to approach the situation for those involved," he says.
He shares five strategies to help start you off on the right foot with the new lead in your parent's romantic life.
1. Be honest
There's no harm in admitting that you aren't used to these types of scenarios, or to make a joke to lighten the mood. "It is very normal for adult children to be reluctant to meet their parent's new partner," says Gauthier.
"As always, communication is key. Although there may be some tension, as long as each person chooses to communicate respectfully, talking about the situation can provide an opportunity for a deeper connection," he explains.
Remember that you are likely to see this person more than once, so have faith that it will get easier. "As you get to know you parent's partner, he or she will become more comfortable with you -- but honesty is crucial throughout this entire process," says Gauthier.
2. Be mindful of first impressions
Making a good first impression is important, which means you should be aware of your body language and manner of speech when you do meet your parent's new partner. You might be nervous or uncomfortable, but try not to show it.
Avoid crossing your arms in front of your body, which can be perceived as hostile, and avoid interrupting or cutting off the other person when they are speaking, which can be seen as disregard for what they are saying, Gauthier advises. Look to your parent to help ease any tension and to make the meeting more comfortable.
"The parent really is the bridge here. They have an intimate relationship with both parties," he says. "This equalizes the environment and allows others to be courageous with their own feelings and discomforts. Everyone is doing the best they can, and it's not easy for anyone involved in these situations."
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3. Ask questions to learn more
Asking your parent's new partner questions and being genuinely curious will encourage the flow of conversation in an organic way, and can indicate what he or she is most interested in talking about.
"Ask them about the work they do and why they enjoy it, or if money was of no concern, how they would choose to spend their time," Gauthier suggests. You are looking to learn more about the person and whether he or she is a good fit for your mother or father. Ask open-ended questions, but avoid an interrogation that could lead to discomfort.
"Adult children need to be aware that it's OK to want their parents to be safe and happy, but it's not OK for their own emotions to sabotage the potential happiness of their parent," says Gauthier.
4. Plan an activity
Organize an activity in a casual atmosphere that the three of you can enjoy together. "Try asking your parent's partner what they enjoy doing for fun," Gauthier suggests.
Depending on activity levels and physical abilities, taking in an afternoon baseball game, going for a leisurely hike or even meeting up over coffee are all great ways to develop a rapport without any pressure. "Make them as comfortable as possible. Quieter activities give you an opportunity to talk and really get to know one another," says Gauthier.
5. Show interest
Everyone loves to talk about how they met, especially at the beginning of a new relationship. Ask your parent and his or her new partner how they met. "Showing interest conveys to your parent that his or her happiness is a priority for you, which will in turn strengthen your relationship," says Gauthier.
This will also give you some insight into any qualities your parent sees in this new person that you might also appreciate. Remember details and ask follow-up questions to show that you are invested. "There are so many benefits to a good relationship with your parent's significant other, including a stronger relationship with your parent, more joy and stability, and overall increased love and support," he explains.
Although it's often more comfortable to stick to the parent-child role we have known our whole lives, it's important to prioritize your parent's overall happiness, rather than focusing on yourself. By supporting your parent's pursuit of a romantic relationship, it allows your relationship with them to evolve -- and the dividends pay off in happiness for everyone involved.
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