Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


When You Don't Like (or Trust) Your Parent's New Mate

Consider these 10 helpful adjustments you can make.

Source: PhotoPin
Source: PhotoPin

Your parent has a new partner—and you are not convinced that this is the right person for your Mom or Dad.

Chances are that one or both of your parents will be with another person at some point in your life. One might ex­pect adult children to be thrilled when their parents find happiness in remarriage or have someone special in their lives after a divorce or the death of a spouse. But it's seldom that simple and the changes in your relationship with your parent can be unnerving.

After my mother died quite young, my father, who lived into his 90s, married two other women. Initially, my brother had great reservations when Dad was dating making comments such as "that woman is younger than you are" (referring to me). I, on the other hand, was happy he was dating; he eventually made excellent and age-appropriate choices. I liked and eventually loved both wives, but research for Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship with Your Mother and Father underscored that easy acceptance is unusual. More doubt and disagreement about a parent's new mate exists than open-arms welcoming.

When You Question a Parent's Choice

If you have not warmed up to your parent's new arrangement or if it's creating friction, your first step should be to figure out why you feel the way you do. It could be that you've been protective of your parent and are uncomfortable with someone else taking over your role. Or, the new person may be taking the place of a much-loved deceased parent. You might see him or her as competition for your parent's time or you may have difficulty understanding the attraction or thinking about your parent as a sexually active person.

If you are unhappy about your parent's new love interest, your par­ent will probably be torn between wanting to please you and want­ing to move on with his or her life. Parents hope for their adult children's acceptance and understanding in the same way that you seek their approval for your choice of mate. The more accepting you are, the easier it will be to deal with the irritants and problems inherent in blending and re-blending families.

When you are unhappy with your parent's new love interest, you may find yourself acting in unpleasant ways in an attempt to undermine the relationship. Ask yourself:

  • What's the point of my behav­ior? What do I hope to accomplish?
  • How does my attitude affect my relationship with my parent? With the new partner? My par­ent's relationship with her or his new partner?
  • Will my behavior change my mother's or father's decision?

If your parent is happy, try to let go of your uneasiness and disapproval. Look past the new person's shortcom­ings and focus on his or her good points. If cordiality is the best you can manage, accept that. Tell yourself, "I'm an adult. I can make alterations that will reflect my maturity and desire to maintain a supportive connec­tion." Being gracious takes less time and psychic energy, and you may grow to like, even love, your parent's new partner or spouse.

10 Helpful Adjustments You Can Make

Your parent's mate decision will be influenced by your attitude, comments, and ac­tions. Here are things you can do to give the new person a chance and to help keep peace:

  • Think about the relationship from your parent's perspective.
  • You don't need to view the new person as a parent figure. He or she is not replacing your other parent.
  • Look for interests that you and the new person share, and do something together that you both enjoy.
  • Try not to be too protective of your parent, and don't endanger your children's relationship with a grandparent.
  • If you're having difficulty, avoid one-on-one situations with your parent's partner. Staying in groups will help dissipate awkward or stressful interactions.
  • Express any serious objections or concerns privately and calmly with your parent.
  • Make concessions and compromises if they will keep the bond to your parent strong.
  • If the partner is still intolerable, maintain a separate relationship with your parent rather than sever the bond.
  • Make a plan to talk and be with your parent as frequently as possible, and stick to it.
  • Don't put your parent in the position of having to choose between you and a new partner.

Adapted from: Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship with Your Mother and Father.

Copyright @2012, 2018 by Susan Newman.

More from Susan Newman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today