Men seem to be having a harder time than women dating while remaining in their parenting marriage. One example of this is a Colorado couple I worked with.
In 2015, Melissa* and Paul* decided to try a Parenting Marriage. Their relationship was over but they had a 7-year-old daughter and they got along well enough to continue living in the same house and co-parenting. They enjoyed their alt arrangement for over a year.
They liked the fact that they could lead separate lives, date others, yet provide support to each other in raising their daughter—both seeing her every day. It worked well. Until it didn’t.
Melissa was able to get into a new long-term relationship fairly quickly after they split but every time Paul would meet someone and tell her about their arrangement, the women would back away or break it off. The women didn’t believe that he was really not romantically involved with his wife. According to him, they thought he was “just another creep on the internet looking for a good time.”
Why would Melissa be able to find a new partner fairly easily but Paul could not get over this stumbling block?
The first answer is simple: Men lie. A lot. Especially when it comes to dating and having sex.
Obviously not every man lies. Paul was absolutely not lying. (In fact, Melissa wanted Paul to find a new partner.) Yet, no matter what he said or did, he couldn’t convince anyone that he was being honest. He decided he had to pull the plug on the legal status of his marriage in order to free himself up to go deeper with a new partner.
Another reason it might be easier for women to connect with a new partner while still living with an ex is that men can compartmentalize better than women.
Because women tend to see life through a relationship-oriented lens, women continue to see their ex as the father of their children or the person they were married to for 25 years. In a man’s mind, once the relationship is over, it is generally easier for him to stop seeing his ex in this connected kind of way.
It makes sense then, that a new male partner would be able to tolerate a woman living with her ex-husband more than a new female partner would be able to tolerate a man living with his ex-wife. Melissa’s new beau didn’t feel threatened by Paul because he could conceptualize the marriage being over and separate Melissa and Paul’s co-parenting relationship from his romantic relationship with Melissa.
I realize these are gross generalizations and some of you may have a completely different experience, yet this is consistent feedback I’ve received.
Here are some tips for everyone (but men in particular) hoping to date while remaining in a Parenting Marriage.
- Work on your own comfort level with having a Parenting Marriage. When you feel okay with it, you will be more matter of fact when you describe your new marriage agreement. Some people take on an apologetic tone or come from a place where they fear they are doing something wrong but if you know your arrangement is perfectly legit, that will come across. One way I’ve helped people conceptualize this is to ask them how the would feel if they knew half the couples on their block were doing a Parenting Marriage. Being a pathfinder takes courage but I can assure you that a Parenting Marriage is a viable alternative to staying in a bad marriage and divorce.
- Be honest and upfront about your living arrangement. If you hold off on talking about your living arrangement, have a bunch of great dates with this potential mate, and then break the news, that will raise her suspicion that you might be lying about other things as well.
- Be transparent. This means living with nothing to hide. Of course, there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy so you don’t have to share private matters (such as your bank account balance) with a new partner, but if you are willing to answer questions or introduce the new person to your spouse, for example, your new mate will likely feel more comfortable.
- Be patient. Remember that this is a new concept and, like all novel trends, it will take time to catch on. Given how much attention the Parenting Marriage concept has gotten to date, I know it is striking a nerve and I believe it will become a more mainstream option in the near future. Until then, if you are willing to forge ahead knowing that some people will not like or understand what you’re doing, and that you may even lose important relationships, you will do better.
Wishing you the best as you break new ground.
* Names changed for anonymity.