Four Tips to Ease the Transition Into a New Relationship While Staying in Your Parenting Marriage.

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

One Woman’s Reaction After Trying a Parenting Marriage

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Earlier this year, a woman contacted Susan and laid out the facts:

My husband cheated on me. We have kids together. I don’t know what to do. I hate his guts right now but I need his help in running the household.  What do I do?

The knee-jerk reaction when someone cheats on you is to want to kick the “no-good so and so” out.  But that’s not always practical or feasible.

Letting him or her stay may feel like you’re letting them get away with something. You feel they should be punished and should have consequences. Yet your world is upside down and your emotions will take you on the ride of your life. This is definitely not the time to make any major decisions (and you may want to avoid even the smaller decisions until you feel better and more calm). 

This woman saw an article Susan had written about Parenting Marriages and she decided to put the concept to the test and it was the perfect emergency solution for her. Here’s what she said about it:

“[Shifting] to a parenting marriage allow[ed] time for introspection…I don’t know, maybe it’s not healthy, but I haven’t felt this good since it happened. It removed the shame and the fear of a possible divorce when I’m not even sure that’s what I want. Really, it’s strange, by putting a label on it from romantic marriage to parenting marriage, it removed the pressure I was feeling to just ‘get over it’ and allows me the time I need to heal from this.”

A Parenting Marriage arrangement doesn’t change the fact that your marriage is in limbo, it gives you a sense of structure when all you feel around you is chaos; it gives you a sense of control when everything feels out of your control; it is grounding.

An Affair Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Marriage

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Melissa*, the mother of 6 kids under 15 years old, was devastated when she learned that her husband, Jon*, had had a tryst.

Of course, it didn’t help that he’d messed around with her brother’s wife (her sister-in-law and best friend).

This single act was like an Atomic bomb going off in the middle of the entire family. Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing.

Although Jon was remorseful, Melissa felt like she couldn’t let him off the hook that easily.   She was angry, hurt, sad and scared.  She kicked Jon out for a day but quickly realized that it would be impossible to run the household and get all the kids taken care of without him.

Although Melissa let Jon back home, she made it clear that she was probably going to ask for a divorce. The mere thought of this sent her into a tailspin of deep depression. There were no good choices. She was facing having to choose between a rock and a hard place.

That is, until she found out about the Parenting Marriage concept.

Suddenly, there was another option on the table. Rather than having to choose solely between staying (being angry and untrusting, or trying desperately to put it all behind her quickly—which she knew she couldn’t), or leaving (which would create a whole new set of challenges), there was another viable alternative.  Melissa described this new concept like a “pause” button.  And, she said, it gave her room to breathe and a renewed sense of dignity. She added that, for the first time since her world exploded, she felt like she was on an upward trajectory and she felt better right away.