Over half of my coaching practice is women seeking to understand and relate to men in various stages of a relationship. And many of the same issues arise. I am always impressed that these women are reaching beyond their comfort zones and allowing me a glimpse into their complicated relationship rituals and attempts to make it work. I think we all want our relationships to work out. Many of us put a good bit of effort into working on ourselves and our issues and then expecting the other person to do the same. It doesn’t always work out that way on either side. I’ve seen men aching to find commitment and closeness. I’ve seen women playing games and using strategies to keep the man in pursuit. What I’ve also seen is hope. Many of us are trying. The goal is to meet someone else who is also “doing the work” to show up at 100% and stay flexible enough to grow and evolve in a long-term partnership.
What Women Want to Know About Single Dads
- will he ever make time for me
- when his children come first, does that mean I’m always going to be disappointed
- he’s been hurt before, how can I keep from triggering his past problems?
- if we’re going slow, what can I expect?
- is it okay to ask for what I want too?
- when is it okay to meet each other’s kids?
- how do we talk about the future together?
The big three are definitely, Time, Kids, and Closeness. Let’s look a bit closer at what I’d like you to know about each of these steps along the relationship roadmap.
Time: The Currency of a Relationship
If you can’t find time to be together it’s going to be hard to move the relationship forward in any significant way. Spending time with our partners is the only way to allow our souls to join, to rub against one another, and to feel what being together is like. We’ve got to spend time to feel close. We’ve got to spend time to get our love languages and communication styles right. We’ve got to spend time together to see where the compatibilities are and, perhaps, identify any red flags that might warrant further inspection.
If you are working towards building a long-term relationship together, time is going to be the trickiest part of dating a single parent. Sometimes it’s the distance (your partner lives an hour away), sometimes it’s going to be custody schedules (we’ve got to negotiate every single variance with our former partners to get a weekend together), sometimes it’s going to be prioritizing your dating time over other kid activities. In all cases, both partners have to make similar efforts to find the time. If only one partner is doing the heavy lifting there is going to be an imbalance.
[SIDEBAR: Men often have a hard time finding and setting up babysitting for their kids. It’s not because they don’t want to be with you. (Well, it might be, that, but let’s assume they want to be with you.) I know that I was not initially involved in the babysitting network, and I had to do some additional work to find and hire sitters that my kids were happy with. AND, if your dad gets his kid on a non-custodial schedule, he’s already starved for kid-time. Be gentle. But do ask your dad to get a sitter on his own, from time to time. The dating aspect of the relationship needs to be 50/50 at the start, just as it will be if you continue in a relationship.]
The old saying, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” is very true here. If you are chasing a man and doing all the work to set up the dates, and make arrangements for your kid-weekend, and he is not doing the same, well, you need to ask why he’s not doing his part. It’s okay for the schedule complications and kid priorities to mess with your dating schedules. But the flexibility shouldn’t be taken for granted. “Do you think he is doing his part, in this early stage of the relationship?” It’s a good question for either partner, but it seems women have a harder time understanding that it’s okay to ask for what you need.
Your Kids Are a Gift, Not a Burden
It took me a number of failed dating experiences before I really understood that my kids really are a benefit in the relationship equation. The part I kept getting wrong was about my potential partner’s acceptance and enthusiasm for my kids. Obviously, they are going to be jazzed about their kids. But it took me a few attempts at relationships with partners who were indifferent to my kids, before I realized how important it was. It’s true, kids make for a much more complicated negotiation in the blending of two families into one, but it’s the golden standard. And when you hear a partner talk about how much they love your kid, well, that will make it 100% clear, right there. Bottom line: love me, love my kids. It’s that simple.
The flipside of the kid-equation is when a partner is using them as an excuse for not taking steps forward in a relationship. Kids can always be used as an excuse to get out of a date you don’t want to go on. “Sorry, my kid is sick and it’s my weekend,” is a perfect alibi. But it’s not a great alibi. And it can be overused when a parent doesn’t want to put in the effort to meet you at 100%.
Let’s face it, when we get divorced we are getting less of our kids than we ever expected. We feel the loss of time. And for a while, giving up a kid-weekend night was unthinkable for me. But I wasn’t trying to date at that time. When there is a constant push and pull between the kids and the relationship, you may need to look at the resistant partner’s motivations. If they don’t seem to be able to make time for the relationship, and it’s always the kids, it might be an easy excuse that is being used to stall the relationship. Perhaps the partner is scared to get closer. Perhaps they are dealing with depression at the loss of their kids in the divorce. Whatever it is, something is up when one parent is not putting in the effort to handle the kids so that you can spend time together.
Closeness Takes Time and Effort
There are plenty of hurdles to jump over in dating as a single parent. When you begin to spend time together, you are giving your lives a chance to synchronize or align. It takes a bit of effort on both partner’s part, and it takes a bit more shared time to see if the closeness you desire also begins to show up. The part that is hard for most of us, men and women, is asking for what we want. As men, we’ve been taught that asking for our needs, especially if they are emotional, is seen as a sign of weakness. And we, as men, are never supposed to be weak. But as we know from Brené Brown’s incredible work on Vulnerability and Braving, it takes a strong person to share their vulnerabilities with someone else.
Relationships are all about becoming vulnerable. Closeness comes from asking for what we need and being gifted with a partner who can say “Yes.” Both men and women have to get better at asking for what we need. And we have to get good at giving our partner what they crave even when they don’t ask. We have to tune-in to their love language, tune-in to their lifestyle and energy, tune-in to ourselves being with them.
I talk about alignment a lot in my discussions with people about relationships. Alignment comes from an on-going commitment in a relationship to turn towards each other in little micro-corrections throughout the day, little steps towards your partner. As we begin to align we find some of the issues are solved by these micro-transactions. Little things like unloading the dishwasher at your partner’s house, before being asked, go along way to show your intentions and helpful approach to any relationship. You are showing ways in which you can align closer to your partner’s life.
Micro-corrections are also a great way to get some of our requests filled without much effort. First comes the ask, “Can we make sure never to leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight?” The micro-correction is to always follow through on dinner clean up, and get the dishes into the dishwasher (again, unloading the dishwasher, if it’s full), and thus give your partner a warm fuzzy. We want to create as many warm fuzzies as we can, in our relationships.
My Kids Come First, But You Are In the Loop of Consideration
Finally, as we begin the process of building a life together, our kids are going to come into play much more often. As a couple moves towards kid introductions and connecting their families together, there’s going to be a lot of alignment that needs to happen.
For me, this process is all about creating and cherishing the WE of the relationship. Before I go off on a weekend trip with my kids, it would be considerate to check-in with my partner. Kids will always have more needs and requests than we can fill, the part to make room for, is the little alignment loop of considering your partner. Yes, my kids will always come first. But, my partner and their kids will also be in my loop of consideration. Always. That’s part of building a WE together.
I’d love to chat with you about your relationship and discover ways I can help you gain better alignment and closeness in your relationships. I’m offering a free 30-minute coaching session for us to get started. I’d love to hear your questions in the comments. I’ll try to answer them in future posts.
As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your post-divorce challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
- The Quest for Big Love: How To Set Sail for the Next Relationship
- The Four Laws of Love: Finding & Building Lasting Relationships
- Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way: Optimism and Hope Carry Us
- Commitment and Fear: Closing the Available Exits to Find Your Edge
- Stoking Your Soul Fire: Finding Peace at the Edge of the Unknown
- Mind the Gap: Listening for the Signals from Your Lover
- The 5 Love Languages Gary Chapman
- Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone – Brené Brown
Brené Brown’s Ground-breaking TED Talks