Tell Me About It: If this relationship is worth committing to it should be possible for you both to have patience
My son, who is in his teens, has had a traumatic life to date. We have moved house many times and my choice of partners has been dubious and caused him a considerable amount of psychological damage, resulting in him acting out violently.
He now attends group therapy with other adolescents, and I attend a parents’ group which is held at the same time in an adjacent room. We have both got a lot out of the experience and our relationship is now stronger and he is doing better at school than he has ever done before. I have been single now for more than three years as I distrusted my ability to choose suitable men to date. At the parents’ group I have met a wonderful man, we both find each other attractive. He is a little younger than me and is recently separated. We have been on several dates and things are going very well. He attends the group to support his son, who has made several attempts at suicide and has even been admitted to an inpatient Camhs (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) unit.
On one of our dates, we bumped into the therapist who manages the parents’ group in a restaurant and we engaged in polite but stilted conversation. At the next group meeting, the therapist not so subtly suggested to the group that parents should concentrate on their children’s wellbeing and refrain from getting over-involved with each other outside of the group. I did think this was somewhat unprofessional. I have always struggled to meet anyone decent, and I am becoming very close with this man who is different to all of the others. I feel that this could be my last chance to form a stable relationship and perhaps even have another child. I have spoken with my sister who got very angry with me. She told me that I was unbelievably selfish and that I should put my son first and attend the programme solely for him without using the opportunity to try to bag the hot dad of another troubled young person. She feels that I am attempting to form a blended family, and perhaps I am.
Who knows where you are going to meet the right person? I do not understand her or the therapist’s point. My son does not yet know of this new relationship, but surely it is better for him if I am happy.
In a way, everyone is right. Therapy groups need careful boundaries so that the integrity of the group remains intact and that no internal alliances form; your sister is cautious about her previous experience of you in relationships and of course, it is lovely that you have met a good man.
Both you and your potential partner joined the group to support young men who so desperately needed help, and this appears to be working for them in that their circle of support has expanded and is reliable. The danger is that you move too soon into assuming that all is well and there may still be a lot of fragility in the system. Your son had (as you say) a very difficult time with your previous relationships and he is unlikely to be in a place of trust just yet. Your partner’s son is also a vulnerable person, and any changes should be approached slowly and cautiously.
Your group therapist is knowledgeable about the safety and principles of the group and there is no doubt that holding secrecy is problematic — ie, that there is a new couple alliance in the group where dynamics might be discussed. You could approach her and ask for her advice and guidance in your situation or indeed propose that the group deal with this issue as it is likely that there is wisdom and experience within the membership.
You sound very convinced that this relationship has possibilities that your other relationships didn’t have and now this faith is being put to the test. Can you and he agree to hold a long-term position so that those in your charge do not feel abandoned or left out? If this relationship is worth committing to it should be possible for you both to have patience. Allow the group sessions to do their work without interruption and trust that your own relationship can blossom once the young men are completely safe and ready to allow your attention to move elsewhere. The suggestion here is that a pause be put on dating and your focus should return to the wellbeing of your son. This requires self-discipline, but rather than see this in a negative light, see it as having the strength to follow your aim of providing security and support in your son’s life.
If you are successful in this, the generosity and self-management you learn can then be applied to your new relationship and thus create the possibility of it lasting through all the ups and downs of life. You will have the support of your sister, who will see a side to you that she can approve of fully and thus your life and community will grow into something you can be proud of.