I found that love was more than just holding hands.
The old Beatles line came to mind at a baby shower last week when I chatted with another guest, a thirty-ish woman. Upon learning of my writing on shared parenting after divorce, she became somber. Her voice quietened as she confided that she found herself considering her current partner in the light of how he would be as a co-parent, should they ever have a child together and then part.
"My mother finds it unromantic," she said, "To be thinking of a break-up while we're together."
I gave her the reassurance she sought, and told her that being aware of what is needed for successful co-parenting is an important and legitimate subject for lovers to consider.
In the heat of delirious attraction and breathless encounters, the long-term isn't easy to look at.
It may not be romantic, but it's smart to ask yourself, "What kind of a father or mother will this person make? How much do I trust them to be a kind and loving parent? Will I want my children to learn from their example? How stable are they, financially and emotionally? Could we ever be friends, if we split up?"
How do you step back and assess your partner? One way is to consider other people's reactions. Do your friends endorse your relationship wholeheartedly, or give you sideways looks or eye rolls when you are all together? Has your family made any comments? Has anyone asked, "So what do you see in him/her? I know they're cute, but..." If you are getting any yellow flags from those around you, ask yourself what specifically they are referring to. Is it your lover's temper, reliability, or treatment of you? Steel yourself to get a clear answer.
How has this person treated previous partners? If you hear contempt, unfinished business or slurs about your predecessors, watch out. On the other hand, if other partners seem to be cleanly out of the way and held in some respect, that's a good sign.
Or ask yourself how you feel when you are with them. When you are not making love are you relaxed, comfortable, and supported? Or are you feeling confused, angry, or invisible?
I was once in a long-term relationship with a man whom I couldn't decide whether to stay with or leave. There was lots of chemistry, yet I knew something wasn't right. In my indecision, I resorted to keeping track on a scale of 1-10 of how I felt after each interaction with him. We would talk by phone every night, and after each call, and time spent together, I would jot down 7, or 9, or 4.
You will never make a more important decision in your life.
It probably sounds nerdy, but having some data helped me see that this relationship wasn't a good long-term fit for me. It was hard, though. I had to recognize the costs. My frequent anger at him eroded my peace of mind, along with my ability to relax and enjoy the rest of my life. I had to let go of all that was good about our relationship. I also had to believe that life held other, better possibilities both for my love life and for a man who would be in a fathering role with my sons. I did, in time, find some one with a blend of character and chemistry who felt better all around.
If you plan one day to have a family, it is important to consider your partner's co-parent potential. You will never make a more important decision in your life. One mother I interviewed, who was co-parenting after splitting from her partner , astutely said: "When you decide to be a parent, choose wisely— a mature, big-hearted, kind, flexible person. Someone you can work with, even if the love fades. Those are the most important things, and I still have that in my ex-partner."
We break up with lovers or business partners, walk away and are free of ever considering them again. Once a child is born, we are forever linked with the other parent. So, choose wisely and choose consciously, for to quote another Beatles song, Tomorrow Never Knows.
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