We’ve Just Separated; Now What?” Series, Part II: Defining the New Relationship

January 19th


Divorced parents

What happens to the dynamic between two people when a relationship ends? After a breakup, many people completely remove their exes from their lives, refraining from contact or removing any remnants of their existence. But for most co-parents, avoiding each other is not a viable option. You and your parenting partner will be forever linked by your child, and to co-parent well, you’ll need to work together. But how do you begin to do this when you’re unsure how to act around each other? What does it even mean to go from romantic partners to parenting partners? Part two of our “We’ve Just Separated” series unveils KohParenting’s key to navigating this awkward transition: a step we call “defining the new relationship.” Read on to learn more!


  • Many co-parents underestimate how hard it will be to go from romantic to co-parenting partners. It takes time to heal and to get used to being in your ex’s presence.
  • Traditional co-parenting plans typically cover logistical details like custody schedules and child support. These plans are often insufficient to ensure you and your parenting partner can work together effectively.
  • Co-parents can ease the transition by reimagining their relationship as an entirely new one, separate from their past romance, and recognizing the need for new boundaries.
  • Co-parents can clarify their expectations of their new relationship by conducting a conversation in which they outline their boundaries.

The One Mistake Most Co-Parents Make:

Since you and your ex decided to separate, you’ve likely had many conversations about various topics. You may have even spent hours hammering out details like your custody arrangement, visitation schedule, and child support payments (to name a few). Through your efforts, you may have developed an organized parenting plan and thus feel equipped to head out into the world of co-parenting, ready and prepared. So why does it all still seem so hard? 

Most co-parents find that these technical agreements are not enough to resolve all their co-parenting dilemmas, no matter how sound they may look on paper. Yes, they can establish structure around your responsibilities and schedule, which can be immensely helpful (and often necessary). But co-parenting isn’t only a matter of logistics and transactions; the true magic lies in the interaction between you and your parenting partner. Your parenting agreement is only as strong as your ability to work together…. And unfortunately, most agreements don’t spell out how you will do just that!

At KohParenting, we have had the privilege of coaching co-parents from all walks of life. As diverse as these families have been, they’ve often shared one common problem: they’ve underestimated how hard it can be to move from a romantic relationship to a co-parenting one. Often, we expect the transition to be like flipping a switch from one to the other, but we’re humans, not robots! Our emotions, behavior, and mindset can’t adjust that quickly. 

It’s understandable and even expected that being in each other’s presence could be a struggle. But some factors can make it more challenging. These include:

  • Unresolved feelings: It takes time to heal from a breakup. But the longer unresolved issues linger, the more destructive they can be to your co-parenting relationship.
  • Difficulty accepting the separation/divorce: Some former couples may not agree about their change in relationship status. If one of you was (or is still) hoping to work things out and stay together, you may both have a hard time establishing your rhythm as co-parents.
  • Behaving as if you’re still together: A positive dynamic between co-parents is the end goal. But there’s a difference between a healthy working relationship and acting like you’re still in a romantic one. If you continue your physical or emotional intimacy or otherwise treat each other like spouses, you may find it trickier to move forward in your co-parenting.
  • High levels of conflict: Frequent or intense conflict can harm any relationship. If you and your ex fought a lot before you separated, you may continue to do so as co-parents, which can impede your collaboration.
  • Close proximity: Figuring out who you are as co-parents can be more difficult if you live together or see each other very frequently. You’ll obviously need to interact as you parent your child together, but that interaction shouldn’t be without limits or boundaries. It may seem counterintuitive, but a little space between partners can do a lot of good when it comes to co-parenting. 
  • Frequently checking up on each other: We know the temptation to stay abreast of what’s happening in your ex’s personal life is strong. It may be easy for you both to dig up information on each other through your shared social network or social media. This may be harmless for some couples, especially those who have been separated for a while. But for most, this type of curiosity can be destructive, both for your own well-being and the well-being of your co-parenting relationship.
Coparenting conflicts

Research into breakups and how to handle them is inconclusive and often limited, especially regarding co-parents in particular. However, we do know that:

Having the “Talk”:

Our solution to the quagmire? Boundary-setting, by way of the “defining the new relationship” conversation.  At KohParenting, we coach parenting partners to think of their co-parenting as an entirely new relationship that requires an open, honest conversation to define new terms and conditions. Parenting partners often avoid tackling this topic because they feel like it may be uncomfortable or may create a negative vibe between them. But we’re here to tell you that in our experience, the opposite is true! When done right, redefining your relationship can help you put the past behind you so you can move forward with clear expectations. Having the hard conversation now can prevent a lifetime of hard conversations in the future and can put you on a quicker path to healthy co-parenting.

KohParenting’s “defining the new relationship conversation” refers to both an internal dialogue with yourself and an actual dialogue with your co-parent. You’ll have to do some self-reflection about your own thoughts and needs beforehand, and then bring those to the table when you meet with your parenting partner. Consider setting some general guidelines for this discussion, such as:

  • We will communicate respectfully. Name-calling, yelling or negative tone or body language, finger-pointing, or blaming have no place in the conversation. Vow to refrain from interrupting or making accusations or assumptions about each other; instead, focus on sharing your own thoughts. For help with this, check out our learning guide, The Power of "I."
  • The past is in the past. This isn’t the time for rehashing past hurts; revisiting them won’t help you move on. If you need to vent or process lingering feelings, do so with friends, loved ones, or a professional (like a therapist or counselor). Keep your interactions with your ex focused on the here and now.
  • Our child’s best interest is paramount. You’re here together for the sake of your child. Any issues between you pale in importance compared to your child’s well-being. 
  • Our primary relationship is our parenting partnership, which aims to raise a healthy, fulfilled, well-adjusted child. A tip we often share with co-parents, especially in the beginning or when they’re struggling to get along, is to reimagine themselves as business partners, united by their joint venture to care for their child as best they can. This gives them a great working model of the dynamic they’ll need to emulate for effective co-parenting: friendly yet professional and focused on the task at hand.
We also recommend that co-parents schedule this conversation at a mutually agreeable time and place. Ideally, you’ll conduct the discussion away from your child, free from other distractions, and allow yourself ample time. We also recommend that each co-parent come prepared, so spend time brainstorming what you’d like to discuss and accomplish beforehand.

Considerations for your “New” Relationship:

Now that you have the framework for this game-changing conversation, you may wonder: what do I say? Every couple is different, and so will be your “defining the new relationship” conversation, but some examples of areas in which you may want to set boundaries include:

Social media:
Will you stay “friends” or connected? Will you limit visibility to each others’ accounts? In this arena, you don’t necessarily need to agree; you’ll have control over your own profile, and can maintain as much privacy as you wish. Whatever you do, though, you’ll probably want to give each other a heads-up to avoid hurt feelings. For example, you’d probably prefer to hear from your ex that you’re going to be blocked or that your relationship status will be changed rather than find out when you log on.
Friends, relatives, extended family:
Sometimes people forget that other people can often impact their co-parenting relationships, such as friends and relatives. You may need to establish boundaries with them, too, and it is each of your responsibility to do so.
Mode and frequency of contact:
How often do you want to contact each other? What is your preferred mode of communication?
New romantic relationships:
How do you each wish to handle new romantic partnerships? What guidelines do you want to establish for introducing them to your child? At what point do you want to inform each other of the new relationship? How informed do you want to be about each others’ dating life?
Your behavior with your child:

Ideally, you and your ex will be on the same page regarding your approach to caring for your child (i.e., your routines, rules, and discipline). However, you must also respect each other’s choices during your individual custody time with your child. How will you handle issues and concerns as they arise? How will you each commit to monitoring your own behavior to ensure you’re meeting your child’s needs?

Ultimately, we know that all of this is easier said than done. Our previous blog posts  and learning guides cover all the critical topics in co-parenting and can help you enter into the conversation feeling informed and prepared. To get the full details on the “defining the new relationship” conversation and how to set boundaries, check out our training,  Roadmap to Healthy Co-Parenting.

When one door closes, another opens for you and your parenting partner.

Many people feel a sense of grief and loss after a breakup with their child’s other parent. But as one part of your life ends, another begins! Your romance may be over, but with concerted effort, you can breathe life into an entirely new stage as parenting partners. Consider viewing your relationship through this fresh lens and let us know in the comments below: how does it feel different to you? What did you change about your past dynamic to make it function in the present?  Put in the work now, and you’ll plant the seed for a beautiful relationship for years to come.

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By Koh-Parenting Services LLC

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