In its simplest terms, divorce means separation. You’re splitting up. You’re breaking up. The two of you have made a decision to disconnect, detach and distance yourself from each other. But what about the relationships that have formed with other people because of your marriage? In other words, when it comes to divorce, what do you do if your in-laws dump you?
I’m not trying to be funny by saying this, but often times, if you can’t stand your in-laws, your divorce suddenly has a plus side. Think about it. You never, ever have to go out for lunch or brunch or dinner with them ever again! But, what happens if you actually like your soon-to-be ex’s family and friends, and they basically tell you to lose their number?
When I got divorced, my ex-husband’s entire family stopped communicating with me. In six years, I seriously have not spoken a word to any of them, other than an occasional “hi,” in passing.
At the beginning, when we first got separated, I kept waiting for a phone call. “We’re really sorry this is happening,” I thought they’d call and say. Or, “Is there anything we can do?” Or even, “We don’t want to get involved, but we just want to let you know we are thinking of you during this difficult time.” Nothing. I realize now just how naïve I was.
I don’t expect anyone’s in-laws to side with the non-blood relative, and I don’t expect them to be best friends with him or her. That said, in my case, when I was married, my ex’s family was really nice to me, so to go from feeling like part of their family to being completely dismissed without a word was very hard, and it deeply hurt me.
It made me wonder, is an in-law’s love all an act? When you get married, are your in-laws just taking you in as one of their own because of your marriage license?
Here are some real divorce stories. I actually know of a person who told his family that he forbid them to speak with his ex, and they obeyed. Someone else I know was told by her ex-sister-in-laws that she was prohibited from attending at her ex-mother-in-law’s funeral, even though they were still really close, and the woman would have wanted her there. There is also a guy I’m friends with whose ex-mother-in-law will not even attend her own grandchildren’s birthday parties, because she doesn’t want to look at her ex-son-in-law. She’s so selfish that she’d rather miss the party (and hurt the kids) than show up and just be polite, regardless of her feelings.
I think the families and friends of someone getting divorced need to be open minded, and think with their hearts, versus following the cliche of cutting ties, or instinctively jumping to the conclusion that the person who is divorcing their loved one is evil. No one knows what went on in a divorcing couple’s home. Even if it’s your very best friend, or your son, or your sister, you really don’t know. What you know is what that person told you. You have one side.
That said, being upset with the soon-to-be ex, and having feelings of hatred or blame or anger is very understandable. But just for a second, remember that you took your soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law or son-in-law or daughter-in-law into your family. So, was all your love conditional?
What parents and siblings of divorced people should ask themselves is, “If I loved this person while my son or daughter or brother or sister was married to him or her, then don’t I love them still? Don’t I care what happens to them in the future? Maybe, maybe not.
So much depends on the circumstances, and each divorce is entirely different. If my best friend was divorcing her husband because he was an alcoholic who beat her, I would hate him, and I would not want to stay in touch. If, on the other hand, my best friend and her husband of 27 years were divorcing because they grew apart and wanted to go their separate ways, but he was a nice guy who treated her well, then that’s a different story.
There are boundaries, of course. I have a friend whose sister has been having drinks with her ex-brother-in-law. I think this is unacceptable behavior and tells a lot about the sister’s character. It’s inappropriate and NOT okay. But, it IS okay to send a birthday card, or call someone if they are ill.
Not all divorcees get dumped by their in-laws. I have a really good friend who is very close with her ex-sister-in-law. They do things together all the time. I also know a guy who just drove his ex-sister-in-law and her new husband to the airport for their honeymoon.
In closing, here’s my advice. If you get divorced, expect NOTHING from your in-laws. Then, you’ll never be disappointed or hurt. Let them come to you (or not come to you) thereby showing you their true colors. I think it’s okay to reach out one time, and maybe say you’re sorry that things didn’t work out, or you’re sorry for your part in the demise of the marriage. Maybe tell them how much you care about them (if you do, that is) and how much you hope you can remain close. And then, you have to be done. You have to move on and accept the loss, just as you are accepting the loss of your husband or wife.
Lastly, if you run into them and they don’t say hi, make sure you say it. Smile and be friendly and kind. If they are rude, so what? No one ever went wrong with kindness.