I don’t think I have to tell anyone how emotionally difficult it is to get divorced. Putting all other issues aside, that can include feeling lonely, being scared, experiencing financial stress, worrying about the kids, paying legal bills, finding a new place to live, trying to keep your home, and dating, you and the person who’s probably the love of your life up until this point are breaking up. It’s brutal. But what’s different about breaking up with your husband is, you might also be breaking up with his family. In other words, what happens with the in laws after divorce?
I’m not trying to be funny, but if you never liked your in laws, then honestly, your divorce suddenly has a huge plus side. Think about it. You never, ever, ever have to go out for brunch or dinner with them. Ever again! Yay! But, what happens if you actually like or truly love your soon-to-be ex’s family and you don’t want to break up with them? Are there rules for in laws after divorce?
When I got divorced, my ex-husband’s entire family stopped communicating with me. They didn’t speak to me for over a decade. At the time, it was so hurtful and I would cry about it because I felt like my family had turned on me. It was a very empty and awful feeling.
I’m not saying they did anything wrong. If you think about it, they were only hearing his side of the story. Also, maybe he told them he didn’t want them to talk to me. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do. Plus, the bottom line is, while you are going through a divorce, things can get ugly, and maybe the in laws get angry by seeing their son/brother/sister upset at some of the things that happen.
At the time, though, I used to fantasize that they would call me and say something like, “We’re really sorry and we’re going to miss seeing you.” That call never took place and it was heartbreaking.
So, what happens with the in laws after divorce?
My first piece of advice is, don’t expect them to take your side. It doesn’t even matter to them what the person did or what the circumstances are. Even if your spouse cheated and left you for someone else, don’t expect your in laws to take your side. Blood is very very very much thicker than water in a divorce, as unjust and unfair as that may seem.
I get though, how it can feel so hurtful to go from a family treating you like their own to acting like total strangers. I still get sad thinking about it to this day. And what so many people have such a hard time with is, the in laws are oftentimes still really nice to other members of your family!! My in laws were as friendly as can be to my parents, my sister, brother, nieces, and of course the kids, but to me they acted as cold as ice. It brought me to tears on two different occasions. (both of which I was footing the entire bill.)
When in laws turn on you during divorce, it’s easy to feel like the entire time you were married, their behavior towards you was just an act. Please don’t think that. I know, in my case, it was not. The thing is, you can’t take it personally. I know that sounds crazy–how can you not take your in laws treating you like crap after divorce personally? But it’s true. They are thinking about their son/daughter, and the pain that YOU–the devil, the evil person, the person who messed up their life (even though we both know you didn’t!) caused him or her.
Also, in some cases, the person getting divorced tells their family that it is forbidden to speak with their ex. And because the family doesn’t want to upset the person, or because they are scared of him or her, they oblige. This drives me nuts, because I think if a person wants to talk to their former daughter or son-in-law, they should stand up for themselves and just do it.
They could say something their son or daughter like, “We love you, but we love your wife/husband too and he/she is like family to us and we care about him/her. You also share our grandchildren/nieces/nephews and we want to remain close to them and not make things weird for them. If you have a problem with that, we are sorry.”
The other thing is, when in laws after divorce are distant to the ex-spouse, the kids feel it. So on top of having their parents not in love anymore, they are seeing the hatred and resentment and bitterness of their grandparents and aunts and uncles!
Here’s my advice on that. If your ex in laws are being rude to you, or if they say mean things to you in front of the kids, don’t engage. Try to be as calm and collected as possible. Be gracious and polite. Your kids will remember both sides! Also, try to explain to your kids (very sad that you have to do this) but tell them that their grandparents are just hurt right now and that they love and adore you just the same as they always have. Never try to alienate mean in laws after divorce from your kids. It’s very very bad for the kids.
Here’s the flip side on what can happen with in laws after divorce, which can be equally as hurtful:
I have a friend whose sister is having drinks with and getting together with her ex-brother-in-law. I think this is unacceptable behavior and shows a lot about the sister’s character. Too chummy isn’t good either. Remember, this is a divorce.
Want the good news? Time truly does make things better. It did for me. A few years ago, my ex in laws and the family started saying hello to me at kid events. They now talk to me and we are actually all good friends. I never expected this and it is delightful. I will always care about them and would be there for them if they needed me. But also, I see how great it makes my kids feel. They love that we all seem like the family we were when we were married. Honestly, it’s beautiful, and again, I never ever ever expected it.
I think it took them a long long time to “forgive” whatever they thought I did, and maybe after that, they didn’t know how to act. So, if you see your ex in laws trying to be friendly, just be friendly back. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but being cordial and genial is so wonderful for everyone, including you! No one ever regretted being mean and unfriendly, so if you are friendly and they aren’t, that’s OK too! Your kids will see it and you will know in your heart that you were kind.
Here’s my last piece of advice. If you are newly separated, expect NOTHING from your in-laws. Don’t expect them to be awful and mean, and don’t expect them to be sugary sweet. Every one of them will process your divorce in a different way, and you have no idea what they are thinking and how they are feeling. One might want to stay friendly with you but fears the other family members will get upset. It’s hard!
Should you reach out to in laws after divorce?
It’s a personal choice and if it’s going to make you feel better, do it. BUT, don’t expect them to agree with you, and don’t be upset if they are icy. And, don’t regret reaching out if you don’t get the reaction you’d hoped for. It might make you feel like at least you tried.
In the end, remember that you have your own family or friends to lean on, AND if you have faith, if you believe God has your back, and if you believe in yourself, you will have so much love in your life from so many people, which might include your in laws in the future.
Like this article? Check out, “9 Signs of a Healthy Romantic Relationship”