Your Mother-in-law problems: Yes, They Get Worse After Divorce

mother-in-law problems

By Jackie Pilossoph, Creator and Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling site, podcast and app, Love Essentially columnist and author

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 happens to the relationship you have with your in-laws, specifically your mother-in-law? Many people I know can’t stand their in-laws, and had mother-in-law problems their entire marriage. Well, guess what? Your mother-in-law problems…they just got worse after divorce.

There are two kinds of people.

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! You are done. No more mother-in-law problems.

Then there are the people who get divorced who actually liked their mother-in-law, and are extremely upset when she either blatantly dumps them or exits quietly, never to be heard from again.



When I was married, I had mother-in-law problems, but I always liked my mother-in-law. When I got divorced, she and my ex-husband’s entire family stopped communicating with me. I did not speak one word to them for over a decade. It is only recently that we have all been able to put our negative feelings aside, move on and be friendly.

At the beginning, when I was first 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. Now my former mother-in-law problems seemed better than what was happening now!

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. 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?

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 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.

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 have ex-in-law or ex mother-in-law problems. 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.


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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. Plus, remember…your kids are watching. Being kind is teaching them good behavior, and helping them cope better with the divorce.


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    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Divorced Girl Smiling is here to empower, connect and inspire you. Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling, the site, the podcast and the app. A former television journalist and newspaper features reporter, Pilossoph is also the author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

    16 Responses to “Your Mother-in-law problems: Yes, They Get Worse After Divorce”

    1. Liberated Mama

      I was temporarily dumped by my in-laws when I decided to leave our marriage back in 2003. I wasn’t suprised or hurt but accepted the reality of taking sides. Being the eternal optimist I knew that one day we would move past the lawyers and litigation and stay connected as a family because of our children. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all smiles and giggles in the beginning of our “new relationship”. It was hard work but the payoff has been tremendous. I don’t believe in holding on to ill will, it’s toxic and doesn’t benefit anyone especially when there are children involved. Adults need to let it go and move on as well as leaving their egos at the door. It’s that simple. We have all been “wronged” in some way or another, that’s life.

      It takes a lot more effort to be mean and spiteful for the sake of being mean and spiteful because that’s how you “think” it should be.

      Letting go and moving on is very liberating, you should try it again and again:)

    2. Lisa

      This can not describe my feelings any better! I have been told by my ex numerous times that his mom told him she would be calling me, and she never does. They still make me out to the be the bad guy because I’m the one that gave up on the marriage after he cheated on me! What you said about conditional love is very interesting. I never thought they would throw me out of their lives so fast. I have been naive and I need to expect nothing from now on.

    3. Sara

      This really helped me understand what my MIL might be going through. I have always been very close with her, even more so than my own mother. At first I went to her to cry and vent that my husband wanted to be separated…hoping that she could help persuade him he was making the wrong choice. I then learned that probably wasn’t the way to go, as she hasn’t even asked how I am doing lately. Its awkward visiting her and she doesn’t bring up the separation which just happened. I want to continue my relationship with her and know she will want to spend much time with my kids still. But it does hurt…maybe she is just walking on eggshells not knowing what to say to me. Any advice?

    4. Bonnie

      I’m in the minority group that is lucky enough to have in-laws you feel close to, primarily, my brother’s wife, my sister-in-law. He is now divorced from her and they’re divorce has been ugly. I love my brother, but he was unfaithful, had an affair, and left her for that woman. I have remained friends with my sister in law, but my brother wants me to no longer have anything to do with her. I accept his decision to find happiness, and I love him unconditionally, and do not pass judgement on his poor choices, and have told him I want no involvement in his divorce, that it doesn’t involve me. and I don’t feel he should make me choose between the two of them, especially since my nephew lives with her, and my son acknowledges her as his aunt. For the sake of the children, and allowing the children to maintain a healthy relationship with their aunts, my brother needs to try and reconcile his anger issues, or we all lose out on good loving friendships and love with my sister in law, she feels like real family, built over 25 years of history.

    5. Rosemond C

      Great post. My MIL was sick and in the hospital, I asked my ex if it would be OK for me to send her a card. He let me know that she wanted nothing from me and would be upset if she heard from me. I supported her financially for almost 20 years, bought her a home, raised her only granddaughter. You are right expect nothing. She has since passed away. This was someone that I cared about but I was never alllowed to say goodbye. Oh well!

    6. Charles

      This blog was so accurate. On halloween I took my kids trick or treat around the neighborhood and we stopped by me ex wives grandparents house. I had a great relationship with these people when we were married and after we seperated I let them know hoe much I loved them and will miss them. When they open the door they didn’t even want to acknowledged my presence. At first it was sad but then I realized that they are part of her family and not mines and will always take her side no matter how much of the truth they knew. Wish things would have gone down differently

    7. CaliforniaGirl

      Happened to me as well. My ex-husband’s cousin and his wife were my best friends for 10 years, after the divorce not a single call.. I called myself a year later and he just didn’t want to talk to me, tried to end conversation…I have no faith in humanity…

      • Jackie Pilossoph

        I hate hearing your last sentence. Do you realize that is HIS problem, not yours? How others act is out of your control. How YOU act is very much in your control. Try to understand that your ex might have put him in a bad position and told him not to talk to you. Not that he should have listened, necessarily, but that is a possibility. I have to believe they miss you a lot. I’m sure of it. sad. but it’s one of the realities of divorce.

    8. 2nd Wife

      I am on the other end of that reality, my husband’s family has never really accepted me. My SIL is still very good friends with my husband’s ex. We have been together 10 years, married for 7 and I was not invited to any family functions for 3 years. They would not meet me because my husband opted to leave an unhappy marriage and he upset their status quo. They have no children together, so no kids involved in this. When they did finally allow me to attend a family Christmas, I was insulted at the dinner table in front the entire family, including my son. It was extremely hurtful and I have no desire to form any bonds with any of them. She is still invited to family functions, and it has always been clear that I am invited because they have to, she is invited because they want to. She can have the in laws, they aren’t worth fighting for.

    9. Shawna

      Hi there,

      I can see how it might be hurtful for people you thought were family to suddenly cut you out of their lives. Speaking as a second wife, I wouldn’t be comfortable if my husband’s first wife were to attend events such as a funeral. They had no kids, they broke up a decade ago and they weren’t even married for a year. She’s not a bad person, but I certainly don’t want her around my kids because it might confuse them. Despite my feelings, my husbands brothers are still friends with her on social media. There’s nothing I can do about it, but it certainly makes me realize that my in-laws are truly my husband’s family and not mine.

    10. DebJay

      When my husband and I separated he moved in with his mother while my two adult children moved in with me. During the year for mediation, any time my mil called I answered or called back but she quickly got off the phone and not wanting to talk. It wasn’t until one day she called and after realizing she called me she stated ” I thought I deleted you, I am trying to get a hold of “his girlfriend”. I am so sorry to bother…..” , I hung up! It explained all the calls for a year why she really didn’t want to speak with me. After 35 years of marriage and 41 years of being with the family I was out in the cold. The last time she really spoke with me was when I was on the phone with her crying in a closet hiding from my future ex as he tried to break the bedroom door down. I thought I had comes to terms with this but now I have to deal with nightmares of her and my ex.

    11. Clare

      We were togueter for 17years, he cheated on me with his former marine female buddy! I had his family welcome me in the family in the beginning, at the end everyone of them just turned their back on me and welcome the other woman as if I was none existent! I felt used and discarded like a used up tissue. When I married my ex none of my IL attended, only my dad ! Now he is marrying her and they are attending the wedding!! It hurts , to mak things worsth I have not found a special person yet and I feel so lonely and hurt by all these!

    12. Desilva

      I started dating my ex when we were just 14. So of course there was no way of not being involved with his family as we were both minors. His family was very stuck up and full of themselves, and he was the only male in a family full of females who all had severe mental issues. They would be your very best friend one moment and the next without reason it was world war three. Well at 21 we got married and were together an additional 5 years. The whole time I worked very hard to build a relationship with his family. Going as far as to wipe his sisters ass for her after she had surgery and had no one else there for her. I took care of their kids and took them out often. I can’t have kids of my own so I became close to their family and I became the “one to call”. There was no favor to big that they could not ask me. I would put my self out running to save his sister many times early in the morning when she would threaten to kill herself in front of her kids. I took utter abuse from her when she was having an “episode”. One sister was a diagnosed hypochondriac, while the other two had severe bipolar. The Hypochondriac also has a child with autism and he needs very special care. Both physically and financially I care for them, not to mention I loved each of them despite the many flaws.
      Then one day he decided to start having affairs and after the third I walked out. The whole thing was an emotional drain and honestly changed me as a person but the worst was the in-laws. You go from having to earn these strangers trust, to actually caring for them…You don’t have to but you do. I am sure you all can tell already, I was the problem. If i kept him happy he would not have strayed….that was the response I got from most of his family but the worst was his sister whom I helped the most. She went out of her way to fabricate emails and such to help him pretend I had cheated on him. Then to this day I am in 23k in credit card debt, because my ex and his sister took out over 50K in credit in my name after I moved and did everything they could to financially ruin me, I even got calls right after telling me how I should kill myself and save my ex the trouble of even having to file for divorce. I never invest much in my in-laws anymore and the wonderful man I am with now has nothing to do with his family.

    13. Claire

      I was married to my stbx for 11 years and was always so grateful to have such loving in laws. When he left they we still incredibly supportive. A few months go by and after I’ve found out about all his affairs and that he left to move in with the latest girl the support is starting to wane. My sister in law, who had always been an amazing aunt, invites the girlfriend to her wedding. My two children (10 and 7) get the shock of their life when daddy turns up with a girlfriend that they had no idea existed. I was so stunned that that whole family could be so thoughtless and uncaring to their grandchildren/neice & nephew or me.
      They have totally accepted the new girl and their relationship despite his lying and adultery.
      I am so hurt that they have dumped me as it seems like all those years of great relationship were just fake. But how they have behaved towards my children is unforgivable. Seems blood is thicker than morals in that family.

      • Fran

        Your sad tale is similar to mine. I was married for 22 years to my husband, but on Valentine’s Day 2014 I found out accidently using his phone that he was sexting/dating a bar wench 24 years my junior. She had been my friend (charity case. I did her Lemon Law car case for free, babysat her 3 kids when she was stranded, did her divorce, have her money when a child was ill.) Then I find she was dating my husband for 2 years. My SIL in particular knew her because she and hubs would frequent the English pub where she pulls beer. In-laws never spoke to me after discovery of their affair. I have learned in-laws simply “love the one you’re with.” A hard lesson.

    14. G Park

      My husband of 27 years (we’re in the middle of divorce proceedings) pled guilty to possession of child pornography and is serving a 34 month sentence. The day after the DOJ raided our home, he tried to kill himself. I took off 4 weeks from work to get him medical and behavioral help and did everything to keep our home running. I got no help from his family. I realized he was not remorseful for the trauma he caused me and my kids so I moved out. 10 months later his father called me only once to find out how to put money into his commissary account. His brothers have never called me to see how I’m doing. As Jackie said, it’s their problem not mine. They are totally dis functional and I feel sorry for them. I have moved on and am better off without any of them in my life and have surrounded myself with loving, happy, emotionally aware friends and family.


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