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.
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.