Another aspect of life after divorce is your relationship with your ex’s family. This is obviously influenced by the relationship you’ve had with them during the marriage and I think also by the duration of your marriage. It’s also a two-way street – both parties have to want to keep the relationship alive and both have to decide not to take sides.
Judy had been married for twenty-eight years – plenty long enough to forge relationships with her ex’s family. When I asked her how things were between her and her former in-laws, here’s the story she told me:
Four or five years ago, my youngest daughter had gone to my former sister-in-law’s house for their Thanksgiving dinner – we always used to have Thanksgiving with his family. Anyway that year, she said to me,
“Mom, something tells me I need to go this year.”
And I was fine with that. My mother-in-law, her grandma was in a nursing home and on the Saturday they had all had dinner there with her. Later my daughter called and said,
“Mom, grandma died this afternoon.”
I really wanted to go and be with them then. My former sister-in-law was fine with me going and I ended up staying at her house.
I went to the funeral and I saw my ex – he was staying somewhere else because there wasn’t room at his sister’s. I would not have recognized him. He had lost so much weight. He did bring his wife and I met her briefly. I chatted with my ex’s brothers and sisters and cousins. Nobody ever said a word about the divorce. They were so glad that I had come.
For his mom, serving Thanksgiving meals was her thing. She loved to cook. She would start cooking pies in September. We always joked that she’d have a pie for each of us. A lot of the funeral was us sitting at Grandma’s table, chatting. I said,
“I have sat at her table for twenty-eight years. I needed to come.”
I don’t think my ex got that but his sister and her husband did. She said,
“I told him, you might have divorced Judy but we didn’t.”
That’s how the family took it.
I like to think that sometimes people hold back from you after divorce because they’re not sure what they should say or how they should treat you. May be they don’t have friends who’ve been through divorce, maybe they’re worried that you don’t want to be in touch with them. It’s a whole lot easier to know what to say to someone ending their marriage when you’ve been through divorce yourself or when someone else takes the lead.
So it’s up to you to make the first move. It’s up to you to reach out to them and show them that you still value their friendship. It’s also up to you to set the tone for the relationship … just as first dates don’t want to hear about what was wrong with your marriage, your ex’s family doesn’t want to hear about all the bad things your ex’s has done.
Re-uniting with your former in-laws at a funeral may not be the best circumstance but it does have a lot of the essential elements for keeping it friendly and avoiding awkwardness – you’re there for a specific reason, there are other people around and you can control how long you stay. Judy chose to stay with her former SIL but if that makes you feel awkward you can always stay at a hotel.
The only former in-laws I have are my brother-in-law, his wife and their daughter who live on the East Coast. Pretty shortly after our divorce, they wrote to me that “family is forever” and I appreciated that – I’ve always enjoyed their company. We’ve exchanged emails and gifts but since our divorce I’ve only seen my BIL once or twice when he was in Colorado on business. If I was in that part of the country, I would definitely try to arrange dinner with them.
How are your relations with your in-laws? What did you do to reach out to them after your divorce?