Navigating Your Feelings Regarding an Ex-Spouse’s Family

  • When a marriage ends, two ex-spouses are forced to stop interacting with the other's respective family.
  • This type of situation can make one feel like they have suffered a great loss.
  • Children can complicate the situation.

"How they feel about you is not something that you can control."

When a married couple divorces, the two sides of the divorce do not magically lose all the knowledge and experiences that they acquired from during the marriage. The end of the marriage does not mean that all of the dinners, holidays, birthdays, and vacations spent together suddenly no longer occurred.

It can be difficult to sort through the feelings you may have, when it comes to an ex-spouse’s family. Many have trouble separating their feelings of an ex-spouse and the feelings that they may have for their family.

Part of the problem stems from the end of the marriage. Whether or not the family had any sort of impact on the end of the marriage can directly affect how you feel about the family or individual family members.

On the flip side, the time spent with an ex-spouse’s family can sometimes make it difficult to end the marriage. They may have treated you with love and respect, while you may have experienced unhappiness and dysfunction privately with your spouse. They may have let you in on family secrets or recipes that were passed on from generation to generation, and now, because of your divorce, you have to reconcile with the fact that these people will no longer be a part of your life.

The case

The Washington Post highlighted the story of a woman whose former mother-in-law shared with her many traditions and recipes passed down from generation to generation. The woman had to give up the family that she had become so close to, when her husband left her 20 years later.

When they were dividing their assets, the woman took a cookbook that belonged to her husband, from his mother, which was heavily marked up. The markings were from the woman’s daughters, who made special notations to their favorite recipes, and she knew that he would get the recipes directly from his mother.

What the woman did not know was how deeply she would grieve over missing the family that she would no longer be a part of. Depending on the individual personal relationships involved, different feelings can arise during and after the divorce process.

Some may miss their ex-spouse’s family and wish that they could reconnect with them on some level. However, these individuals know the social awkwardness that reconnecting could incite. They do not necessarily wish to create the uncomfortable atmosphere that their presence may create.

On the flip side, not everyone had a positive experience with their ex-spouse’s family. Many people actually contribute the breakdown of their relationship to members of their ex-spouses family. Many enter relationships and marriages without the support of their family, and in cases when those relationships and marriages begin to break down or find themselves having marital problems, these family members can throw gasoline on the fire and make the situation much worse.

Children in the mix

This situation can spiral out of control if there are children in the mix. They can find themselves facing the pressures from both sides, as parents and family members often find themselves venting to one another with children in the room. These conversations can create a toxic atmosphere that can breed the misconceptions and assumptions that bring about parental alienation.

A child finding themselves caught in the crossfires of a fight between family members and parents benefits no one. They are left with conflicting loyalties or loyalties based around inaccurate or misrepresented information without the context or understanding capabilities necessary to form a well-rounded opinion. It can take years and sometimes professional treatment for this type of damage to be undone.

The type of influence that a parent or a family member may have on a child is difficult to quantify. It is important that even if there are negative feelings among you and the family members of an ex-spouse, that children are not brought into the mix. They do not deserve to be put into the middle of the chaos.

Keeping perspective

The emotions of a divorce can already cause chaos in one’s life. You could find yourself on good terms, bad terms, or amicable terms with an ex-spouse’s family members, and any of those outcomes should not make you feel uncomfortable.

How they feel about you is not something that you can control. The only priorities you should be focused on are the ones that have to deal with your ex-spouse. You should be focused on your assets, your finances, and if you have them, your children, first and foremost.

While you may miss your ex-spouse’s family, there is a mutual understanding that in the same way that two ex-spouses may mourn the friendship and marriage that they once shared, their families become another part of the package that you are saying goodbye to. Your ex-spouse may miss spending time with your family, just as much as you do with theirs. A mutual appreciation and friendship for the other’s respective families does not mean a marriage will be able to function long-term. It’s important to keep that in mind, when navigating the tapestry of your emotions regarding your ex-spouse’s family.

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