By Rori Boyce
Not every family fits into the stereotypical model we frequently see portrayed in television shows and movies, especially when it comes to the kinds of relationships that can develop with in-laws. It is hard enough to say good-bye to a marriage and all the future
dreams and plans that go with it, but if that also means letting go of
other people you love, it can be devastating to contemplate.
Sometimes, we form especially close bonds with mother-in-laws, father-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, and nephews which can make break-ups and divorces even more difficult to manage. Here are a few tips on how to master maintaining friendships with the ex's family.
If this sounds like your struggle, you are not alone. The first thing you need to know is that there is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain the close ties with your ex-in-laws you spent years building. You may find, however, that a little soul searching is necessary to determine if maintaining those relationships is the right thing to do for everyone involved. This begins with some hard questions.
1. Why do you want to continue this relationship?
Depending on the circumstances of your break-up, you may be holding on to relationships with your in-laws for the wrong reasons. If the break-up wasn’t your choice, you may feel like staying close to his family will keep you close to him. You may be looking for ways to remain in his life or to keep tabs on what he is doing. Unfortunately, none of these are the right reason to keep these relationships alive. After a break-up, you both need the space to move on with your lives and to build another future, and if your reason for maintaining your relationship with his family impedes that process, it isn’t healthy for either of you.
2. How do these relationship effect your children?
Everything changes when you have children and that includes things like the type of relationship you need to have with your in-laws even after they become your ex-in laws. If you have children, maintaining a healthy relationship with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will only benefit your children. This is especially true if you have primary custody because your relationship with your ex-in-laws will dictate the role these people have in your child’s life.
3. How does your ex feel about it?
If your desire to remain friends with someone in your ex’s family is healthy and you don’t have children to consider in this matter, then the next consideration should focus on how your ex feels about you continuing a relationship with his family members. If he is ok that you are friends with his mother or his sister, go for it. But if he isn’t, you will need to tread carefully because your desire to be friends with his sister shouldn’t drive a wedge between the siblings.
If you feel like maintaining your friendship with your ex’s family is healthy and appropriate, you can use these tips to help you build on the bond you have already established to create a different relationship that is based more on common interests than on extended family relationships.
• Talk About It
Staying friendly with your ex-in-laws starts by having an honest conversation with the family members with whom you wish to remain close. While typically most are eager to continue the friendship (nobody likes losing a good friend), there is a chance that they may feel it is best to part ways with the divorce. It is always best to prepare yourself for either alternative.
• Set Boundaries
Good news, they'd too like to continue a friendship! Terrific, but it is prudent to now set some ground rules, especially around whether or not you will discuss your ex. This is a great example of when a friendship contract could be very beneficial.
• Schedule and Plan
Now that you won’t be spending time with these people at family functions and events, you will need to make special plans with them to keep the friendship going. If you truly want to keep these relationships strong, you must make seeing your friends a priority (in-laws or otherwise), since friendships do require attention.
Just Keeping it Friendly:
If you need to maintain a positive relationship with your ex’s family but aren’t seeking to build a deeper, lasting friendship, these tips can help you do that.
• Add them to the invite list for birthdays and holidays, they'll appreciate that you thought of them, and perhaps even added a few snapshots of the celebration to the thank you cards.
• Also include them for family gatherings, like your children’s school events and extra-curricular activities. What kid doesn't love a big cheering section.
• Plan special days for your children to spend with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Is your child begging to go camping, ask Grand dad to make this happen.
• Make plans so that your children can spend time doing things with "his" part of their family. (Yes, of course the kids are free to attend the annual Smith Family BBQ - where do I order the t-shirts?)
• Be positive whenever you interact with them.
• Don’t discuss your ex with them. Remember, you are keeping this nice, not necessarily maintaining a friendship.
• Always focus on the greater good, which in this case is ensuring your children have the best possible relationship with their extended family.
Have some great tips or personal experience with staying besties with your ex-sister-in-law? We'd love to hear your story in the comments below!