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Should You Stay in Touch with Your Ex Spouse’s Family?

We all know the iconic line, “Can’t we still be friends?” While it may seem like a reasonable request, after a divorce, keeping in touch and staying friends with your in-laws can be tricky.

Families are complicated at the best of times. Add divorce to the mix, and any complications that already exist will be magnified. And while you may have had a wonderful relationship with your ex’s family when things were good, family dynamics have a way of shifting after divorce, whether you like it or not.

Pros and cons of staying connected to your in-laws after divorce

Divorce is a time of major redefinition. You’re redefining your own life, and your relationship with extended family is part of that. 

Family members, both yours and your ex’s, will take the news of your divorce differently depending on your relationship and their loyalties. No matter how friendly your divorce is, your relationship with your in-laws will probably change. It can be further complicated when children are involved.

Your parenting agreement may clarify what contact your kids need to maintain with your in-laws as their grandparents. Whether your own relationship with your ex’s family has been friendly or frosty, courts want to see children maintain a continuing relationship with the family. Your first guidance will be what you’re legally expected to do for the kids.

But when kids aren’t involved, you can decide whether maintaining a connection with your in-laws is good for you and your own well-being. While divorce doesn’t have to be the end of a family that you’ve built with your ex, neither does it mean you have to keep these people in your orbit. 

Do you care about these people? Do your in-laws want to maintain a relationship? Will it continue to keep emotional wounds open for you? The decision of whether to stay connected to your ex’s family requires self-inquiry into what’s best for you and the nature of your present-day relationship with them. It also involves setting new boundaries

Can I still be an aunt or uncle to my nieces and nephews after divorce?

Divorce changes family dynamics even when the divorce isn’t yours. When your brother or sister divorces, maintaining a relationship with your nieces and nephews may get caught up in the prevailing animosities. Aunts and uncles tend to get overlooked when exes hammer out shared family time, and your relationship can end up as collateral damage. 

Is this fair? Of course not. Kids want and need to maintain important family connections to feel grounded and loved. Depending on what your relationship is with your nieces, nephews, and other extended family members, you can reach out to your sibling to voice your concern and desire to remain part of their lives. But unless they’re adults who can make their own decisions, you will need to abide by the wishes of the family.

What if I no longer want contact with my in-laws, but they aren’t moving on?

Your post-divorce life needs to reflect the future you want, not one that continues to live up to everyone else’s expectations. Unless it is ordered by the court to maintain contact with your in-laws for your kids, you don’t have to keep in touch with them, especially if it doesn’t support your well-being and ability to move forward. 

If you’ve had a close relationship with your in-laws, they may have a difficult time understanding this, but you need to do what is best for yourself. Be respectful but firm. This is your right. 

Etiquette for spending time with your in-laws after divorce

Divorce is challenging for everyone, even extended family. While you may want to maintain a warm relationship with your in-laws after your divorce, getting together with them will inevitably result in awkward moments. You can help smooth these encounters by remaining mindful of what you do and say while you’re together. 

  • Be open and flexible, but maintain boundaries. Your in-laws may be grieving and processing your divorce too. If you’ve had a friendly relationship with them and want to maintain that, you can ask them what level of communication they feel comfortable with going forward. 
  • Be respectful of your ex in your comments to them. Your ex is their child, and you want to keep your communication with them respectful of that, regardless of any unhappy circumstances surrounding your divorce. 
  • Be patient. Time has a way of healing relationships, and any future relationship with your in-laws may need time. Let everybody have their own emotional space in the beginning, including you. 
  • Prioritize your kids. Regardless of how you feel about them as your in-laws, these people are your kids' grandparents. If you can view them through that lens, it can keep things with them diplomatic and cordial if not open and friendly.
  • Coordinate with your ex. Family occasions and holidays can be difficult to navigate when they involve extended family members. If you can agree on some ground rules and coordinate with your ex regarding gifts, special events, and family holidays, it can make it easier for everyone. 

Family is complicated, and divorce only amplifies that. Whether your in-laws have been difficult to deal with or closer to you than your own family, these relationships often shift after a divorce. There may be nothing you can do to prevent that. 

Be realistic, be open-minded, but most importantly, be true to yourself. Don’t let yourself be guilted into keeping a relationship you don’t want. Remember that this is your life, and making your in-laws happy at your own expense is not your job. You don’t have to maintain communication with these people if you don’t want to. That ship has sailed.

Need help? We’re here. At Hello Divorce, we have a library of resources to help you navigate issues concerning your divorce before, during, and after.