When your marriage ends, your spouse becomes your Ex and in-laws become outlaws --regardless of how you feel about them. Whether they were the parents you always wished you'd had, or the parents you wouldn't wish on anybody, managing your outlaws through the divorce transition and beyond can add a precarious piece to the divorce puzzle. Of course there are so many other divorce issues that you need to tend to, but you will need to take some specific actions to ensure that this part of your divorce transition doesn't get too messy.
At Divorce Detox, we've observed hundreds of people face challenges with their outlaws. Read on to learn how to manage the outlaw transition and the do's and don'ts of relating to your outlaws.
I Love You, I Love You Not
While your in-laws may have adored you and treated you very well during the marriage, you can never really be sure what you are going to get after divorce. More likely than not, they too will be perplexed about how to handle this transition, especially if it is acrimonious. Let's face it -- most parents will take the side of their child when it comes to a marital breakup. If this is the case, you may feel snubbed or disregarded, but understand that most parents will not risk their
relationship with their son or daughter for an ex-spouse, no matter how close you were. These are relationships that need to be grieved, just like the loss of your joint friends.
Divorce is confusing for everyone, and your in-laws might not know what to say or how they are supposed to behave with you, or what category to put you in. If they don't know anyone who is divorced (which is often the case) yours will be their first experience with this process.
Accordingly, it's important for you to be clear about your own boundaries and values. This will ensure that you can direct and guide them in ways that most benefit you and your relationship going forward.
Too Close for Comfort
If your in-laws liked you a lot they may want to keep a close relationship with you. While you liked them well enough, you will most likely want to distance yourself from the relationship while you are healing, so you can move on. This will either be challenging or simple, depending on how intertwined you are. If you have an open dialogue with them, explain that you are processing the divorce and will not be seeing them as much because it brings back too many memories that are not helpful during this time. Another tactic is to slowly create some distance. Not accepting every invitation or not being as quick to return calls are two ways to send this message. Over time you will reduce the opportunity for connection and the relationship will transform into something less intimate and obligatory. Soon, you will get invitations from the in-laws but feel comfortable saying "no".
Grandma and Papa
Children bring up a whole set of other issues with outlaws. Grandparents will likely want to see their grandchildren as often as possible, but this may not be as easy as it was as when you were married. If your outlaws want to see the kids on your custody days, and it is convenient for you, you can give them the go ahead. The decision is completely up to you. Remembering that certain obligations no longer apply after divorce will help you decide how you want to handle some of these issues, and of course you always want to think about what's best for the kids. If you do have joint custody then you could ask them (or your Ex) to arrange visitation when they are with your Ex. If you have full custody of your children, be careful not to withhold grandparent time to punish your Ex. Grandparents can be a welcome respite for your children. If your outlaws want to come to birthday parties, allow them at least once. If it feels too uncomfortable to have them there, arrange for a "special day" they can share with your child.
Do's and Don'ts
You may get calls telling you how sorry they are for you, and how they are going to talk some sense into your Ex. Alternatively, you may get calls with a less friendly tone where they tell you how disappointed they are in you and the failed marriage. Whether you get this or the silent treatment, always respond with integrity, be friendly, and establish clear boundaries. Your divorce and your relationship with your Ex is none of their business, and unless you let them know this (in a kind way) they will continue to intrude.
Here are some tips to make that happen:
1. DO be understanding that this is challenging for them. They probably are an older generation that has more difficulty with change than you do.
2. DO accept that they might act awkward and change their behavior. Give them time to transition through the divorce and to create a new normal.
3. If you are close, DO dialogue with them. "I know this is difficult for the whole family. I'm not going to ask you to take sides. I'd like to remain close and check in weekly with you."
4. DON'T talk negatively about their child, no matter what s/he did. Negative talk about your Ex, their child, can quickly erode the relationship no matter whose fault the divorce was or wasn't.
5. DON'T share personal information about yourself that you would not want your Ex to know about, especially dating.