Dear Dr. Jann: I read an article of yours where you told a reader that he should cut back on their interaction with his ex-in-laws. I am very close to my ex-in-laws and my ex’s new wife has no problem with it. Do have to admit, it has not always been this way. My ex’s new spouse did resent my presence at first. No longer. It’s been quite a few years. But, does that mean I should cut back on the relationship because “it’s the right thing to do?”
Dr. Jann says: Of course not. Sounds like your family has weathered the storm. In the beginning of a new relationship, it’s not uncommon for a little insecurity to rear its ugly head for both the ex and the new spouses where the in-laws are concerned. The ex worries that the in-laws may like the new spouse better after all those years. The new spouse worries that they will never be able to establish their own place in their new family.
Truth be told, the ex is simply more familiar to the “in-laws.” This could mean the in-laws are grateful that the ex is gone, or that they mourn the divorce. It’s a difficult one to call. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between and everyone does a little dance around each other until things settle down. Ultimately, exes and ex-in-laws may not want to sever ties and that’s when you have a new partner trying to play catch-up. Not comparing is key–for everyone–in-laws included.
It’s best when people cease to see these types of relationships as an either or proposition. Of course we all want to feel special and we want our in-laws, past or present, to like and respect us. They are parent figures and even if we are grown, how parent figures view us makes a difference. But, you can’t spend your new relationship worrying about how someone feels about someone else. It’s a waste of precious time and it will prevent you and your new partner from moving forward to form the relationship you want to have.
Time really does heal old wounds and it sounds like time was what helped your family. It’s definitely what helped our family. As time moved on, Jann learned that old ties are precious whereas Sharyl learned to see the value in forming new family relationships. And, the in-laws learned not to compare ex with new but appreciate what both can bring to the table. But, what helped the most was for all of us to learn to look at each of these relationships (ex-spouse/new spouse, ex-in-laws/new in-laws) in relationship to the kids, not in relationship to the past or present marriage. In other words, rather than “in-laws” we all call them, “the kid’s grandparents.” That label will never change and that’s the relationship we all try to reinforce. Coming from that perspective, comparing past and present becomes a mute point. No one is offended or overlooked.