Dear Dr. Jann: Help! My divorce will be final in a couple of months, and my ex-wife is seriously involved with a man who has never been married. He seems like a nice guy, and certainly treats our seven-year-old daughter great, however, he does not understand why I want to continue a relationship with my ex’s family. I was part of that family for almost ten years and care for them greatly. He continues to give my ex a hard time and has no understanding of my feelings or my need to continue to see these people. What can I do? I want us all to get along, but he is being selfish. I need some good advice.
Dr. Jann says: OK, I agree with you, but for a very different reason than you have stated. And, for the record, you are both being a little selfish. You are looking only at your own point of view and not at the big picture, so let’s step back for a second and look at the true motivation behind why you should continue interaction with your ex-in-laws–not because you were part of the family for ten years. The true reason you should continue is to support your child’s relationship with them. The people you will miss so much are your relatives through marriage and that can change with divorce, but your child is related to them by blood. That will never change. They are your daughter’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that will continue whether you are married to their relative or not. That’s the relationship that needs to be reinforced and it just so happens you love these people so you will also benefit from the situation.
Divorced parents take a more active role in co-parenting, which puts exes and new partners in contact with each other on a regular basis. Taking this into account, the amount of time you hang around their home may need to be altered so that it does not appear that you are over there just to aggravate your ex’s new spouse. It’s understandable that your ex’s new spouse might be a little intimidated by your presence, but to some degree, it may be something he has to get used to. If jealousy has been a problem in the past, marrying someone with kids can be a real problem.
Be mindful that your ex’s new partner is also trying to establish a relationship with her extended family. With that in mind, look for ways to allow your ex and her new spouse to have their private family time without always being around. Wait to be invited and don’t take it personally when you aren’t. Initiate private get togethers that don’t include your ex. And, it may help if everyone realizes this is not an either or situation. The ex-in laws do not have to pick one of you. You can maintain a past relationship while he builds one for the future. There is room for everyone if you all put the child first and use that as the criteria for your continued ex-interaction.