Sunday, August 5, 2007

Should I Keep in Touch with the Ex's Family?

Yesterday, my ex brother-in-law and sister-in-law came over to visit their nephews. They brought their six-month old daughter as well. This visit came about after they contacted me about the idea and made sure there were no issues. I appreciated their willingness to take the initiative and keep in contact with me and my children. My ex does not talk to his brothers often and in my opinion, is likely to stray from them as he grows older.

I am still on the slippery path of how to deal with my ex in-laws. They were always nice to me, but I am not a blood relative and not someone they have know for decades. I particularly felt confusion with my ex's mother. Right after my separation, I talked with her and she acknowledged that her son (my ex) was wrong to cheat, but insinuated that sometimes relationships just don't work out. She was also talking about Jesus and forgiveness. Before my ex became an ex, I was not sure how to take her advice. I knew she was struggling with the idea that her son could cheat when married, but I felt she wanted to bury herself in the Bible and not address the human condition--the emotions and implications of her son's behavior. How do you tell your ex's mother that her son needs professional help because he is out-of-control in his life?

I also was unsure about how to discuss details of my relationship with my ex's family. My ex did tell his family about his affair, but he never told them important details that illustrated the full extent of his affair. He did not discuss his Everquest addiction and its role in his affair. He left out details of constant lying and spending money on a girlfriend 3000 miles away. Finally, he failed to mention his years of verbal abuse toward me and the neglect of his own children. For example, he constantly berated me in front of friends and forced me to drive to the hospital by myself for the birth of my second child while I was in labor so that he could play Everquest. Do you even bring up these details to ex in-laws? If so, how do you do this without damaging future relationships?

I know that it will take a few years to move beyond the awkward discomfort of dealing with my ex's family. To make interactions positive at this time, I practice the following guidelines.

1. I let my ex's family know that my ex's actions are his own. It's not his family's fault. They have even told me they do not condone his behavior. I believe them because of their strong value system.

2. I told my ex's mom that I will not call frequently at this time because I do not want to hurt a future relationship with her. She is a grandmother to my children, and I feel that I have to respect this relationship. I do not want to say anything that will hurt the ability of my children to know their grandmother. As the months and years pass, I hope that phone calls and visits become more frequent.

3. I focus on talking about the children in conversations with my ex's family because this is what my ex's family is most concerned about. They want reassurance that the children are being taken care of and are not embroiled in a family dispute. I appreciate their concern because children should not be put in the middle of any disagreement, including separation or divorce.

4. I discuss my side of the separation, but I limit many of the hurtful details. I refuse to be overly diplomatic about my ex's behavior. He had the affair and left his family after all. But sometimes too many details accomplish nothing and are unnecessarily hurtful. For example, a friend of mine recently told me she saw my ex heavily flirting with a woman he invited to a dinner party one time. My friend said she had no desire to ever see my ex again because of this incident. (She described the flirting as a pick-up game not far from the room where my children were sleeping.) This type of detail does not accomplish much in terms of future family relationships.

I am still learning my way to having a good relationship with my ex's family. He will always be in their lives (to my dismay), but I need my children to be in their lives too.

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