When you get into a love relationship with someone, you inherit their friends and their family along with them. If you marry that person, those people become your extended family and you may develop very strong bonds with some of them. Your in-laws become your second family. You spend special occasions and holidays with them, you see and speak to them often. You grow friendships over time and those friendships can be very deep and meaningful. Those are some of the most important people in the world to you. What happens to those relationships when you and your partner separate or divorce?
The answer to that varies. Sometimes families feel they have to be loyal to their family member and will cut you out of their lives. When that happens, it can be very painful on both sides. Often when a couple is ready to divorce, they’re already emotionally detached. Losing the extended family can be even more painful because you were not prepared for it, nor did you realize necessarily that you would also be divorcing these people that have come to mean so much in your life.
Others are more liberal in their thinking and those relationships are allowed to continue. They’re changed of course, but those people can remain in your life after the break-up. It may take them awhile to come around but if you’re open-minded and encouraging, those that know and love you will. It’s often hard for friends and family to choose sides in a break up especially where there’s been a breach of trust or a relationship injury. Family members sometimes only hear one side of the story and they form their judgments based on that. Hopefully, they will be mature and adult enough to get both sides of the story and be able to concentrate on what really matters which is the preservation of the family relationships and their contact with the children.
So let’s add another wrinkle to the plot: you move on. You meet someone and get romantically involved with them. You get a new set of friends and extended family. If you remarry, you get a new set of in-laws. Is it possible to carry on the friendships from before? For many people it is, and if there were children from the first union, it’s certainly advisable to keep these people in your life and in your child(ren)’s lives.
If your new love has issues with these people being in your life you should be able to explain to them that you don’t just turn off your love and emotions like a light switch. You have spent years cultivating these relationships and they are important to you. It’s your children’s aunts, uncles, cousins and possibly their grandparents. You might be a favorite aunt or uncle to your in-laws’ kids and you certainly don’t want to cause them any pain. It’s not their fault that you and your partner divorced, why would you make them suffer for it?
While it might be difficult to understand, your new love should be able to get past their discomfort and at least make an effort to get to know your ex-in-law friends. It’s those relationships between family and children, their aunties and grandparents that are some of the most important and influential relationships of children’s formative years.
The more adults there are to help us love and nurture our families the better. Make room in your hearts for extended and chosen family and be tolerant and understanding of what young people need to help them grow up. Model good attitudes and mature behavior for them and give them access to all the love they deserve in life.
If this is difficult for you as a couple, getting professional help with this may be a solution. Extended family should never be a threat to a secure relationship. If your relationship happens to be insecure, get help. Don’t minimize this trigger! It may just be the sign of some trouble around the corner. Get help firming up the relationship to one in which other people can never tear the two of you apart. Seeing a couple’s counselor can help your relationship be one of those which will allow people who care and love you be an additional asset to your relationship. The more love we have in this world the better we all will be.
I will be discussing this topic in depth on my Couples Expert Podcast this week.