Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Should an ex-wife continue to attend family events of her former husband after divorce? My partner and I have been together four years. We are both divorced, and his was very acrimonious. It is difficult for me to interact with his family as his ex continues to dominate every family event.
There are no children involved and she has her own extended family nearby, but seems to be doing this to spite us. Her behavior makes it impossible to be in the same room. She also brings her new man along! This makes it very difficult for me to get close to his family and I find it very odd that they are being so disrespectful – not only of me, but of their own son. Who would do this?
That’s flat-out weird, for an ex in an acrimonious divorce to be embraced by the ex-in-laws so thoroughly. “Weird” being an umbrella term that covers the range from extreme cluelessness to extreme vindictiveness on the part of your partner’s family. You blame the ex, but what his family is doing is actually worse.
That is, unless your partner was the bad actor in the divorce and their sympathies rightly lie with the ex. In that case, though, I would certainly hope the family has been clear about that with him: “We had our own relationship with our daughter-in-law and your cheating on her/abusing her doesn’t change that.”
Maybe they have and he hasn’t shared that with you? Though the ex in that case would be making a strange choice in sticking around and antagonizing you.
Conveniently, the remedy is the same whether she’s clueless or vindictive: Don’t go where she’s invited. Inconveniently, you appear already to be doing this, so there’s not much more you two can do except state your case clearly. Your partner, if he hasn’t already, can spell out that he finds it painful and insulting that his family continues to embrace someone who behaved so badly during the divorce – unless he was the one behaving badly, in which case he needs a soul-search and a long talk with his folks.
To: Resentful: So, um, my mom did this. She and my dad had, not a calamitous divorce, but not a pleasant one. My dad’s behavior prompted the divorce, and my mom still had relationships with his family.
I honestly thought this showed great maturity on everyone’s part. When my dad remarried, his new wife had similar reaction to what’s in your letter, and my dad and I now have a very strained relationship.
Your parents had a child in common, and this ex-couple doesn’t, which to my mind changes everything. Except the part about banishing defensiveness – that I agree with completely, thanks.
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