Sunday, July 21, 2013

Divorcing Max's Family: Saying Good Bye to My Mother- and Father-in-Law

I've shared tales of my divorce and the repercussions for me, Max, my friends, and my parents. It occurred to me this week that I haven't shared anything about one of the huge losses of my divorce: my in-laws.
...but sometimes it's the only way.

Let's go back to the day I said good bye to them.

I was going to be in New England visiting some friends. I decided to email my mother-in-law to see if I could stop by to visit. We had been in touch that fall as my marriage unraveled, but I was trying to be very careful about not saying too much to them. Max had gone to see them a few weeks earlier and told them the truth about our marriage, so she knew things were bad between Max and me and probably only going to get worse. Still, I knew she was clinging to a prayer that we might reconcile. So, she replied to my email saying that of course I could come visit, but that she just hoped it wasn’t for me to say good bye. In fact, that was exactly what I was preparing to do.

On October 22, 2012, within a few days of when I filed for divorce and two days before my third wedding anniversary, I drove through Max’s hometown. My stomach twisted itself in knots. As I passed through the familiar neighborhoods, I thought about the first time Max brought me to his parents’ house and how excited I was to get to see the house where he took his first steps. I remembered the Thanksgiving when my parents came to Max’s house and how thrilled I was to have Max, me, my parents, and Max’s at the same holiday table. As I pulled into the driveway, I recalled Max’s sister’s wedding day and taking pictures in the backyard. My heart filled with sadness and something resembling dread as I walked up to the side entrance. The entrance family uses. I knocked on the door, something I’m not sure if I’d ever done before.

Max’s dad answered the door and hugged me, as usual. He started with the small talk, asking me about the traffic. Then Max’s mom walked into the kitchen. She just looked at me and burst into tears. We stood there hugging, while trying to wordlessly comfort each other.

We finally sat down at the kitchen table, as we had many, many times over the years. I would chat for hours with Max’s dad over coffee or his mom over a slice of homemade cake. I had engaging conversations with them ranging from current events to baking tips, and I truly thought of them as my second parents. Now, I looked at them and saw something I’d never seen before: pain.

As my father-in-law continued his futile attempt at small talk, we eventually got into the inevitable: why I was there. My mother-in-law asked, “Is it over?”

Tears misted my eyes as I choked out an answer. “I wish it weren’t. But yes, there’s nothing more we can do to save our relationship. I've filed for divorce.”

The clock hanging on the wall over my head ticked loudly. No one knew what to say. I mean, what the heck do you say after admitting that you can no longer be married to the man that these wonderful people raised? And what do they say to the woman who has no choice but to leave?

They broke the silence, saying how very sad they were, but they understood. After some brief chatter about the logistics of filing, selling the condo, how long until the divorce would be final, and if I would change my name back, it was time for me to leave. There was just nothing more to say.

We stood up, and they both wrapped their arms around me as the tears started again. My father-in-law stepped back, looked me in the eyes and said, “You’ll always be our daughter. Always.”

“Thank you,” I replied weakly, afraid of completely losing it. “And thank you for not hating me.”

I stumbled out the side door to my car. As I drove away, I realized that I had no idea if or when I would see Max’s parents again. They were my family for years, and now everything was changing. These loving people were in  fact losing a daughter and gaining an unwanted perspective on their son: that he had failed me as  a husband. I don’t know who I was sadder for: Max’s parents or myself.

That night, I received an email from my mother-in-law:

I wanted to thank you for having the courage to face John and I today to give us the news of the ending of your marriage to our son.  I know this must have been very difficult for you to have to share this news with us instead of Max doing it.  I am so sorry that he has failed you as a husband and it has led to this drastic action being taken.  I wish I could make things right for the both of you.
Max was definitely angry about you stopping here today.  Both John and I are glad you did.  We are sorry that you no longer will be a part of our family.  We will always think of you as our "Daughter" no matter what the circumstances.
Please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing.  And when the time comes to move, let us know your new address.  Thank you for giving our son many years of your life and three years in marriage.  I wish things could have ended differently.  Let us know what is going on with him if we can do anything.

Though I haven't seen them in nine months now, I am still in loose touch with my in-laws and I continue to feel blessed that they were part of my life. They knew how much I loved Max and that I did everything I could to save us. But even they, as Max’s parents, understood that sometimes you have no choice but to leave.

What is your relationship like with your ex’s family? Do you speak to them anymore? Is there resentment?

See also: How To Live Through Your Child's Divorce.


  1. I would very much be in the same boat. I would miss them in so many ways. You my friend are very strong for being able to face them.

  2. It was really hard, but I knew it was the right thing to do. That gave me some extra guts.

  3. I miss my ex-FIL more than my ex-MIL. My ex-MIL was more like my ex - exaggerates, is a bit dramatic and flighty. My ex-FIL is much more laid back, down to earth and quiet with a sharp witted well placed comment here and there. My ex-FIL was furious with my ex when he told them about his affair and that he was asking for a separation/divorce (mind you the ex did all of this a day or two before approaching me about it).

    I had dinner with them before moving up to Fargo at our favorite divey pizza parlor. I used to text or email them once in a while but I haven't in a long time. I blocked my ex-MIL from Facebook because I didn't want her involved or to see me struggle but I only mildly censored what my ex-FIL could see because I liked him more and he was more supportive and less nosy. He recently "liked" my "Anna is in a relationship" status update which was a little weird but it was nice to know that he (they?) want me to be happy in life.

  4. I am so envious that you got to share this moment with them. My (almost) ex's parents split, and while I thought we had a good relationship, I guess not. He and I were both from the same town, and I've heard through the grapevine some of the negative things they have been saying about me around town. It really hurt to hear that, because what they are saying is not true. But, I can't get upset about things I can't control, so I just let it go. I hope you're able to stay in touch with them. xoxo
    -Mustang Sally

  5. I have/had the exact opposite problem. In most ways its a blessing. My ex was never close to his family, so in turn I never got very close, which is fine by me. After I filed for divorce, I got a nasty text from his mother about how unreasonable I was. But, he'd already told her why it was happening - about how he'd pushed me away with his alcoholism. His mother already disliked me for a long time because she learned how much I didn't like children and thought I was selfish blah blah. I'm glad I never have to see her or deal with her again. On the other hand, my late fiancee, who was raised in Texas and that's where his parents live, I am still in contact with today via Facebook. I'd only met them once before he passed away, but they're like my second parents, even though it's been 8 years since his passing and we were never actually married. They are such sweet people.

  6. That's really nice that you had dinner with them before moving away. I guess it's inevitable that the communications will taper off over time if you're not friends with you ex and you didn't have children. I really hope I stay in touch with them, as I think/hope I'll stay friendly with Max, even if it's just a call or beer once or twice a year.

  7. Maybe it's more about wanting to protect their son than not liking you. That's what's impressed me so much about Max's parents -- that they haven't gone into defensive mode, or at least not that I have seen.

  8. Good you're able to get away from your MIL. She doesn't sound like a positive influence in your life, so good riddance.
    How nice though that you were able to stay in touch with your late fiance's family.

  9. I miss the men from my stbx's family but the women were always catty and mean. I seen his dad a month ago at the mall and it was awkward for us both and we just ignored one another which hurt more for me.

  10. Wow, ouch. That would have really hurt my feelings!

  11. yeah its a shame because I use to have a lot of respect for his dad and he is disappointing me.

  12. This is so sad. My ex-parents in law are wonderful people and I still have contact with them via email. They also said that I would always be their daughter. I am going to see them for a coffee soon. I still feel really sad when I think of them.

  13. That is exactly what I'm hoping for with my former in-laws. We don't need to be best friends, but I don't want to lose them either.

  14. I don't know that right now I could sit down to chat with or have a beer with my ex. Maybe if we ran into each other if I'm down in the Minneapolis area or something in the distant future.

  15. That's good that they were understanding. Mine pretty much disowned me, his mom left a nasty message on my old blog and then they stalked that blog up to 10 times a day, I assume to "spy" on me. No contact from them whatsoever anymore.

  16. Ugh, that is rough. They went into total Mama Bear, defensive mode. Just as well that you're not in touch anymore then.

  17. OMG I am in tears reading this! I am on the brink of filing for divorce (my husband had an affair and this past year I've been tryin to move on. I'm realizing its just not possible for me). I absolutely LOVE my inlaws! Even harder, we have a two year old son, so I know I will continue to see them. But the thought that our relationship will never be the same breaks my heart

  18. I'm so sorry to hear that. It's very true that you marry a family, not just a person. I wish you all the best during this challenging and sad time.
    P.S. I sent Max's parents and sisters Christmas cards. His sisters haven't spoken to me in almost a year and half now...

  19. You are very lucky. I was just told tonight by my ex that I am no longer welcome at any "family" gathering. We were married for 20 years, divorced for 1 month and he started living with someone else 5 months ago. He wants to bring her to the gatherings and does not want me there. I love my in laws and this is going to be very difficult for me.

  20. Oh Paige, I'm so sorry to hear that. The reasons for a divorce are (usually) between the husband and wife. It's sad that we have to say goodbye to the families. And how shitty that he is already living with someone new!!! :( That would just wreck me.