Q. I have been divorced for four years. While I was married, I became very close to my husband’s family. My ex has since married the woman with whom he cheated on me. He cannot accept the fact I am still friends with his family. He wants them to “sever ties” with me.
His sister babysits our children two days a week. His mother and sister have told him they will always be friends with me no matter what he says. This infuriates him all the more, and causes arguments among them. I end up in the middle. I wish he would get over this and leave me out of it. How can we reach a happy medium?
A. It’s wonderful you have such a great relationship with your ex-husband’s relatives — this is something many people who have gone through a difficult divorce don’t have. They are so angry and hurt about the failure of the marriage that it is hard for both sides to maintain the relationship.
Still, this is a tough situation. Some things you can’t control — including how your ex-husband feels and behaves. But you can do your part to minimize conflict and give your ex-husband less reason to argue, rather than more.
As you know, when you have children, your relationship with their father will continue forever. He will never stop being their father, just as his parents and sister will never stop being their grandparents and aunt.
Your ex-husband may wish you had nothing to do with these relatives, but in this case it’s important to do what’s best for the kids. It’s beneficial for children of divorce to have a good relationship with their father, along with stability in their other family relationships.
In your case, you don’t even have to “try” to get along with your ex-husband’s family for the sake of the children. You’re lucky enough to be especially fond of one another.
But, as you know, this affinity irks your ex-husband. To him, it feels that his family has switched loyalties. He, by comparison, comes off as the bad guy.
It is now impossible for him to blame his infidelity and divorce on how awful you are. After all, his family knows you’re terrific. So he has an added layer of guilt, worrying that his relatives may judge him as culpable in the failure of the marriage.
You can’t make your ex-husband enjoy your friendship with his relatives. But you can work on defusing the situation.
Don’t badmouth him to his relatives, and don’t crow to him about how well you and your in-laws get along. Refrain from gossip, discussion and commentary on everyone concerned. Otherwise, you are merely provoking judgments and accusations, which will give your ex-husband more to get riled up about.
Enlist the help of your in-laws. Emphasize how your ex-husband’s annoyance at your friendship makes things tough for you and the children, and request that they keep conversations with him as neutral as possible. Change the subject when need be.
Perhaps most important, try talking to your ex-husband about how important these familial relationships are to the children and how you hope he will put their needs in the forefront.
I would add that you examine your own feelings to make sure you aren’t clinging to his relatives as a way to hang on to your former marriage. If you want another man in your life at some point, closeness with them for this reason may not serve you well.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Refusing to engage in mudslinging about an ex-spouse makes it easier to maintain healthy ties with his relatives, which your children will certainly benefit from.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book, "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" (Penguin), helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.