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I honestly don't think there are very many positive aspects to divorce. It's a painful process, and it isn't something you get over quickly, or without an intense struggle. I certainly wouldn't do it again if I had the choice, and in fact, my divorce was so hard I doubt I will ever remarry. The only upside for me, frankly, was the breaking of ties with certain family members – namely, his family.

You know how they say you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family? Well, the same is true with marriage. You can choose your spouse, but you can't choose his or her family. You're kind of left to deal with them, no matter what. And that can work out for the best, sometimes. Maybe you get lucky enough to get along great with your mother-in-law, and you plant an herb garden together every Spring. Maybe you can laugh together over her son's and your husband's trying habit of refusing to ask for directions on road trips. Having a mother-in-law you can bond with is a miraculous and wonderful gift. But in many cases, in-laws aren't one of the best aspects of marriage. I never disliked my mother and father-in-law per se, but we never connected, either. If you're lucky enough to have in-laws you feel close to, then what I'm about to say doesn't apply to you. But if you're one of those people whose family by way of marriage has been an issue, you know what I mean when I say I breathed a sigh of relief when I divorced them.

There are so many negative things that come with divorce, that I've been trying to make a list of the positive. Severing ties with my in-laws has definitely been a bonus. No longer do I have to worry about making an extra trip during Christmas to spend a week in one of the least charming destinations in the country. I don't have to bear any day trips to my ex-husband's extended family in the rural south, or meet any number of relatives that always seemed to pop up over the years. There will be no more awkward family dinners where I can't think of anything to say, or early mornings at their house where I was awakened by the sound of hundreds of howling dogs from the neighboring kennel (which is especially nerve wracking if you're not a dog person). I am detached from all of that forever – sort of. The thing about family, is everybody has one. There is no guarantee I won't fall in love with someone else whose family I'd rather not have to commit to. But it goes with the territory, so now the best I can do is look for someone whose family is likable, and who likes me.

Breaking Up The Family Tree

Next Time Around, Meet the Parents First 

Looking back, I don't think I fully grasped the extent of how different my ex's family background was from my own. Being young when I married, I didn't take seriously that I would be entering into a bond with someone who came from a culture that was difficult for me to integrate into, or relate to. I admittedly could have tried harder, but to do so would have gone against my nature. I've never been much of a people person. What I've learned from having married someone whose relatives made me feel uncomfortable is that going forward, making a positive initial connection with my date's family will be at the top of my priority list. I understand much more clearly now how much the parents, siblings, and maybe even aunts, uncles, and cousins of my partner will become a part of my world. Even if I only see them on holidays, that's a significant amount of time. We all only live once, so why spend every Christmas with people you don't like?

The Last Supper with the In-Laws

I don't mean to advise divorcing someone over their family, or to exclude someone from a potential marriage because of his or her parents. Like I said before, we don't choose our family, only our friends. But if you've already been down that road, it's worth keeping in mind when dating someone new. Ask to meet your love interest's family as soon as you can, and if they avoid introducing you, find out the reason. When you do meet them, try to gauge how they would fit into your life. Will you be okay with spending as much time with them as you did with your former in-laws? After all you've been through in  your divorce, there is no better time than now to choose exactly who you will include in the rest of your life. So remember, when you're on that first post-divorce date, try to find out all you can about their familial extension.  While it may not sound like the most romantic start to a relationship, one of the first questions I plan on asking my next date isn't what's your favorite novel? but rather, so, what's your mother like?

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3 comments

  • Comment Link bravecharly Sunday, 22 June 2014 15:17 posted by bravecharly

    Thank you for sharing this article Joelle. Like it or not, if you don't get along with the in-laws it can make you feel uncomfortable and isolated when the family is together. As a foreigner marrying into a different culture, my ex's parents were very kind to me, as was his brother's wife and many of the extended family members. However my ex's sister (unmarried) was constantly criticising me or doing something I was not happy about in front of our children. She also bitched about me all over FB when the marriage was clearly breaking down. It is immensely hurtful. It is so different to ones own family and dear friends. I'm so glad I don't have to spend time with his sister any more, although the legacy and the things my ex's mother taught me and shared with me will still stay with me in a positive way.

  • Comment Link bonnie Tuesday, 13 May 2014 16:24 posted by bonnie

    I'm in the minority group that is lucky enough to have in-laws you feel close to, primarily, my brother's wife, my sister-in-law. He is now divorced from her and they're divorce has been ugly. I love my brother, but he was unfaithful, had an affair, and left her for that woman. I have remained friends with my sister in law, but my brother wants me to no longer have anything to do with her. I accept his decision to find happiness, and I love him unconditionally, and do not pass judgement on his poor choices, and have told him I want no involvement in his divorce, that it doesn't involve me. and I don't feel he should make me choose between the two of them, especially since my nephew lives with her, and my son acknowledges her as his aunt. For the sake of the children, and allowing the children to maintain a healthy relationship with their aunts, my brother needs to try and reconcile his anger issues, or we all lose out on good loving friendships and love with my sister in law, she feels like real family, built over 25 years of history.

  • Comment Link ELW Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:32 posted by ELW

    Thank God for this story! I had so much guilt for years for not feeling part of 'his' family~ and was made to feel guilty. I just cut the last ties on social media with my in-laws and have peace with my decision. It's time to move on and let go to folks I never connected with. I makes me feel wonderful knowing someone had a similar experience.