Dealing With Divorced In-Laws Who Don’t Get Along
Committing to your partner means committing to his family, no matter what that family is like. You could marry someone who has parents that are still together, and happily together at that. You could marry someone with parents who are together, should probably be divorced, but are putting on a happy face. You could marry someone with divorced parents that get along. Or, you could get stuck with the trickiest situation of all: marrying someone with divorced parents who do not get along. Your partner has had some time to get used to this—he’s had some practice in navigating the situation. But you’re a newcomer and might feel like you were dropped into the middle of an active war, unaware of which side you’re even on. Here’s what it’s like to have divorced in-laws that don’t get along.
Holidays are chaotic
Since your in-laws don’t get along, they can’t sit down for a peaceful holiday dinner. So you’ll have one Thanksgiving dinner from 4 to 6 with one, and another from 6:30 to 8:30 with the other. And you have to eat too much because if you hold back at either meal, that in-law will feel like you are holding out for the other one. Basically, you drive around a lot, pretty nauseous.
It’s hard on your partner
Your partner will need to complain about it a lot. When you two come back from visiting his family, he’ll be emotionally exhausted. He might need time alone, to reflect. He may also need to just vent about how sh*tty the whole situation is for an hour. This will be a natural part of the post-trip wind-down.
He can vent; you can’t
When your partner vents about his parents, he’s going to say a lot of negative things about them—things you agree with him on! But you can’t really tell him you agree. At the end of the day, they are his family and you don’t get to talk badly about them. In fact, you have to find positive things to say about his parents, to help your partner get back to a good place.
They’ll b*tch about each other
When you visit each of your partner’s parents, they’ll complain about the other. They’ll try not to do it in front of you, but things will slip out. This puts you in an awkward position. If you agree with them, you feel guilty. If you disagree with them, they’ll get upset with you. You just have to be silent and nod.
You cannot comment
I must reiterate: you cannot comment on the things your in-law says when he complains about his ex. If you agree, he will use that as ammunition in his next fight with the ex. He’ll say, “Well our son’s wife agrees with me on this!” And then you’re in a world of trouble.
You can’t talk about your time with each one
When you see your mother-in-law, after visiting your father-in-law, she’ll ask you how your time was with the latter. You have to answer, but you can’t be too enthusiastic. She is, deep down, listening to hear if you like her ex better than you like her. And if you like her ex too much, it makes her not like you very much.
You can’t compliment each one
If you think your mother-in-law is so sweet, so talented, so generous, so gorgeous, so fun…that’s awesome! But don’t go on a complimenting spree about her to her ex-husband. He cannot help but feel like you’re, in some way, stating he made a mistake by leaving her. He can’t help but feel that you’re not complimenting his ex but rather insulting him.
Gifts are sensitive
You have to be very careful when getting gifts for your in-laws. You’d like to think that they don’t notice things like how much you spent on one gift versus the other, but they do. They don’t mean to, but they can’t help it. So don’t get one a box of chocolates and another a spa day. Try to be fair with your gifts.
You worry about your relationship
You cannot help but watch your partner’s parents argue and wonder, “Are we going to end up like this? Do some of these bad habits run in my partner’s blood?” Try not to let these thoughts consume you. He’s probably thought about that, too, and makes a conscious effort not to make the same mistakes his parents did.
You feel guilty bringing your partner home
If your parents get along—especially if they’re still married and get along—you feel guilty bringing your partner around them. You feel like you’re shoving the happy family he doesn’t have, in his face. Try not to think like that, though. It’s probably just really nice for him to spend time with a family that doesn’t fight. Remember, you’re actually bringing him into this family now.
You partner can barely go home with you
It will be hard to get your partner to come home with you for the holidays. If both of your parents were still together, then you’d alternate between your family and his for the holidays. But he is already alternating between his mother and his father for each holiday, because they’re divorced. That makes adding more family into the mix extra difficult.
They fight over time with both of you
His parents will argue over who gets the most time with the two of you. You’ll overhear a lot of phone calls in which they’re fighting about what time to hand you off to the other one. You cannot really comment on it. There are enough opinions flying around as it is.
You become a secret keeper
After spending two days with your mother-in-law, you’re bound to want to tell your father-in-law what you saw/did/heard during that time. But you can’t because you don’t know what information your in-laws want to keep secret from one another.
Inviting them to visit is a nightmare
You can’t have both of your in-laws visit at the same time. But if you do invite one out, you better believe you need to invite the other one out soon after. If you don’t, the other one will notice and take this as some sort of comment on their relationship with you.
They fight to be the better host
The one little perk of having divorced in-laws that don’t get along is that they’ll compete to be the better host. Each time you visit them, they’ll have fun things planned. They’ll take you to nice meals and buy you things. They want to prove they’re the “fun” parent.