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Ex-etiquette: Stop trying to control parents' relationship with ex

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. Why would my ex-wife continue to have a relationship with my in-laws after four years of being divorced? I understand we have kids, but it’s beginning to be troublesome now that I’m in a serious relationship and thinking about getting married again. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. It sounds like intellectually you understand why she’s staying in contact — they are your children’s grandparents — but you don’t really like it because it cramps your style now that you have a serious relationship. But these relationships are not about you.

If, following the rules of good ex-etiquette, we put the children first (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1), then she’s supporting the children’s relationship with their grandparents — and the thing that many of us don’t like to admit? They continue to be your children’s grandparents even when we are not around. Therefore, when there is a special occasion or a milestone when the kids are scheduled to be with her, she probably invites them. That relationship was cultivated when you were together. Now that you are no longer together, you want to cultivate a similar relationship with your new partner.

The key here is to stop comparing and trying to control the situation. Your parents are big people and can make the choice themselves. If your new partner is feeling threatened, that’s a red flag. A relationship with you will not be like a first-time relationship. You have a past, and kids, and your life didn’t start when you met your new partner. Anyone you meet will have to understand that she has an opportunity to make a wonderful life with you, and that life includes past relationships that may gum up the works a little — but that’s who you are. Those relationships began before you met.

An important tip that may be helpful? Stop comparing. Let the relationships fall where they may. Just as your relationship is different with every child, your parents’ relationship is also different with every child they have. If you have a sibling, I will venture to think they love you both, but see the differences in you two. It’s the same with new partners. If both are kind, both are respectful, and most importantly, your parents can see your new partner is supportive of you and doesn’t put you or them in awkward positions, your parents will care for both — not necessarily one more than the other, but differently.


This is often a problem for new partners who see themselves as the true and real partner and the one who should be respected as such. That’s either-or mentality, and it complicates your life when you are with someone who had children before you got there.

For this reason, good ex-etiquette reinforces an inclusive approach. You will be married twice; your parents and your ex want to maintain a relationship. There’s no reason why your new partner and you can’t cultivate a loving, positive relationship with your parents and leave the past to them to maintain.

If it makes you uncomfortable, you can always have two birthday parties, two Christmases, two everything. The final question is, always, are you doing that to make your life easier or for the kids? If the answer is “for the kids,” that’s good ex-etiquette.

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