My in-laws are still friendly with my husband’s ex-wife and mention her all the time when we’re together as a family, as if my husband should still be interested in what she’s doing 8 years after their divorce. I think this is very disrespectful to me but don’t want to seem petty by asking them to stop (or asking my husband to ask them to stop). What should I do?
First, let me begin by saying that, if it bothers you, it’s not petty for you to act or ask your husband for help to resolve this situation. Keeping this kind of frustration and resentment inside is not healthy or productive for you OR your marriage.
You didn’t mention any children so I will assume your husband and his ex didn’t have any and, therefore, that there is no reason for your in-laws to have continued contact with her—at least not at the same time they’re interacting with you.
(If there ARE children in the mix from your husband’s previous marriage, please consider that his parents may see her as a bridge to their favorite little people and, by extension, naturally be interested in her life and what is happening in her household.)
Moving forward with the assumption that there are no children involved, here are some possible ways to approach this situation:
Pick and choose future family gatherings.
If this seems like the coward’s way out, it’s because you would have to live with the fact that you’re choosing to duck out of normal family get-togethers, simply to avoid mention of your husband’s ex’s name.
But maybe that’s okay. We all have a right to decide what we expose ourselves to and if it’s really THAT bothersome or hurtful to you, dialing down your involvement with your husband’s parents may be the easiest answer.
The down sides to this approach include that:
>> you will need to respect your husband’s decision to be with his family, even if you choose to be absent;
>> your husband will need to respect your decision to skip out as well; and
>> eventually you may be asked by his parents or others in the family why you are MIA.
These are not easy hurdles to overcome, so consider this option carefully.
Approach your husband for help.
Ideally, you and your husband operate as a team—and if a member of your team is not feeling loved or supported, it’s time to speak up. Here are some tips for a productive conversation:
>> Broach the situation at a time that he is calm, relaxed, and ready to listen. For example, raising it during a casual walk or a long drive might be helpful.
>> Provide clear and concise examples so he understands the context.
>> Express how mentions of his ex make you feel; NOT how terrible you think his parents are for raising her name. (In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt).
>> Close by making a request or suggesting a solution. For example, you might suggest that he speak to his parents, or ask what he thinks about your broaching the subject directly with one of them (see next section).
>> Be willing to compromise. Maybe you agree to attend events on major holidays but not show up at every birthday party. Maybe he’s okay with your leaving the room when “her” name is raised, or maybe he’ll be willing to help you create some new boundaries for his parents in regard to family discussions.
The disadvantage of this approach is that you will not be able to predict your husband’s reaction until you raise the subject and he may insist that you essentially “suck it up” and get used to mentions of his ex.
The advantage of putting this matter on the table, however, is that it brings you together and helps you develop a united front that will ultimately make your marriage stronger.
If you need to sharpen your communication skills before raising this
sticky subject, check out our article on The Power of the Paraphrase.
Who’s the boss?
Does his family have a pack leader, spoken or unspoken? You may wish to have a private conversation with them to share your feelings. (This assumes you’ve already raised it with your spouse and obtained his support for this course of action)!
If this leader isn’t one of your in-laws, is there someone else in the family—like a sister or brother-in-law—that you are close with? Maybe it’s time to ask them to lunch, talk about this situation, and get their point of view.
The pros and cons of this option are similar to the ones above. Being so open about your frustrations may solidify the relationship you have with the person you share them with, or it could create distance or even conflict that may spread to the rest of the family.
Live and let live.
Remember that “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” If your in-laws begin to see that—whenever they mention your husband’s ex—there is no response and you and your husband are clearly not interested, they may stop bringing her into things in a relatively short amount of time.
The truth is also that your annoyance with mentions of “her” may not be about “her” at all, and that you simply want to feel more loved, accepted, and wanted by your husband’s family. Perhaps they still bring her up because they had the kind of relationship with her that they haven’t yet built with you. Is that a possibility?
If so, take action! Call your mother-in-law—just to chat—or ask your husband’s parents over for dinner. Make an effort to connect in new and meaningful ways and show them that you’re in it for good and want to be close to them. This may be the most powerful and lasting remedy of all.