Relationship Connection: Should I stay away from my ex-husband’s family?

Stock image, St. George News

Question

I’ve been divorced from my husband for the past two years. He was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive to me throughout our marriage. He moved out of state and I still live in our same community with our children and both of our extended families. His family knows that he was abusive to me and they’ve been loving and supportive to me throughout our troubled marriage and after the divorce. They are a close family and regularly invite me to family gatherings and have ongoing contact with me. They’re good people and they are upset at how he’s treated me over the years.

Recently, my ex-husband wrote me a letter telling me that he forbids me from going to his family gatherings, as it’s disrespectful to him and his family. He says that his family agrees that divorce means we each need to stop spending time with each other’s families. I certainly won’t attend his family gatherings when he’s in town. However, his siblings sometimes invite me to attend their gatherings when he’s out of town and I feel I should go. Am I doing something wrong by having relationships with them?

Answer

Even though your marriage ended, your relationships with his family don’t have to end. Your connections with his family don’t affect him, especially if he’s living out of state. His siblings and extended family are allowed to continue their relationships with you just as much as they are allowed to continue their relationships with him. Whether we’re children or adults, we get to decide the relationships we will let into our hearts.

He doesn’t own his family and he doesn’t own you. It might be uncomfortable for him to see you and his family continuing forward in relationships with each other. However, no one is asking him to be a part of these interactions. I do think it’s wise to make sure you aren’t interfering with the family gatherings that he plans to attend.

You built these relationships with his siblings and extended family members and no one can take those from you. Your efforts over the years to reach out, listen, serve, and connect with these individuals don’t need to be thrown away if they are relationships each of you still value.

I encourage you to visit with each of these family members and share this situation with them. Let them know he seems to be speaking for them and see how they respond. My guess is that they will choose to continue a relationship with you. Give them the chance to personally reassure you so you don’t let him speak for them.

My guess is that he doesn’t have great relationships with his family members and doesn’t want you interfering with this unsatisfying part of his life. Abusers also have a tendency to isolate their victims to keep them from having support and safety. Whatever his reasons, you get to decide who will be a part of your support system.

If your children have been pulled into the middle of this and wonder why you continue to spend time with his family, you can simply explain that your relationships with his family have always been your relationships that you have personally nurtured. Your children will see your consideration and respect in allowing your ex-husband to have his own time and space with his family while also seeing you connect in meaningful ways at other times. Don’t over-explain this to your children. It’s not something you need to defend.

Remember to always check your heart to make sure your motives in wanting to preserve these relationships are sincere. Make sure you’re not using his family members to get back at him. You may be tempted to defy his attempts at controlling you by inserting yourself into his family system. Be certain you are not trying to manipulate him or his family members. If these relationships are truly important to you, then you can confidently continue to nurture them.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Hataalii March 8, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Your ex husband has absolutely no right to try to interfere with your relationships with his family, or anybody else. He was abusive to you during your marriage, and now he is trying to be abusive and controlling even though you are divorced.
    You need to either just ignore his “instructions” or tell him to go pound sand.
    I kind of worry about your kids here. I know this wasn’t the question, but if he is trying to hurt you by manipulating your relationships, how much more will he be hurting you, or trying to, through the children?
    One more word of advice here. Document. Document. Document.
    Document any and all contacts between you and your ex. If you have letters or emails back and forth, make sure you preserve them. If there are verbal conversations, try to write them down, as close to what was actually said, as you can remember.
    You may well need these in case of future court actions.

  • ladybugavenger March 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t know how you can continue your relationship with his family. I don’t understand it. The whole scenario is suspicious. We only have your words saying he’s abusive. Maybe you are a manipulator and a liar and have turned his family against him. Maybe, just maybe, you left that part out.

    • comments March 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      could be

    • .... March 8, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      Ohhhhh geez now you sound like Bob blah blah blah blah

  • Sapphire March 11, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Time for this woman to move on. Interesting, no mention of the kids, the most important part of this discussion… sometimes family will stay friendly so the other spouse won’t take access to the kids away from them. I would stay friendly but not socialize anymore and let them feel safe about their having the grandchildren in their lives. It isn’t fair to put them in the middle and have to agree about their son’s bad behavior. I am friendly with my ex’s family, always allowed access to the kids, but I don’t intrude into their lives.

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