When I lost my husband, I didn’t realize how deeply that would affect other relationships—particular with his family. When ties are broken by death, relationships with former family members often change. Of course remarrying completely shifts things, but even if you don’t remarry, your relationships are usually different after the loss of your spouse.
You will always have that bond of shared memories with your husband’s mother, sister or brother, for example. But their perspective naturally, is different from yours—depending on the relationship. Also, each person involved handles grief individually, and heals at a different pace and in different ways.
Any or all of these issues can alter relationships with those family members. But the main thing is the one person you had in common is gone and that changes everything. That alone forces your lives to go in different directions.
I discovered that although I still had good relationships with my husband’s family, over time we seemed to drift apart a bit. From grief counseling, I found out that is normal, but still—it is hurtful.
So how do you handle the family of your former spouse? For me it came down to trying to understand the changes and then accepting them. It is also helpful if those family members to try to do the same by understanding and accepting changes in your life.
Sometimes it helped me to talk things over. For example, some of my husband’s family members didn’t understand why—after over a year after my loss—I wanted to have a social life again. I started taking dance lessons and going out with other widows.
Perhaps in their minds, I could only honor my husband by staying at home forever and crying myself to sleep each night. We discussed the issue, and although we still didn’t totally understand each other’s side, I felt like it was helpful to air our feelings.
For me, trying to understand and accept the fact that some of my husband’s family members would never be okay with me going out allowed me to handle the changes in our relationships more realistically and not so emotionally.
I also found it helpful to work on keeping those relationships going, despite the fact that they were different. Like, I would try to make time to have dinner more often with a family member. Times we would have gotten together– like for my husband’s birthday, had been taken from us.
There is obviously no easy answer to the question of how you should handle the family of your former spouse. But like so many aspects of grief, love, understanding and acceptance can be healing for everyone involved.