Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Saying Goodbye to In-Laws After Divorce

Divorce changes a lot of things, and the relationship with your in-laws is one of them. But how that relationship proceeds is up to you. Here are some tips on navigating this challenging situation.
Couple not talking, divorce, fighting

Mental health experts agree that divorce is the second-highest stressful life event, with the first being the death of a spouse. The difference between those two life events is that one may be devastating but no one’s fault, while the other feels personal and hits every nerve possible.

Breaking up wreaks havoc on all aspects of your life: family, financial, and social, as well as inhibiting your ability to trust in others and yourself. Women in their prime may have even more stress related to divorce as they may have longer marriages, sometimes even decades!

Of course, divorce will quickly change all your “normals,” ranging from your home and children (no matter their ages) to your work and social life. Navigating that new normal is itself a high stressor.

In addition to dealing with the change of relationship status, women also tiptoe through the emotional rollercoaster of relationships with their in-laws.

Here are some tips from both women in their prime and professionals on how to deal with in-laws during a divorce:


couple not getting along, fighting, not talking on the couchShell Sawyer

, a Certified Divorce Financial Advisor, has walked that walk, and she is the first to admit that getting divorced is hard on everyone, especially family and friends.

“You all have been a part of each other’s world,” she says, “and in some cases, a very long time! Of course, your ex’s family and friends are just that – theirs. Be respectful of their loyalty and the struggle they may be enduring. Goodbye doesn’t have to be forever, and if children are involved, it likely will not be.”

Sundays were traditionally spent with Sawyer’s husband’s family, watching football, and she still fondly remembers those days. She considered his family her own, and her in-laws always called her their “daughter” and even stepped in to help her with her aging parents. The thought of losing his parents was devastating to her.

On one seemingly ordinary Sunday together, she and her soon-to-be ex-husband broke the news to his family – together. “Of course, his parents were distraught, but we didn’t go into much detail as our 12-year-old daughter was with us. In the months that followed, we reassured my in-laws that we loved them and the kids would remain in their life.”

Once their divorce was final, she asked her ex-husband if he was okay if she kept in touch with his family. He was and let his family know that.

“While we are great co-parents, that first divorced Christmas, we tried to keep it ‘normal,” she recalled. “Trying to pretend that we didn’t get divorced created a very uncomfortable holiday. Instead, I suggest trying to start new traditions.”

Now, she continues to keep in contact with his family, but it does change. She sees the in-laws at different events and sometimes calls or visits when her daughter is home from college. Yet, she will always look back with fond memories of those lazy Sundays with her in-laws.


While no relationship is guaranteed, Sawyer offers these tips to stay on good terms with your in-laws post-divorce:

  • Reassure the in-laws that the kids will remain in their lives.
  • Write your in-laws a letter – let them know how much they meant to you and always will.
  • Take your kids to visit on one of your days – go in and say hi and give them a hug.
  • Send cards for birthdays and meaningful holidays.


couple in bed not talking, fighting

Divorce is already a rough phase and difficult for both partners and their families. Maintaining a friendly relationship with your in-laws might be the goal, but sometimes negative emotions get the better of the situation. Saying goodbye to your in-laws can be difficult, but it’s important to do what’s best for you.

Aditya Kashyap Mishra, the Co-Founder of and a certified relationship expert, says, “When going through a divorce, a lot of things can be said about in-laws. Some get along with them just fine, while others find the entire divorce and in-laws to be a bit of a pain.”

If you are struggling to say goodbye to your challenging in-laws and wondering whether you even should stay in contact with them, consider these tips:


It’s difficult to take the high road when feeling you’re being cut off at the pass, right? Start by keeping the lines of communication open. Speak as calmly as possible – don’t engage, as this may escalate the in-laws into the out-laws stage.

Rick Nehora, Managing Director at California Law Firm, suggests: “Don’t become emotional in the conversation; just stick to the facts. Never engage in blame-shifting or arguments. Your in-laws may disagree with the choice, but do not defend or explain your choice to them. Make the split as amicable as you can without saying anything hurtful to one another. Avoid engaging in gossip with family members as it will only sour the bond.”


Even though things may be tense, it’s important to remain respectful towards your in-laws – even when they may not express the same to you. This will go a long way in maintaining a positive relationship with them moving forward.

If your relationship has consistently been strained when married, chances are nothing will change. For your own emotional well-being, you might want to reconsider whether you’ll have a relationship with them in the future.


Children are an essential consideration when dealing with your in-laws. After all, these are their grandparents. Having divorced parents can already be an emotional rollercoaster for children. If they are close to your in-laws, then it’s important for you to support that relationship – and assure the grandparents that you respect their role in your children’s lives.


Another important component is your relationship with your ex. If you are on good terms with your ex, then there’s no reason why a relationship with your in-laws won’t continue.

But if it’s a strained relationship with your ex, this might transfer to the in-laws, and you may want to reconsider that relationship as well.

The truth is that your own peace of mind is what’s important here.

If your relationship with your in-laws is solid, continue to enjoy and redefine it as you move forward.

If your gut tells you to move on, then move on. 


mature woman with curly hair holding napkin and nervously sharing her problems without looking psychiatrist in eye at psychotherapy session for emotional health

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, divorce is emotional, complicated, and contradictory. When married, you may have felt close to your in-laws, but after the divorce, you may feel hurt or betrayed by their alignment with your ex and perhaps even against you. You are not alone, and this is very common!

Or you may be one of the lucky ones! Your in-laws may still offer you support, continuing their relationship with you, albeit differently.

With so many changes in your life, you might consult a therapist or family counselor. A professional can guide you in developing a post-divorce relationship with your in-laws.


woman pondering

“Finally, remember that you can’t change or control your in-laws,” according to Eykiena “Keena” Crowley, Founder and CEO of My Thriving Life Academy, author of A Superwoman’s Guide to Recovering After Divorce, and Combat Army Veteran. “They are who they are, and they’re not going to change just because you’re getting divorced. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and don’t worry about trying to please them.”

Crowley suggests that you set boundaries with your in-laws from the start, especially if they live nearby. Let them know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. For example, if you don’t want them coming over unannounced, make that clear. If you need space, tell them. It’s okay to protect your own needs.

“Dealing with difficult in-laws during a divorce can be tough, says Crowley, “but it’s important to set boundaries, stay calm, and remember that you can’t change or control them. Focus on taking care of yourself and rely on your support system of friends and family during this tough time.”

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