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Severing Contact with Divorced Sister-in-Law

February 15, 2015 | by Emuna Braverman

Our brother demands that we end our relationship with his first wife. None of his siblings want to.

Dear Emuna,

My older brother was married to my sister-in-law for 25 years. Three years ago, to our whole family's sadness, my brother and sister-in-law's marriage ended in divorce. While their marriage was complicated and somewhat unhappy from the beginning, they both state that neither of them was unfaithful, and that infidelity was not a factor in their divorce.

For 25 years, my sister-in-law was a fun aunt for my children and my siblings' children, and we had many play dates and family gatherings with all of the little cousins (and my brother and sister-in-law's four children, who are now between the ages of 14 - 24).

My brother has asked his five siblings to remove our sister-in-law from our family contact list, not to invite her to the big functions (such as weddings), not to engage her in friendship any longer, and basically, to cut her out of our lives. He insists his request is justifiable and that because he brought her into our lives, that he should have the power to take her out of our lives. He has communicated that he feels hurt and unsupported by his siblings because we refuse to stop being her friend (although we don't see her or talk to her more than a few times a year).

Now, my brother is engaged and soon to be married to a lady that none of us have yet met (she lives on the other side of the country, and plans to move here soon). While we will be polite to our brother's new wife, I don't imagine that we will ever have the type of relationship that we have with his former wife, our sister-in-law, who has been a part of our lives since we were young adults. Is our brother right to demand that we end our relationship with his first wife?


Dear Torn,

It is a shame that your brother is making this demand. I don’t think your brother’s argument that “he brought her into your lives so he can take her out” has much merit. Once he brought her in, you proceeded to make your own relationship with her and I don’t think it should be a test of your loyalty to or love for your brother that you cut off your former sister-in-law. When a sibling demands that you display bad character, you don’t need to listen.

If the marriage had been a lot shorter, it might be a different story. If you didn’t have a close relationship with her, it might be a different story (and you probably wouldn’t be writing this letter!).

You also mention that you only see her a few times a year so I’m not sure what damage that can do to your brother. I understand that he feels awkward – and will probably feel even more so with his new wife. But you can’t just erase 25 years of relationship because you feel like it and, since she is the mother of his children, it is inevitable that there will be family functions that they both need to attend.

It is possible that his ex-wife no longer belongs at big family functions (although I personally have some friends where this is not the case and everyone manages to share the joy) but, even here, I’m not sure. She is still the mother of the children that may be involved in the family function and, like you said, they were married for 25 years and you had a good relationship.

I think you need to be loving but firm in refusing your brother’s request and, if the opportunity arises, I think you should gently encourage your brother to seek professional help so that he will be able to negotiate the ongoing relationship that he will need to have with the mother of his children and ex-wife.

Ostracized Daughter

Dear Emuna,

My 10-year-old daughter recently got into a big fight with her friends at school. Apparently they were gossiping about another girl and she told them it wasn’t nice and that they should stop. Instead of listening, they made her the next target of their nasty gossip. Now my once popular girl sits by herself at recess and refuses to go to any school parties. She’s not sad about and insists she doesn’t want to hang out with that type of girl anyway but I’m concerned about her social life. Should I leave her be or take some action?

Social Mom

Dear Social Mom,

I’m not sure what action you would take. Call her friends for her and invite them over? Or do you mean should you get her professional help?

Before you rush your daughter to a therapist, I would take a step back from the situation and reflect on your daughter’s behavior. Instead of being concerned about her, I think you should be proud. It is the rare child that can stand up to her peers, at any age, and she is very young. It is also the rare child (and adult) who doesn’t enjoy a good gossip and who has the confidence and courage not only to walk away but to try to talk her friends out of it. Maybe it wasn’t the best strategy but you have to respect her courage and her convictions. You should be giving her a lot of praise.

At this age, relationships come and go and ebb and flow. I wouldn’t worry about her lack of social life at this moment. Having been once burned, she is probably stepping back and evaluating more carefully before she puts her toe into the waters of a new friendship.

You are lucky to have a young daughter who takes good character so seriously and is willing to sacrifice her social life to stand up for what she believes.

At this age, it may also be a little hard to find friends who share her values and commitments. But it will come with time. Don’t push her into more social situations; sit back, take a deep breath, utter some heartfelt prayers and trust her to find the circumstances and relationships that are right for her.

Wonderful Husband, Dirty Pots

Dear Emuna,

My husband is my best friend. He’s the one I want to share my day with and the one I trust to be there for me – now and always. He’s a wonderful human being with a good heart. So I’m a little embarrassed to be writing this letter. But there is one area where he consistently lets me down and it’s making me a little crazy. We both work outside the home but he gets home before me. I have usually made dinner and left it for the family – ready to be heated up or even waiting in the crock pot – in case I am late getting home. All I ask (and ask and ask) is that they clean up after themselves. And all I find night after night after night is dirty dishes in the sink and dirty pots on the stove. I feel so unheard and frustrated. I know it’s trivial in the grand scheme of things but I can’t seem to get past it. Can you help?

Very Frustrated

Dear Very Frustrated,

I can certainly try. But the truth is I think you already have all the answers. And you know it. Most people, single or married, would be thrilled to be able to write those first three lines, to have a husband who they can call their best friend and with whom they feel safe, secure and loved. I know you realize that you need to count your blessings. And, like you said yourself, those dirty dishes and pots, while annoying at the end of a long, tiring day, are trivial in the grand scheme of things. You certainly wouldn’t want to damage such a wonderful relationship over them. So what should you do?

Given the fact that you’ve mentioned your desire over and over again and nothing has been done and given your earlier description of your husband, I assume that he means well and wants to be kind to you. But the reason he doesn’t do the dishes is not because he is cavalier about your needs but probably because he really doesn’t notice. Things like that are probably so unimportant to him that he forgets all about it. Maybe he gets caught up in playing with your children or talking to them or helping with their homework (all much more worthwhile and engaging activities!). So don’t take it personally. He’s not out to get you and he is listening. But since he doesn’t really “see” the mess, he can be easily distracted. I suggest you let it go. If you’re tired, leave the dishes until the morning (don’t tell my mother I told you this!). If you can afford it, hire some cleaning help. But whatever you do, don’t let a dirty pot get between you and your wonderful husband. Take a deep breath. Have a cold drink and a bite to eat and refocus yourself on what’s really important – and how lucky in fact you are.

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