The Heartbreak Of Divorcing Your In-Laws

Even though my ex’s family meant everything to me, we had to let each other go.

Woman saying goodbye to her in laws Andrea Piacquadio, Gustavo Fring | Canva

My husband left me on a Sunday morning in April 2005. We’d spent the night before discussing how unhappy he was in our marriage, so unhappy he already had somebody in line to replace me. Devastated by his news, I’d sobbed all night and barely spoke to him as he packed up a suitcase and announced he would stay with his parents.

About an hour after he left, there was a knock at our front door. I opened it to find my mother-in-law and father-in-law standing before me with tears dotting their eyes. We embraced into a group hug that lasted several minutes, feeling the water — but not blood — that flowed between us.


“I want you to know, Glenna,” my mother-in-law told me. “You will always be our daughter.”

She made this promise so earnestly that I believed it. I had nothing else to hold on to at that moment, but at least I would still have them as my family. It was a great relief to know they weren’t abandoning me as my husband did and that they saw something worthwhile in me even though my husband couldn’t see it.

The family I believed In

To believe my mother-in-law, I had to forget. I forgot that my husband was her son. She gave birth to him and raised him and loved him beyond all measure. It didn’t matter that he cheated and unceremoniously dumped me. As angry as she was about that, it wouldn’t change their relationship one bit in the long run. She still believed her youngest son was a good man, practically a saint.


In order to make him the good guy again, it was necessary to make me the bad guy.

My ex-husband’s family was the family I always dreamed of having. They were people who knew me since I was 16 years old. His mother took me to get my driver’s license when I was 18. My in-laws were psychologists and even dedicated part of their book on child development to me.

“To all our children,” the announcement read, then referring to us all by name.

RELATED: My Mother-In-Law Made Me A Better Wife

The family I never had

Through my ex, I had more family than I ever imagined. I had two brothers and three sisters after spending my life as an only child. I was an aunt to several kids, a daughter to his parents, and also a niece. The family never made me feel like I wasn’t a real part of them. They watched me grow from a teenager to a young woman, nurturing and guiding me the entire way.


My own family was small and fractured. My parents were divorced, and both had too many problems of their own to worry about me. A few family members lived several states away and mostly kept to themselves. They merely saw me as an extension of my mother, who suffered from significant mental health problems. It was guilt by association.

My ex-husband’s family was the type to have dinners together every Sunday, and they were never optional. I’d gripe to my husband sometimes about having to go, but I would always end up chatting and laughing and eating great food. Every Sunday that rolled around after my husband left me caused anguished pains in my stomach, especially knowing the mistress was sitting in the seat that used to be mine like it was the most normal thing in the world.

I imagined my mother-in-law setting the table and my father-in-law singing and joking while managing the grill. Time had stopped for me, but in reality, it went on without me like I wasn’t even necessary in the first place.

RELATED: 12 Things People Who Grew Up In Dysfunctional Families Don’t Understand


I won’t be home for Christmas

I already knew the Christmas holidays would be the hardest time of all. Every year, my in-laws followed their family tradition and hosted a giant party on Christmas Eve that was open to family and friends. As the date grew closer, my in-laws stopped reaching out as often. We were all trying to avoid the fact that I wouldn’t be a welcome guest this year or any year after that.

My father-in-law dressed up as Santa every year and passed out toys to the kids every year. They strung Christmas lights all around the patio and decorated their entire house to match the spirit of the holiday. I would miss every minute, and the aching in my heart grew bigger as the night approached.

My ex came to pick up our two young boys on Christmas Eve to bring them to his parents. I was grateful they wouldn’t miss out on the fun, but when he pulled up, I refused to look him in the eye. I was damned if I would let him see me fall apart. There was already enough of that, and I still had some pride left.

I hugged and kissed the boys and turned to go back inside before my ex could say a word. Then, I threw up ferociously in the garbage can in the downstairs bathroom, followed by drinking so much alcohol I passed out on my bed. That was the plan all along, to numb the pain and make the night pass by much faster.


RELATED: 13 Heartbreaking Things Divorce Really Takes From You

The family I had to let go

The tide seemed to turn after the holidays were over, and the family’s support waned. I don’t hold a grudge anymore. It’s easy to understand. When all was said and done, they weren’t my real family and I couldn’t expect them to continue as such. One of my ex-husband’s sisters let me know how true this was by telling me what his mom’s version of history had evolved into.

“It’s not his fault,” she apparently said at Sunday dinner. “He put up with so much from Glenna for so many years it drove him to do things he wouldn’t normally do.”

I’ll admit I was lost in the world after the divorce. I’ll admit I was hurt and suffering. I’ll admit I made lots of mistakes trying to get my life back together; however, I knew deep in my heart I wasn’t to blame for my husband’s cheating. Still, in his family, that’s the way it had to be.


It made me bitter at first to think the people I loved didn’t think the divorce was a big deal anymore, but they really had no choice. He was not as easy to expel from the family as I was. He was their blood, their heritage, and they couldn’t move on with their lives with him as a villain.

Even though my ex’s family meant everything to me, we had to let each other go.

These days, we are friendly without being friends, loving in the sense that we would love our neighbor, but that’s as far as it goes. I can’t turn to them in times of trouble, and I can’t share small victories with them either. They aren’t mine to bother.


I love my in-laws for what they did to guide me in the past and the way they guide my boys today. I enjoy seeing pictures on Facebook of them cooking fancy meals with my younger son and taking my older son on vacation abroad. My boys have an unbreakable support system, and that’s more than I could have ever asked of them.

Still, I have my memories. I remember my sister-in-law’s peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses in the middle. I remember the way my father-in-law sang Bob Dylan to my sleeping son right after he was born. I remember my mother-in-law sitting with me on my couch in the mornings I felt anxious and needed someone to talk to.

I remember it all, and I am grateful.

RELATED: 13 Things Your Mother-In-Law Secretly Thinks About Your Marriage


Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss, and hope.