Breaking up with your ex’s family, and how to handle it

You exchanged the last kiss of your fallen relationship, and in the morning, the necessary borrowed sweatshirts and custom-made CDs will be returned or hidden away. In a week, anger might replace the tears, but for now, you are in the post-breakup blues. And because of this, you might not recognize the extra breakup pain about to come your way — the type that has little to nothing to do with losing someone to cuddle late at night.

Dating someone for an extended period of time often leads to relationships being formed with his or her family. And while everyone may not experience this, losing your ex’s family during a breakup can be an extra amount of grief you didn’t expect, a jarring type of pain. In my case, I lost a fantastic family, who accepted me when I felt my most vulnerable. During my parents’ divorce, I clung to my then-boyfriend’s family. I opened my heart and let them emotionally take me in. In a short amount of time, I felt like one of them.

They didn’t replace my family in any way, but they did become an extra support. And when my boyfriend and I decided to break up, I honestly thought our relationships would continue in the same capacity. For a vast majority of the relationship, his parents reassured me of my relationship with them individually. They told me how they would still want to see me when I came home from college, about the specialness they saw in me, about the standard I set for whoever their son brought home in the following years. They promised to continue a caring relationship with me no matter what happened between me and their son. And while I believe they truly meant it at the time, it just couldn’t be true.

At first, I didn’t know how to handle the sudden loss of not just one of my major supporters, but five. I knew I would lose my ex-boyfriend, but for some reason or another I didn’t think it would hinder my relationship with his siblings or his parents. I had unrealistic expectations — I assumed I’d still hang out and watch movies with his little sister, who felt like mine now, too. I thought I would still be able to call his mom for advice and banter with his dad when life felt too serious. I expected it to look like a divorce, with his family acting as the kids. Obviously we wouldn’t hang out as a group again, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have them every other weekend, right?

But the fact of the matter remained the same. They weren’t my family. They were his. And in the time of post breakup, they couldn’t be there to support me, because they had to be there for him.

It took me a while to realize this truth and even longer to cope with it. But now that I have, I know how to better handle the family loss that can accompany a breakup.

Accept it

This might seem obvious, but I believe it is the most important first step. Accept that they were your SO’s family and dynamics will change. You can’t compete with the years they have had together and you shouldn’t want to. In the same way you want your family to defend you, your ex wants his or her family to do the same. It can be painful feeling like your own family isn’t in your corner — your ex needs the support, and you shouldn’t be the one who competes for it.

Give them space

Don’t try and push the relationships. There is a good chance they still want you in their life. But depending on the type of breakup, they could be upset themselves. If they are a close-knit family, it is possible when one hurts, they all hurt. Let them be there for their own kid. The harder you push to keep the relationship above water, the greater of a chance you will lose it completely.

Give it time

This can be closely tied to giving them space. Acknowledge that although things may be weird now, they don’t always have to be that way. Maybe it is too difficult for you guys to be around each other in the first few months after the breakup, but that doesn’t mean in a year, you won’t be able to catch up at a casual dinner. Time truly does heal, and in this situation, a certain amount might need to pass before you can return to any level of normalcy.

Recognize change isn’t always bad

Sometimes a shift in the relationships can be positive. The dynamic change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be destructive. In terms of siblings, maybe it takes some growing up on both sides before you can rekindle the friendship. Change can be terrifying, but it can also be rejuvenating.

Don’t forget your own family

Finally, cope with handling the loss of your SO’s family by recognizing you still have yours. Lean on whoever you define as your family. After all, they know you the best. They are the ones in your corner. Let them defend you when needed and give a little extra love to you when necessary. Don’t find yourself so caught up in the loss that you forget what you already have in front of you.

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