Sarah Baxter
October 09, 2015 8:28 am

It’s often assumed that at the end of a relationship you burn all bridges related to that person. Cut them out, throw their letters in a box, and put the box in the far, far reaches of the closet. But if you developed a close relationship with your ex’s family and you still want to be close, do you have to cut them off? Even if you need space from your ex?

Not necessarily. This might be obvious for some people who’ve been through this already, but yeah, it’s okay to be friends with your ex’s family.

Flashback to high school. I never would have considered being friends with my ex’s mom. Not because she wasn’t a nice lady, but because I met her a grand total of one time. Plenty of us know what it is like to have a best friend who’s house we were at so often that their family’s hospitality soon blurred the lines of what “blood is thicker than water” means. Sometimes I think it’s just math; if you eat at someone’s house enough times, their mom makes stuff for you, their dad makes jokes with/at you, then statistically you just ARE family. Can’t argue with math.

So why wouldn’t this apply to exes as well? Well, there’s the whole, “it’s awkward” thing. It’s awkward to be around your ex and so it has to be awkward to be around their family, right? Not true. At least not for me. The reason it’s awkward for me to be around an ex is because I have no idea how to act now. I definitely don’t want to be like I used to be because the whole “we aren’t together anymore” line needs to be established if you don’t want to slip back into a relationship with them. But I also don’t want to come off as a total jerk. Establishing boundaries and (re)building a friendship with someone whom you already know almost everything about is difficult, awkward, and takes time. It makes you feel like you’re trying to be an emotionless robot who is just now being programmed for friendship. *Robot voice*: “Hello, James. Would you like a glass of water? I hear humans like water.” Okay, maybe not that bad, but you get my point.

But that relearning process often isn’t anywhere near as difficult with an ex’s family, I’ve found. You pretty much get to treat them exactly the way you’ve always treated them: like family. When you spend a year or more getting to know this family and spending time with them, you probably already have an idea of whether or not you could have a lasting friendship with each of them. Sure, if you hated the way your ex’s family treated you and you didn’t like them at all, then feel free to burn that bridge if you so desire. But if the idea of this family getting to be legally called your in-laws some day made you cry happy tears like it did for me, then it’s clear you want to keep them in you life.

Something to keep in mind though: don’t rush it. After every breakup there’s a mourning period. And if this relationship lasted long enough for you to establish relationships with their family, then the mourning period might be a bit longer and more difficult than previous, shorter relationships. Take all the time you need. Don’t expect to be ready to see them again right away or you’ll find yourself crying over what was and what could have been. You don’t have to rush to be friends with your ex, either. That scar is going to take much longer to heal and it’s okay if you need space.

I’m still at a point where I’m not ready to be friends with my ex, and it is probably going to take me a very long time before I stop replaying everything that went wrong and wishing he’d change and start accept that it’s over. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep in contact with his family in the meantime. They cared about what was going on in my life when I was dating their son and they haven’t stopped just because we aren’t dating anymore. They care about me, not just the person who was dating their son (though that definitely had something to do with the start of it).

After we broke up, they all expressed how I was always welcome in their house and always considered family, but when I was in the thralls of heartbreak, I was still mourning that they wouldn’t be my legal family someday and it killed me to think about them. I wanted to accept their offer but I couldn’t do that until I stopped sobbing on the couch about how my ex’s mom wasn’t going to be my mom anymore. But now that I’m on my way to feeling better, I can see them, talk to them, and know they’ll always be family.

I’m lucky to have had some amazing second families in my life and I don’t plan on giving them up for anything. When I establish happy friendships, including family friendships, I keep them.  Bonds formed by choice and love are the ones that last a lifetime. That is family. And if you developed great relationships with your ex’s family and you still want to be in each other’s lives, then congratulations, you’ve still got yourself a second family. You can keep the good parts of your old relationship, even if the main romance part is over.

[Image via Searchlight Pictures]

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