Q My husband and I recently split up and it was the best decision for us as a couple. We have three children, and before we split they would spend a lot of time with their cousins. We live very close to his brother and I always got on great with my sister-in-law. We would help each other out with childcare, playdates, etc.
However, all this has stopped and it’s causing significant anxiety for me and the kids. My husband says it is nothing to do with him or his family and I believe him. It seems to be coming from my sister-in-law. I have tried calling her – she never answers – but fobs me off with a message. How can I get through to her?
A It seems like you have both managed to come out of your marriage as a couple and parents with great maturity and grace, a feat that is incredibly hard.
Fall out from others in your family circle is a really painful part of separations that isn’t often spoken about, but is quite common.
So what can you do?
First you need to check what the baseline is. What have you said in the voice messages and what did she reply? Does she know how you feel? Have you named the awkward elephant in the room? The only way to find out is to directly ask.
A lot of pain can arise in female friendships that require having direct conversations to gain clarity. It sounds like you had a good friendship and it’s hurtful when it ends, especially if you haven’t had an actual falling out.
Separation creates its own sense of grief – the end of your family and relationship as it was and the anxiety and fear of how things will be going forward.
Added to this is this ambiguous loss that comes from unresolved and unaired grievances between yourself and your sister-in-law. The overhang of this is emotionally dense as it is future-bound as well. It would seem plausible that things wouldn’t change between the two of you just because you separated – but it happens. There can be a feeling of taking sides and judgment. There can be feelings of being cast aside, it’s hard not take something so personal, well, personal.
Marriages begin with two and often open its arms to many more people and create a new family, with so many experiences and memories. To feel put outside of the love and support of that extended family, especially when your children also have relationships with their cousins, is exceptionally sad for you all. The only thing you can do, is to be honest and direct and then the rest is up to her.
You could possibly leave a voice note or voice message as texts can be tonally deaf, especially during fraught times and the message could easily be misinterpreted. Write out how this has made you feel for yourself first, then take the key feelings you would like to relay to your sister-in-law.
Major life events are crystallizers. Think back to when you got engaged, married, became pregnant, or had your children, in the tough times and even more so in the good times, your ‘people’ the supportive, nurturing ones are the ones beside you. Friendships aren’t just bound by family connection; they need and ought to be able to stand on their own. The awful truth is, that marriage break-ups can impact so many more relationships that the initial break-up. The anxiety may feel like fear, it may ask incessantly ‘what if’, it will make you lose confidence in who you are and you may worry about what others think you are.
Name the fears you have. Do you feel betrayed, let down, rejected and or abandoned? Are these feelings all yours or are they also for your children’s feelings and the future? Ask them how they have found it, let them talk about their experience of it and to also allow them space to grieve. You just need to listen, even if you’d love to fix it.
A marriage break-up, even though you know this is what serves everyone best, can create such a deep disappointment in the hopes and dreams you had for your life. It’s the surprising losses that can blindside you. You knew your marriage wasn’t working for either of you, but to lose a relationship with the sister-in-law who was part of your daily life can bring quite the unexpected shock. Feeling ostracised and cut-off from the support and connection as a mum, friend and sister-in-law is a deep emotional body blow.
This is a loss you may have to come to accept and adjust to. I hope you can talk together, but the real work comes from working through what this has meant for you and the kids. Acknowledging this pain will help you process it. Ask yourself one question: Would you have done this to her if she had separated? If the answer is no, then perhaps you are seeing another side of her.
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