No one can deny the pain of getting out of a long term romance. There are parts of your life that you know are going to be weird: things like going solo to your first dinner party or wedding, reconnecting with the single friends you have been neglecting, going out as a single person who has no reason to go home early. One thing that no one is really prepared for is, that after the initial pain of losing your ex, you’ll have to deal with the weirdness of losing her family as well.
At first, you might not even realize how much they meant to you. You may have bonded with her brother or dad, maybe her mom mothers you in that way that yours didn’t. It is difficult when a family takes you in as one of their own to try and distance yourself from them without hurting yourself or them.
Can you keep the family?
Many people think that they can keep the family after the relationship is over. Especially if the break up is amicable, at first, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why you can’t keep a casual friendship with the ex’s family—golfing with ex-Dad or going to ex-brother’s stag. You can justify this because you consider your friendship with these family members separate form your relationship with your ex.
This could go on for a while, until you get a nasty email from your ex, probably taking you off-guard telling you to get your own family and leave hers to her. You may react with anger, you may feel hurt or embarrassed, wondering if her family feels the same way and are just too nice to tell you to go away. Probably, they don’t. Probably what is happening is that she has been trying to stomach the fact that her family still hangs out with you, but hearing one too many stories about the good times they are having with you has gotten to her.
You may think that she is being crazy and selfish, and maybe even a little arrogant, wondering if maybe you are staying in her family’s life in order to try and stay in her life as well. The first question to ask yourself is this: are you? Even if your relationship with this girl is over, has your need for the relationship, even if only in spirit, still hanging on?
If you have spent a couple of years or more with someone, your lives become extremely intertwined. Your memories of the period she was in your life will largely involve her. The way you live your life, the way you’ve divided your family holidays so you can both spend time with each others’ families, is ingrained. It doesn’t seem fair that you have to give up the relationships you formed with her family members just because it didn’t work out with her.
So why do you have to?
When two people end a long term relationship, no matter how amicably the split, there is an adjustment period when the two people are figuring out how to settle into a life that doesn’t involve that other person. People generally go about this in one of two ways.
One way is by making a clean break. They cut all ties and rip off the Band-Aid nice and quickly and jump into their own lives. This requires a lot of strength and a healthy embracement of the unknown. If the relationship has been faltering for a while, this can be a time of great freedom, when you can be selfish and enjoy your time doing what you want without being responsible for another person’s time or feelings.
Another way, usually the way of the person who is unsure about the break up, or unsure about what they are supposed to do with themselves outside of the relationship, is for that person to cling to certain elements of comfort that give them feeling of security they had in the relationship. One symptom of this can be keeping too tight a hold on the family of your ex. This is an easily justifiable way to keep some aspect of your ex in your life, or some aspect of that feeling of being a part of something. If the family is reaching out to you to spend time with them, you are simply fulfilling their need, trying not to hurt their feelings, right?
Perhaps. Or perhaps you are trying to keep some aspect of that need to feel wanted fulfilled. If, at the same time, it is linked to feelings of security you had within that relationship, you are not really letting go, or are not ready to let go. And this is what is probably annoying her.
Breaking up your family
The other side of this story is dealing with a family who is not ready to let go of your ex. You have introduced this person into your family as a person who you love, and who you expect your family to take in as one of their own in many ways while you were together. You may expect her to be included in family weddings or showers, family dinners, even reunions.
How then, can you now ask them to cut her out of their lives? I have seen in many of my friends’ relationships, and some of my own, that some parents get very attached to exes.
This may be a mother who has had only boys and feels like this is the daughter she never had, or a Dad who never quite connected with his artistic son the way he connects with his daughter’s jock boyfriend. Aside from the familial implications of this situation, the extrication of your ex from your family may have to be done firmly and sensitively in order to help get on with your life. The same rules apply for breaking up, if only temporarily, from her family.
Explain to the parents and /or siblings in question (be it theirs or yours) that there needs to be a period of separation if you and/or your ex are going to be able to get on with their lives.
Explain to them that it is only in the best interest of their own children, who, certainly, must come first in their life. If the break up is less than amicable, explain that there is an element of loyalty that has to be respected among family members, and while it doesn’t have to be permanent, family wishes have to be respected.
Be prepared, if they argue, that you are going to have to possibly explain the reasons for your break up to them in order for them to understand that the situation is not a temporary one. Tell them that you hope that one day everyone can be friends, but for now, during this immediate period, you just want to be able to heal and let your ex heal, so that both of you can move on from here.
In the end, family is going to stick by their own. You may be able to one day be pals again, but to try to carry that forth directly after the break up just screams “not ready to let go” whether you intend it to or not.