Let’s just call this an adventure in the family you choose. How shifting your perception on how society says you’re supposed to behave, versus what feels right to you. When you marry, you choose a partner who becomes your family. Subsequently, his/her family becomes a part of your life. What happens when you divorce? Do you become Ex In-Laws or choose to become “Out-Laws”?
The Concept of Out-Laws
I’d like to introduce to you my concept of Out-Laws. Not the criminal one of movies, but one where life is more fun and not filled with anger/sadness/revenge/hate. Unfortunately, too many divorces become ugly and messy. One loses all sorts of things in divorce. But if you and your (ex) partner can manage not to make it harsh by making friends and family take sides, everyone wins. If you had a close or even really friendly relationship with certain members of your ex’s family, why not keep them as part of your ‘chosen’ family? It requires a shift in the dynamic of how you interact. The results can be an expansion of a wonderful community.
The first time I came across this concept was through the relationship my mom had with her ex-mother-in-law. Grammy was always fun, and enjoyed doing all sorts of things. She and my mother had in common the ability to laugh easily, and when together there was so much joy. I believe that without the tension of my dad around, they bonded even more. I learned later in life that my mom and Grammy may have even gone on a “girls weekend out” escapade! They called each other “Out-laws” because it was more enjoyable than using the negative “ex”. I believe my life was enriched the times I could visit my Grammy with my mom, to hear stories and to participate in their delight.
Applying the concept – in my life
This generation does have it easier than in the past where divorces were treated as war. Instead, the emphasis now is communication. When I split from my husband, we made sure to put the children first. We also agreed not to make others uncomfortable in our presence. Our issues were ours, and we did as best as we could not to make it ugly, or war-like. Because of this, I was able to build a closer relationship with my ex’s sister-in-law and his brother, as well as continue being a sort-of God mother to my niece (my ex’s other brother’s daughter) who is fairly close in age to my sons. These were the seeds to the close relationships I have now with many of my ex’s family (or, in another view, the family of my children).
It took several years of transitioning before we started calling ourselves “Out-laws”. It’s an easy word to describe a complicated situation. There are more stories of my connections, bonds and adventures with all my Out-laws than needs to be shared here. But I know I have benefited from having the love of this chosen family, and enjoyed how it’s grown.
Can you be an Out-law?
Getting divorced can be a tricky, complicated thing. Becoming an Out-law may take longer than being an ex-in-law. Here are some tips that may be useful (and if it doesn’t apply to you, please share with someone else who could benefit!)
- If you have kids, make an agreement to put them first. They need to be with their Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents from both sides. Research shows it can help make them feel safe in the world if they feel connected to family.
- These relationships don’t suit everyone. Remember, this is “chosen” family for a reason.
- Don’t bring negative issues into your Out-law relationships. Your ex is still their family member.
- Be respectful of your ex, and his/her relationship with your Out-law. This can be challenging in certain situations, but in the end- it is about respecting yourself.
- Set boundaries for how people interact with you, your ex or kids may be needed. In a way, this is a form of being respectful (Note: watch out for that co-dependent behavior of trying to be “controlling.” If you feel this happening, it’s a sign of something you need to do personal work around).
- Start new rituals, if needed. Allow primary family to enjoy key holidays, and create your own unique way of hanging out with your Out-laws.
- Build the Out-law relationships on what you have in common, other than just your ex. Share jokes, hobbies or even try new things together (adventures!)
- Communicate. This has multiple levels to it, so do what feels right. I’m grateful that technology makes it so much easier. My mom appreciates being connected to my cousins in ways not available 30-40 years ago.
- Understand that others may not understand. If possible, gently explain. If not, just keep being a good example.
- Remember TTT. Things Take Time. Give space to allow relationships to grow organically.
Divorce is its own kind of adventure, often with many hard lessons to be learned. Hopefully, by introducing this concept of “Out-laws” we can shift some of the negatives into positives. What do you think? Is this something you already do, will try or share with others? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!