Please Advise: I can't break up with my ex's family.

I don't ever want to see him again, but his family are some of my favorite people. What do I do?

Each week, the inbox of our venerable advice columnist, Miss Information, is flooded with queries. And although she makes a valiant effort, she can't answer them all. To deal with the surplus, we've decided to turn to you. So, don your spectacles and help this woman out give her advice in the comments below.

Dear Nerve,

I dated this guy for about four years, and we'd been living together for about eight months when he abruptly decided he no longer loved me and began cheating on me, eventually leaving me with a few months left on the lease and more rent than I was comfortably able to handle. It was one of the worst periods of my life, and I don't ever want to see him again.

But the problem is, over the four years we were together, I got unbelievably close with his parents and sister. I grew up as a child of a relatively early divorce, without any siblings, and a small extended family. I have a family, and a relationship with them, but it's always felt like a perfunctory one — I never got the warmth and support that I think characterizes a truly great family. Meanwhile, my ex's family and I hit it off in a way that now seems almost unfair. His sister and I used to hang out without him, his mother and father took to me immediately (his mother still calls me just to say hi and catch up), and I felt included and loved in a way that I never did before. For years, I felt like part of the family I never had.

Now, I'm finding it really hard to move on. Do I have to give up his family to get complete closure? I'm not suggesting that I stop seeing them entirely (or stop hanging out one-on-one), but is it necessary that I stop going to gatherings where I know my ex will be there? Is it weird that I want to go to lunch with his mom and sister, and keep emailing his dad funny cat pictures? How many ties do I need to cut? To get over my ex, do I also have to get over his parents?

 Still in Love With the In-Laws

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Commentarium (18 Comments)

May 31 12 - 2:37am

Ouch. I feel for you. There's no reason to stop seeing these people one on one and keeping in touch. You obviously have lots of love and affection for one another that you've built over the years.

I'd leave the family gatherings to the family though - he needs to enjoy his family time like usual without having his past (which you are now part of) pop up constantly, and it will just be a real minefield for you both once he starts bringing future partners to these shindigs.

Stick to keeping and enjoying the relationships you've got with them individually.

Jun 02 12 - 2:46pm

Agreed. Hanging out one-on-one is fine if they're cool with it and you're cool with it. Family gatherings would be unfair to everyone involved.

May 31 12 - 4:07am

I'm actually in this situation, and the only advice I have is to be honest (though not COMPLETELY TRANSPARENT) with his family about the situation.

You don't need to tell them why you're so angry (unless they already know); all you need to tell them is that you've broken up, and reacting in an adult manner means avoiding him for a while. Ask them if they want to interact with you even though you recently broke up with their son (and will never become involved with him again); if they say yes, explain that you want to interact with them, but cannot interact with their son (because of post-breakup awkwardness and such). If they ask for explanations (for anything involving the relationship), explain that you respect their son's privacy enough to not go blathering on about it without his consent.

If they say no... well, problem solved.

Will it be easier to get over it? No, it won't. It'll make it substantially harder, because like it or not they're still connected to him. You may have to spend a little longer getting over it; but it seems like the extra time is worth it to you, and the relationships you developed with them may be fulfilling without their connections to him.

Also, agree with Amnd on the family shindigs: bow out gracefully if/when invited, because it will be hella awkward to deal with him after everything you've been through.

May 31 12 - 4:12am

Not this EXACT situation. But you get the idea - abominable boyfriend, wonderful family. Happens to the best of us.

May 31 12 - 9:46am

This is one of the few situations where if you had had kids with him, it would be simpler, because they'd be part of the family, and you'd just be a necessary evil from his perspective. As it is, I think you have to treat his family as you would any other group of friends where you've had a falling out with some other member of the friend group. Continue to be good friends with his family, if they'll do it, and in situations where he may be present, decide what to do on those as they come up. If things will be extra awkward, or he'll have a new girlfriend that will annoy you, or you'll have a new boyfriend that will annoy him, or you think the whole time will be spent trying to one-up the other, skip the event.

May 31 12 - 10:20am

This is a tricky one. If this family is as engaging as you make them sound, they will probably get the details of the breakup from their son. Despite his mistreatment of you, you may have to accept that they're probably going to have his back. They may not be happy with what he did, but in the end, he's their family and they may not want to discuss how rotten he is with you. I know you want closure, but keep the ex-bashing to your other circles of friends.
With that in mind, I don't think it's necessary to cut them out of your lives. Absolutely keep seeing them one-on-one. Go out with mom and sister for brunch. Keep sending dad those kitty emails. But I'd say steer clear of family functions. Unless the ex gives you the green light to go (and I doubt you want to be asking his permission anyway), I would leave family time to him.

May 31 12 - 11:29am

I am on the other side of this situation. I broke up with a girlfriend several years ago but during our brief relationship she became good friends with my mother. Even though my ex-gf had done nothing wrong (I may have a bit of a jerk) my mother was willing to cut off ties with my ex if I was uncomfortable with the situation. I wasn't and the two remain friends several years later. However, the relationship was never rubbed in my face and the ex wasn't invited over for family dinners. Also, my mother assurred me (although I coulndn't have cared less) that I was not the subject of their conversations. My point is, if everyone is mature and respects some boundaries, the situation is workable.

May 31 12 - 12:02pm

continue to see the family one-on-one, if they're comfortable with that, but cede the family gatherings to your ex. He has no say on who his sister or mother choose to have lunch or go shopping with on a given saturday, but he is within his rights to be pissed off if his ex girlfriend keeps showing up at thanksgiving. Tell the family members how you're feeling (that you still care for them and want to be friends), and ask them if they feel the same. Don't talk about the ex with them, even if they bring it up. And be prepared that your relationship with them may shift or fade over time - and if it doesn't, then the fact that you once dated their son/brother will eventually become a footnote to a lifelong friendship.

May 31 12 - 12:03pm

Yes to hanging out one-on-one with his family. No to going to family functions. Easy decision.

May 31 12 - 3:10pm

Oh lord, I can totally relate. Ex who turned out to be a cheating, lying bastard? Check. Living together? Check. His mother and her best friend were professional mentors to me. His sister and I became close. His young daughter stayed with us one week out of every month.

I haven't spoken to any of them since the breakup... I've tried with the daughter, but she was very angry that I left her father and won't speak to me, because we kept the reasons for our split hidden from her. I feel for you. I'd try to maintain those relationships if you can, under the conditions that everyone else has advised. I dearly wish I could have done the same, but the circumstances made it impossible.

May 31 12 - 3:51pm

Admittedly I didn't comb through each response, but I disagree with the overall tone of what seems to be the majority advice.
I was extremely close to my ex's family; his parents and I exchanged heartfelt I-love-you's regularly. They helped me out during major transitional phases and assisted me with big decisions. My own upbringing left me somewhat unprepared to be an adult.
At some point I did acknowledge that I had a bond with them that could be separate from my (then) bond with my ex. However, when it came down to it, no matter how my ex wronged me in the end, I found the family to ultimately side with him. It's sad when sides must be taken but the fact is, it was their child. They raised their child through the years--they didn't raise me and know my firsts, my rocky venture through adolescence, how I'd grown throughout all those years beyond my years with their family. They had that special intimacy with my ex and they did not with me.
Which is not to say they were cruel or even standoffish. We kept our confusing emotions at bay for most of the time and were able in time to establish a more remote yet still affectionate rapport. Sometimes I would call the sister or mother or send an email to catch up. We'd phone on birthdays and holidays.
I guess my point is that regardless of how involved you are with his family... it's his family. Eventually they will watch him find someone else and hopefully in everyone's best interest, they will love that person, too. I realize it's difficult to eliminate all the anger but I would advise you not to maintain extended contact with them while you're in this stage. Deflecting all of that hurt may feel like support and commiseration to you but it can be burdensome for them.
Remember that when you're going through a break up you're ultimately going through your own break up and no one else is you. Seek out a more neutral (or, even better, your side-d) party to express your feelings.
I hope this is helpful. I don't know if it's spot-on. Take care of yourself and I wish you the best.

Jun 01 12 - 1:53pm

THIS. good advice. no matter what, its the guys family. when he moves on, or when you do, is it going to be weird or not? if it will be weird, just mourn the loss the RELATIONSHIP with your man and parts of his family. you can remain "friends", but you say they have you over at family functions? just seems sort of inaapproiate, now that you've split. a year from now he will have another girl over and she will have a fit if she knows you and his mom are really chummy. As well your next bf may consider it odd you cling to an ex's family when you have your own. he'll wonder whats wrong with your family and then what may be wrong with you? im sure theres nothing wrong with you or your family, but the closeness you felt with them was because you were open to them. Try being open with people within your inner circle. ALSO, if your inner circle consisted of only his people, you need to write another letter about that- Send your mom the cat photos. - it happened to me, i dated a guy for 4 years with the perfect family, while my own family was a wreck. he was a stoner and i didnt want to live in his parents house forever so i left him. And i had to leave those good people too. otherwise it would have been WEIRD when i started dating other people and their son started dating other girls. Its a part of growing up and letting go. just sucks. Good luck to you and i hope it works in a way that doesnt leave you too emotionally messed up- ( BTW, im married now with an amazing kid by a great guy, and i hear the ex still lives at home. moving on may be better for you than you might think )

May 31 12 - 8:06pm

What?! Why does everyone say that she should stay away since it's "his family", when they are also her friends? Why would it be so wrong to attend family functions if she were to be invited? How you get over someone is personal so if she can do that while still maintaining a relationship with his family, why shouldn't she? That's like breaking up with someone because your best friend is no longer friends with them. So what, it might be a little awkward but if ultimately you're happier seeing them than not, don't cut the ties.

May 31 12 - 11:43pm

There is one thing that I think is important, and that is that you imply, or at least you set us up to infer, that this family is filling a void that you feel. This lack that you feel with your own family is the real issue. It's wonderful that you learned that there are other family models out there, so some day you can create in your familial or social groups that same sense of cameraderie and caring. But, the point is that you have come to see them as the family you would rather have, and this will never be the case because your chance to become part of that family ended when your relationship with their son ended. If your letter had simply said that you enjoy their friendship, I would have given you the same advice the other respondents did. But the underlying tone is that you see your relationship with the family as more than that, or that you wish you could still be part of that family circle. Most people only go to family get-togethers if they are family. You are not family (or close to family) any longer. This stings, I know. But you need to concentrate on healing and working toward building the sort of family/community of your own that you want. I promise you that you will find it, but not if you keep hanging onto a family that will never be yours. Keep a distant friendship, certainly, but start disentangling yourself and look for a loving community elsewhere.

Jun 01 12 - 11:58am

Maintain the relationships with the individuals if you can. Never invade the ex's privacy by talking about him. And don't invade his space by going to family gatherings.

Jun 01 12 - 7:16pm

cut off all ties with the family. honestly, in the long run it will be for the better. whats going to happen when either of you eventually start dating other people? are you and his new gf both going to be at the same family gathering? things would start to get weird. i would just cut it off and move on. you'll find someone else with an awesome family.

Jun 02 12 - 3:07pm
Anonymous Cowherd

You could stay friends with his family.

Doesn't mean you should.

Simplest for all involved that you don't.

Jun 05 12 - 12:46pm

You need to start cutting the ties. Many of us, including myself, have been in situations like this before - it sucks, but its part of breaking up. You lose more relationships than just the one with your (ex)partner. It's unfair to your ex to continue to be "part of the family" when its over between you two. You should spend this time working on developing a closeness and friendship with your own family. A phone call or lunch here and there is not a big deal, but it's wrong to act like nothing happened.