What To Do With The In-Laws?

wpid-2014-10-26-22.37.00.jpg.jpegToday’s question is a sticky one and depends on circumstances greatly. I do not claim to have all the answers, and these are really just my opinions on the matter. However, I will pass along some advice I received from a seasoned evangelical pastor early in the dissolution of my first marriage. He told me about his experience of confronting a cheating spouse’s parents with clear evidence of adultery, and those parents still siding with their cheating child. This pastor then cited the well-known saying:

 Blood is thicker than water.

We see this saying play out in Scripture with King David still bemoaning the death of his son, Absalom even after his son slept in public with David’s concubines and tried to kill David to take his throne! Yet the father in David still grieved Absalom’s death (2 Samuel 18:33).

Blood is thicker than water.

For me, deciding what to do with the former in-laws was an easy problem following the divorce. I had no children with my first wife, and so, I was able to cut ties with them as the divorce became complete. In fact, the role my ex-in-laws played in helping destroy my marriage, in my opinion, made me more than happy to no longer have them in my life.

Honestly, I had to work through a lot of anger towards my former father-in-law, in particular. I was more angry at him than I was ever at my ex-wife. This anger, with a degree of fleshly anger, was predominantly righteous anger. I will leave it at that. Today, I am not controlled by that anger as I have forgiven them handing them over to God. And I do not envy my former in-laws’ position now living with the consequences of what they and their daughter did.

Now, what to do if you have children and must deal with your former in-laws? I have not dealt with the quandary as I have just stated. So, forgive me if I miss the mark.

Dealing with former in-laws can become particularly challenging if old-saying holds true–blood is thicker than water–and the former in-laws become cheater proxies for justifying adultery plus blaming you for the divorce (my own experience is along those lines). (Chump Lady had a related story recently). Some former in-laws might be godly and recognize that the choices of their child destroyed the marriage via adultery. They may even intentionally maintain a healthy and supportive relationship with the faithful spouse. That’s great. And I commend those sort of former in-laws. It is not easy to accept that one’s child made some big mistakes. (I say “mistakes” as all adultery includes choosing to lie as well as the sex).

Part of loving your child means loving them through their mistakes. That is what parenting is about. God loves us in that way. I am by no means saying that the former in-laws should abandon their son/daughter. The message to their child should be clear: adultery is not okay. You  are 100% responsible. I still love you. You now have to pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes so this doesn’t happen again. The message to the faithful spouse should be clear: (child’s) actions are not okay. You are not responsible. What support do you need from us? How can we support you?

Healthy boundaries are key if the former in-laws react poorly and decide to defend their child regardless of the ugly, adulterous truth. Just as you do not editorialize about your former spouse’s behavior in front of the kids but label the actions appropriately, I suggest the same course of action here:

“Your son cheated on me with prostitutes, and that’s why I cannot stay married to him.”

“Your daughter and I cannot be friends right now as she has not accepted full responsibility for committing adultery against me and God. I reserve my friendships for people who do not betray me or, at least, care if they hurt me. If your life is more difficult it is a result of your child’s poor choices.”

“My failings as a spouse are not the issue. Nothing justifies adultery. God did not provide an escape clause in the Ten Commandments.”

Do not hide the truth if asked. Use the Golden Rule: How would you like to be told the truth in this situation if you were a parent of a cheater?

I know of a recently published book in evangelical circles on infidelity that encourages faithful spouses not to mention the adultery to the former in-laws or to set any such boundaries I suggest above. Furthermore, the author encourages her readers to do everything to facilitate the relationship between the children and their grandparents. This is done in the name of “protecting” the children.

I do not agree with this advice. Protection comes in walking in the light (I John 1:7). Marriages end when unrepentant adultery happens. That’s clear. And it reinforces solid-Biblical teaching on the matter. By not talking about the adultery (appropriately) or not setting healthy boundaries with the former in-laws, you teach your children not to have healthy boundaries by your actions–as you have failed to demonstrate those with the grandparents. This is not good.

Walking in the truth is more important than walking in comfort.

Comfort is sandy, swampy ground.

Truth is a rock.

Don’t surrender your boundaries for the sake of the children. It really is just setting them up for building their own future relationships on sandy land.




7 thoughts on “What To Do With The In-Laws?”

  1. Thank you for this clear teaching and solid rationale. Indeed, going forward is made easier by being clear about what is right and what is wrong. It helps avoid compromise that dishonors God and misleads others, especially children. Truth gives a solid foundation and helps set healthy boundaries. It also sets us free.

  2. This is a timely article. My STBX’s parents will be stopping to visit both my daughters at college this week while on the way to visit their son in our small town. My oldest daughter (22) cannot understand how they can let him and his AP into their house and sleep in their beds when he comes to visit. She sees it as a betrayal to OUR family and expecially me. He’s been feeding his parents lots of stories that AP (an old college gf) has always been the one and has even told them that we are officially divorced! (not yet) His parents believe him because they don’t want to think they are contributing to his affair. I once thought of them as Godly people.

    I can’t imagine it will be a pretty visit with my daughters. My oldest is very angry with her father and them and apt to speak her mind. I applaud her for having the courage to speak against this adultery and to straighten out the grandparents who are hiding their heads under a rock. But I hope that she will be very clear and communicate her displeasure in a way that is not confrontational but will give her grandparents reason to think. (My younger daughter at 21 is a peacemaker and althought she is very disillusioned with her father, would never say anything to hurt anyone. She will just pull away until the dust settles.)

    I pray everyday that God will watch over and care for the three of us as we close this chapter on our lives.

    1. Susan,

      I am glad to hear that your adult daughters feel free enough to have their own opinions on the matter and do not feel the need to censor them. Those are difficult questions for your STX-in-laws to answer, but it is on them. They are responsible for their own responses in all of this.

      May God bless you and watch over you all. And may God grant you His peace in this season of grief and change!


  3. Ups and downs with my in-laws.

    My husband abandoned me 10 years ago, after one year of marriage. No adultery, but it was sudden and there was emotional abuse, and I truly believed they would do the right thing and take my side.

    They didn’t. In fact, at a time when I was trying to talk him into moving back in with me, they sent him an email urging him to not do it because I would just try to get pregnant and then I would have “another thing” to manipulate him with. They said to hurry up and divorce me and they would pay for everything.

    I was shocked. They were Mormons, but I had thought they would uphold the biblical teachings on divorce. I thought wrong.

    This time around, they have expressed sympathy and support for me. They say they think STBXH is making poor choices. They gave me money to help with moving out. They wrote to me offering to help with the attorney, so I gave them the name of the attorney I wanted.

    They hired him for their son. My STBXH said that his father didn’t want the attorney representing me because he doesn’t trust me.

    So, I don’t know where I stand on them. They are both “friends” on FB and comment regularly on their grandkids’s pictures. They love their grandkids. So long as they don’t speak ill of me to my kids, they are always welcome to see them.

    I have three nieces, three nephews, and another one on the way through my STBXH’s siblings. My STBXH is an identical twin, do his brother’s four children are the genetic half-siblings of my children. I hope they will always think of me as their aunt.

    1. Eesh, they don’t sound reliable or trustworthy themselves-the two scenarios you describe are with the same set of in-laws, correct? Sounds like it’s better to keep your attorney to yourself if they ask again. That was a sly, backhanded move on their part and/or your stbx’s. Facebook might be something to consider cutting ties to. It’s up to you if you keep them on Facebook, you don’t have an obligation to keep connected to them that way though; especially with the divorce now finalized or getting finalized in the next couple days. If they want to see the grandkids they can arrange that with you through another form of communication. My own response in your shoes would be to cut the Facebook tie. I wouldn’t want them “keeping tabs” on me through Facebook considering how they’ve already acted. My guess is you might have already cut off your stbx? If you stay connected to them then he stays connected to you. Part of keeping healthy boundaries is setting the appropriate distance between you and those that have demonstrated they probably won’t have your back.

  4. Hi Mrs. Divorce Minister,

    Yes, it was the same set of in-laws both times.

    A few months ago, my husband handed me a stack of documents. He left a page in the stack he hadn’t meant for me to see: a picture of my FB page that someone had taken. Not a screenshot; whoever took it had taken it with an actual camera. Which means either they were in my apartment or they knew my password. I changed all of my passwords and now I say nothing about legal matters on FB. (I’ve been involved in another lawsuit for over a year now, and even though my page is “private,” I have 400-500 “friends” and it isn’t Ft. Knox, so really, being careful on FB is the way to go.)

    The in-laws live in Hawaii and I live in Chicago, and even though they make decent money (he’s a neuropsychologist, she’s a teacher, they’re empty nesters), if I un-friended them on FB, they wouldn’t see their grandkids much. My 8 yo daughter adores them. So I’m disinclined to unfriend them for now. So long as I maintain my policy of not saying anything legally useful on FB, it shouldn’t hurt to have them there.

    The STBXH and his now-ex-OW are both blocked on FB. But he’s over at my place M-F visiting with the children in the morning, and I frequently forget to log out of FB on my home computers. So really, I just have to make my FB account spy-proof.

    1. Ms. Jack,

      I am with Mrs. DM on this one. Your in-laws have demonstrated that they are not totally trustworthy to have such unfettered access into your life. Your actions suggest that you know this already by self-editing your FB page. My suggestion is to cut fb ties. Use other ways to communicate, which provide a higher level of control on your part. For example, if they want to see pictures of the grandkids, they can request them via e-mail. Also, if they want virtual time with the grandkids, they can do a scheduled video chat with them. In other words, keeping them at a healthy distance need not destroy the relationship with their granddaughter. However, boundaries are there for safety. Besides, they have demonstrated a willingness to support their son over you in regards to the divorce. Do you want your xH having such access to your fb page through them? Cutting this tie will give you space to heal as well IMO.


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