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When Your Mom Sides With Your Ex

By Marianne Wait
WebMD Feature

Breaking up is hard to do, as the old song goes. Some of the stress can come from an unexpected source. When Lee (who asked that only her middle name be used), a mother and health care communications specialist from Williamsburg, VA, split from her husband, she nearly lost her mom in the process.

She and her mother didn’t always get along, says Lee, but after the divorce, her mom’s ties with her ex added extra strain. Though it happened years ago, Lee remembers one incident like it was yesterday. Shortly after the divorce papers were signed, her mom got free tickets to the circus.  She took her 3-year-old grandson -- and her ex son-in-law. Lee found out after the fact, from the excited toddler.

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“I felt hurt. Then I felt angry,” says Lee. “I’m not saying I’m a better person than [my ex] or anything, but I’m her daughter. Inside I felt that she should always be taking my side.”

It’s not unusual to feel betrayed by the people close to us post-divorce, says Judith Margerum, PhD, a clinical psychologist.

“Divorce is a very significant event in your life. It affects people’s self-esteem, their sense of who they are.” And when a loved one appears to choose sides, Margerum says, “that’s a wound on top of a wound.” 

It's not just family. Friendships can suffer. One study suggests that women can lose up to 40% of their mutual friends after a divorce. Some people stay loyal to the person they were friends with first. Some couples don’t know how to include a single person in their social mix, says Marie Hartwell-Walker, EdD, a marriage and family counselor.

Friendships also fizzle for practical reasons.  “Sometimes it’s just too hard for a third party to stay friends with both because there are only so many hours in a day,” Hartwell-Walker says.

Tips for Coping

Be realistic. While it may be tempting to ask family and friends to drop contact with your ex, you don’t have that right. “You can’t legislate other people’s relationships,” says Hartwell-Walker. “It’s important to not expect everyone else to fall in line when either you like someone or you don’t.”

Set appropriate boundaries. You can’t ask people to stop seeing your ex, but you can tell them you don’t need to know when he or she gets a new job or starts dating someone new.

Don’t take it personally.  The truth is, it’s not always about you, Margerum says. Instead of thinking, "If my mom has a relationship with my ex, she doesn’t care about me," think, "They’ve been friends for 20 years."

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