Diane married Glenn after a brief courtship that began about two years after his divorce from his previous wife, Lisa. "Out of curiosity, I asked Glenn how his mother, Rita, had felt about Lisa," said Diane. "He said Lisa had been like a daughter to Rita. The alarms went off. I knew I might have some trouble winning Rita over to my side -- and boy, I was right."
Diane remembers her first Thanksgiving with her new in-laws. "Lisa called just as we were sitting down to dinner. It seems that she was very upset about not being with Glenn's folks at Thanksgiving; she even started crying on the phone. Rita spent over an hour comforting her. It was an awful situation. I was completely left out as Rita focused on her real favorite, her former daughter-in-law."
Ever been in this situation? Afraid you might be? Because half of all marriages end in divorce and a significant number of the participants choose to remarry and remarry and remarry, it's not unlikely that you could end up in Lisa and Glenn's situation -- or in Rita's shoes. The first spouse automatically becomes a cross between Henry Kissinger, the Dali Lama, and Mother Teresa. And the second spouse? Cold, three-day-old tuna casserole.
When a remarriage occurs, the whole family goes through a transition period. Sensitivity and thoughtfulness to the new spouse are essential to make the passage go smoothly.
Don't Go There
Under no circumstances should Diane get her husband to speak to his mother on her behalf. She should settle the issue directly, without involving intermediaries. Diane can explain her feelings to her husband, but she must settle the problem with her mother-in-law herself.
The subject is second marriages (specifically coming on after a boffo first act), but the issue is boundaries. Rita should not have talked to her former daughter-in-law while her current daughter-in-law was there. But because she did, Diane should have cleared the air by speaking to Rita later about her feelings. Here's a model opening that Diane (and you) can use: "I understand that Glenn's divorce from Lisa has been hard to accept, and that you still feel close to Lisa. However, perhaps you didn't realize that it hurts me to have you talk to her while I'm here." Here are some additional guidelines to help you build a good relationship with your in-laws when you're not their child's first spouse.
Don't force yourself on your mother- or father-in-law. But don't be a cold fish either!
Recognize that your in-law's special bond with your spouse's ex isn't a statement about you.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and your relationship won't be, either. Give your relationship time to develop.
If your in-laws compare you to the ex, try to accept that the ex must have had some good qualities -- at least one, maybe two.
Highlight your individuality.
Develop your own connection with your in-laws.