Ex-etiquette: Breakup tests family allegiances

Jann Blackstone

Q: Over the 10 years my ex and I were together his sister and I became best friends, plus she does my hair. He cheated and I left and now he expects his sister and me to stop being friends and he wants her to stop doing my hair. We think he’s ridiculous and both of us have told him no. He’s furious and making everyone’s life miserable — and he’s not even with the woman he cheated with. With the holidays coming up, we can only anticipate the worst. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: When people break up, they often think their friends and family should line up on their side. Doesn’t matter who is at fault. No matter how wrong they are, they expect allegiance. Problem is, like you, friends and family often form close bonds with their family member’s partner and over the years the essence of the relationship stops being dependent on the family member. Then there’s a break up and the family member start pulling rank. “You’re MY family and you should be on MY side.” Allegiances are truly tested.

Of course, we all understand how your ex feels, but referring to the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette (not the Rules for Parents, the Rules for Dating when neither partner has children) the first rule is “Own your own stuff.” In other words, although there may have been trouble in paradise that you did not share in your question — he cheated, that’s the primary reason you said you broke up. Therefore, it’s on him and he has no one to blame but himself. If he expects everyone to support him in his mistake, that’s bad ex-etiquette. Doesn’t mean they don’t love him — just means they don’t agree with his choices and they believe the consequences are his. It’s the, “I love you, just don’t love what you did” sort of attitude. That’s good ex-etiquette. Would the relatives feel the same way if your ex was the one who was hurt? Probably not — and rightly so.

Truth is, it’s always your prerogative to break up with someone — but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Sneaking around behind you partner’s back is the wrong way and when they find out they’re doubly upset about it (Ex-etiquette Rule No. 8, “Be honest and straight forward”). So are their relatives, if they have forged a loving relationship. Betrayal is difficult to get over, and good ex-etiquette suggests you “Don’t hold grudges” (rule No. 5) and “are not spiteful” (rule No. 6) if you interact with an ex. Since you’ve no intention of unfriending your ex’s sister, you’ll probably interact now and then, probably around the holidays. Set the example. Family members will follow your lead. Don’t make them choose. That’s very bad ex-etiquette.

Finally, I’m not surprised your ex is no longer with the woman he cheated with. Research points to only between 3 and 5 percent of affairs end in marriage. I suspect, however, that’s about the same percentage of success for finding another good hair stylist on such short notice.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette websiteexetiquette.com at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.