Ex-etiquette: Red flags with late partner’s family

Jann Blackstone

Q. My husband passed eight years ago after 30 years of marriage. I’m now in a committed relationship and I’ve made it clear to my new partner that I have no intention of marrying. He seems resigned to that and it rarely comes up.

Here’s my problem: Over the years I have become friends with one of my brothers-in-law. While I live in the U.S., he lives in Canada and I’ve not seen him face-to-face in years. I’m going to Canada during the holiday season (to visit other family members) and I want to spend a few days with him.

My partner says “no,” naming all of the obvious reasons — sleeping with him is at the top of the list. I feel I have a right to see my brother-in-law. We have never entertained the kind of a relationship my partner is afraid of. I’ve told my partner that both relationships are equally important to me. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Technically, the 10 Rules of Good Ex-etiquette suggest that relationships with former in-laws should continue after a divorce or the death of a partner based on the fact you share extended family — nieces and nephews — and those family members remain even though your husband has died.

But you set yourself up for failure on this one and here’s the big red flag: If you told someone who loves you that there’s someone else in the world — or on another planet, for that matter — that’s as important to you as he or she is, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Yes, Ex-etiquette rule No. 8 of the 10 rules of Good Ex-etiquette is, “Be honest and straight forward,” but that comes with a qualifier: “Use your head.” Openly comparing how you feel about another person whom your partner knows you hold in high regard is bound to intimidate him — and is at the basis of his fears.

To get a little more understanding of how your partner might feel, I refer you to Ex-etiquette rule No. 7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” Understanding the other’s point of view can be a great healer during controversy.

Your partner is worried that you’ll be tempted by someone you obviously care for, while you share a long and happy history with your brother-in-law and want to see him. Both points are understandable and an honest and straightforward discussion may shed the light that’s needed to ease your partner’s concern.

Finally, have to say it … from the way you described the situation, I’m also not convinced there isn’t more to this story. You didn’t qualify what “staying with him for a few days” really means or discuss your brother-in-law’s current relationship status. Meeting for coffee, possibly dinner is one thing — staying at his home for a few days is another.

It could all be very innocent — or not — and that’s exactly where you partner is coming from. “Be honest and straightforward” does not only apply to honesty with others. It includes being honest with yourself. Take an honest look at this situation. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families,