Home » Ask the Therapist » Is My Relationship with My Former Mother-in-Law Healthy?

Is My Relationship with My Former Mother-in-Law Healthy?

Asked by on with 1 answer:

From the U.S.: My husband abandoned me – left in 2015, found out later he had blown through all of our money and there was another woman. He would be vague in communication or just not respond and he roadblocked divorce, and then I got cancer, which I’ve been fighting since early 2017. After I got cancer, he stopped communicating altogether and has since changed his phone number. He pays me no support (even though he agreed he would). He has never asked how I am, doesn’t seem to care that I’m financially struggling and fighting cancer.

My mother in law was very upset when she learned I was sick and she would text me every few weeks and I would communicate with her and never mention him, but it always felt wrong in a way I couldn’t explain. She will only communicate with me about my illness but seems to want to pretend that certain things don’t exist, i.e. all of the things that go along with the illness and the things (financial) made more difficult by her son’s actions, or the very fact that he completely abandoned me, lives with another woman and instead of divorcing me, acts like I never existed.

I don’t bring him up to her, but last year, I asked her to confirm that he had changed his phone number (because I was so shocked he would do so). She stated “That’s between you two” and then I didn’t hear from her again for six months. Now when I do hear from her, it’s a text every few months just saying she’s praying for me and asking how I’m doing.

Even though my husband alone is fully responsible for his actions, I feel like it’s unhealthy for me to have any relationship with this woman who refuses to acknowledge her son’s terrible actions towards me.  Am I being immature in this situation?

Is My Relationship with My Former Mother-in-Law Healthy?

Answered by on -


Sadly, in my opinion, there is no etiquette for dealing with former in-laws. Often, in-laws love and care about their children’s former partner even when the relationship ends. Navigating the continuation of the relationship with their child’s former partner is challenging at best, especially if the adult child sees it as some kind of disloyalty. The in-law doesn’t want to be caught in the middle of the couple’s argument but does want to let the former partner know that she or he is still loved.

It looks to me like your former mother-in-law is struggling with that very problem. She doesn’t want to “take sides” or be a go-between or a source of information about her son but she does want you to know that she cares. It’s difficult, but she keeps trying. So I think you should accept the love that is behind it and not expect her to tell you how she feels about her son’s behavior.

Meanwhile, when you are feeling stronger, I hope you are talking to an attorney about how to make the divorce happen. The stress of being in the “limbo” of neither married nor divorced is not helpful in your recovery or in your ability to move on in life.

I wish you well.

Dr. Marie

Is My Relationship with My Former Mother-in-Law Healthy?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). Is My Relationship with My Former Mother-in-Law Healthy?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 Jan 2019 (Originally: 23 Jan 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 19 Jan 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.