How To Deal With Your Ex's Family After A Breakup

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Imagine having to break up with someone's family, but the family happens to be the almighty Kardashians. It's a pretty terrifying thought. In the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, there was tension and confusion because Scott Disick, who is no longer seeing Kourtney Kardashian, went on vacation to Costa Rica with the whole fam. He said he felt sad and lonely being around his ex, Kourtney, but then "had a girl flown in" to hang out with him at a separate hotel. Disick was supposed to be on the trip to spend time with his kids, so it was a weird and confusing move, for sure.
There are complexities to the Disick-Kardashian relationship that we may never understand, but their situation does serve as an interesting case study. What do you do when you break up with someone but have a relationship with their family? We asked Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist in New York City, about how to deal with this situation — whether or not your ex is a Kardashian.
How can you tell if you should keep in touch or just have a totally clean break with someone's family?
"Generally speaking, clean breaks make sense, but there are circumstances where that doesn't exist," Brateman says. It helps if you understand your reasons for wanting to keep in touch with your ex's family, she says. For example, some people might hang around their ex's family in hopes that they'll run into their ex, or just hear something about them. "Sometimes, it's our own way of holding onto a relationship," she says. While that might work to gather info about your ex, it might just make you feel worse. "If it makes you feel bad or triggers old stuff that you wouldn't know about otherwise, what's the point?" she says.
The other thing to consider is that your ex's family might not want to hang with you, she says. "That option [to be friends] isn't necessarily open to you, even if you once had a good relationship with the family," she says. They may feel uncomfortable or conflicted about being caught in the crossfire, which is an "extra burden" for everyone, she says.
How do things change if you have kids with your ex?
"That changes everything," Brateman says. When kids are involved, there are so many logistical reasons why you'd want or have to stay in touch with your ex's family after a breakup. If that's the case, keeping it friendly and respectful when you have to see each other is the way to go, she says. "There are going to be events or things in which there's only one to go to," like a graduation or birthday, she says. If that's the case, she suggests you just attend the event and skip the after party, so you don't have to go too deep into the family territory. If you still get invites to parties and family events because of the kids, it can get awkward once you have a new partner, she says. "You're not making a decision for today, how might this affect your future?"
If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with the family, what are some guidelines and boundaries you should set?
Without straightforward boundaries, relationships can get blurry and confusing. But everyone's circumstances are different, so you have to talk to your ex about what they want to do, and then you also have to discuss it with their family separately, Brateman says. Occasionally, people assume that they're allowed to be friends with their ex's family, just because they like them, but that's not actually how it works, she says. "[Your ex] gets first dibs on their family," she says. If you're not comfortable with your ex talking to your family, or vice versa, Brateman suggests that you just tell them. There's a chance they could go rogue and keep following their posts on Facebook, or still talk to them IRL, not realizing that it makes you feel weird, she says. Not to mention: "Your ex may respect that, but some of your family members might not listen."
Ultimately, you and your ex have to be in agreement about what your plan is. "Your package comes with your people, but they can't break up with you and keep your people," she says.
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