Carolyn Hax: Ex-mother-in-law is sad to see son’s marriage end

Advice columnist

July 10 at 11:59 PM

Adapted from
an online

Dear Carolyn: My son got married in October to his longtime girlfriend. The wedding was fabulous, but more important, my son and his wife appeared to be blissfully in love.

He called yesterday to say it was over — she had been unhappy since the wedding and finally moved back home to her parents. He said that she felt she had lost her identity, that her career was secondary to his and that they only were friends with his friends.

What’s odd about this is that he lives 2,000 miles from where he grew up — but they live in the only city she has ever lived in. Her family, friends, high school, college and career are all still right there. It makes me think that there is something more serious going on.

I was so blindsided by the news, and I’m so terribly sad. Before anyone says this isn’t about me, I totally get that, but I’m grieving nevertheless. I’d sure love advice on how I can move on from this, while supporting my son.

— Sad Former Mother-in-Law

Sad Former Mother-in-Law: Of course you’re grieving. It’s a sad time for all of you, and you don’t need to justify caring or apologize for it.

I don’t think this needs to be about “something more serious going on,” though. No doubt you’re right that her explanation and the facts don’t line up perfectly well. However, it also seems possible that she just held all this stuff in and told herself different things to make it okay and it all never really felt right — which was to be expected, if she wasn’t being honest with herself — and now it’s all just tumbling out in a pile of messy feelings and logical inconsistencies.

Here’s a common version of what I’m trying to describe: She kept telling herself that she and your son were right for each other because they were together so long . . . and kept tuning out the little voice telling her otherwise, because hitting the brakes was so painful to think about. And once the wedding plans were underway, ugh, so painful and now public to stop the runaway train. But finally it was too hard to deny that she wasn’t happy.

That feeling is no less than a sense of not being oneself anymore. Even if some of the specifics are provably false, I bet that general part of her explanation is dead-on accurate.

Anyway. I’m throwing this all out there in case it helps you make sense of it, but the basics are the same regardless: She had second thoughts, she acted on them, your son is first among you in facing a drastic and painful change. Just be kind to everyone, yourself included, as you all adapt to that change.

If her heart genuinely is no longer in this marriage, then your son will be better for her decision to get out. In time, he will recover, and so will you, and a life that fits him better will be there for him when he’s ready.

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