My Brother’s Ex-Wife Won’t Return a Family Heirloom. Help!

When my brother got engaged, he gave his fiancée — with my blessing — a ring that is a family heirloom. It belonged to our grandmother, who died before we were born. It didn’t occur to me that the ring was possibly leaving our family, which is what happened when they later divorced. My brother asked his ex-wife if she would return the ring, but she refused. I’ve tried to let this go: It’s just an object and not worth a lot of money, but I still harbor hard feelings. I was fond of my former sister-in-law; she was sweet to me and my kids. But we don’t have many things that belonged to my grandparents, and I’d rather give the ring to my daughter than let a stranger hang on to it. (My brother’s ex-wife doesn’t have children.) May I ask for it back?


Perhaps the single greatest tool in conflict resolution is our imagination. Here, for instance, by picturing ourselves in your former sister-in-law’s place, we may cook up a compromise that works for everyone.

I certainly understand your emotional attachment to a ring that belonged to your grandmother. It’s odd, though, that you don’t seem to acknowledge your former sister-in-law’s more direct relationship with it: It was her engagement ring. She may have worn it every day of her married life. And the ultimate dissolution of the marriage doesn’t change the fact that the ring may still symbolize the love and hope she once felt for your brother and their life together. (She is also its legal owner — and hardly a “stranger,” as you call her.)

Now, it’s good that you are fond of your former sister-in-law. Go to her: Acknowledge her possible feelings about the ring, express your own — and ask if she would consider leaving it to your daughter in her will. This would respect everyone’s attachment to the heirloom. It’s also possible, of course, that I am being too rosy here, and your former sister-in-law is hanging on to the ring out of anger or hurt feelings — in which case, you may commiserate with her and offer to buy it back.

Credit…Miguel Porlan

Great Story, but Maybe Hold the Demographics?

Whenever a particular relative tells a story, she tends to mention people’s race, ethnicity or religion. “I met a wonderful Jewish man the other day,” for instance. Or “I had an Uber ride with the nicest Armenian woman.” When other people tell stories, a similar thing occurs: “Klein is a German name,” she’ll say. “Is she German?” Part of me believes this is just another piece of information to her; another part thinks it’s cringeworthy. Should I say something?

Back to top button