Shifting your relationship with your Ex from being a married couple to a divorcing couple might be one of the single most challenging transitions you will ever have to make.
Moving from a relationship that is founded on limitless love and “oneness” to a dynamic of division and autonomy often feels really unnatural and even counter-intuitive.
As you move through the process of your divorce, you will want to establish healthy boundaries on every level. This will include both emotional and physical boundaries to protect you from unnecessary hurt as you learn to develop a new (and hopefully healthy) relationship with your Ex.
What are boundaries?
First you need to recognize that you have both internal and external boundaries. Internal boundaries protect you from doing too much for your Ex at the expense of yourself. External boundaries involve setting limits with your Ex so you are not violated or imposed upon. You boundaries will be protective, but they are not the same as defensiveness. Healthy boundaries should be permeable and flexible, not rigid and unbending. While you need to stay firm with your boundaries, be mindful of not putting up a wall or shutting your Ex out completely. You want to avoid using this adaptive tool as a mechanism for punishment and revenge. The goal is not to sever and cut the relationship, but to create a buffer or a bridge that can only be crossed with your permission. Setting clear boundaries shows self-respect, and that you are willing to stand up for yourself. You are teaching your Ex what you expect and will tolerate in the relationship.
How to establish boundaries?
We are not born with the ability to set boundaries, we actually have to learn the concept of boundaries over the lifespan. Through your early relationships and interactions with others, you learned about boundaries in a variety of ways. For many people setting boundaries feels cruel or confrontational, which usually stems from a fear of hurting someone’s feelings or wanting to please others. This relationship to boundary setting often stems from growing up around people who didn’t maintain or respect the idea of having healthy boundaries. Boundary setting may also leave you feeling selfish by putting your own best interests before others. As a child you may have been taught that it’s more important to tend to others needs before taking care of yourself. These kinds of beliefs are distorted and lead to unhealthy relationships even outside of the realm of divorce.
Here are five indicators that you need to set firmer boundaries with your Ex:
- You are in contact with your Ex more than you would like
- You tend to give in or get the short end of the stick with your Ex
- Your Ex calls all the shots and holds more control in the relationship
- You can’t make a decision without contacting your Ex
- Your Ex yells, curses or says derogatory things to you
As you become more emotionally detached from your Ex, it will become easier to set boundaries. It’s also important to remember that the person setting the boundaries is often experienced as being “cold” or “cruel” to the other partner. You can rest assured that setting boundaries, and maintaining the proper space between you and your Ex, are both healthy and adaptive ways to divorce with integrity.