Anytime a relationship changes, its boundaries change. As one of our main relationships is coming to an end or at the very least, morphing into a much less significant one during divorce, it is important that we stay conscious about our own changing boundaries and aware of the ones our ex is putting up.
Boundaries are like fences around a physical property, securing the good inside and keeping the unwanted out. Defining clearly where our responsibilities end and someone else’s begin. Without clear boundaries life gets confusing. Without clear boundaries during divorce, divorce gets really confusing.
The most important thing to keep in mind about boundary setting during divorce is that they are not for punishing our ex but to protect ourselves. If boundaries are set in anger or out of resentment toward the other person, they won’t serve their purpose at all, and instead of protecting us, they will further harm us.
If we have problems with codependency (expecting our happiness, fulfillment, validation, or value from others) it is very difficult to set healthy and functional boundaries because we are not clear on our own borders, responsibilities, rights, and needs. In that case codependency must be addressed first and fully so we can learn, maybe for the first time ever, how to protect ourselves with healthy limits and boundaries.
These are the main areas we need to be sure we are setting clear, well communicated boundaries with our ex and consistently reinforce them when not respected.
1. Physical Boundaries
Just like physical separation is the most visible and comprehensible kind of separation (compared to emotional or spiritual), physical boundaries are the clearest and most straight forward to set up, although not always the easiest to reinforce. It takes some time to get used to the fact that our previous home only belongs to one of us now and the other one cannot just walk in anytime without permission. Our personal physical space from our ex is exponentially bigger now, which feels weird and even lonely at times, but it’s crucial that we respect and hold the borders of it firmly. Our sexual boundaries should be unyielding and non-negotiable at all times with our ex.
2. Material Boundaries
It is usually a long process to separate the assets and finances and most cases we have assistance from our lawyers or financial advisors, but money is always a heated area during divorce. Until everything gets finalized on paper we need to communicate clear boundaries, what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to spending, taking, borrowing, sharing, or using. Many times we hide behind material conflicts when the real, underlying issues are emotional, so setting clear material boundaries with each other will reduce these easy triggers.
3. Emotional Boundaries
During emotional separation we are entangling ourselves from our marriage, trying to separate our own feelings and decide what really belongs to us and what doesn’t. It is an overwhelming process to say the least, but if we take on more than our share emotionally, it will be an almost unbearable one. We need strong emotional boundaries for not taking on the feelings of our ex or accepting the blame, most importantly if they are trying to guilt or shame us about the divorce. Good boundaries will also protect us from being highly reactive and taking everything personally, which will reduce the overall anger and stress level of the whole process.
4. Mental Boundaries
In most cases there are differing ideas and opinions on the two sides of divorce and without strong mental boundaries it’s hard to stay in our own truth and not being persuaded about something we really don’t believe in or choose for ourselves. Mental boundaries also help us differentiate between the things we have power over and can change and things we don’t and have to let go. (For codependents with weak or non-existing internal boundaries these two areas often get confused or totally reversed.) They also help us keeping a sane mind and not obsessing over other people’s feelings or actions but rather taking responsibility for only things that are truly ours.
5. Listening and Talking Boundaries
Healthy boundaries enable us to communicate our own truth without blame, manipulation, or control, and to receive other people’s truth without feelings of fear, anger, shame, or guilt. With strong talking boundaries we can respectfully and diplomatically say our truth without yelling, shaming, blaming, lying, or ridiculing. And with strong listening boundaries we can hear out the other person’s truth fully, but only taking on what makes through our own filter for being true for us. Keeping room for differences in opinions and beliefs, and not overly affected by our ex’s thoughts and convictions. As said before, these boundaries are not for the purpose of punishing our ex, taking revenge, or elevating ourselves above the other person, but to protect our mental and emotional sanity during divorce.
6. Co-parenting Boundaries
Lets keep in mind that co-parenting is only possible with a sane person, so if our ex has untreated mental illness, active addiction issues, or narcissistic personality, parallel parenting is a better option. It requires less engagement and interactions with our ex and keeps the conflict at a minimum in an otherwise high conflict relationship. If we have a co-parenting plan, we should try to stick with it on our side and have regular and reasonable check-ins with our ex about his or her side. Always remembering that it is all about our children and not about us!
Co-parenting is a hard transition for all involved. For those of us who have been the main caregivers until this point and were involved in every single aspect and day of our children's lives, the thought of letting go of control when they are with the other parent and not being able to oversee everything, can be maddening. For the parent who was more distant and not so hands on until know, spending full days or weeks with the kids all the sudden can be overwhelming and anxiety producing. Children will sense the fear, uncertainty, and insecurity from both sides and if we don’t deal with our feelings they will take them on as their own, causing them anxiety, stress, and emotional trauma. Having well communicated and agreed upon co-parenting boundaries are necessary to keep our children feeling as safe, secure and loved as possible.
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