Boundaries With An Ex-Spouse

2018-08-21T23:06:24+00:00

Boundaries with ex spouses are best for everyone who is trying to move on after divorce.  Divorce is often ugly and heartbreaking. Setting boundaries after divorce gives you time and space to grieve your losses and start healing from the overwhelming ordeal of the divorce itself.

In spite of the usually adversarial nature of divorce, often our ex wants us to “be friends.”  That’s all well and good. But I, for one, didn’t want to “be friends” with my ex-husband who had dragged our whole family through hell for three agonizing years while he had a midlife affair.  

Those three years that we were separated, turned into a soap opera of failed promises and new discoveries of lying and cheating, all while he told me he wanted to “prove that he could be the husband and father we deserved.”  

I don’t need friends like that. So, because of my relationship with my ex after-divorce, boundaries were essential.  

Boundaries are a necessity, especially in divorces that are a result of betrayal or not being willing to work to save the marriage.  Realistically, boundaries between ex-spouses are necessary after every divorce.

One reason many men, (especially if they have had an affair or have abandoned the family to “find themselves,”) want to be friends is so they can pretend that what they did wasn’t as awful as it really was.  They can say, “See, we just grew apart and we’re still good friends.”

“No, we didn’t ‘just grow apart’ and what you did to our family was despicable and cowardly. I don’t want to do holidays together!  I don’t want to go on vacations together! I wish I never had to see your face again!” Saying that made me look unforgiving and hateful. At that point, I was.

Of course, not all divorces are battlegrounds.  Some divorces are not because of the three so called “acceptable” reasons for divorce: abuse, addiction or adultery.  

Sometimes, partners do change so much as individuals that we can’t imagine staying in a marriage that has become unfulfilling to both of us.  I guess couples can actually have a divorce that is a friendly end to a mostly good thing. Usually not, but I guess those kinds of divorces do happen. Somewhere.  

Space

Couples who are going through divorce often have to continue to live together temporarily because of financial reasons or until they sell their house or until the final divorce decree is decided on.  That situation makes the relationship with your ex and setting appropriate boundaries very challenging.

According to the women I help who have had to endure being in the same house after they have decided to divorce find it very, very difficult.  Divorce is emotionally crazy enough without having to share a kitchen (with sharp knives!) or any part of a house with the person you are divorcing.  

Getting physical space between you gives you the mental space you need to grieve your losses and heal your hurts.  That process is prolonged if you have to live under the same roof.

Communication

Since most divorces are not especially friendly, we have to figure out ways to communicate that create the least friction.  That often is communication by text or email. During and after divorce, face-to-face or even phone conversations can quickly get out of control.  

To keep animosity at a minimum, communicating through texts or email lets you create the message and then hold it for a few hours to make sure you aren’t saying something that you will be sorry for later.

This is especially helpful if you have children. Plus, you have a record of agreements that were made, and one person can’t claim “I never agreed to that!” when you have a record to show they did.

Dating & Relationships

At some point we have to move past our divorce.  That means we need to put some boundaries on our own obsessing and talking about our divorce.  People who care about us just want us to get better. They get tired of hearing about our divorce way before we’re done talking about it.

That’s why it’s good for a while to have a place to talk about the divorce with people who understand and don’t get tired of listening.  It helps to get into a support group or an online forum like the one that’s part of our MasterPlan where you can talk as much as you want about your divorce. You can also share your wisdom with other women who are trying to get better.  That helps you get better faster, too.

Another thing: the more our ears hear the same sad, traumatic story of our divorce, the more those events embed themselves in our psyche.  So, the sooner we set boundaries around telling our own divorce narrative, the better. Change the discussion to a story about some of your new dreams and goals for the future.  

When you’re ready, let friends and family members know that you are taking a break from conversations about the ex and the divorce. This will probably be welcome news to their ears!

The necessity of putting boundaries around retelling our divorce story is especially true if we are starting to date.  No friend or potential future partner wants to hear a continual barrage of horrible stories about our ex or about our broken or furious heart.

Another piece of advice:  STOP LOOKING AT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.  That usually brings nothing but despair and anguish!  Set that boundary RIGHT NOW!

Money

Setting boundaries with our ex about money is often one of the most challenging parts of divorce.  One bit of advice from my own divorce was to have the money owed by my ex paid through the court system.  That way, we remove ourselves from the alimony and child support battles. The court takes care of it.

If a payment doesn’t come or is constantly late, the court has to deal with it, not us.  Those stories of why the payment is late don’t matter to the court. Also, we have less reason to contact the other person, so that makes our communication boundaries easier to enforce.

Time

If you have children, one of the hardest boundaries for ex-spouses to deal with is time with the kids.  Who has the children, when? Have very clear, pre-determined schedules. Kids like to know in advance where they will be, when.  They like to know ahead of time where they will be for holidays and when and where vacation times are.

But, what happens for special family events that can’t be changed (like weddings, funerals and family reunions)?  Boundaries with exes need to be strong, but occasionally flexible, too.

Our time with our children is one of our most precious gifts.  

Many fathers are already living with the new girlfriend by the time the divorce is final.  Spiritual women, especially, don’t like the idea of the children being subjected to a lack of moral bearings at the Dad’s house. Or access to alcohol.  Or introducing the kids to the new woman, and maybe her children, too soon.

And often, the Dad earns the well-deserved title “Disney-Land Dad” who is the fun and games guy who makes sure the kids want to come see him. Mom is usually the one who makes them brush their teeth and do their homework and get to their important appointments.

Of course, that is not always the case.  Sometimes, moms are so emotionally fragile and angry that they can’t parent the way they should, either.  The environment at the mom’s house can become toxic because of constantly wanting to know what’s going on at Dad’s house. Or constantly being furious or in despair rather than learning to cope.

So, it’s best to set some common boundaries of behavior at both houses.  It’s true that we can’t control what happens at the other parent’s house.  We can only control what happens when the kids are with us. We have to make sure the kids know what is expected of them at our home regardless of what happens at Dad’s and vice-versa.   

Research shows that kids are usually not so upset about the divorce as they are about the constant arguing and fighting between the parents.  Boundaries can help ex-spouses be more sensitive to what the kids need, and then do their best to make things as easy as possible for them.

Some boundaries both parents need to follow:

  • Don’t constantly bad-mouth the other parent
  • Be direct and truthful, but leave kids out of the drama
  • Work on your own recovery.  Let the other parent work on theirs.

Remember, too:

  • Kids are smart. They know which parent is doing the right thing.
  • Kids also know how to play the parents against each other.
  • Kids learn how to deal with adversity by observing us.  (Scary, I know!)
  • Kids need secure boundaries themselves, especially now.

Respect

Respect isn’t always a word that comes to mind when either parent is describing the other parent.  Both parents can be disrespectful in many ways.

Ways we can show disrespect to the other parent:

  • Body language
  • Trying to pry out information about the other parent
  • Being focused on the divorce instead of on the healing and readjusting
  • Constantly criticizing their parenting (even if they deserve it!)  
  • Using the kids as messengers.  
  • Dealing with co-parenting issues with the kids instead of the other parent
  • Criticizing the ex’s new significant other
  • Making it hard for kids to enjoy being with the other parent.

Be patient with your kids, too.  This time of adjustment to the divorce is hard on everyone.  If necessary, be flexible on a bedtime boundary if a kid needs to go shoot some baskets to calm himself down.  Be patient with your daughter if she didn’t get her homework done because of some trauma that happened with the other parent.  

Another kind of boundary we have to develop after divorce is respect for ourselves.  Divorce is one of the hardest life situations you will ever go through. Be patient with yourself.  Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Be honest with your children and apologize when you need to.  Taking responsibility for our mistakes is a great life lesson we can teach during this difficult time.

Try to keep your sense of humor!  We all screw up and it’s not the end of the world.  Apologize and try to do better tomorrow.

One last word:

If boundaries are crossed that are dangerous or illegal, do not hesitate to contact the proper authorities.  Any form of harassment or stalking should not be tolerated. Have the boundaries clearly spelled out in the divorce decree, and tell your ex what the consequences will be for not respecting those boundaries.

Enforce your safety boundaries for the security of everyone concerned.  Divorce can be volatile, and emotions are all more erratic and intense. Anything that puts anyone in physical danger is a job for professionals.

Regardless of how you’re doing with the new boundaries in your divorce or post-divorce life, get help!  Find out more about our MasterPlan life transformation program which includes our safe, secure, private online MDRcommunity.  Having a whole tribe of women to confide in and connect with makes boundaries with our ex easier to make … and to enforce.

About the Author:

Suzy developed Midlife Divorce Recovery as a safe refuge for people healing and surviving the overwhelm of divorce. Starting her first RADiCAL support group in 2003 she's been helping women navigate the journey of divorce ever since.

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