I briefly talked about setting healthy boundaries in the third part of my series on healing.
Today, imagine you have your favorite dessert and TV show in front of you…get ready to dig in.
Let’s begin with definitions.
What are boundaries and why do you need them?
Wikipedia defines personal boundaries as “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits”.
I really like this definition! It describes what personal boundaries are, as well as why you need them.
In simple terms, boundaries in relationships are guidelines or rules that prescribe how you want to relate with another person. Healthy boundaries keep you safe from behaviors and other external influences that can be harmful to your wellbeing.
Setting healthy boundaries for the relationship with your ex-spouse can seem weird at first.
Boundaries. Such a strange word to use in describing the relationship with the one that vowed to “love and to protect you, from this day forward”. It doesn’t quite correlate for many divorced women that’s why establishing healthy emotional boundaries with an ex is so difficult to implement.
How do you go about setting healthy boundaries with a man that you woke up next to every day? Made babies with? Shared a home with? A man who’s seen you in your “birthday suit” more times than you can count? Who knows your quirks? How you brush your teeth weird? How long you sit on the loo in the mornings?
What is the secret for setting healthy boundaries with the one person that has been more intimate with you than anyone on earth! Is it even possible???
Yes!! It is possible.
Setting healthy boundaries with your ex is imperative if you want to become independent and whole after divorce.
Try this heart check for establishing healthy emotional boundaries:
Ask yourself the following simple questions to check the appropriateness of your current relationship with your ex:
- Is there anything you would change if you got remarried?
- Would the relationship you have with your ex right now be appropriate if you were another man’s wife?
Don’t continue or allow any behavior that you would have to recalibrate if you were married. You are now head of your own household, the relationship with your ex should reflect this.
Examples of healthy boundaries to help you get started
You may be wondering about some examples of healthy boundaries that you could put in place with your ex. After all, you were married to the man! It’s natural for you to be confused about setting healthy boundaries for your new relationship post-divorce.
Some healthy emotional boundaries that may be appropriate depending on your situation could be
- No entry into your home when he picks up and drops off the kids
- Restricted communication channels (e.g. email, parenting app)
- No joint “family” time together with the kids (dinners, vacations etc)
- No joint financial ties
Every divorce situation is different so you will need to think about your particular situation and what is appropriate for you.
If you are still healing from your divorce, having healthy emotional boundaries for your relationship with the ex will give you the time and space to get stronger as your heart heals from divorce trauma.
Find comfort in this verse from Psalms 34:8
“The Lord is near the broken hearted, He delivers those who are discouraged”.
Here are some resources for how to set healthy boundaries so that you can heal and thrive after your divorce
Why you may be having difficulties in the relationship with your ex and how to set healthy boundaries to change your situation.
Here are some reasons why you may be having trouble setting healthy emotional boundaries with your ex. I also share practical solutions to help you break old patterns of behavior and develop a new healthy mindset.
#1: You still see him as he was.
Maybe you are still in love with your ex! Yes, you know that you are divorced. But somewhere in your heart, your ex is still THE guy. You know…the one that made you laugh. The one whose love and acceptance had the power to make you feel things you didn’t know existed. Somewhere deep down inside, your ex is still THE one.
Solution: Change the way you see the ex.
That man no longer exists, at least, not for you. Maybe he never really did. I’ve learned that people get married for so many different reasons…to love and to protect may have been a secondary objective (or not even on the list). Even if it was, it didn’t hold. But whatever the case, recalibrate your mindset! The man you fell in love with and married is gone!! Accept this so you can put your relationship with him in the right frame with healthy emotional boundaries firmly in place.
#2: You are still dependent on him financially.
This is a tough one! Many women become divorced later in life after they have invested much of their potential in a marriage and may have given up lucrative careers to stay home with the kids while their man took care of everything. Divorce is often financially devastating in these situations. This may be your story. I’m so sorry. It’s a hard place to be.
However, tough as it is, you have to find your way out! “He who feeds you owns you”. Ouch. Setting healthy boundaries is almost impossible with someone who pays your bills!
Solution: Obviously, it’s important that you assert your rights in a divorce for child support and alimony if applicable. I’m not casting any negative light on these legal remedies that frankly, you earned! Make sure you have a solid divorce decree.
However, if you are in a situation where your personal basic needs (house, food, transportation etc) cannot be met without the support of your ex, you are in a dangerous position! And you need to shift that as quickly as you can!
Yes! You can do this!
What can you do to become financially independent? What skills do you have? Everyone can do something!!
As women, we are too quick to underplay our abilities.
Think back to the things that you’ve done for others and they’ve enjoyed. For example, are you great at organizing? Always the one to plan that church picnic? Personal assistant. Do you love to cook and constantly get compliments for the pie you make for the annual church bake sale? Catering business. Are you uber fashionable and people always compliment your outfits? Personal Stylist! Do you get my drift?
God has put something in your hands, He never leaves us empty. Use it to fuel your future, that of your children and to help others around you!
I once heard a divorced single mama say how wonderful her relationship with her ex-husband is because he “always gives her money when she asks”. Yuck! I never want to be in that position! Hope you feel the same way. Setting healthy boundaries after divorce requires financial independence for your peace of mind and journey to wholeness.
#3: You are still entangled in a physical relationship with your ex.
Yes. There are women who are divorced and still having sex with their ex. For some, it’s because they are hoping for reconciliation and think that by being a “friend with benefits” they can win his love back. For others, it’s just “old habits die hard”. They still have strong sexual needs and if the ex is willing to meet them, why not? It’s a convenience without the daily work of actually living together and making a marriage work.
Solution: Just. STOP. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you know that you shouldn’t be doing this. Repent and seek God’s help to overcome in this area if you are having trouble becoming “untangled”. That man is no longer your husband! It doesn’t matter how long you were married.
A godly, Christian woman should not be having sex outside of marriage, even with the ex! I’m not saying this to bring shame and condemnation on you. That’s not from God. But genuine repentance and seeking God will fix this. I know that it gets lonely sometimes. You are used to having a physical relationship with your ex. But again, he is no longer your husband. The fact that he is willing to have you as a “friend with benefits” but no longer wants to be married to you should be demeaning and very disrespectful to you. Please seek help from your pastor or another trustworthy Christian counselor so that you can be set free.
#4: You are convinced that you have to be friends with your ex (for the sake of the children).
Everyone says you should be friends with your ex, so it must be true. Wrong. It’s true that there are some women who are able to stay friends with their ex. They hang out occasionally (with or without the kids), vacation together and even have family meals together. Personally, I don’t get it at all. Why not stay married and work through the issues? Or even consider getting remarried once you’ve dealt with the issues that caused the split?
Try this heart check: If you met your ex for the first time, just the way he is right now, would you choose to be friends with this person?
Friendship is a choice and a gift that you offer another person. It also requires trust. If your marriage ended due to a violation of trust such as adultery, abandonment, physical or other abuse etc, it may not be possible for you to be friends with your ex, especially if there is no genuine repentance. This unrealistic expectation can place a lot of strain on you if you’re are constantly trying to do this and it’s not working.
Note that setting healthy emotional boundaries has nothing to do with forgiveness! Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different issues. Forgiving your ex-spouse doesn’t mean that you must be friends.
Solution: Honestly evaluate your own situation; this is different for everyone. You must be civil and do your part to maintain a respectful relationship with your ex. But that may be all you want or all that you can do. That’s ok. Your kids will be fine. You can also choose to be friends with your ex, but setting boundaries in relationships is a good practice, even for friendships.
Some people feel that being over-friendly with their ex-spouse helps children cope better after a marriage breaks up. My personal opinion is that this kind of behavior presents a falsehood to the kids…that divorce is “the way things should be. If you no longer want your spouse, get divorced! no problem”. After all, since we all get along so beautifully and spend all this great time together, what could be wrong with getting a divorce?
No longer one family!
I think that this mindset of “we are divorced but we are still family” is detrimental to helping our kids understand the seriousness and sanctity of the marriage commitment. It’s ok for the kids to see the real separation that happens as a result of divorce. Don’t sugarcoat the situation with attempts to present a “divorced but one family message”.
Learn about how you can help your child heal after divorce, but don’t buy into the “we are still family” lie. I strongly feel this behavior contributes to making remarriage even more prone to failure! How can your new marriage thrive if you don’t have healthy emotional boundaries and you’re still entangled with the ex?
#5: You still live with your ex
Ok. Maybe he’s not physically in the house, but he still “lives” there. Why are some of his shirts still hanging in the closet? His toiletries still on the counter in the bathroom? Why are you still sleeping on only “your side” of the bed? Still using only “your side” of the double vanity in the bathroom? Still wearing your wedding ring?
Again, for those hoping for a reconciliation, this is a tough one. No one can tell you what’s right for your situation, you need to figure that out by yourself. But, if that relationship is truly dead, read on.
Solution: If you want healthy emotional boundaries, clear out the house! Give his stuff away if he doesn’t want it. Change the bed. Make the house yours. I know these are not living things, but they are constant reminders of what was, triggering painful memories. Having your ex-spouse’s belongings all over your house can be a stumbling block to setting healthy boundaries.
#6: Your ex-spouse has too much access to you.
This is closely linked to reason #4. It also really depends on whether being friends with your ex-spouse works for you. If it does, ignore everything else that I’m about to say. If it doesn’t, read on.
Constant access (texting, talking etc) can be a blocker to setting healthy boundaries with the ex so that you can heal after divorce and reach a place of wholeness. Yes, you share children. But do you really need to talk and text every day? Setting healthy boundaries with the ex-spouse may require that you reconsider how you communicate with him, especially if you are unable to communicate without rancor.
Solution: Can you communicate via email instead of texts? Save calls for emergencies only? This simple strategy allows you to compartmentalize that relationship and address issues at your own convenience instead of constantly being open to whatever your ex-spouse has to say. Again, he is no longer your husband.
Because you share children, you obviously need to find a way to communicate. But you may prefer for it to be on an as-needed basis instead of instant, constant access. If your divorce is not final, terms for communication between the two of you can be included in your divorce decree to avoid disagreement about this in the future. Especially in an abusive situation, this might be a wise thing to do.
#7: You are always asking him for some kind of help.
Your ex is often at your house. If he’s not helping you fix something around the house, there’s something wrong with your car. Maybe you want him around more than you care to admit.
I honestly think some divorced women shouldn’t have given up on their marriages. Some divorces boil down to pride or differences over issues that with greater maturity, could have been resolved within the marriage. In these cases, regret and guilt often follow.
Solution: If you are a divorced mama who made the choice to leave and you now know that you left a good man, swallow your pride. If he’s still available and open to reconciliation there are many resources to help you resolve your issues and maybe get a second chance at doing marriage right.
If that is not the case, and you know that you would never remarry the ex, figure out how to handle life on your own and put an end to the dependency. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned to do on my own around the house post-divorce just using Youtube. You are a grown woman and can take care of yourself!
Warning: If there are currently no healthy emotional boundaries in your relationship with the ex, expect major resistance to putting any of the above in place! People don’t like to change behaviors that are convenient for them. Know that you will need to be consistent and persistent to see the change that you seek!
I hope you had an “aha moment” as you read through this, and are able to take away some nuggets to help you with setting healthy boundaries with your ex so that you can heal, thrive and become whole after Divorce!
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