How to Set Boundaries With Your Ex-Wife

by Emma Wells

    After divorce, boundaries can be shaky, especially if you and your ex-wife are co-parents for the kids. Your relationship has changed, and therefore you need to have new boundaries around the frequency of your interactions and the content of those interactions. Other relationships can develop problems if your new girlfriend or wife feels that the ex-wife is crossing personal boundaries, as well. Set healthy boundaries so that you can maintain civility with your ex-wife and live your own life.

    The first step toward setting healthy boundaries is assessing the problematic behavior on both sides. If your ex-wife calls too often, wants to make social dates that you don’t want, and places emotional burdens on you in ways that you feel are inappropriate now that you’re divorced, she might be crossing your boundaries. Consider the behaviors that allow her to cross those boundaries, says the counseling program of Johnson State College. If you give in to her requests every time even though you don’t want to, you need to address unhealthy behavior of your own.

    Healthy, generous people set boundaries so that they can have a separation between themselves and other people, and ultimately give more to the people who matter to them, according to the counseling program. Setting boundaries doesn’t make you a mean or unfeeling person, despite what your ex-wife might say. Try putting it simply. You can say something like: “Now that we’re divorced, you may not continue to call me in the middle of the night unless one of the kids has an emergency.”

    Reinforcing boundaries requires maintaining consistent behavior and consequences when your ex-wife crosses your personal boundaries. You can explain your consequence before, for example, “If you call me in the middle of the night and it turns out not to be an emergency, I will end the phone call immediately.” Then, if your ex-wife continues to cross your boundary line, implement the consequence.

    If you and your ex-wife are co-parenting children, maintain civil contact with her. Set boundaries by focusing on your relationship as co-parents only, recommends marriage and family therapist Ron Deal. Deal suggests setting up a regular meeting in which you discuss the kids and your parenting strategies, and redirecting the conversation back to parenting if she tries to bring up other subjects. Don’t give in to manipulation; ask her to leave the kids out of your personal problems, says Deal.

    About the Author

    Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.

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