Recently, my client “Paul” had described how his soon-to-be ex-wife continues to violate his private space. The couple has been separated for nearly 5 months; Paul had moved into their second home a few blocks down the street from the marital home. With their shared parenting plan in the process for their young son, the couple has worked out a schedule with alternating days and times for their exchanges. When it’s Paul’s turn to bring his son back to his mother’s home, he respectfully will say his goodbye at the front door to respect his wife’s privacy.  However, when “Heather “picks up or drops off their son, not only will she arrive either much earlier or later than the agreed time, but she also walks right into his home as if she lives there. When inside the home, she will go as far as inspecting the refrigerator to make sure he has everything she informed him to buy for their son.

Throughout his day, Paul receives constant texts, phone calls, and emails that have nothing to do with their son. Whether it’s issues about co-workers, friends, etc. His wife continues to behave as though they were still a couple which has led to his distraction at work and a rollercoaster of emotions.

During each of his sessions, Paul will discuss his frustration which has led to anger, that this behavior has continued for months, and how she does not see how disrespectful this is to him. Let me tell you why I believe this continues to occur; because there have been no boundaries implemented.

Divorce brings many changes including a new set of boundaries. What was once okay may seem intrusive after a couple has separated. Communicating and dealing with your ex during and after divorce is a given when you have children together. But how do you handle this new relationship with your ex-wife without slipping back into the same old habits of interacting with each other? The answer lies in breaking the emotional ties that keep you bound to these old habits and determining what feels right and what is uncomfortable.

Your separation or divorce is only step one in moving into a new life after divorce. The real divorce is the cutting of the emotional, mental, and physical ties that still bind you to your ex-wife. This is the real work of divorce recovery; reclaiming control over your life, finding your confidence and self-esteem, and most importantly, a complete break from the emotional turmoil that led to your divorce in the first place.

All too often, men experience the same conflicts with their ex that originally led to divorce: constant arguments and reactive behavior leading to emotional chaos.

When married, a couple may have called and texted each other throughout the day. This can be too much contact, so texting on a need-to-know basis or an important matter regarding the children, is an appropriate boundary during divorce. In an acrimonious divorce, direct contact may be intimidating for either spouse. A way to protect boundaries in this situation is to have all communication go to a neutral third party or an app such as Our Family Wizard.

Setting Boundaries with Personal Obligations: The divorce process itself is stressful even when it is amicable. This is the time to start saying “No” to taking on new things. Look at current obligations and decide which ones could be dropped since the last thing you need now is to take up too much of your time and drain energy.

Being frazzled and overwhelmed helps no one.

During a divorce, it will take effort and inner work that will help you sever your emotional and physical ties to your ex, and you must build a structure that will facilitate this.

Let me give you examples: You and your ex have children together; therefore, you must be in contact with one another on a regular basis. Unfortunately, your discussions with ex always end in an argument. Nothing happens easily. The deep resentments and hurts suffered in your marriage and actual divorce remain intact. You each know each other’s hot buttons and continue to push those buttons resulting in upsets. It’s the old marriage still running the game. You continually get sucked into a deep abyss!

Setting Boundaries with Access to the Marital Home: A sticky issue with boundaries comes up during separation and divorce regarding the marital home. Technically both spouses are co-owners. Establish guidelines regarding how the spouse that moved out has access, especially when their possessions are still inside.

Setting Boundaries with Friends and Family: Once you begin to inform family and friends of your impending divorce, you will constantly be receiving unsolicited advice from them. Sure, they mean well, however, their advice is biased and may not be in your best interest. This often leads to feelings of overwhelm, which is why setting limits and boundaries may be needed. Acknowledging their concern or changing the subject, are ways to divert conversations away from the subject of your divorce.

Establishing ground rules for your ex after divorce: Ground rules and boundaries are meant to protect you and prevent any kind of situation that could lead to an upset. Obviously the less you have to do with your ex after divorce the better. That is not to say that you cannot have a relationship with your ex, but it will be radically different from the one you had while married.

Set ground rules and boundaries that determine the nature of this new relationship. These rules might include:

  • Communicate with your ex via writing and/or brief phone calls. Keep all communication limited to only what is necessary for the kids or legal matters.
  • Speak to one another in respectful ways. When an upset is looming or when your ex starts to speak to you in inappropriate ways, stop the conversation and hang up or walk away. Let your ex know this new ground rule: you will speak to one another in respectful ways and will not tolerate anything else or the conversation is over!
  • Ensure that your home is just that: your home. When she plans to come over, ask that this is communicated beforehand, rather than taking the liberty of showing up unannounced. Also, your home is not a place to hang out with the kids. It is not her home. When she is in your house make certain she realizes that she is a house guest like any other.
  • Keep your conversations brief and to the point. Protect your privacy. Do not discuss your fears, concerns, or personal issues because that only maintains the emotional tie between the two of you. Don’t talk about anything that opens the door to more connections or emotional entanglements. Keep it business-like.

Do not involve the children in any communication between the two of you. Don’t send messages through the kids. Don’t involve them in adult matters, this is unfair to do to them.

Stay out of each other’s lives. You don’t need to know where she goes, what she does, whom she is seeing…and she doesn’t need to know those things about you as well.

Don’t look to your ex for advice or support. This might be the hardest tie to break. You aren’t going to be married for much longer, and you will only be left disappointed. Better to break this habit now during the early phase of your divorce.

Moving Forward

Remember, you are transitioning to no longer being her husband anymore. Perhaps in the future, when you have cut all the emotional ties to your ex that held you back from creating a new life for yourself; you might be able to ease these rules/boundaries and form an amicable friendship. What’s done is done and what is past is past. Let go of anything that does not serve you well.

Hayley Lisa

The Divorce Coach for Men