Regardless of who decides to end the marriage, there are always upset feelings and most people want to know how to protect themselves from getting hurt after divorce.
The key to that is boundaries. Just like fences and locks we use to protect our property, we establish all sorts of boundaries with others to help protect us from harm. These boundaries however are not as simple or obvious as a gate or a padlock. They’re much more complex.
- They take different forms
- We create different boundaries with different people
- We change our boundaries over time
- And sometimes, we don’t set the boundaries we need.
Recovering from divorce often means taking a closer look at your boundaries, understanding how you’ve set them in the past, and where you need to set them now in relation to your ex, your children and anyone you date.
It’s not easy to set different boundaries with people you’ve been in relationship with for a long time and it’s especially difficult if you haven’t had good boundaries.
Joining me for this episode of Conversations About Divorce is dating expert Sandy Weiner of LastFirstDate. Sandy grew up with fuzzy boundaries and she says that learning about boundaries was one of the greatest gifts from her divorce. Listen in below or keep reading …
What Is A Boundary?
A boundary is a mechanism for keeping your values and your needs safe. Weiner describes a boundary as a “velvet rope.” It’s not harsh, it’s soft but it’s firm.
To set healthy boundaries however you first have to know the things that are most important to you and the things that are non-negotiable. This isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s helpful to visit this whenever you get upset about something someone has done and ask yourself if you need to change your boundaries with that person.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Weiner says it perfectly: “Your core essence depends on your needs being met so if you don’t keep those needs safely protected you will live somebody else’s life and not your own.”
When you don’t honor your needs what tends to happen is that you accommodate the needs of other people and you stray away from your true self. Do that for very long and you will end up feeling lost, which is something I hear from many of my clients.
When you honor your values you will find that people around you will also honor them.
Weiner says her motto is to be a woman of value and to be that she must know her own value and to be able to enforce how others treat her by setting boundaries.
This might sound a little harsh or authoritarian and that’s one reason why people resist setting boundaries – more on that later but Weiner says, “You can ask for what you want in a kind way but know what it is.”
What Are Some Different Forms Of Boundaries?
The most common boundaries fall into two categories: physical and behavioral. The physical boundaries are often the easiest ones to see. For example, after your divorce, you might say to your ex that you don’t want them coming into your home. When you first start dating someone, you might not disclose where you live until you know them better and you want to pursue the relationship. When you’re upset with your kids, you might tell them you’re so upset that you need to be apart from them right now and then you leave the room – that physical distance is a boundary. I’ve also seen this come up in mediation where the parties need to be in separate rooms because one party needs to avoid being triggered by the other.
Communication is a behavioral boundary and we see that play out not only in what we’ll discuss but also in how and the method. When the emotions are running high, divorcing couples often find it more productive to limit communication to email or text. Weiner, recommends the reverse with dating. Since texting is lacking in emotion and it’s difficult to discern nuances, Weiner says meet in person as soon as possible.
There are probably some things you’ll talk about with some people and not others. Whether you realize this or not, you do this to protect yourself. Weiner recalls that during her marriage, her teenage daughter asked her a sexually explicit question about Weiner’s relationship with her husband. Weiner told her daughter that it was topic that she was not going to discuss with her. Weiner’s daughter got upset and argued that since she told her mom everything, it should work the other way too. Obviously, it doesn’t. Not with adults and certainly not with children.
How you let someone talk to you is also a boundary. I remember telling my teenagers when they were angry about something that I understood that they were angry and they had a right to be angry but I would not be yelled at. When they were ready to have a discussion, we could talk and work it out.
Why Is Setting A Boundary Hard?
Weiner says that one reason setting boundaries is hard is that many of us have never been taught how and we grew up in homes where boundaries were not healthy. Women have an added disadvantage because we’ve often been raised to accommodate others and to be kind, to put the needs of others before our own. So then we think that setting a boundary is mean.
“The truth is, not speaking up and enabling someone is unkind,” says Weiner. Once you learn to communicate, there’s less likelihood you’ll be triggered by someone’s actions and then you’ll be able to stay calm and enforce your boundaries. It won’t feel mean.
We also don’t like to enforce boundaries because we’re afraid of hurting other people or we’re afraid we won’t be liked. What’s important to recognize here though is that by not honoring your boundaries, you are making your own needs less of a priority. Weiner says, “People pleasing is a really bad habit that needs to be broken.”
Finding it difficult to enforce a boundary may also stem from not being able to say no and Weiner has a great strategy for that. “If you have trouble saying no, don’t say yes in the moment.” Sleeping on things really does help and so does listening to your body. If you feel drained by your yes, then it is a bad decision. If you feel expanded, energized, fill up by your decision, whether it’s a yes or no, then the decision is a good one.
How Do You Set New Boundaries?
Setting new boundaries is a common need for people going through divorce because they’re often shifting the relationship with their partner from a spousal relationship to a co-parenting relationship and so the boundaries need to be different. Even couples without children end up changing their boundaries while they work through the legal process.
To be intentional about your boundary setting, Weiner recommends recalling the times when your needs have been stepped on, when you’ve been triggered and then take the opposite of that such as, ‘I really need to be heard’ or ‘I really need to be spoken to with kindness.’ Choose you top four or five values and determine what needs to happen for those values to be honored. Then live those standards yourself and start letting other people know.
How Do You Handle Broken Boundaries?
When someone crosses one of your boundaries you can’t just ignore it. At the very least, you need to say something to let the other person know. At worst, it may mean setting a new, more restrictive boundary. Weiner says you may need to give yourself some time to consider the incident. You don’t have to address it immediately.
You can explain to the person what they did and why that hurt you, how that made you feel. You can suggest how they could have responded differently and then give them a warning for what will happen if the behavior is repeated.
Weiner says after her divorce she used to have her ex over for a family dinner thinking it would help her kids adjust to the divorce. Then her ex criticized her parenting in front of the children in her home. He’d crossed the line in the sand and she told him that he was no longer welcome in her home.
When communicating this however it’s important to use “I” messages. It’s never about the other person being a bad person or a jerk even if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s likely to put them on the defensive and they’re less likely to be cooperative. It’s all about what you need to honor your values.
Sandy Weiner is the founder of LastFirstDate.com. Visit her website to download your free copy of Sandy’s report, Why Men Disappear: Learn The Secrets To Attracting And Keeping The Love You Deserve. Sandy also offers private and group coaching services especially for women aged forty and over.