Setting Boundaries in Divorce
When Rob and Janet decided to divorce, he generously moved to an apartment. The physical separation reduced tensions and allowed both to begin transitioning to life apart.
And yet, new problems arose.
In mediation, Rob repeatedly dropped references to
- “stopping by the house to check on the kids,” or
- “taking care of the yard on Saturday when I do my laundry,” or
- “coming to help with Amy with math while Janet is at work.”
Rob treated the apartment as his and the marital home as theirs, exasperating Janet.
“He’s being so nice! How do I tell him it drives me crazy for him to just stop by? To walk in without notice? To act like we’re still married?” Janet moaned privately.
Many marriages end because the couple failed to set boundaries. Boundaries around work. Boundaries around competing relationships, both physical and friendship. Boundaries around the time needed to nurture the marriage.
The failure to set boundaries that ruined the marriage also risks ruining the divorce process. Divorcing couples need to learn the skill of setting boundaries. When they find a way, they often do a better job at their divorce than their marriage.
Couples find it hard to break years of habit. Though they are ending their marriage, it takes a while for patterns of relating to change.
At one end of the spectrum are couples who are too nice. They are divorcing, but the wife still tries to rescue ex-husband from his distance with the kids. And, the husband still tries to ensure his ex-wife’s financial security or that her lawn is mown.
At the other end of the spectrum are couples who fight ferociously because they continue to meddle in business no longer theirs.
For both, the result is conflict. Both couples need to learn to set boundaries.
1) Separate Issues
When an argument erupts, it often involves more than one issue.
The first step is to separate out the issues and then address one at a time.
If Janet blows up because she unexpectedly finds Rob in her kitchen, her issues may include:
- talking with him will make her late to a dinner,
- the kids will cry for an hour after he leaves, and
- he throws everything he’s doing for her in her face when she asks for an asset in the divorce.
All legitimate issues, but each has its own solution.
Separating the issues proves a crucial first step to a productive discussion. More, these are all symptoms of an underlying issue – the need for the couple to recognize and honor the separate lives each person is beginning.
2) Ask two questions
Once Janet sorts the issues, she must decide if she needs to do something–or does Rob?
This can be determined from two questions:
- Who brought the issue up?
- Who is upset?
The answer to these two questions determines who needs to act.
In this case, Janet is upset that Rob isn’t recognizing her independence and privacy. Janet is raising the issue to herself, to the mediator, to anyone who will listen, except Rob.
Because Janet is raising the issue and is upset about the issue, Janet owns the issue. And, the resolution.
This doesn’t at all mean Rob doesn’t have a role or that they can’t work together. It does mean Janet will need to set and maintain the boundary that works for her.
Janet can begin by sharing with Rob her frustration, the reasons for her feelings, and her request.
Something like, “I feel invaded when you just drop by. I imagine it’s habit and this still feels like home to you. But, this is now MY home. You have your home. Please treat this house as you would a friend’s. Call to ask before you come.”
By leading with her feelings, Janet isn’t making assumptions about Rob’s motives. Instead, she’s owning her feelings and asking for specific steps.
If Rob balks or breaks an agreement to call first, Janet can repeat the conversation with an added, “If you can’t honor this, I will change the locks.”
As Janet sets and maintains the boundary, Rob will either move into a healthier relationship with her or pull away. In either case, the Janet begins to experience the freedom she is seeking through the divorce. Boundaries set expectations and make the overall interactions healthier.
If you would like support in learning to set boundaries, or any other aspect of moving through divorce, call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.