Your Ex-Spouse and Boundaries: Part Two

I was raised in a conservative Christian home. I’m thankful for parents who taught me strong Biblical principles on how to live. I stand by those beliefs and raise my children on Biblical standards. However, we must consider whether “turning the other cheek” is the best action when we’re confronted with dysfunctional situations, particularly if young children are at stake. Determining how to set and maintain healthy boundaries for me and my children has been an ongoing process.

During the separation period with my husband and shortly following my divorce, I attended Al-Anon meetings (support for families of alcoholics) regularly. I learned how to take care of myself and my two girls without sacrificing their relationship with their father. I set guidelines that I shared with my ex regarding my expectations when the girls were with him and consequences if his irresponsible behavior (drinking, unhealthy choices, etc.) showed up during visitation periods. I had no guarantee that he would follow my requests, but since they were in writing, I knew I could use them in a court of law if I needed to.

When my oldest daughter reported instances of her and her sister being left alone while in his care (at 3 and 5 years old), or told to walk to the store without him, I knew I couldn’t trust his parental judgment. I pursued supervised visitation with him to protect my girls until they got older. Boundary setting with my ex-husband became a way of life for me.

When we learn to set healthy boundaries with our ex-spouse, we are less likely to have ongoing anger issues with him/her. If we don’t allow him/her to violate our “property lines” (see earlier post on boundaries), we have the freedom to develop an amicable relationship with him/her.

Boundary setting should not be malicious or revengeful. It’s not meant to alienate our ex-spouse, but rather  co-parent with him/her in a way that provides respect and stability for each party involved.

Every situation is different. If your ex-spouse is mentally and emotionally healthy, there may be little need for boundary setting. But if you’re dealing with a dysfunctional relationship, learning how to set healthy boundaries and stick to them becomes mandatory.

“Today I have the courage and faith to be true to myself, whether or not others like or agree with me. Knowing my boundaries does not mean forcing others to change; it means that I know my own limits and take care of myself by respecting them.”  Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in  Al-Anon

Do you need to consider healthy boundary-setting with your ex-spouse?

I’m working on an e-book for stepfamily holiday survival tips, including co-parenting suggestions. It will be available in November on my website. Sign up for my newsletter to stay informed.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with An Ex-Spouse: Part One

Co-Parenting with Clear Vision

Setting Boundaries with an Ex-Spouse

Stepparenting issues can be overwhelming and unbearable. Then, you throw in problems with an ex-spouse, and the situation becomes toxic.

So, how do you maintain sanity when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse? The best way is to learn how to set appropriate boundaries and stick with them. 


I will be discussing boundaries and ex-spouses in the next few posts. But, the most important point I want to make today is to establish whose responsibility it is to set boundaries. That position lies with the person who was married to the difficult ex-spouse in the first place.

In their book, Boundaries, When to Say Yes, When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries: “They define what is me and what is not me. … Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside.”

If an ex-spouse is being difficult, we need to learn how  to keep him/her out of our property line. That doesn’t mean we exclude him/her completely, but we learn to set limits on how often and to what degree he/she is allowed to interfere in our lives.

For instance, if an ex-spouse is repeatedly late when picking up the children for visitation, we establish a boundary and put a consequence on the behavior. We might say to our ex-spouse, “If you are more than 15 minutes late in picking up the children, you’ll need to make different arrangements regarding visitation that day.” Always have another plan to fall back on so you can follow through with your consequences.

It’s not easy to set boundaries in the beginning and your ex-spouse won’t like it, but it’s necessary for the wellness of your current spouse and your stepfamily.

More on  boundaries and ex-spouses next time.

How do you manage boundaries with your ex?

Related Posts:
How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex

Co-Parenting Collisions 

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse 

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part Two

I was raised in a conservative Christian home that didn’t teach the importance of boundaries; thus the concept was hard for me to grasp. Taught to always look out for the best interests of others, I rarely considered my own needs.

When I entered my first marriage with someone who chose to go down the road of alcoholism, I naturally continued my pattern of taking care of his needs first with no regard for my own. Desperately trying to cope in that marriage, I finally learned to set boundaries that allowed me to take care of myself and my children, regardless of the choices my husband made.

Boundaries define who we are and where our property as a person begins and ends. A great resource, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to take Control of your Life, states that a boundary, “shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.”

So, how do we apply boundaries as a stepparent? Here are a few examples from my own life:

1) I do not take ownership of the choices my 20-year-old stepson makes. My responsibility is to continue to guide and nurture him the best way possible as his stepmother.

2) When my stepchildren’s mother was still alive, I chose to stay out of their relationship with her. I was affected by the loyalty conflict the relationship caused them, but I couldn’t change that. My part was to offer unconditional love and acceptance as often as I could.

3) During a hurtful period of adolescence with my stepson when angry words and bitter outbursts were constantly directed at me, I purposefully chose to divert my attention to my biological children, protecting my heart while dealing with my pain and resentment. When the difficult period passed and our relationship began to heal, I allowed my boundary to open up again, embracing a healthy relationship that can exist today because I gave myself the freedom to take care of my needs.

Boundary setting is not black and while, but requires wisdom and discernment on our part. There are many good books on boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, as the one mentioned above. Some of their other books include Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, and Boundaries with Teens.

I believe boundary setting is critical to healthy relationships. If you’re looking for help understanding boundaries and how to integrate them in your stepfamily relationships, I encourage you pick up one of the books mentioned. It will make a positive difference in your relationships.

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part One

Baseball season is in full swing and it isn’t uncommon to find me at the ball field several nights a week. I enjoy watching my youngest son play ball (pictured) and wouldn’t want it any other way. But it hasn’t always been that way.

My stepson played baseball for years and my husband was usually coaching his team. So that meant I was sitting in the stands by myself or with my husband’s ex-wife. Ugh. It was awkward and uncomfortable for me but I had convinced myself I had to be at every game my stepson played in. When my youngest son was born, I dragged him along too, struggling to keep him content while trying to focus on the game.

I think I would do it differently today. I would still be at most games but on the days I was physically or emotionally exhausted from other responsibilities, I would stay home. I would take time for myself, relaxing with a book or a hot bath. My stepson didn’t expect me to be at every game – especially with a baby or toddler in tow. I put those demands on myself, thinking my husband expected that of me.

I didn’t learn to set boundaries until well into my adult years. I wasted a lot of time doing what others expected of me, running around to every function I thought I needed to be at. I spent most days unhappy with my circumstances but afraid to do things differently.

When I leaned to set boundaries, I learned to do what was best for me. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean we become selfish or unconcerned with other’s needs. It means we take care of ourselves first, giving us the capability to then take care of others.

Boundaries are flexible, changeable and removable so we can adjust them according to our present situation. They aren’t meant to keep others out but give us the right to determine how open or closed we will be at any given time.

As a stepparent, boundaries offer freedom to do what is right for us. If you’re bitter or resentful with your schedule or responsibilities, it may be time to set some boundaries.

In Part Two, I will continue to discuss boundaries as a stepparent and a resource for boundary setting that helped me tremendously.

Sick of Stepparenting?

I’m recovering from a stomach virus today and I’ve noticed I need more rest and a break in my schedule to make it through the day. I skipped my 6 AM Thursday prayer group to catch an extra hour of sleep. I also changed my usual routine to allow more time at home for rest and self-care. My eating still consists of crackers and Gatorade but I’m cautiously adding a few more items to my diet.

If we take extra care of ourselves when we get physically sick, should we treat ourselves differently when we get emotionally sick of stepparenting? If you’ve been a stepparent long, you’ve probably had those days when you’re sick of the stepparenting routine. You know the routine I’m referring to: mundane parenting tasks without regard as a parent, constant responsibility for your stepchildren with very few rights, and continuous energy toward doing the right thing with little or no appreciation.

If you’re suffering from the “sick of stepparenting” routine, maybe you need extra time for self-care. Go for a walk. Have lunch with a friend. Schedule a massage. Plan a week-end away with your spouse. Take a break from your regular routine and do something nice for yourself.

Stepparenting can be a demanding role. As stepparents, we need to decide when it’s time to take a break from the routine to refill our reservoir, enabling us to continue down the stepparenting journey again.

Do you need a break today? Do you need a week-end away from the routine? Take it! As a stepparent, you deserve it.

Healthy Stepparenting #8: Find Balance

Today I want to include an article I wrote a few years ago when I was struggling to find balance in my life. I was overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a wife, stepmom, graduate student, and pregnant mother. I sought to make changes to relieve my feelings that were paralyzing me from fulfilling my roles.

As a stepparent, it’s easy to get covered up with too much to do and too many people to take care of. It’s our responsibility to find direction and balance in our roles. I hope you find the article helpful and would love to hear how you find balance in your life.

Living Life with Balance

When our family moved to Conway, AR from Texas ten years ago, I wrestled with an imbalanced life for several months. With three children in tow, and pregnant with another, I felt emotionally and physically spent. Our children struggled to adjust to elementary school after leaving family and friends behind in another state. I was finishing a Master’s degree that required completing two classes at the University of Central Arkansas, while studying for comprehensive exams covering two years of course work.

My husband worked in Jacksonville, adjusting to a new job that included long hours and a lengthy commute. Balancing my responsibilities became a daily struggle. Although I couldn’t change the circumstances at the time, I knew I had to do something different.

Balance is defined as “stability of body or mind” and “harmony and proportion.” Balance creates an environment for better health and allows for higher productivity. Without it, we experience instability and dissatisfaction.

When looking at our roles, women often wear many hats: wife, stepmom, employee, chauffeur, nurse, home manager,counselor, school volunteer … just to name a few. It’s easy to become overwhelmed unless we find a healthy balance, mindful of our time and responsibilities.

When we strive for balance, it’s important to look at how we spend our time in relation to what is important to us. We can ask ourselves, “Am I devoting enough time to the activities I am most interested in or simply going along with what I think has to be done? Am I reacting to last minute demands or planning ahead?” It’s necessary to establish our priorities and set our goals accordingly.

Learning to say no is the easiest way to take control of our time.

There are a lot of wonderful organizations and activities we can be involved in, but if we are seeking a life of balance, we must choose to participate in those that are most important to us.

Healthy balance also includes proper diet and exercise, along with adequate sleep. A study on lifespan reports, “People who maintain normal weight live an extra 11 years. People who exercise regularly live an extra 2.4 years.” While these are general figures for a large group of people, they illustrate the significance of proper diet and exercise.

Proper diet includes consuming more high-fiber foods, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, cutting down on too much fat and sugar, and lowering our salt consumption. Choosing foods with low-calorie density can also help with weight control. Low-density foods have a high water content, allowing a larger portion size with fewer calories. Examples of low-density foods include low-fat dairy products, broth-based soups, beans, and fruits and vegetables.

Regular exercise also contributes to balance by regulating mood swings, increasing energy levels and aiding with a variety of health issues. Research has shown that exercise reduces stress and improves our thinking. Even a small amount of exercise goes a long way toward improving our health and helping us feel better.

Adequate sleep is a key to balance that is often overlooked. Good sleep habits result in clearer thinking and sharper judgment. And some good news recently published: a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that women who get adequate sleep (seven or more hours per night) are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t. Lack of sleep appears to negatively affect the hormones that regulate our appetite. What better reason to get to bed on time?

Another factor to consider as we look toward balance is spirituality. Joining a Bible study or participating in a prayer group can bring us a deeper sense of wholeness and harmony, as we grow spiritually.

An interesting book written by Dr. Jeff Levin, God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, describes the connection between faith and health. His research gives numerous examples of the positive effects of faith as relating to health and wellness. One reviewer of the book, Janet Quinn, Ph.D., R.N., states, “…Levin reminds us of what we can no longer afford to ignore: that our spiritual life matters mightily to our health and well-being at every level.”

Lastly, we need to remember the importance of leisure time as we strive for balance. Coffee with a girlfriend, date night with our husband, or reading a book in a secluded place (away from the computer, PDA, and pager) may be the perfect solution to a long day. Making time to do what we enjoy recharges our energy levels when we return to our daily commitments.

Life with balance allows us better health, greater happiness and more productive lives. We may always lead busy lives, but if we are intentional with our time and responsibilities, we can live a life with balance.