Recognizing the Need for Boundaries with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

When I married my husband, Randy, I told him my ex-husband would not be a problem because he would eventually drop out of our lives. He had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and although he was a medical doctor, he was a most unstable person.

However, I was wrong.

Sixteen years later, Randy and I converse regularly about how to cope with the tension my ex-husband creates. His interaction with my daughters frequently results in confusion and anger for the girls. 
 I have spent hours on the phone with my ex-husband, trying to explain how his behavior alienates his children from him, creating a wall of divide that will probably never come down. 
Despite every effort to have a healthy relationship with him, I have concluded that we simply cannot maintain a mature, thriving relationship. And in order to protect myself from an emotional entanglement, it’s necessary to  set appropriate boundaries regularly. 
Now I’m not suggesting this is the case with every ex-spouse. I know many divorced parents who maintain an amicable relationship and successfully co-parent their children together. I strongly encourage healthy interaction with your ex-spouse. But I know from experience, that isn’t always possible.
So, how do you create healthy boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse? I’ll tackle that in my next post but first, I want to explain what boundaries look like.
In their book, Boundaries (which I highly recommend), Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, define a boundary as, “a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsbile. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are  not.” 
Here are some examples from the book:
“Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.”
Boundaries give us the freedom to create and maintain healthy relationships with others without losing ourselves in the process.
Christians are especially vulnerable to living without appropriate boundaries as we seek to demonstrate unselfish, unconditional love toward others. But Christ doesn’t ask us to become doormats or spineless creatures in the process.
We are created to be in constant fellowship with Him, and that cannot occur if we’re wallowing in self-pity or exploding in anger because of our lack of boundaries with those around us.
Does that make sense? Can you recognize the need for boundaries if you’re dealing with a difficult ex-spouse?
Related Posts:

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

Co-Parenting with Clear Vision

I distorted my vision yesterday by accident. I was having trouble seeing and decided I needed to change out my contacts. Since I serve as a piano accompanist at church, it’s important that I see well on Sunday mornings.

I had already put my contacts in but as I practiced my music, it appeared blurry. So, I went to put in a different pair but noticed that only made it worse. I began to panic as I needed to be at church in 20 minutes but I needed to be able to see!

I considered putting the original lenses back in and as I looked at the counter, I noticed there was only one contact there. I realized I had not taken one contact out and had two contacts in one eye, thus creating a horrible problem! (Crazy, huh?)

Sometimes we create our own problems with co-parenting due to poor vision with an ex-spouse. We may be convinced that since they were not good marriage partners, they are not good parents. And we spend too much time trying to control what goes on in their home instead of working harder at what goes on in our home.

There are many different ways to parent. Sometimes children benefit from different styles of parenting. The important factor is for each parent to be consistent in their own home. If there are concerns about parenting issues, they should be handled in private, outside of the ears of the children.

Old marital issues need to be set aside and emotional ties severed for co-parenting to work well. It may be necessary to offer forgiveness for unresolved issues.

Co-parenting with clear vision means we let go of the differences that resulted in divorce and work together for the sake of the children. We resist competing with our ex-spouse or creating hidden personal agendas, which complicates the goal of successful co-parenting.

Children have the right to continue a loving relationship with both parents after divorce. They can easily move back and forth from one home to another when effective co-parenting exists. But it will not happen without concentrated effort with all parties involved.

What strategies do you use to make co-parenting work for you?

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

How we co-parent with our ex or our partner’s ex has a significant impact on our children and stepchildren. When that person is difficult to get along with or unhealthy emotionally, it creates a challenge for all those involved.

But there are ways we can manage our relationship with an ex-spouse to protect our children from further pain by our actions.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my ex-husband is an alcoholic, which ultimately cost him his family and his career as a medical doctor. Because of his hostile reaction to our divorce, I resorted to a restraining order immediately following our separation. I took a firm position with his tendency toward drugs and alcohol and told him early on that he would not be allowed visitation with the girls if he showed signs of impairment.

Educating myself about the disease of alcoholism taught me effective communication skills to use when co-parenting with my ex and the need to establish ongoing boundaries with him. It allowed me the freedom to take appropriate action to protect the girls while maintaining a relationship with their dad.

I also needed to look at my part in the continual conflict we had in the beginning. I wanted to change his behavior and found myself berating him constantly for his poor choices. When I finally let go of how he was choosing to live and began focusing only on parenting issues with him, our relationship improved, allowing smoother co-parenting.

When I re-married, my ex-husband struggled with the relationship the girls formed with my husband, Randy. We believed there needed to be open communication between my ex-husband and current husband, if possible. We finally opted to speak with my ex about his angry comments and hostile attitude toward my husband. Randy let him know that he wasn’t trying to replace him as their father, but wanted to be an additional parent and support for the girls.

Co-parenting with my ex has changed over time because he plays a much smaller role with the girls than in the beginning. But I still have to co-parent with him at times. I manage each situation on a case by case basis, focusing only on the parenting issue and the challenge presented.

Every re-marriage comes with different issues with ex-partners. When the interaction is strained or conflictive, it makes it hard on everyone.

Learning to successfully co-parent may require professional counseling or further education, particularly if you’re confronted with addiction or mental illness. But for the sake of the children, it’s important to keep working toward effective co-parenting.

Co-Parenting Collisions

I was talking with a stepmom recently who described a frustrating scene with her husband’s ex-wife. She was caught in the middle trying to help with the kids and collided with the ex-wife’s irresponsibility.

The end result was an unnecessary disruption in everyone’s schedule. Unfortunately, the scene she described is more common than we’d like to admit in stepfamilies.

So, how do we deal with co-parenting collisions? Over the next few posts, I would like to offer some suggestions. I would also love to hear from you on how you make co-parenting work.

My husband and I have had far too many co-parenting collisions with either his ex-spouse or mine. Some of them could have been prevented. Some of them could not.

But one thing I learned early on was to keep the kids out of the middle. If we treat our kids like a rope in a tug of war game, we fail. If we try to negotiate the visitation schedule with our children instead of our ex-spouse, we lose. It’s okay to ask how our kids feel about the schedule or what their preferences are, but negotiating and decision-making regarding the schedule should be handled by adults.

Stepchildren are unnaturally pulled between two homes with parents they love in both homes. Asking them to make a choice or take sides with one home over another is hurtful.

Co-parenting works best when we keep the interests of our children at the center of our parenting. If we disagree with our ex-spouse over parenting issues, we need to discuss it in private. If it is difficult to have civil conversations with our ex, we might need to use the phone or e-mail instead of face-to-face interaction.

Co-parenting can be an ongoing struggle, particularly when dealing with a difficult or unhealthy ex-spouse. I will tackle that challenge in my next post.

What suggestions do you have on co-parenting?

How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex

When I divorced my ex-husband, I didn’t want to stay in touch with him. However, we had two children together, and I was forced to learn how to co-parent with him. It took me several months to realize that in order to be successful at co-parenting, we had to sever our emotional ties and create a boundary between our current parenting roles and old marital issues.

Co-parenting works best when both parents put aside differences that resulted in their divorce and work together for the sake of the children. There can’t be hidden personal agendas or competition between the parents. If unresolved issues can’t be worked through, they need to be set aside, or forgiveness offered, when necessary.

Co-parenting doesn’t involve trying to control what goes on in the other home. You may be frustrated or concerned with how the children are parented, but after divorce, you have little influence regarding the other parent and their home. There are many healthy ways to raise children with different parenting styles and rules. It helps to discuss parenting concerns in private and offer respect, if possible, for the other parent.

It’s also important to separate child support payments and visitation rights. Children still have a right to see their parent even when child support payments are late or overdue. They don’t deserve further pain of being held hostage or used as revenge with an ex-spouse.

Co-parenting at its best gives parents the chance to talk about concerns and decisions regarding the children before conflict or confusion arise. Ongoing dialogue with the other parent either by phone, e-mail, or in person allows successful co-parenting to take place. With poor communication, children may seize the opportunity to take advantage of their parents, resulting in too much control and leverage in their choices.

It’s important for children to continue a relationship with both parents after divorce. They need permission to continue a loving relationship and shouldn’t have to face an emotional tug-of-war between their parents.

Co-parenting successfully is a goal worth striving for as it can result in happier and more stable children. Even if your ex-spouse wasn’t a good marriage partner, it doesn’t mean he/she isn’t a good parent, and may surprise with playing an attentive parenting role after divorce.