Separating from someone you’d once planned to spend the rest of your life with can be complicated, especially if the two of you had kids together.
How you interacted with them then is inapplicable to your current dynamic, but it’s the only frame of reference you have. What you can and can’t do might be a little muddled, but any mistakes made here could be awkward and costly in the long run.
How do you recognize unhealthy boundaries between yourself and your ex-wife?
- You can’t stay interdependent on one another – be it financially or emotionally
- You can’t disregard agreed-upon terms and schedules
- You shouldn’t try to rekindle the relationship
- You definitely shouldn’t keep intimacy on the table
- You can’t be too casual with one another
- You shouldn’t be involving your kids in any power plays
Splitting up with your ex-wife is new territory, and you’re probably too close to the situation to get an objective view of what to do. Unhealthy boundaries are bad for everyone, so we’ll do our best to guide you away from anything that could bite you in the long run.
Retaining Interdependence on One Another After the Split
Married couples often share a lot of things. They trust one another with finances and rely on each other during times of emotional vulnerability. Right now, you aren’t in that position anymore – it’s important that you break away from the dynamic you had when you were married to them.
A lot of couples opt to pool their finances and property at some point in their marriage. While it might seem more convenient to leave them that way, keeping your assets intertwined with your ex-partner would be a poor choice if both of you want to be your own people again.
As much as possible, try to separate what assets you can from one another. It’ll be hard to do emotionally, and some lingering feelings or biases might make the split a little uneven. Your efforts to do this will be rewarded with the opportunity to finally reclaim your financial independence.
Few people know you as intimately as your ex-wife, but you have to start uncoupling yourselves from one another. They might have been your pillar of support then, but continuing to rely on them during this separation is unfair to both of you.
The same goes from the opposite end: if your ex-wife comes to you for support, gently point them toward someone better suited to handle their emotional needs. As much as you might like to, that person can’t be you right now.
If they’re pushy about this, don’t rise to the bait. They might feel entitled to your time and empathy due to your prior history, but both of you lost any obligations towards one another when you chose to disengage from your married life.
Whatever you might be feeling right now is a holdover from your history together. It’s unhealthy to let your past compel you to act – especially with a topic this sensitive.
Disrespecting Established Schedules
Schedules provide an objective buffer, making it easier to respect both the time and distance this separation granted to you and your ex-wife. A healthy separation requires that this boundary be respected throughout the disengagement process.
Neither of you should drop in on the other without calling first. Interactions between the two of you should be organized to discuss plans on how to proceed. You don’t need to be cold or robotic to your ex-wife, but you’ve got to keep things as professional as possible while things are raw.
A divorced couple with children will have to maintain more contact with one another than a couple without children. They need to coordinate schedules, establish rules, and present a united front to guide their children toward growth, maturity, and responsibility.
If you or your ex-wife agreed to drop the kids off at a specific date and time, treat it like a contract. Strive to be early to these meetings to show that you’re taking things seriously, and if they don’t extend the same courtesy talk to them about it. Respect has to go both ways, and you need things as objective as possible to distance yourself from potentially-unhealthy boundaries with your ex.
It’s okay if you and your ex-wife have different rulesets in your own households. Both of you just need to be mindful not to undermine one another’s authority in front of your child.
For example, let’s say your household’s curfew was about 9 pm for your child. Your ex-wife is more lenient on that front, letting the kids stay up until 11 pm at night.
It’s alright for them to do this, even if you personally disagree. It’s not okay if they criticize your schedule or make your children question its legitimacy. If there are extenuating circumstances (i.e. a quiz early the next day) it would be fair to ask if they could rein their schedule in for the moment.
You’re allowed to raise your children as you see fit. How the two of you choose to do so may differ at times, but both of your approaches will remain equally valid.
Trying to Rekindle the Relationship
A relationship needs two people doing their absolute best to make things flourish, and if either of you can’t deliver on that it’d be better to end things gracefully.
The separation was likely difficult for everyone, but the decision itself ought to be respected.
That’s not to say that you can’t ever get together with someone you split up with once. A lot of couples actually find love in one another’s company despite sharing a few breakups along the way.
The main takeaway here is that you can’t do it NOW. One (or both) of you made your position abundantly clear, and neither of you will be in a position to improve things as you are. Further actions will just strain the relationship you have now past its breaking point.
You have a responsibility to respect your ex-wife’s boundaries, but you also have an obligation to respect your own right now. Don’t let yourself get tempted to try, no matter how you might feel.
Never sit on the idea of “winning them back” this early on. Make sure they feel the same way or at least have them recognize that option isn’t something they can expect for a long time, if ever.
If it happens, it happens. But it’s not happening now, and you certainly can’t plan for it this early on – you’d just crash into one another and make a mess of things. You have to be healthy, mended, and whole before you can look at being part of a relationship with someone again.
Time and Processing
The relationship you shared might have been ended by time, circumstances, duress, or just poor communication. How you heal depends on things that go beyond time.
Just because you had a few months off from one another doesn’t mean you’re at the same processing stage. People handle this separation differently, and the only person who can genuinely tell where you stand is yourself. Progress matters far more than time here.
Keeping Intimacy on the Table this Early On
“Friends with benefits” situations are a slippery slope, and you really don’t want to fall into this trap with someone you already split up with. Things could get messier than they already are.
Make your boundaries clear after the split. Everyone needs to be on the same page here: no affection, no romance, and definitely no sexual intimacy. You might find comfort with them at the moment, but it’ll set back your disengagement process and complicate the situation.
Flirting shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter how harmless it might seem at the moment. It’s best to ignore their attempts rather than complain – you’re still trying to be civil with one another here.
Both of you need a clear head and a lot of distance to process your positions right now. Ignore the temptation to be what you were, and start looking at what kind of future you want for yourself.
Acting too Casual with Each Other
As a former married couple, the two of you probably know one another better than anyone else in the world would. Familiarity is understandable and comfortable, but don’t fall back on it. Your old dynamic is incompatible with your current situation – commit that to memory.
That’s not to say you need to only be professional with one another. It’s okay to remain friendly or conversational, but you can’t rely on one another the same way you used to. You can’t hug them or talk to them as candidly as you could. It’s difficult, but you have to accept these new walls.
Right now, your priority is reestablishing personal boundaries. It’ll be difficult to separate yourself from your marriage if you conduct yourself the same way you did before. You need this distance for the sake of your personal growth, independence, and self-respect.
Things in the past might have seemed pleasant, but there is a good reason why things are different now. The differences were just irreconcilable, and no amount of nostalgia will make up for it. The two of you are exes, and you need to avoid unhealthy boundaries until you finally heal.
Using the Kids as Leverage
One of the worst parts of separation is the custody battles. It’s a difficult topic to cover, and if your ex-wife uses it to kick up a fuss your little ones may have to pay the price.
They might try to complicate custody by setting absurd requests or needless ultimatums. They might also testify against your capacity as a caregiver or challenge your legitimacy. Even if this gets overturned, the time away from your child could do a lot of damage to your relationship.
In these cases, you may want to enlist professional help. Social workers may speak with both of your families to understand your child’s situation. A family court specialist could also investigate the care conditions your children would experience and make recommendations accordingly.
A lot of these situations come with the court setting, so we can’t provide much insight beyond looking for people who can see past your ex-wife’s agenda and look out for your child’s needs.
Your children deserve better than being treated as leverage by your ex-wife, so don’t give her the satisfaction and let the facts speak for themselves.
Your ex-wife might be using the time she has with your children to speak ill about you. They could be feeding them ideas that undermine your authority or just make you look like a bad person.
Get this out of the way by telling your ex these kinds of topics are off-limits for both of you. Your goal here is to become a good parent, not the better one. If your ex-wife still continues to do this, at least you know exactly where you stand with your former partner.
Talk to your children about this possibility. Don’t do this unprompted, because you might come across as prying. Let them speak at their pace, and respect if they have nothing to say.
Understand that your child wants to protect both of you. Make them feel that you’re asking about this solely to communicate and clarify boundaries – not as fodder for an argument with your ex.
You want your child to see that you want this family happy! Using what they share to start an argument betrays their trust and leads to another problem. You’d also be hurting your kid’s relationship with their mother by lashing out using information you shouldn’t have known about.
Resist the urge to act impulsively here. If your child shared this kind of secret with you once, you’ve got good odds that they’d do it again. Even if they don’t, they’ll certainly recognize that you don’t want to fight – and no longer take your ex-wife’s words at face value.
Navigating your separation from your ex-wife is uncharted territory, but the absolute worst thing you could do here is fall back on familiarity. Your relationship with them is in the past, and a lot of those old boundaries you had with your ex are unhealthy to maintain after the split.
Uncoupling yourself from that will take a lot of time and effort, but it’s well worth it to find your own independent footing again!