How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse (Explained)

How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Now that your marriage is officially over you may be wondering what the new boundaries are. Can you still be friends with your ex-spouse? Should you try and maintain communication or just cut them off? This is an important question and there are several things to consider in finding the answer that is right for you.

  1. Briefly and directly communicate with your ex via phone calls or writings.
  2. Always be cordial and speak to your ex with respect.
  3. Create your new environment to support your single lifestyle.
  4. Mutually establish ground rules to support your physical and emotional transition.
  5. Seek support from people other than your ex-spouse.

On the rare occasion that there is space for a “clean-break” it is still a good idea to try and have some open lines of communication. Making your ex-spouse an “off limits” topic in a way continues to give them control over a certain part of your life. For this reason, it is important that you take a realistic look at how your relationship with your ex-spouse needs to function as you both move forward.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Defining Boundaries

What exactly are boundaries with an ex-spouse? Boundaries in this context refer to the rules and limits you set for interacting with your ex-spouse.

  • The frequency of contact (how often you communicate)
  • Acceptable topics of discussion (what you will and won’t talk about)
  • The extent to which you and your ex-spouse are involved in each other’s personal lives, specifically how much detail you know about each other’s lives.
  • Methods of communication (phone, text, email)

Boundaries help provide structure and predictability in your communications. They help you keep a friendly co-parenting relationship while avoiding involvement in your ex-spouse’s private matters.

The Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Setting firm boundaries offers many advantages that make the effort worthwhile:

Reduced conflict: Clear boundaries minimize areas of disagreement and confusion. You will avoid tense moments caused by surprising or upsetting remarks.

Increased privacy: You can keep your dating life, financial information, and other personal details private from your ex-spouse. You don’t have to share any more than is absolutely necessary. This allows you to rebuild your life without your ex’s involvement.

Improved mental health: Limiting unnecessary contact reduces anxiety so you can move forward. Limiting contact with your ex-spouse aids in healing and is important for your mental health.

Role modeling: When you show self-respect, you teach your kids how to keep healthy relationships with proper boundaries. They will reap the benefits of this positive example.

Less co-dependence: Setting boundaries helps separate your life from your ex’s life. This is empowering and liberating. You get to be your own person again.

Strengthened co-parenting: Structured and drama-free interactions with your ex allow you to focus more on your parenting responsibilities. Kids thrive on stability and routine.

Establishing firm boundaries now is an investment in your future happiness and in effective co-parenting after the divorce. The effort is well worth it for your emotional health and your children’s wellbeing.

Identifying Unhealthy Boundaries with an Ex-Spouse

Interfering in Each Other’s Lives

It’s unhealthy to ask your ex-spouse invasive questions about their finances, dating life, or other private matters. This could include interrogating your ex about a new partner, demanding full disclosure of bank accounts, etc.

It’s harmful to make snide and critical remarks about your ex-spouse’s lifestyle, career, or relationships. For example, shaming your ex for moving on quickly with a new relationship.

You should not try to control or criticize your ex’s major personal decisions, like moving or changing jobs, as their life is no longer your concern.

Expressing jealousy over your ex’s new relationships, friendships, or success. Being possessive and controlling will only breed resentment.

Unhealthy boundaries lead to excessive interference in your ex-spouse’s affairs. This fuels resentment, discord and prolongs entanglement.

Inappropriate Contact

Avoid sending non-urgent texts, emails, or calls late at night. Keep communications contained to reasonable hours and parenting matters.

Do not engage in flirtatious exchanges, intimacy seeking, or make veiled romantic overtures. Do not use your ex for emotional or physical needs.

Avoid friendly physical contact such as hugs, touches, and kisses. This blurs the lines for healthy detachment.

Visiting each other’s homes unnecessarily. Keep meetups neutral.

Staying emotionally or physically involved with your ex-spouse prevents you from fully moving on. Limit contact to the minimum required for co-parenting.

Turning Children Against Each Other

Do not make your children gather and report information about the other parent’s life. Do not put this burden on them.

Never speak badly about each other in front of the children. Never bash the other parent.

Avoid using your children as messengers in your communications. Communicate directly without triangulation.

Questioning kids about the ex’s personal life. Do not extract information from them.

Such behavior causes the children to feel torn between parents, damages their trust, and creates tension.

How to Set Boundaries for Parenting As a Divorced Couple?

Six out of ten divorces involve children so you are not alone as you navigate this new world. A parenting plan was probably created as a part of your divorce process. A parenting plan is an amazing tool to help two people continue to grow a family even while they are not living in the same home anymore.

However, it is just a piece of paper and how effectively it is carried out relies on both of you working together to make the best life possible for your children. Honoring the parenting plan is the key to success in co-parenting after divorce.

My parents divorced when I was eleven years old. Between them, they had five children. They separated mutually and keeping my siblings and I stable was a large part of their agreement in the process. This made it much easier for us as children to transition between their homes as had been agreed on in the parenting plan.

By following the parenting plan, they were able to facilitate their communication about parenting on an as needed basis via phone call and mail delivery. For example, when they had something like a sports game or school activity that did not fit within the parenting plan boundaries. They understood that the parenting plan is the serve the children and so they were flexible to the needs of their children.

Not all separations are so amicable. One of my close friends separated from her significant other while they both still had shared young children. This separation came more as a surprise to both of them. Emotions were running much higher for the first part of their separation.

They created a parenting plan, but it was hard to communicate in a healthy way about it. So, to solve the problem they opted to use a court-ordered app where all of their conversations could be viewed by both of their lawyers. This extra accountability from the state has helped them to maintain a working and peaceful relationship for their children.

As you move forward with parenting post-divorce don’t feel pressure to get everything right the first time. Be flexible and use the support around you to help build a system that meets the needs of your family.

How to Set Boundaries When You Start Dating or Get Remarried?

At some point, either you or your spouse is going to start dating and possibly remarry. It is best to be open with your new partner about your ex-spouse early in the relationship. If you have no children and are serious about a new relationship do your best to cut as many ties as possible with your ex to give your new relationship a fresh start.

If there are children still shared between you and your ex then your new partner should be informed as soon as possible. A long-term partner for yourself needs to be prepared to navigate parenting with a third party added to the mix. They need to be committed to helping you to maintain peace between yourself and your ex-spouse for your children and for yourself.

That being said it can be nerve-wracking to build a new relationship with anyone. Even more so when that relationship is with a partners ex. There are different levels of involvement your new spouse or partner may have:

  • Your new spouse or partner has no contact with your ex-spouse and trusts you to facilitate all aspects of that relationship.
  • Your new spouse or partner is open to helping with pick up and drop off of children as needed and can answer phone calls from your ex if you are not there. However, they prefer to not be social with them.
  • Your new spouse or partner is very comfortable having a relationship with your ex-spouse. They are open to seeing them socially and events like birthday parties and the children’s school activities.

Whatever level of involvement your new spouse or partner has with your ex-spouse should be the one that brings the most balance and peace to the family.

How to Set Healthy Financial Boundaries with an ex-spouse?

It is recommended to start separating your finances even before the divorce is final.

There are logistical things that may need to happen to separate your money. You may need to create a new bank account for yourself. It could mean changing some of your debit or credit cards so that you ex-spouse no longer has knowledge of the information. There may be things like cell phone bills or car payments that both of your names are on. These should be separated if possible. If it is not possible how the bills are to be paid needs to be very clear between the two of you.

There are also emotional steps that will happen as you separate your money. Money seems like a cold and mechanical part of life. However, what we spend our money on has a lot to do with our personal values and even the intentions of our heart.

From this perspective the need to separate your money from a person that you once shared your life with makes sense. With your money, you need to show that you are standing on your own two feet and building a new life for yourself. Even if that means living with less money than you had before.

It may not be possible to completely separate all of your finances from your spouse. In that case, any finances that remain combined after a divorce should be supervised and court order by the state. One example of this is child support. If it is not possible for the state to supervise be sure to keep documentation of all transactions between the two of you. With the intent to the money made very clear in your records. This can help end unnecessary arguments in the future.

How Often Should My ex-spouse and I See Each Other/Be Communicating?

If you do not have any children or ongoing financial ties with your ex-spouse, there is no need to continue communicating regularly. It would be best to take a break once the relationship is officially over and not speak to each other at all. After some time has passed, if you are comfortable with it, it can be helpful to communicate as needed. For example, about a party that you are both invited to.

If you have children that you are co-parenting it can be more difficult to define when too much communication is happening. When you have young children there may be a need for more regular communication about things such as their health. With older children, they are able to communicate more of their own needs so there may be less need to communicate as parents.

Here are some basic guidelines recommended by other divorced parents with children:

1. There should not be constant communication

With young children a brief conversation once a day should be more than enough. In some cases, even this can be too much. There will be clear times that combination is needed, such as pick up and drop off coordination. Other times a child will be sick. This can be limited to once you get a good rhythm going.

2. The amount of conversation should not feel overwhelming to you

There is no need to communicate about your personal life in these conversations. Your ex should not be sharing details about their life outside the needs of your shared children either. Play it safe and stick to topics that are specifically related to the children.

3. There is no need to try and create a “friendship” outside of the children

If you, your spouse and each of your partners are OK with you and your ex having a friendship that extends past the children then it’s fine. However, that is not the case with most couples. There is no need to meet up without the children or be each other’s shoulder to cry on. That part of the relationship is over.

4. Contact should not be or feel abusive in nature

There may still be a lot of anger between you and your ex even after a divorce. Communication should not extend to rehashing problems that were already put to rest in court. If should also not be used to belittle or bring shame to either or you. If you feel your ex is doing this with you, simply do not respond to disrespectful communications.

What to Do if You are Setting Healthy Boundaries, But Your ex is not?

First, be clear with your ex about how you intend to communicate with them. There may need to be a grace period of a week or so as you both adjust to new boundaries. If your spouse communicates something in that week that is outside of the boundaries remind them of the boundaries and do not continue the conversation from there.

After that first week if your ex is still not compliant with your boundary requests you may need to bring in a third party to help resolve the issue. In some cases, legal mediation is available to help establish an agreement between the two of you. If the problem cannot be solved their further court action may be necessary.

Communication with your ex can get really messy very quickly. As a general rule of thumb if something feels off in the way your communication, then there is probably some adjustments that need to be made. If someone you trust suggests to you that your boundaries with your ex are not the best. Seriously consider what they have to say. It can be difficult to see our way out of our own mess.

At the end of the day, you can only control your actions and choices as you move forward is separating from your spouse. Treat yourself with love and respect and with time you will become a master at setting healthy boundaries that last.

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