In one of my recent episodes on The Divorce and Separation Podcast, I spoke to Dr Rebecca Ray, Clinical Psychologist, speaker, and author of the incredible read, ‘Setting Boundaries’.
She blew my mind with her insight and ‘happiness hacks’ on how we can uncouple safely.
This candid conversation debunked the myths about how we at times give boundaries a bad name. I learnt so much, which in turn, means I get to guide my clients through an experience that is nothing short of complex for so many.
The boundary narrative has been given a bad rap in our culture! I feel a bit sorry for the ‘poor misunderstood boundary champion’ out there, for never getting a positive shout-out.
See the thing is, healthy boundaries can be so hard to create, let alone enforce.
Here’s the thing. Boundaries are often seen as unfair rules that are deliberately enforced by a heartbroken spouse to ensure no-one ‘wins’ at healing.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There’s no doubt about it – boundaries are designed to safeguard our frayed emotions. But most importantly, to protect and prevent our children from hearing the very people whom they love, continue to tear chunks out of one another.
Newsflash: Boundaries can be kind, well intentioned and self-less.
They don’t want to cause harm or inflict pain. They don’t want to discriminate or rob you of your assets. And they are not in dress-up, disguised as revenge.
I cannot stress this enough – you are not the ‘bad cop’ for sitting down with a parenting plan, and a set of bullet points on how to move the breakup forward. As my beautiful podcast guest, Dr Rebecca Ray so brilliantly explained, boundaries are lines of connections, and not always lines of division.
The topic of boundaries isn’t exactly a new concept.
Women’s magazines, memoirs, social media captions, and about everything linked to separation tips, have featured the topic of boundaries.
Because they are a bloody good thing to have up your sleeve before and after a break-up.
So how does this happen?
A clean break is not always the case, especially when children are involved. Sometimes, we genuinely love (or like) our ex, and we are desperate to salvage a friendship from a marriage that didn’t work. Let me give you an example: you and your ex have children together. Unfortunately, every discussion you have ends in an argument. Old wounds are reopened, resentments resurface, and old scores are settled.
This must stop.
So, we try another way.
We become so desperate to avoid complete failure with this person, we salvage the break-up debris, to reform a new friendship. We might try to fool ourselves into thinking we can be friends with someone we once lived with, married, and once intimate with. However, if your goal is to form a genuine friendship and the happiness of your children is key, leave the past well where it belongs: the past.
I’m sorry you are hurting. But the romance is over, and the goal to co-parent has begun.
You owe your past pain, and future purpose a stab at recovery. Right?
Boundaries are the absolute must-have item in our emotional toolkit.
But I get it, it’s not easy. When we are anxious, we don’t always have a lawyer or best friend on speed dial.
So, here are some tips on how to jumpstart the process of the boundary convo:
Get some outside opinion: Not every man and his dog, because we know that everyone has advice, so instead, seek out the opinions that count. Who is safe for you, who can you trust and who respects your heart?
Communicating the boundary: If you haven’t had these conversations before, avoid texting where possible. If you need a softer landing, choose an email. Communication methods say a lot about how you want to handle the situation. Ironically, try not to over think your script or worst-case scenario boundary bounce back.
Do I feel safe?: It’s helpful when we are feeling anxious, being confronted and can’t think straight, to ask yourself, ‘do I feel safe physically and emotionally? Perhaps the next step if you are feeling unsafe, is taking your boundaries to writing.
It’s the small things that say a lot: if you are on talking terms with your ex, it can be helpful to sit side-by-side and not face to face. If you feel a threat of conflict, do it in the car, and not over a table. It’s a simple tool to look ahead and not with each other side by side. Trust me, big convos really can happen in the car!
Now’s not the time for conflict: But remember, no labelling, no name-calling, no swearing, and no ‘kitchen sinking’. What happened five years ago, is not necessary right now. You may hold old wounds, but its not helpful to raise them at a time where you are seeking resolution.
Take a break if it gets emotional: You can’t continue if your fear system is in need of a break. But do come back in an hour or a day, but it’s so important to come back to the conversation for a resolution.
Ok. So how do we enforce boundaries and deal with conflict at the same time?
Well, sometimes it gets a little worse before it gets better.
You are relearning how to be a solo parent and recouping the financial losses that come with a breakup. You need to respect your boundaries, and those of others? You stick to yours, so they can stick to theirs. Sounds simple? It’s not. But it can simplify an otherwise messy time in your life.
Don’t create answers to the questions that haven’t been asked yet. In moments of duress, we plan our exit strategy. We expect the worst. But your ex may surprise you. Don’t enter into a boundary conversation preparing for battle. Be open to the fact they want peace too. One sniff of an argument brewing, and the walls go up.
Be open, honest, and professionally human!
And finally, the perfect anecdote told by Rebecca herself says, “Self-compassion changes everything. This will change life. But how you relate to yourself, changes how you relate to everyone else. Self-love sets up an impossible task. But if you are seeking a friendship with yourself, what does that look like?”