Conflicts often continue long after your divorce is finalized, especially when children are involved. Setting boundaries helps manage high-conflict situations and helps ease you both, and the children, into a new routine.
Setting effective boundaries can be challenging, but it becomes easier if you follow certain guidelines. It’s most important to ask for what you want, when setting boundaries. Unfortunately, many people get caught up explaining what they DON’T want.
Consider the positive way this statement sounds:
“I want our kids to see us being considerate of each other even when we disagree.”
vs. the negative connotation this one holds:
“I don’t want us to yell at each other in front of the kids.”
When you explain what you don’t want, you’re focused on your fears and worries. Moreover, the conversation is likely to dissolve into accusations and blame, stoking conflict rather than reducing it. Instead of discussing what you’re trying to prevent or change, create a boundary by asking for what you want.
Step 1. Define your goal. Figure out what you want or need.
Example: I want to know ahead of time when my ex is coming to the house.
Step 2. Set the boundary. Explain what you want.
Example: Calling before you come over assures the kids that their parents have a plan. Each parent then understands that they may be separated but work together and respect each other’s separate spaces.
Step 3. Implementation: You and your ex must follow through on the agreed upon boundary. Remember: If you don’t follow through, there’s even less of a chance that your ex will do what you want.
Step 4. Consequences: If you and your ex follow through on the boundary, you don’t need a consequence. However, if the boundary is ignored, it’s time to discuss next steps.
Example: “Unannounced visits are not optimal because they confuse the kids. If it happens again, I will have to consider (change the locks/ignore the visit/ ignore the reason for the unannounced visit).”
Step 5. Follow Through: If you still don’t get what you want even after you’ve explained the consequences, you MUST follow through with action.
Example: Leave the house the next time your ex arrives unannounced. Or, change the locks.
Conflict is sometimes unavoidable and it’s normal to feel angry or worried. Creating boundaries can ease anxiety and reduce conflicts. The key is figuring out what you want/need and then clearly explaining those desires to your ex.
For more information on custody or parenting time issues, or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 973-718-7705.