Healthy Boundaries

As women moving through divorce and forward into a new life, we hear a lot about maintaining healthy boundaries. The idea of boundaries always sounded so empowering to me, though I had no idea why they meant, probably because I never had any!

One day a wise woman offered a simple explanation. “Never walk into the North Wind with your coat held wide open.” As a native Minnesotan, I understood immediately!

healthboundariesIf you do not protect yourself form the harsh wind, not only can you get physically ill, but you can become resentful and angry, “Why doesn’t this just stop?” You can become anxious and fearful, “Will this ever end?” And when frostbite sets in, you become numb and stop felling anything.

Many of us don’t realize our coat is open, or we don’t realize we have the power to wrap it around ourselves. This understanding grows the more we chose to make decisions in our own best interest. This was very difficult for me to learn. I was taught to value everyone else’s interests above my own, and if I didn’t, I was bing terribly selfish. What a surprise to learn that when I did what was best for me, it turned out to be the best for everyone around me.

I came to understand boundaries are not just for physical safety, but also for our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual integrity. When someone tells you how you should or shouldn’t feel, what you should or shouldn’t think, or how you should or shouldn’t connect with your Higher Power, it is a boundary issue.

Building, maintaining, and adjusting our boundaries is a life-long process, and one that will protect you from whatever the North Wind may blow your way. They are a loving gesture and a statement about your dignity.

How to Establish Boundaries After Divorce

Written by Dr. Lisa Herman, E-Therapy Supportive Online Counseling

Boundaries: This abstract idea that “I” am separate from “YOU”and the enmeshment (or coming together) of “US” doesn’t negatively impact “ME”. 

At least, this is how I interpret “good” Boundaries. As a psychologist in clinical practice, Boundaries happens to be one of the most discussed, yet feared, topics. It’s confusing and weird. It’s a little complicated to grasp and put into practice for most people. We are social beings who love to be with others. We seek out connections and desire to be desired. Being an “us” makes life a little more enjoyable. We live for someone else’s happiness, and taking care of others gives us fulfillment.

But, what happens when our spouse of xx number of years no longer fulfills our needs, arguments are more often and more intense, sadness and loneliness take over, and the dreaded “D” word, yes… you can say it… Divorce seem imminent. All of these issues you experienced inside of your marriage don’t just go away because a piece of paper says it should.

After working with men and women going through divorce, it is clear that the dynamics that were there inside of the marriage will most likely continue after the marriage dissolves, particularly when kids are involved. Add to the already huge pile of negativity some new resentments towards your ex because moving on with life wasn’t as easy as you’d hoped because you have to continue to have a relationship for the sake of the kids.

We can’t change others. It’s a dirty fact that we don’t want to accept. The key to successfully divorcing with kids is healthy Boundaries. It’s time to cut the emotional ties that didn’t work, and begin to build new boundaries that, at the very least, will work for you.  If healthy boundaries weren’t already there to help maintain your marriage, now would be a great time to learn how to apply this concept to your “new” life. This is not only important for your kids, but also extremely imperative for you to move on and begin to experience life in a new way with your ex.

It’s not going to be easy, since many of the same dynamics that drove you two apart in the first place will remain. Be prepared for a variety of emotions to arise when applying new boundaries to an old relationship such as guilt, shame, fear, anger, sadness, and/or even excitement.

Here are a few steps towards reaching healthier boundaries after divorce:

  1. Acceptance – in order for anything new to being, you must first accept life and reality as it is now, here, today. You are now on the path towards establishing a new normal.
  2. Support – find your support system. Family, friends, or a support group for divorced men/women. Reach out and ask for help. It takes courage to seek help, despite popular belief.
  3. Understand yourself – write down what worked for you and your ex (yes, there was something that worked otherwise you wouldn’t have been with him/her for that long) and what didn’t. Build on the strengths and decrease the negative. Boundaries works both ways. Try to get as detailed as possible. For example, “We did really well communicating about schedules through text, but could not talk over the phone without an argument.”
  4. Establish new rules – once you know what did work, embrace those systems. Eliminate the dynamics that did not work as much as possible. For example, “We fight too much when we try to speak, so for now, we are going to only communicate using this app for divorced parents until we can find alternative ways to communicate respectfully.”  or “I will only respond to his/her text/calls/emails between the hours of 5-7pm after work. Take back some control while being respectful that you two need to communicate about the kids. Boundaries = limits. Know what yours are and hold firm.
  5. Don’t involve kids – the biggest mistake is putting kids in the middle. “He said – She said” statements to your kids about your ex is one of the most difficult things kids have to deal with in a newly divorced family. This can increase their own sense of guilt, confusion, anxiety, and/or depression. Kids aren’t yet capable of handling adult emotions, and they should not have to choose between parents, no matter who did what.
  6. You are not married anymore and he/she is not your responsibility. Breaking those emotional ties can be the most challenging. Your ex knows just what to say to trigger your sadness/insecurities. Seek out a good counselor to help you become more aware of your own triggers so that your ex’s comments won’t get through to the core of you as much. This is typically an ongoing process; time, self-esteem and confidence will help this step become easier over time.

Learning any new skill takes time, practice and a good amount of ups and downs. Give yourself some slack here. This adventure, although not one that you asked for perhaps, can be viewed as a positive challenge of emotional, spiritual and even physical growth. Model for your kids how to respect someone else inside of conflict. Become the mother/father you know you can be despite all negative feelings you have. Remember, you chose this person at some point in your life, there must have been something about him/her that you liked back then. Try to remember what that was and begin to build new boundaries so that you all can move forward in a healthier manner.

Set Clear Boundaries

Written by Louise Griffith,

Do you ever find yourself saying, “But they need me. If I don’t do it, who will?” The truth of the matter is others may “need” your gifts, time, and even financial support because you have much to contribute. Your willingness to help can make others’ lives easier and perhaps less stressful. The important thing is whether or not their request will work for you. How often do you say “Yes,” when your internal wisdom is telling you to say “No?” Listen to your inner voice because it wants to protect you from spreading yourself too thin. Be clear. You might say something like, “Thank you for thinking of me. At this time, I am going to say ‘No.’” You really do not have to explain why. It is your right to do so.

Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you got!- Janis Joplin

Saying “No” can be one of the most honoring things you can do for yourself. When you set a boundary, you might disappoint the person making the request. It’s okay. Boundaries are not always comfortable to establish; however, they’re a bridge to receiving the peace and freedom you deserve. They help keep you from becoming overstretched and resentful in the long run. Speak up, and ask for what you want. It is also your birthright. Remember, you teach others how to treat you. Setting boundaries is part of any caring relationship. Negotiating to get your own needs met helps you know and trust yourself, and it also helps others know and trust you as well.

If your limits are violated, speak up. Allowing people to take advantage of you isn’t noble or necessary, especially when you can do something to stop it.

Remember, you teach others how to treat you.

I Am Worth It Next Steps:

  1. Pay attention. Do you tolerate the intolerable? Do you normalize the abnormal? Do you accept the unacceptable?
  2. What price have you paid for these choices?
  3. Can you forgive yourself for the times you let it happen?
  4. Do you know what it feels like to be treated with respect and dignity from others and also from yourself? Reflect and take note of the impact.
  5. Reflect upon a time when you set very clear boundaries with another person. Regardless of the outcome, as you go deep within, how did you feel?

Louise Griffith MA, LP

Louise Griffith MA, LP

About Louise Griffith

Louise is an internationally recognized speaker, psychologist, success coach and author who helps clients get clear about what they want and then achieve it. She works with people who want to know what makes them tick and motivates them to take action in a positive and productive way. Her training deals with the core issues that stand in the way of moving forward personally and professionally and how people can be their best on a daily basis. Louise is known for shining a light on life’s possibilities.

Proper Boundaries

by Erin Kassebaum,

It’s important to maintain proper boundaries during and after divorce. Boundaries help handle the common feelings of helplessness, confusion and guilt. Boundaries also help maintain ownership of our lives and find balance. As a result we are able to take care of ourselves, which frees us to love and care for others.

I recently read a book called Boundaries: When to Say Yes and When to Say No and Take Control of your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. In this article I’m highlighting a few of the ten “Laws of Boundaries” outlined in the book.

The Law of Power. The basic premise of this law is knowing what we control and what we don’t control. It is common to want an apology from our (soon-to-be) ex; it’s not common to actually receive one. We CAN’T control our ex’s behavior toward us, but we CAN control our reaction to it. The sooner we are able to let go of what we can’t control and only concern ourselves with what we can control, the sooner we will get through the healing process and find peace.

The Law of Evaluation. This boundary pertains to setting and conveying our own boundaries to our exes. One example is expecting our exes to knock on the door of what was once our jointly owned home. Another is not tolerating continued abuse by explicitly stating we won’t respond to it or by simply ignoring it. Setting and communicating our boundaries to our exes, even if it makes them angry, is necessary to so they know what to expect from us.

The Law of Natural Consequences. It is only natural to want to help others, even if we are in the midst of a painful divorce ourselves. However, it is important to ensure we are helping and not rescuing. Helping is good; rescuing is harmful or ourselves and to those we are seeking to help. This boundary clarifies the line between helping and rescuing.

Here’s a summary:

 Helpers Rescuers
  •  Encourage independence
  • Create dependency
  •  Responsible only for yourself
  • Feel responsible for other people
  •  Don’t take things personally
  • Feel badly when efforts not well received
  •  Only help when asked
  • Assume what other people need
  •  Help without expectation
  • Require appreciation and gratitude
  •  Allow those who “commit the crime” to “do the time”
  • Intervene and absorb the consequences for others’ behavior

I serve as a Guardian ad litem for Hennepin County and I have found these boundaries absolutely crucial in helping me do this important work. They also help in my work with clients in conflict during and after divorce. I hope you find them helpful during your own journey through divorce.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366 or