7 Unhealthy Things to Avoid Doing with Your Ex
Ending your marriage doesn’t necessarily mean ending all communication. Especially if you’re co-parenting, or you share a group of friends, or your mother-in-law feels more like a mother to you than your own, completely severing communication might not be altogether possible. Instead, setting boundaries may be the answer.
But setting boundaries with someone so close to you is hard. How can you keep your communication and relationship respectful and open – yet keep the way clear for your exciting new life – when your lives invariably overlap?
What are personal boundaries?
With any relationship, boundaries are the rules you set to help both people understand what is expected and what will be tolerated between you. But in the divorce process, boundaries become less clear. They can feel blurred. After all, you’ve spent years co-mingled with this person. Suddenly, you’re separate entities.
When healthy boundaries aren’t established early in a couple’s divorced life, things can get messy. You might find yourself falling into old patterns that prevent you from moving on. What are some unhealthy ways you may have crossed those lines that could work against you after your divorce?
1. Contact is too frequent
The fact your relationship ended doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. In some respects, it makes things far easier if you can. But constant communication can prevent you from moving on. If you find yourself text messaging multiple times a day or calling “just because,” it’s time to put that to rest.
Talk about the kids’ schedule or a parent-teacher conference when necessary. Ask about a household issue. It’s one thing to chat with your ex-spouse occasionally, but daily check-ins are a well-worn groove that can stand in the way of your new independence and emotional healing.
2. You have sex (and it’s confusing)
Yeah, it happens. Sex can be another one of those well-worn grooves you and your ex can fall into. It feels comfortable and familiar and can fill some of your physical intimacy needs after divorce. Why not?
But physical intimacy rarely lives in a vacuum. It typically comes with all sorts of leftover emotional baggage attached. Are you suddenly turning up at each other’s houses at awkward times? Is it just sex, or is one of you hoping for a reconciliation? Is one of you feeling used or manipulated?
When physical boundaries become blurred, emotional ones can also become confused. Interjecting past intimacy in your new life can keep you stuck in a relationship that wasn’t meeting your needs. If sex is truly the end game, you may be better off engaging in a light situationship than burdening yourself with old, heavy emotional stuff.
3. Oversharing your problems
Your ex was the person you shared everything with, from your daily rehashing of work drama to problems with your kids. And you may want to maintain that friendship as part of your divorced relationship. But when does that old “friendship” become so involved that you’re stepping on each other’s toes?
Constantly confiding in your ex prevents you from developing other healthy coping mechanisms and support systems for yourself. It’s time to expand your emotional coping horizons. Find others you can count on as your emotional sounding board and support system.
4. You still act like spouses
He is still mowing the lawn and maintaining the car. She’s still chauffeuring the kids around on his parenting weeks or when he works late.
Why are you still acting like spouses? You each have your own life now. Living like this keeps the divorce wound fresh. It confuses the kids. And you probably find yourself reigniting all those old conflicts. Never mind opening the door to manipulation and/or co-dependency issues, especially if you had some lopsided power dynamics in your relationship while you were married.
There’s a reason you got divorced. Boundaries that recognize your new independence are necessary, even if that means hiring someone to mow the lawn or asking a neighbor to pick up the kids.
5. Intrusive questioning
Are you really asking your former spouse personal questions out of “concern,” or are you reacting out of something else? Even if you shared many years together, after your divorce, both of you deserve the freedom to move on and pursue personal growth without being monitored and scrutinized by each other.
Asking questions and keeping yourself wedged into your ex’s life invites inevitable comparisons. You may wonder why they seem so happy while you’re still miserable. A new relationship may push you (or them) over the edge with jealousy.
After divorce, you both have the right to some well-earned privacy. Asking intrusive questions means you haven’t let go. At the very least, it keeps unhealthy drama going in your life. Do yourself a favor and focus on your own journey instead of staying entangled in your ex’s life. Everyone will be happier for it, especially you.
6. Borrowing money
So you still have shared expenses? Joint investments? Do you borrow money from each other?
One of the most pressing issues of married couples is money. And divorced couples? That’s a mess just waiting to happen.
You may have been together for a long time, and one of you may have relied financially on the other for most of your married life. Now, it’s time to move on and become financially independent. Financial entanglements just complicate an already complicated relationship and can keep you stuck in feelings of obligation and resentment.
7. Parental alienation
Parental alienation is one of the most damaging behaviors that some divorced parents engage in. This occurs when an ex consciously or unconsciously portrays the other parent negatively to the kids.
While this may arise from feelings of anger, hurt, or even a desire for revenge, it can hurt a child’s relationship with one or both parents, and it can hurt the child personally.
Children thrive on stability and a sense of belonging. Parental alienation deprives them of these fundamental needs. It’s emotional manipulation that puts a child in the unfortunate position of choosing between parents, which can lead to even more anxiety and stress in their lives. This kind of manipulation may even skew their future perceptions of love and trust in their relationships, causing them to carry unhealthy relationship patterns into their adult lives.
Divorce has given you the gift of freedom. Maintaining healthy boundaries with your ex is essential for your growth, emotional healing, and future relationships. Avoid staying stuck in old behaviors that don’t serve you. Communicate what you’re willing and not willing to deal with as exes. Don’t speak badly about each other to the kids. Keep your communications on-topic and unemotional. And stay out of each other’s personal lives.
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