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How to Establish Boundaries After Divorce


Yesterday my post covered why boundaries are needed after a divorce and remarriage. The act of having healthy boundaries in your “new” life helps to define the changes that have occurred and reduces tension, conflict and confusion for everyone involved (including your children). Many times with a remarriage or recoupling, boundaries shift and this change can bring anxiety or tension if not adequately prepared for. One reason why this change after remarriage may feel extreme is when healthy boundaries were not previously establish after the divorce or when re-entering the dating pool.

Defining new roles, communication styles and boundaries after a divorce is an important step in removing emotional ties and establishing your new independence. Many times, people will get stuck in a habit of continuing to rely on their ex-spouse for support (emotional, physical or social) and will continue engaging in the same arguments and habits. Basically, the couple will no longer be living together but in a sense, remain married. They are still emotionally tied to their ex-spouse and have not moved on to a place of healing. This reliance on the other person can become a habit that continues until truly tested, which is usually the introduction of a new partner, child or living arrangement. By that point in time, this state of physically divorced/emotionally married is ingrained and the pulling away to establish new, healthy lines can be very difficult.

During the separation or divorce is the best time to assert new boundaries which will benefit your personal growth and your future co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. Here are some steps to creating new boundaries with your ex-spouse:

Accept Where You Are. You have to fully embrace and accept your role as a divorcee. Acknowledging that you marriage is over and removing all hope for reconciliation is the only way to let yourself fully grieve and to welcome in your future without chains from your past. Accept that boundaries are needed to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship and to allow both of you the freedom to move on and grow from your current place. Acknowledging that you no longer have responsibility or control over the other person can be a difficult step but it is necessary to heal and to set yourself up for a low-conflict future.

Build a New Support System. You must find ways to meet your needs outside of your ex-spouse. If you find yourself turning to them to discuss issues or concerns, reach out to your family. If you are in the habit of asking your ex-husband to fix a leaking sink, find a handyman that you can trust. If you feel the urge to reach out to your ex-wife with the latest joke you heard or a funny story, instead call a friend.

When you divorce, you are left with a large hole. The person that knows you better than anyone else is no longer there to lean on, to discuss your day with or to help you plan for the future. It can be difficult in the beginning and it requires a deliberate decision to redirect your communications to a new support system.

It’s important to note that your children should not be fulfilling this role for you. Making your son the man of the house or turning your daughter into your closest confidant is not a healthy way to redirect this need. Also be wary of using your ex-in-laws to fulfill this role. While you have likely created strong bonds with them, their first priority will be their family member. It will be easier in the long run if you create healthy boundaries with them from the beginning.

Establish Appropriate Ground Rules. New roles, new rules. These rules will vary from person to person but when defining your new relationship, here are a few that may be helpful…

  • Stay out of each other’s personal life. You don’t need to ask about dating relationships, their plans for the weekend (sans kids) or what they did our with their friends last night.
  • Seek advice elsewhere. They are no longer the person to turn to for work or relationship advice. Your newly formed support system is the place to turn for these topics.
  • Be respectful. Having a healthy distance between you two does not mean that you have to be rude or say hurtful things. A respectful tone can go a long way and will help to curb most areas of conflict.

Choose rules that will help you in creating the roles and relationship that is needed to successfully move forward. They may be entirely awkward at first, but with time they will become second nature.

While it may be easiest to establish these boundaries and guidelines at the time of your divorce, it’s never too late. As you both move on and the landscape of your family changes, adjustments will likely be needed to continue fulfilling everyone’s needs. Taking the time and work to ensure your emotional ties are severed is the first step in creating a healthy and low-conflict relationship with your ex-spouse.

How to Establish Boundaries After Divorce

Amy Bellows, PhD

Amy Bellows holds a PhD in Psychology and has had the opportunity to work in various settings including leading adolescent group therapy sessions, working with victims of sexual assault, helping woman inmates adjust to post-prison life, conducting parenting education classes and assisting with drug and alcohol dependency treatment plans. The unique challenges and opportunities that come along with being a part of a step-family is a special interest of hers. Amy is currently working in the corporate environment with a interest in group dynamics and change management. You can find her on her website, or on Twitter @AmyBellowsPhD.

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APA Reference
Bellows, A. (2015). How to Establish Boundaries After Divorce. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Dec 2015
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