Setting boundaries for your partner’s high conflict ex can be a huge problem for couples and their blended family. The importance of appropriate boundaries is imperative to the success of your relationship and its longevity.
My husband and I married over 4 years ago. During the first couple years, he was extremely reluctant to set boundaries or even notice the need for them. I, on the other hand, was ready to explode with all the inappropriate behavior from his high conflict ex and his lack of recognition. It made me feel like our marriage was not as important as his relationship with his ex and I wanted to leave. Finally, in our third year of marriage, my husband independently started to recognize his ex’s poor behaviors and the damage his avoidance of these behaviors was doing to us. We started to work in unison to set boundaries to protect our marriage and family.
1. Be Unified with Acceptable Rules
You and your husband need to discuss what bothers you, him, the children and ways to correct that problem or behavior. This means doing the following:
- Identify the problems.
- Who or what is causing it?
- How can you fix it so you are protected?
- Does it fit into the rules of the child support judgment/parenting plan?
Example – For visitation, we were driving 2/3 of the way and his ex was driving 1/3 of the way. No reason, it’s just how they always did things. It’s how his ex liked it but I didn’t as I did many of the pickups/drop-offs. We reviewed our parenting plan and started to enforce 50/50 transportation. We communicated a half way spot to meet and kept firm with the new location. We pointed her back to the parenting plan for legality. His ex didn’t like this and would pretend she didn’t get the communication or forgot. We stayed consistent with this new rule and she eventually didn’t have much of a choice since we had a legal agreement. We now had less time on the road and equally shared this arrangement with his ex.
2. Firm Communications – Not Mean
My husband and I communicate boundaries in writing via email. We are not mean in these communications but are very firm and to the point. His ex considers these emails to be forms of control and bullying. She will respond back negatively to start a fight. We don’t respond. If you are being truly firm and not mean you aren’t a bully or controlling and if his ex accuses you of these actions it’s a sure sign these boundaries are long overdue. By communicating via email we have a documentation trail.
Example – My husband’s ex would fail to respond to pickup and drop off times until the last minute. This left us without knowing what our Friday night or weekend schedule would be. So, we set firm boundaries about replying to our communications regarding pickups and drop-offs times. We would tell her that if she failed to respond by a certain time we would assume she was keeping the children for the weekend and we would make other plans. His ex lived for her “alone weekends” without the kids. At first, my husband was hesitant to send this type of communication. But, when he did send it, she responded within 30 minutes instead of the previous practice of no communication. We now had more control of our schedule.
3. Keep the Boundary
You can’t set a boundary and then not follow it. That will make you and your husband look foolish and not unified. If you set a boundary, be prepared to follow it religiously, both of you. You may make his ex angry and she may threaten you with the children. Be open to the kids about the rules and explain why you have certain rules in place. The kids will understand and appreciate your structure. Believe me, if you are dealing with a high conflict ex, the kids need you to be calm, structured and consistent.
Example – One of our rules is about being on time for pickups and drop-offs. Prior to setting this boundary, his ex would arrive up to an hour late. We would wait patiently just to find out she was shopping or packing for her “alone weekend”. We set a boundary that after 15 minutes we would leave. If she didn’t show up she would either have to drive the kids to our home (over 30 minutes away) or she wouldn’t have her “alone weekend”. She would tell the kids this new rule meant we didn’t want to see them. We had to explain the rules to the kids and why it’s important to be on time. Surprisingly, most parenting plans have a 15-minute mention about how late you can be. We left one time and that’s all it took for her to start showing up on time. We are consistent and his ex knows it.
4. Be Prepared to Initiate the Consequence
If you set a boundary there is usually a consequence for not following it. Make sure it is something you can control and will feel comfortable delivering. This consequence may cause his ex a bit of inconvenience. After all, the boundary was set to protect you and your family, not her. Don’t be surprised if the consequence even causes you temporary hardship (like waiting longer for the kids to show up at your home because you left the pick up after waiting for 15 minutes) but eventually consistency and structure will make it easier.
Example – In June 2015, my husband’s ex trespassed in our home and went through personal belongings during a curbside pick up. The consequence of this action is she can no longer come to our house (even for a curbside pickup) without an adult present. We have documented this via email and legally. The kids also understand this rule. This causes a major inconvenience for his ex as she doesn’t have as much freedom with pick ups and drop offs, as she has to wait for one of us to get home. She tells us we are being difficult and not thinking about the kids. We adamantly refuse stating the boundary broken and the consequence of that trespass. We keep with the consequence of her chosen actions.
5. Recognize Boundaries are for You – Not Her
Boundaries are for you and your family. They represent things you can control, what you will tolerate and consequences you can deliver. When you leave your car, you lock the door to make it harder for a person to break in. You don’t give anyone access to your credit card numbers. You protect them. You probably have a fence dividing your property from your neighbors. This gives your property structure and your family privacy. These are all boundaries put in place to make you more comfortable. They only make things more difficult for the person trying to cross those boundaries.
6. Get Ready for a Challenge
His ex isn’t going to like any of the new boundaries. After all, it only makes her life more difficult. She will degrade both you and your spouse in front of the kids, accuse you of being insecure, play the victim and accuse both you and your husband of harassment and bullying. Be prepared for a challenge, remain calm, keep the structure and stay consistent. Learn what you can control and what you cannot. Enjoy the boundaries you and your husband are able to maintain.
Linda is a mom, stepmom, grandma, ex-wife and most importantly, a new wife residing in a coastal town in Oregon. She understands being a stepmom might be the most challenging role you’ve ever played. Linda enjoys sharing her stories of dealing with his ex, her step kids and new husband and loves to hear how they relate to your situations. Linda wants to encourage other stepmoms to never give up their new life role and to always look for the joy!