After a divorce, it can be challenging for a person to establish healthy boundaries with their co-parent due to fears, worries, or low self-esteem. As this individual navigates their new lifestyle they will often carry some of their unresolved emotional wounds into a new relationship or marriage which creates discomfort for their new partner. Without being fully aware, it can impact their new partner where they feel insignificant, become a constant sounding board, or feel emotionally abandoned by the unhealthy co-parenting relationship.
However, the divorcee may forgo establishing healthy co-parenting boundaries with their co-parent because they are fearful their children will be punished through manipulative tactics to maintain control or try to withhold the child out of contempt. Regardless of why the co-parenting boundaries are obsolete, they are necessary for any healthy relationship to survive, whether it’s with their co-parent or you.
So, how do you set healthy boundaries in a new relationship when your partner doesn't have any with their co-parent?
Here are a few tips to help get you started in setting boundaries:
1. Understand Your Partner's Perspective
An important key factor to a successful relationship is understanding your partner's perspective. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with everything they say or do, but it does mean taking the time to see things from their point of view. One way you can do this is try to visualize as if you were standing in their shoes and living their story. This can be especially important when boundaries are involved so we can express empathy and vulnerability.
Taking the time to reflect on why your partner hasn’t set boundaries with their co-parent can help you create a space where both of you feel safe and respected to talk through your differences. If you find yourself getting upset or emotionally reactive when your partner violates one of your agreed-upon boundaries, this can make your partner emotionally shut down and feel fearful to open up to you. It will be very critical to hear your partner so you can learn about their beliefs around the matter, rather than assume why they did something.
Start with discovery questions to understand your partner’s perspective:
Can you help me understand how come you need to have dinner with your ex?
How come I’m not invited to soccer games but your ex can bring their partner?
Do you think it’s appropriate to talk on the phone after 8pm?
2. Communicate Effectively
Communicating effectively starts with actively listening. When you listen and understand where your partner is coming from on the matter, then can you begin to communicate in a way where both of you will feel heard and understood as conscious partners. Listening to just reply about your needs and emotions will not go over well, as both partners are then talking at each other rather than talking with each other.
Communication is best when we use a calm tone of voice, concise messaging about the boundary violation or concern, and constructive language when it comes to requesting your needs. Not much can be resolved from heightened emotion nor will your partner respect what you are sharing when it comes to setting boundaries. Emotions can often feel one-sided, like ultimatums or demands which creates more resistance in your relationship.
And, your partner may or may not even be aware they are violating a personal limit of yours which can create even bigger issues when having unspoken expectations. The goal is to be on the same team to deepen your emotional bond and help each other see where you can improve as a couple to support the foundation of your romantic relationship.
3. Negotiate and Compromise
Boundaries are often a negotiation process between individuals who are working together to find a mutual ground that allows each partner to feel valued, loved, and respected. But, before you set a boundary, you will need to determine what core value is being violated in your relationship. Your core values are your ultimate road map to setting boundaries. It may be good to ask yourself - Is my partner crossing my limits around loyalty, mutual respect, transparency, trust, and communication...to name a few.
While you negotiate what the boundary may look like to meet each of your needs, you don’t negotiate on your values. Your values are how you own your self-worth in a relationship. They meet your emotional needs on a deeper level. If a partner is unwilling to respect your core values, then this could be a challenging relationship for you to reach personal fulfillment around love.
4. Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
Boundaries are sometimes new behaviors, especially if your partner hasn’t ever set them before with their co-parent. It can take time to adjust to and may even need to be set more than once until the new behavior is learned and honored.
Let’s set a boundary on late-night calling with your partner and their co-parent.
For example, there is no need for two co-parents to talk after 8 p.m. unless there is an emergency with the children, or one partner gets home from work and has their child-parent calls. This is why we will need to assess in step one what is the reason for the calls. However, if your partner’s co-parent continuously finds reasons to call late night then this is because the co-parent is seeking control or looking for emotional support. This is where you may need to set a boundary with your partner.
The value would be: mutual respect
The boundary: I feel disrespected when your co-parent calls late night to talk. I value mutual respect. Can we work on setting a time that is appropriate for calls?
You may believe 6 p.m. is ideal for the boundary time and your partner may feel 9 p.m. is okay. This is where you will negotiate what each of you thinks is a reasonable respectful hour to set the boundary. Both of you will need to express your logical reasoning while coming together to honor the relationship.
Boundaries are not about controlling another person or creating demands. They are about asking your partner to work together in the best interest of your relationship as a whole. This allows each of you to feel respected and valued in the connection.
While being a new partner can be tricky with a co-parent dynamic, it is essential to maintain your self-respect in the relationship and work through your differences around the co-parenting relationship, as healthy boundaries are a must-have for all relationships.
If you struggle to set boundaries with your partner due to co-parenting challenges, please set up a time to chat with us here.