In the 2009 film, It’s Complicated a much-divorced couple, played by Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, reignite their spark and embark on an affair. Ironically, it seems illicit because one of them is married and the other is simultaneously drawn to another person and there are children involved in the whole mess too. Being a rom-com, it’s all very funny and cute. But in real life, it can be considered a prime example of developing unhealthy boundaries with your ex-wife.
It is not uncommon for exes to get back together, especially if the divorce has not been too nasty and the couple has decided to put things behind them. The case of Lily, an events professional based in the UAE is an apt example. She was involved with a divorcee and all was well until, after a few fights, things started going downhill.
It was the time when his ex-wife made a comeback to his life. The duo started keeping in touch. “It affected me greatly,” she says bitterly. “He would turn to her for advice and kept talking about our problems to her all under the garb of them being friends despite the divorce. I used to resent my husband for not setting boundaries which increased problems between us. It wasn’t long before we decided to go our separate ways. A year later, he remarried his ex.”
The problem of unhealthy boundaries with ex-wife arises when either one or both of them have remarried and have settled elsewhere. Or when one partner is not willing to let go of the other. When you do not keep your ex-wife out of your relationship, a new set of problems can crop up. The whole new wife and ex-wife tussle can escalate quickly and take a toll on everyone involved.
Let’s discuss new wife and ex-wife boundaries with insights from counseling psychologist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Psychology and International Affiliate with the American Psychological Association), relationship counselor and founder-director, Mind Suggest Wellness Centre. Kavita advises, “Remember that after your divorce or separation or fallout, you are a third person in the life of your ex. Don’t try to be their spouse when you are no longer a spouse.”
8 Examples Of Unhealthy Boundaries With Ex-Wife
A divorce is an unpleasant and unsavory experience. That is why it is all the more essential to set post-divorce boundaries with an ex-wife. Failure to do so indicates you have not yet moved on. Emotional and physical space allows for self-expression, mutual respect, and self-love while unhealthy boundaries with your ex-wife mean you are risking being taken advantage of, abused, and disrespected.
If it was a long marriage and you have known each other for years, getting detached from an ex-wife won’t be easy especially if you ended on friendly terms. And in case you are wondering, “Why do ex-wives feel entitled?”, due to this prolonged association, even they feel they still have some say in your life. This keeps going on unless one person decides to strain at the leash.
If there are new partners in the scenario, the whole situation becomes all the more complicated affecting three/four lives simultaneously. So what are the examples of unhealthy boundaries with an ex-wife and what should be the right way to behave after a separation? Read on…
Related Reading: How To Accept Your Marriage Is Over
1. Revisiting your old romantic or sex life
Do you remember that episode from Friends where Rachel says to Ross, “With us, sex is never off the table”, even though they didn’t formally date for so many years? I agree, in the current context, it’s apples and oranges – that was an on-again-off-again relationship and we are talking about a post-divorce connection with the ex-wife that never goes away. But this is where the problem lies.
As long as you remain intertwined with your ex-wife with some unresolved emotions coming in between, moving on would not be an option. Whenever you interact with your ex-wife, do not allow yourself to be swayed by old romantic tales or go reminiscing about your sex life, especially if you are involved with someone else. Setting boundaries with an ex when in a new relationship is non-negotiable for building a healthy, harmonious partnership with your current romantic interest.
Only partners who are jealous or insecure or petty try to use sex to lure their former partners. “It is extremely petty not to allow your partner to move on just because you are stuck,” says Kavita. “Ensure that you do not give them a booty call, cozy up to them, or meet up for drinks and let things go out of hand.”
What to do: If you are over the bitterness of the divorce and want to be friends with your ex, by all means, do so. Just don’t be friends with benefits.
2. Children being used in the battle
Whether you are divorced, separated, or broken up, all dynamics change when children are involved. And that’s when boundaries with ex-spouse become more crucial than ever. Oliver, our reader from Washington is co-parenting after divorce with his ex-wife Susan who faced several issues regarding the custody schedule. He says, “There have been days when I was waiting outside my kid’s school and half an hour later I found out that she came to pick him up without even informing me.”
The best way to maintain good terms with your ex when children are involved is to create a custody schedule and parenting plan and strictly stick to it. Let your conversations and meetings revolve around the children only. And do your job of good parenting without entertaining the urge to compete with your ex. “Being stuck in power battles even when you are separated, where a child is used as a pawn is one of the aspects of unhealthy boundaries with ex-wife or husband,” says Kavita.
What to do: Leave children out of your battle. Don’t drag them into your ego tussles for you will never be able to move forward. Set the terms of parenting in your divorce agreement.
3. Influencing children’s lives while co-parenting
At times, when a couple takes turns in parenting, one of them often uses the child to get back at the other, spreading lies and rumors and turning the child against them. The idea may be to bring more chaos and negativity so that nothing moves forward. That is why co-parenting boundaries with an ex-wife are perhaps the most important when children are involved.
Even if your ex-wife does not deliberately try to poison the mind of the child in the process of managing joint custody, she may try to influence them, especially if she is bitter or negative. There would be a tendency to dominate the relationship and impose her views on their education, marriage, and so on. And there are several cases of an ex-wife ruining current relationship by talking trash to the child about your new partner.
Consciously or subconsciously, parenting can turn into a competition between the separated partners, resulting in extreme stress for the children. In turn, children from such dysfunctional families often show signs of stress, anxiety, and other resultant issues. So, you cannot and shouldn’t stoop to her level of wickedness. As long as the ball is in your court, you can play it fair. As the children grow up, they will be able to see the truth and call a spade a spade.
What to do: Keep channels of communication open with your ex so that you are aware of what she is up to. Communication boundaries with an ex are essential to avoid any influences on your child that you are not aware of.
Related Reading: 10 Real Fears about Love after Divorce
4. Not stopping them from stalking you
Some divorces are so nasty that a person often gets restraining orders from the courts, mostly in cases of domestic abuse. But in cases where the degrees of separation are fluid, an intrusive ex-wife can create trouble by being a consistent presence in her former husband’s life, virtually or otherwise. Going through emails, rummaging through things at home (where they no longer stay), and being inquisitive about their former partner’s movements are all a result of maintaining unhealthy boundaries with ex-wife.
She can do it either because old habits die hard or to assert dominance over your current partner leading them to think, “I am feeling second to his ex-wife”. The situation can turn particularly messy if you’ve already moved on and remarried. In this case, an intrusive ex can become a sore point in your new relationship. “My husband has no boundaries with ex-wife” – this isn’t a happy realization for anyone and certainly won’t do your marriage any good.
It will also never be over if you are in touch with each other over social media. Constant messaging can lead to long chats and the temptation to stalk an ex on social media to see what the other is up to on Instagram or FB will never allow you to forget them and move on. So, no matter how you feel comfortable with ex, it’s time to tell her to stay away and activate the new wife and ex-wife boundaries.
What to do: Respect your own boundaries and do not allow your ex to get into your current affairs. Try to block them from your social media for a while at least.
5. Drawing them into your life through business or personal affairs
One of the biggest mistakes you can make after a divorce is to draw your former spouse into your workspace. Agreed, sometimes it cannot be avoided, especially if a couple was working in the same office or was running a business together.
Do not assume that you can keep your professional and personal life separate. It is not impossible but very difficult. It is hard to forget the past, especially if you have to interact closely because of work. And it might just end up complicating things further if you do not have ex-wife boundaries.
What to do: Keep a safe distance if it is not possible to cut off ties completely. Never make the mistake of signing new deals with them especially if your fallout has been bitter, as the relationship will never get repaired again.
6. Contacting your ex despite the presence of a new partner
Many people cannot resist the idea of keeping in touch with their ex-spouses even if they or their ex has a new person in their life. This is a classic example of lacking boundaries with an ex-spouse. You call her whenever you need help over any minor inconveniences or to share a piece of happy news and then you ask, “Why do ex-wives feel entitled?”
The answer pretty much lies in your actions, don’t you think? Agreed, it’s difficult to completely switch off ties when you have shared history. But there are boundaries for being friends with an ex as well. Messaging them, interfering in their new relationship, and hanging out with their friends all lead to emotional entanglements you can do without.
You are on great terms with your ex and we are elated for you. But do you realize this over-friendly relationship is putting your current partner through a spell of anxiety, worrying about “I am feeling second to his ex-wife”? Our expert says, “Letting go is important, you should learn how to move on. Being present in their life after separation will not help anyone.”
What to do: You can certainly be friends with your ex but that friendship does not happen immediately after divorce. Follow the no-contact rule as far as possible and give time for the wounds to heal. Wait until you are well and truly over them before forming a new relationship with them.
7. Not making space for new relationships
This is closely related to the previous one. You will not be able to move on and make space for a new relationship unless you close your chapter of marriage. If you keep going back to them for advice, and discussions, interfere in their lives and allow them into yours, neither of you can begin anew. It’s another obvious instance of an ex-wife ruining current relationship.
Another flip side of not setting boundaries with a toxic ex-wife is when these ties begin to influence your current relationship. You really wouldn’t want a jealous ex to spread rumors or talk ill about you or your present partner. If a part of you is still hooked on to your past relationship and you decide to start a new chapter by remarrying, it can open a can of worms as your new wife and ex-wife get territorial with one another.
What to do: Healthy boundaries with ex-spouse mean when you truly respect that the person you were once married to is no longer part of your life. Don’t allow them to create blockages in your lives because it didn’t work out between you two.
8. Turning to them during trouble or seeking advice
Old habits can die hard. Seeking support, financially, physically, or emotionally from an ex is also a way by which you develop unhealthy boundaries with your ex-wife. They might have been the go-to person when you were married which prompts you to do the same even after the split. However, this will only make things more toxic than before even if you are on good terms with her.
And then blaming her as ‘the ex-wife that never goes away’ won’t do you any good. This is also another reason why you should avoid working together or creating circumstances that may force you to turn to them for help. Most importantly, never turn to them for monetary help, as it can be a breeding ground for several other problems.
What to do: To set healthy ex-wife boundaries, find a support system outside of your ex-partner and extended family. Make sure you do not try to intertwine your life with theirs, it’s important to break away once and for all. If you find yourself in a negative situation, seek therapy, not your ex.
- Getting detached from your ex-wife becomes difficult after a long history which gives birth to many unhealthy boundaries
- Revisiting and discussing your old romantic days with an ex is not a good idea
- Often children are dragged into the middle, their innocent minds being poisoned by one/both parents against the other
- One or both spouses keep stalking the other on social media and it makes moving on even harder
- Turning to your ex for help and seeking advice like before is another instance of unhealthy boundary
- Unless you let her go and create a space for your new partner, your current relationship would be affected by your ex-wife
Separation pangs are very difficult to get over. When you have shared a deep relationship with someone, even if it ended badly, there is a temptation to dwell in the past. But the need of the hour is to make a clean break. Boundaries are essential, not just for your sanity and peace of mind but also that of your former spouse.
It can be tough to detach emotionally after a divorce. Seeking therapy is a way to cope with the conflicting emotions you may feel after a separation and be able to move forward with grace.
You have to take a firm stand and be aware of when either of you is overstepping the boundaries. Put a stop to the endless messages, calls, and the temptation to share your current life details with your ex.
You should not cut communication completely with your ex. At times, it is not even possible especially if you share children or a business. But you can certainly set limits to communication. Be careful not to get too personal or keep reminiscing about the past with them.
It is definitely okay to contact an ex provided you know that you are not overstepping the limits and you are sure of your feelings. You can be friends with them too, after a point of time when the wounds have healed. But keep in touch with them only if you are confident you won’t let the past influence you.