Closure with Your Ex After Divorce: Setting Up Healthy Boundaries

Closure with Your Ex After Divorce: Setting Up Healthy Boundaries

I have been refining my four-point process for getting emotionally distant from my own divorce. Here are the basics:

  • Focus on yourself and your health and happiness
  • Find the joy in your kids’ lives and make them a priority in yours
  • Firewall off the anger and attachment to your ex-partner
  • Seek joy and play in your new life as a single parent

In my coaching business with men and women, I harp on these four principles. And I am still working on each of them on a regular basis. I find the hardest part for me and most of my clients is how to build and protect the emotional firewall between you and your ex. We want “closure” of some sort. We want acknowledgment of our co-parenting efforts. We want some continued “join” in our journey as parents of growing kids.

I believe my ex-wife has done what she felt was “best for the kids” in most of our nine-years of divorce. And I still have a shit list of things my ex-wife did wrong, is still doing wrong, and how I’d like her to be different. Guess what? That shit is mine and not my ex-wife’s.  I am still learning to let go of the anger and resentment I still carry about the divorce. I work on it every time it comes up. And I do my best to end up with the mindset I write about in The Prayer for Single Parents. I don’t always succeed.

Let Go You Must

A few weeks ago, I was heavily triggered by a conversation with another single father. In one short exchange, the conversation turned to his ex-wife. I got furious. Why? My own anger with my ex-wife, of course, but also something else. As the conversation circled speculation about his ex-wife’s plans for the weekend, I got more and more frustrated. I wanted to shout to my friend, let’s leave her ass out of this lovely lunch we’re having. Let that sleeping “dog” lie. (sic)

I was angry in a bigger way than was warranted by the conversation. My resentment had been triggered. But it was more co-dependent than that. My resentment at my friend’s ex-wife was triggered and his inability or disability to crush the odd thread that had risen in wondering what she was doing over the weekend. Why should he care? Does he have his kid? Should he even imagine or speculate what his ex-wife was going to be doing on her weekend off?

But, again, this was MY anger and not his. I was feeling the rage that I wanted him to feel. I was aching for the boundary that would allow him to say “fuck her” rather than, “I wonder what she’s doing on Saturday night.”

A Healthy Boundary Is Firm and Disinterested

What I wanted for my friend was to stand up for him and say, “Stop talking about her. Period. Bringing her into our lunch discussion muddies up the joy of our conversation, and allows her to get into both our heads and hearts. I have never met his ex. I don’t have any resentment at her, specifically. But, in some unhealthy way I was the one who got angry. My anger. My issue. And my frustration with him at not getting angry for himself and forcing the closure of that conversation and train of thought, leading back to his ex. Why are we talking about what she’s doing?

I tried to imagine myself in a conversation with someone and how I would feel is my ex was brought up in some whimsical way, with speculation about what she was up to this coming weekend. I would’ve hit the STOP button and ended the conversation. But, it was not me or my ex-wife, or even anyone that I knew personally. It was my friend I was angry for and consequently, angry at, for not stopping the fantasizing about his ex-wife’s plans.

I Care About My Kids, Not My Ex

I wanted to be a great co-parent. I wanted to work it out with my ex-wife and join together as supportive and friendly parents. It wasn’t possible. It still isn’t possible.

But guess what? I don’t need ONE. SINGLE. THING. from my ex-wife. I don’t need her to thank me for the child support or house that she lives in. I don’t need her to tell me I’m doing a good job as a dad. I don’t need any kudos or at-a-boys from her.

The part that is unfortunate in my ex-wife’s rage and isolation is it limits my ability to reach out and help my daughter when she’s struggling with a migraine headache. It’s in these moments that she could use BOTH parents. But I can’t reach her on text. I’m not welcome to come by the house. And I certainly won’t get anything but bluster back from my ex-wife if I ask, “How can I help?”

She’s clear that there is nothing I can do to help. There is no relationship that she wants with me. It’s so limiting. It prevents us from celebrating the wins along the way, and ultimately it will come back to bite her in the ass. You cannot be bitter and vindictive without some of that poison seeping back into your own cocktail.

The only thing that we can talk about these days is logistics. Even that is hard and frustrating. I’m thinking about Thanksgiving holidays and Christmas/New Years right now, and I’d rather talk to her new husband than her. Somehow, it’s going to be complicated, involve unnecessary back-and-forth negotiations and some vinegar thrown in. She’s just that way. Sour girl.

We’ve Got To Build a Wall

When the friendship ambassadors have all been slain and the cry of war accompanies every conversation, it’s time to put up your firewall. I am obviously still working on mine. As my friend was unable to defend his wall, I wanted to rush in and fight his emotional battle for him. But we cannot fix another person, or even offer them unsolicited advice. I had to keep most of my frustration to myself.

Men and Women in the process of separating from their ex-partners have to find and maintain a healthy emotional distance. In my case, a firewall was the best metaphor. Perhaps you can maintain a more agreeable non-militarized zone. But when your rage continues to flair up, it might be time to consider cutting diplomatic ties and going for a hardier wall.

I’d like to give my friend a few new enforcements to his wall. But, what I can give him is my love and support. If he askes I am free to speak my mind. Until then, it is my role to be a supportive friend. In coaching, I have a bit more leeway. But he is not my client. And I believe unsolicited advice is mostly bad and unwelcome.

Where We Can Grow

As we get our barriers and boundaries in place, we can focus our energy and attention back on what’s more important than our ex: everything. We can take angry energy and work out or go for a walk. We can take our joyous energy and focus on our kids’ happiness. If we can get out of our own way we can heal back into happy and healthy single parents. Let me know if I can help you on your journey.

Remember, the work begins with you. I can help.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @wholeparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling life after divorce. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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