Setting boundaries with your ex-spouse or any difficult person can be complicated. Many of us are taught as children that being nice means not asking for what you want but that’s exactly what you need to do when you’re an adult, as long as it’s in a healthy, respectful way. It can be challenging to set boundaries with someone who doesn’t respect them, but it is possible with the right approach. Here are some tools that will help you set boundaries with your ex-spouse or any difficult person:
1. Identify Your Boundaries
The first step in setting boundaries is to identify them. Think about what behaviors or actions from your ex-spouse or difficult person are not acceptable to you. These may include things like name-calling, yelling, or invading your personal space. For everyone this is different. Really think about what you think is ok and what’s not ok.
2. Communicate Your Boundaries Clearly
When setting boundaries, it is important to communicate them clearly. Be direct and specific about what behaviors or actions are not acceptable to you. Use “I” statements to express how their behavior makes you feel. You can’t worry about being nice - you can be respectful while not being nice and set a clear boundary. If you’re worried about how to do this, practice in a mirror or with a close friend. If you talk around an issue instead of stating it clearly, the person may not understand what your boundary is.
3. Stick to Your Boundaries
Many people communicate a boundary and think that’s the end of setting a boundary. Actually, that’s just the beginning. Once you have communicated your boundaries, it is important to stick to them by doing something. This may mean walking away from a conversation or ending a phone call if your ex-spouse or difficult person crosses a boundary. Sticking to your boundaries is the only way to show that you are serious about them.
4. Don’t Engage in Arguments
You don’t have to say anything once you’ve communicated a boundary clearly. Defending or arguing will only escalate the situation and make it more difficult to set and maintain boundaries. Stay calm and don’t get defensive when communicating your boundaries.
5. Seek Support
You may have difficulty setting boundaries because of experiences you had when you were a child when you tried to set a boundary. It’s important to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. They can provide you with emotional support and help you stay accountable to your boundaries.
Setting boundaries with your ex-spouse or any difficult person can be challenging, but with these tools, you’ll be able to set clear boundaries, avoid escalations and arguments and stick to the boundaries that you set. If you haven’t been able to set boundaries in the past, it may take some time and patience to get good at these skills. Practice using these tools and eventually you’ll be awesome at setting boundaries with everyone you need to in your life!
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.