Setting Boundaries in Relationships in Your Life After Divorce

Let’s start with a story about boundaries in relationships. It’s the early 2000s, I am engaged to be married. I started to set boundaries in a relationship that was a disaster already. Most of these boundaries had to do with drinking and the subsequent choices, such as,

“If you get blackout drunk and drive that car, I won’t marry you.”

Long story short, I didn’t follow through with what I was stating or expressing.

These boundaries were me micromanaging his life and trying to control his choices. They were me trying to preserve a relationship without having done the work.

Setting Boundaries vs Controlling Partner

These were not boundaries; they were threats, and that is one of the things that people get wrong when it comes to setting boundaries.

So many of the boundaries that we need to set have to do with ourselves and our willingness to execute.

So, for instance, if I had said, “If you drive that car in a blackout, I won’t get married,” the right call would have been postponing the wedding to get to the bottom of this particular issue and working to create a sustainable, safe, secure relationship.

The actual boundary there would have been, “I need to have a relationship where I feel safe, and I need to know that there’s not an active addiction going on here.”

man with reddish jeans and shirt kneeing on the floor, holding a a woman with high heels, jeans and black jacket back to leave the room, Setting Healthy Boundaries vs Controlling Partner

What are Healthy Boundaries?

Healthy boundaries in relationships are like personal guardrails that we set for ourselves, guiding our interactions with others in a positive way.

They’re about honoring our own needs, feelings, and limits while respecting those of others.

Think of them as the gentle yet firm lines we draw to create space for self-care, authenticity, and meaningful connections.

When we establish and maintain boundaries, we cultivate healthier relationships, boost our self-esteem, and nurture a greater sense of balance and well-being in our lives.

Setting Boundaries Starts with Personal Development

Often, we don’t deal with our anxieties, our fear of abandonment, our fear of loss or being alone (especially if you’re an anxious attacher), our childhood wounds, our insecurities, our fears of inadequacy, and of not being chosen.

We use boundaries as a way to bypass all of that personal development work. Because the place where we need to set the most boundaries in our life after divorce tends to be with ourselves.

So often, our strategies in life are around anxiety and control. Brene Brown has illustrated that for us over the decades of her research and her work; we want to control and predict and when we can’t do that, .

We need to commit to healing the wounds that make us need to control.

a woman with long brown hair and black and white jacket, holding her hands on two opposite walls, Setting Healthy Boundaries

Seven Things to Avoid When Setting Boundaries

#1 Setting Boundaries with Other People

One common mistake is people try to establish boundaries in relationships by making threats instead of setting boundaries with themselves, which involves focusing on self-love, wellness, understanding, and self-awareness.

For example, I may not have realized it when I was engaged, but I was insecure and felt dependent on the relationship. It felt like my lifeline, and I couldn’t imagine letting it go.

From a lack of self-awareness and emotional maturity, I didn’t know what my needs were to get those needs met. We need to learn to know ourselves well so we can take ownership of what we need.

#2 Setting Boundaries Without Faith

The second mistake people make is that they try to set boundaries without having a strong faith practice. It’s not sustainable to have your needs met by just one person.

As humans, we tend to calibrate our well-being to other humans.

“If you’re happy with me, if you’re pleased with me, if you validate and approve of me, then I am okay.”

When we calibrate our well-being to other people’s opinions of us, rather than the source of all creation’s opinion of us, we are on a roller coaster of identity. It’s not a stable sense of self. It’s not a stable way of viewing ourselves through love and belonging.

When our opinion of ourselves can be so drastically changed based on the feedback from others, we do not understand that we were created by a divine creator. A higher power who works for good.

It’s having a faith larger than yourself. It’s believing:

“If I set this boundary and it upsets someone, that’s okay. I can still look at who I am in my creator’s eyes rather than who I am in this person’s eyes.”

This belief carries me through when I hold my boundaries.

a child with pink jacket putting its hands into a woman's hand with blue jacket, setting boundaries without faith

#3 Setting Boundaries Without Natural Consequences

I started to learn boundaries when I gave birth to my daughter.

It was much easier for me to set boundaries on her behalf than it was for me to set boundaries on my behalf.

I was invested in protecting her versus being rejected or making people mad at me.

It was a great training ground for me to practice setting boundaries, and slowly, over time, I was able to see that if I love myself as well as I love her, I am worthy of the same respectful treatment, and I can speak up for myself more often.

I also set so many boundaries with my daughter. For instance, when she was 4 or 5 years old, there was enough disrespectful behavior that I chose to cancel Halloween. I didn’t take her trick or treating. She didn’t get to dress up.

It was a massive consequence, and a lot of people thought that I was overreacting there, but I will tell you it has paved the way in later years for her to know that when I mean business, I mean business.

Paying the Toll Later

One of the things that often goes wrong with boundaries is that we, as humans, like to rescue people from natural consequences. But natural consequences are how we all learn.

Divorce is a natural consequence of not having done certain footwork before getting married.

For me, in my post-divorce life, I had to commit to cleaning up all those consequences. I looked at how I let them happen in my own life and didn’t take responsibility for them beforehand, so I was then paying the toll later. Natural consequences are a beautiful part of boundary setting.

If I set a boundary with my daughter and I say,

“If you disrespect me one more time, then you’re going to lose your playdate for this weekend,” but I don’t follow through with that, my daughter won’t respect that boundary.

After all, I have demonstrated to her that she does not have to respect my boundaries.

Allowing natural consequences to unfold is a massive part of boundary setting.

Anytime we rescue people from natural consequences, we are interrupting a healthy relationship with good boundaries.

man with black hair, shirt and vest arguing with a woman with brown hair and green shirt and jeans in their dining room, Trying to Rescue People Instead of Setting Boundaries

#4 Trying to Rescue People Instead of Setting Boundaries

I have set a lot of boundaries around my husband’s work and his job, as well as personal development work, communication skills, and emotional availability.

I stopped rescuing him. I would say, “This is where you did not respect my boundary of being emotionally available,” and he would become very, very wounded.

I would say, “I love you so much. I’ve said everything there is to say about this. We are no longer having productive conversations. I am now exiting this conversation.”

Emotional Maturity and Integration

One of the key skills that you need to be a healthy boundary-setter is patience. Lots and lots of patience, because so often, real work takes emotional maturity and there’s no quick path to maturity.

Emotional maturity and integration is a process, and processes involve trial and error. As humans, we learn from doing, and oftentimes, when we do, we make mistakes. It’s a natural part of the learning process.

It took years of me consistently setting boundaries with my husband to say, “This thing you’re doing is insecurity on your behalf, and those insecurities are dramatically affecting our relationship.”

Saying those hard things causes someone else to feel painful emotions.

One of the ways that we most often disrespect our boundaries in relationships is by rescuing the other person from those painful feelings.

We take on too much guilt or blame. By rescuing them from their feelings, you are conveying to them that my boundaries don’t matter.

woman with brown short hair and white long sleeve shirt, eating a salad from a glass bowl, Emotional Maturity and Integration

#5 Setting Boundaries By Articulating What You Need

A boundary is the ability to know oneself well and say, “Hey, this is what I need.” A lot of times, I’ve had to set boundaries around food because we have food allergies in this family, and I’m a clean eater because of chronic illness.

A lot of times, I’ve had to say, “I need you to eat at our house,” or “I can’t go to the restaurant that you want to go to because that doesn’t work for the health and well-being of our family.” 

That’s just a kinda, clean, clear boundary that’s self-caring. It’s a knowledge of what is going to help me function and express that need.

#6 Not Honoring What You Need

A boundary is just being able to know yourself well and express yourself well. That’s where a lot of people get lost.

To know when you need a self-care boundary with yourself versus setting a boundary with someone else in an attempt to shortcut doing personal development work.

There’s also a strong need for a faith practice in boundary setting because, otherwise, you will be calibrating to other humans.

a woman with brown hair put up and denim shirt, holding her iphone on her ear with one of her hands, Worrying About Rejection

#7 Worrying About Rejection

The moment you set a boundary in relationships, you’ll become insecure, and you’ll worry about rejection more than you’re gonna worry about God’s view of you. There’s a strong need for you to let natural consequences play out, take the long view, and practice patience in the meantime.

While you’re practicing patience, phone a friend, do faith practices, do EFT tapping, do some bilateral stimulation, and use a tool to manage the feelings that come up for you.

Don’t get discouraged. We were intended to have sacred relationships that are divine and wonderful that are rewarding and that come from a place of love and not from a place of fear.

We were designed to function optimally; that’s what’s intended for you. But you have to be willing to take those steps to get there in your life after divorce.

When you feel discouraged, honor that and acknowledge it, but then refocus on what’s true. I recognize it is not an overnight process, and it requires a lot of grace, both with myself and with other people, to set boundaries in relationships. Because love, we are messy, and this shit ain’t easy.

You can, we can. Let’s do it together.

Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins

...helps people crack open. Challenging the status quo, she integrates multiple modalities from EMDR to EFT tapping, journaling, homeopathy, and movement, embracing remedies that heal both the mind and body. Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins is on a mission to deliver life-changing therapy in an accessible, scalable, affordable way and make waves in the world of mental health with the same enlightenment that happens in her office. Part science, part essential oils, pure magic.

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