Setting Boundaries with Family In Your Post-Divorce Life

I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of healthy boundaries within families. In your post-divorce life, establishing and maintaining clear boundaries is essential for nurturing strong and harmonious family relationships. 

If you’re struggling with boundaries, it can be helpful to sit and define your relationships, as this will offer you a lot of clarity. Imagine a shape with concentric circles, similar to a dartboard, and your innermost sanctum is the bullseye.

Define Your Internal Circles

First off, I want you to think about your inner circle and your outer circle.

Your inner circle is the people you are closest to, whom you confide in, and an outer circles are the people who you have more of a surface-level relationship with.

Your Innermost Circles

I want you to picture these relationships in concentric circles. And then I want you to think about restructuring your internal circles based on the people who have access to your innermost world.

In my innermost circle is my relationship with God, my intuition and inner being, and any healer I am working with whom I have complete intimacy and transparency.

Inner circle can also mean wise leaders in your life after divorce. For me, that would be Brene Brown.

Out one step from my innermost circle are the people closest to me, including my husband and my best friends. And then out from there, varying stages of friends and family.

List Your Concentric Circle

Often what happens is we keep including people in our innermost circles who belong in our outer circles, and then we get very, very frustrated with how those conversations and relationships go.

We keep trying to have conversations with people when it’s not appropriate. We women then get a lack of meaningful dialogue in return – conversations filled with insecurity, judgment, or defensiveness.

I want you to

  • make a list of the people whom you have the most contact with in your life. Your people, friends, family, and loved ones.
  • Then, fill out your circles and look at where you have people too close to your center, too close to your inner sanctum, and where they need to be moved further out in this circular map.

From there, we women can take a look at where healthy boundary setting needs to happen. Dive back into this blog to learn what a boundary is.

circles created with river rocks in sand, your inner sanctum

Look Where You Have People Too Close to Your Centers

What is a Boundary?

Well, our skin is a boundary. It’s a protective barrier.

When we first reorganize where our loved ones go in our inner versus outer circle, that creates a newer, fresher, healthier boundary without ever having to have a conversation with them.

It’s not like you are sending out memos to these people and saying, “I would like you to know that I have demoted you to an exterior circle.” That’s not it. It’s an internal recalibration.

An internal recalibration that allows your psyche to say, “Oh, I have been trying to hold this person in a space that they’re just not built for today.”

Identify Which People You Have Reoccurring Resentments With

I want you to look again at your list of loved ones and see who you tend to have recurring resentments with. I want you to be honest with yourself. Who are the people who feel like they’re repeat offenders?

You may have heard the phrase,

“Expectations of other people are predetermined resentments.”

When we have expectations of people, we inevitably experience resentment because humans are fallible, we are flawed, and we let each other down.

Oftentimes we women have unrealistic expectations of people. We want everyone to be able to fit in that inner circle, and we want everyone to have that same wisdom, and we want everyone to be just so edifying.

Woman with long brown hair and gray top, pulling her hair out while holding a paper text blurb in her hand. Expectations of other people are predetermined resentments.

Move People You Feel Resentful to and Have Been Suppressed Inside Out of Your Circle

The reality is we’re human. And some people have more tendency to judgment and defensiveness.

  • I want you to think about those loved ones, those family members that you have repeated resentment with.
  • I want you to consider moving them further out in your circles.
  • I want you to notice where you may be suppressing your truth and not saying some things that need to be said.

Where you’re not setting boundaries that need to be set.

There is a very close relationship between resentment and boundary setting.

When we have chronic resentment, it likely means that we have suppressed some truth—a lived experience of ours that needs to be said out loud to somebody else.

While you’re reading this, I want you to look at the relationship between how close you’re letting people be, what expectations you’ve had of them, how much resentment you’ve been feeling, and how much you’ve been suppressing things inside of this relationship that need to be said.

If the air needs to be cleared, a boundary needs to be set.

We teach people how to treat us. We teach people how to love us. Oftentimes we are not loving ourselves well enough, we are not being honest enough with ourselves, we are not being transparent enough, and we are not communicating effectively enough. Therefore, we are teaching people that however they are treating us or loving us is good enough.

Sometimes, we have to level up how we are loving and caring for ourselves.

We women have to be willing to ask for changes in our relationships with other people. But that is not an overnight change.

African-American woman with shoulder long dark hair, her hands underneath her chin, looking at a point far away. Setting Boundaries with Family In Your Post-Divorce Life.

Reteaching People On How to Treat Us

Reteaching people how we now want to be treated and how we are now going to treat ourselves is a journey.

Too often, when our mental health is shaky and our emotional health is shaky, we want quick change.

We want to be able to tell somebody, “Hey, this is what I need from you,” and we want it to be different overnight.

I tell people in my practice, day in and day out, that when behavior changes overnight, it is not to be trusted.

True, sustainable behavior change takes time.

It comes from a more profound level where you’ve had a true change of heart. You’ve had a true change of mind as a result of exploring something, as a result of practicing something, as a result of transmuting something painful into something positive. And so, as you are retraining yourself to love yourself well, and you are asking or requesting other people to love you better. This is not an overnight process, and it is going to take faith, hope, practice, and consistency over time.

6 Types of Boundaries

Let’s dig into the six different types of boundaries that you might need to be practicing to set boundaries with your family. It could be your kiddos. It could be your in-laws. It could be your parents. It could be co parenting with your ex.

Woman with both of her hands against the walls behind her, staying in a corner, setting physical boundaries.

#1 Physical Boundaries

The first one is a physical boundary. Some of these might seem weird to think about with family, but I promise you, all six of these boundaries do apply, even to family relationships. Physical boundaries are around touch, space, and things that interact with our physical bodies.

What are Physical Boundaries?

A physical boundary could be as simple as not liking a hug, and you have a family member who loves to hug.

A physical boundary would be to tell them you don’t want to be hugged.

I’m a hugger, so I want to hug everybody. So a boundary I’ve had to learn is to respect other people’s boundaries when they don’t love to be hugged.

Another physical boundary could be about child safety. I have certainly had to set boundaries about booster seats. When my daughter was younger, we used car seats or booster seats to a certain age. We observed certain practices that created physical safety. I’ve had to set a lot of boundaries around food for my daughter because that is what has kept her safe, as she’s had a massive amount of food allergies.

#2 Emotional Boundaries

Recalibrating your inner and outer circle is you making an emotional boundary.

When you recalibrate your internal versus external circles, you’re creating healthier emotional boundaries for yourself.

woman with long dark wavy hair, beige knit sweater and a cup in her hand in her living room, setting emotional boundaries.

What are Emotional Boundaries?

Emotional boundaries refer to the limits or guidelines we set for ourselves in relationships to protect our emotional well-being.

These boundaries define how much we are willing to share, tolerate, or invest emotionally in interactions with others.

Emotional boundaries can involve expressing feelings, telling people your personal needs, and establishing healthy boundaries around topics like privacy, personal space, and communication.

If every time you’re upset and a family member makes you feel worse, not feel better, it’s a really good sign that you need to recalibrate your emotional boundaries with that person – they need to move to more of an outer circle status.

An emotional boundary is being able to recognize who you can go to for intimate, non-judgemental responses.

Curiosity is a wonderful sign of emotional health.

Curiosity is a sign of real emotional health, healthy love, and acceptance of a non-judging response.

I want you to think about this list of loved ones that you have. An emotional boundary is being able to say, “I will not engage with this person because the response that I will get will not be curious. It will be critical.” There are certain spaces where it may be appropriate to say, “Hey, I don’t want to have this conversation with you because you will be critical.”

Sometimes, we just need to adjust them for ourselves and start acting differently, teaching others how to treat us differently, and then letting that play out over time.

It is a tricky thing to know when you need to recalibrate your emotional boundaries and when you need to articulate the changes you’re making to someone else.

I tend to default to taking responsibility for relationship behavior. I’m always going to default to, “What could I have done better?” But a relationship is between two people, and I can’t do all the relationship work on my side of the street. At some point, I have to be willing to make my request and say, “Hey, are you willing to provide this in this relationship?”

Very often when we do our inner work very effectively, we can then go and make healthy requests.

But a request is different from a boundary.

A boundary doesn’t necessarily always need to be verbalized.

There are nuances to all of this. This is where we sometimes need a guide or a healer to help us navigate because we all have blind spots.

an open book on a table and a blue cup of coffee in front of it. Setting Spiritual Boundaries.

#3 Spiritual Boundaries

Our next type of boundary is a spiritual boundary. This one is tricky, especially when it comes to co-parenting. Maybe your ex wants to raise your children with a different faith practice, or maybe they remarry and there’s a different faith practice involved. I just want to remind you that religion doesn’t own God.

God owns religion. God can be found in a lot of spaces and a lot of places, and God can redeem anything.

I don’t want you to be fearful about your children exploring other faith practices. I want you to think about spiritual boundaries and co-parenting as a place where you can practice strengthening your faith, your intuition, and your ability to hear God speak to you in your post-divorce life.

We women need to have our own healthy spiritual boundaries, where we are first and foremost strengthening our own relationship with God so that we can have an embodied faith and not just an intellectual faith.

Spiritual boundaries are saying to yourself, “I am going to act in a way that creates spiritual harmony inside of me and I’m going to trust.”

I am accountable for my vibration, I’m accountable for my environment, and I am accountable for nurturing my spiritual well-being and not caving on those things because they’re not popular or because they’re not easily accepted.

Woman with blonde hair and beige sweater, holding dollar notes with her hands in front of her face, with eyes looking up to the ceiling. Setting Financial Boundaries.

#4 Financial Boundaries

What are Financial Boundaries?

Financial boundaries in a relationship are guidelines or limits set by partners to manage their financial affairs and protect their financial well-being. These boundaries help define how money is earned, spent, saved, and shared within a relationship.

Setting financial boundaries with family is tricky. On the one hand, it is such a beautiful thing when we women can give and receive generously, including financially, inside of families.

But I think part of having healthy financial boundaries is being able to acknowledge when financial assistance has strings attached to it and when financial assistance is being offered or received from a victim’s standpoint.

A victim standpoint says, “I cannot do this for myself, I need to be rescued” versus “I want to do this for myself.

I do need some assistance, and I am grateful for that. I am not going to rely on you alone to solve this problem for me. I’m going to also step up and, I am going to engage and, I will do all the hard work to also be part of the solution.”

Financially, when we want to rescue other people, or we want to be rescued, the whole process leads to resentment. Is there a tendency to have strings attached? Will you have to pay for it in a different way?

We want to always give and receive generously, but we want to put those gifts to good use.

red alarm clock surrounded by flower branch, on wood floor. Setting Boundaries with Family In Your Post-Divorce Life.

#5 Time Boundaries

Time boundaries with family. You probably don’t have a lot of spare time. And oftentimes, when we are giving of our time, there is some sacrifice happening. Sacrificial giving of your time is a very normal, appropriate part of loving people.

But if you are sacrificing your time or you are asking other people to sacrifice their time in a way where it is not also honoring their health and well-being, or it’s not honoring your health and well-being, then we need to relook at those time boundaries.

When you say yes too many times, a reckoning will come. While we women want to ask for help when we need it and we want to offer help when it is asked, just check in with yourself. Is there somewhere where you’re out of balance?

Resentment is such a good indicator of where our boundaries are out of whack.

#6 Non-Negotiable Boundaries

Non-negotiable boundaries are like your personal guardrails in life after divorce, setting the standards for how you expect to be treated and what you won’t tolerate. They’re the non-negotiables you’ve set in stone to protect your well-being, uphold your values, and keep your relationships healthy.

These boundaries are your way of saying, “This is where I draw the line,” and they’re crucial for maintaining your self-respect and peace of mind.

There are certain our non-negotiable boundaries you would set with your ex. But for today’s conversation around setting boundaries with family, we want issues of safety. This is going to do with physical safety, safety in your home, certainly drug and alcohol use, abuse-related concerns, issues of aggression, hostility, and violence. We want to have non-negotiable boundaries around all of those things.

I want you to feel empowered to set and stand by those boundaries and ask for help if you need to, especially if it’s issues around violence.

We want to make sure we’ve done all of our inner work before we’re setting the boundary. We want to make sure we have our support system in place. This work is hard. It shakes our old way of doing things. It is working against the brain map that we have.

White tree roots. Creating New Synaptic Pathways.

Creating New Synaptic Pathways

You have synaptic pathways in your brain that are mapped in a particular direction.

I want you to think about synaptic pathways in your brain as like a jungle. Like all of these limbs and leaves and trunks of trees, and they’re interconnected and they’re all woven together.

When we are creating new synaptic pathways, and we are letting old synaptic pathways die, it is a lot of effort, and it is very uncomfortable.

Think about if you were moving through a thick, thick, dense forest, what it would take to literally cut down an old pathway and create a new one. It’s hard work, and you are not expected to do all of that hard work on your own. We do not heal in a vacuum. We cannot heal in isolation.

You are not expected to remap your brain in isolation.

This is my cue to you, my permission, that where you are feeling resentment and when you are feeling burnt out, it is time to recalibrate the boundaries and to ask for extra help in setting new, healthy boundaries.

When you get pushback, it isn’t necessarily because you did it wrong. It’s because we women teach people how to treat us.

When we tell them that the old way is not the new way, there is resistance. Resistance is how humans respond to change and uncertainty.

The more you communicate, and the more you articulate what you need, the easier it is for people to adjust to the new way because uncertainty feels so uncomfortable for all of us.

When you’re setting new boundaries, know that the more you can communicate (even though you’re going to want to retreat), the easier it is for people to know where they stand and the easier it is for people to lean in.

I believe in you. This is a journey. You’ve got this.

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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