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Setting a boundary without even telling them you are!

Updated: Jan 7




People often think setting a boundary is telling someone to stop doing something and expecting them to comply. This just creates conflict as your coparent won’t stop doing it just because you tell them to. Knowing that what they are doing annoys you may even make them amplify their actions to increase the impact.  


Setting a boundary is about YOU taking an action, NOT asking the other person to stop doing what they are doing and expect compliance.


So, what types of boundaries are there?


A Physical Boundary establishes access or limits to your personal space, privacy, body or sex. For example, it may really annoy you that your ex just walks into the house which is no longer their home to pick up the kids. You can create the physical boundary by having the children ready to go and when your coparent’s car pulls up out the front, open the front door and walk out with the kids to the car. Conversely, when it is drop off time you could wait to see the car arrive and walk out the front door and walk towards the kids to greet them and wave goodbye to the coparent. This physical boundary has been set by you taking action without you asking or telling your ex to stop coming into the house as it is not their home anymore. 


An Emotional Boundary may be set around inappropriate topics or lying. It may really annoy you that your ex keeps talking about the breakup or hoping you will get back together. You may dread every conversation as it always comes back to those topics and escalates into an argument leaving you both upset. Remember it's about an action YOU will take, not asking or telling them to stop talking about it. You can say “I am ONLY going to talk about things related to the kids with you”. Each time the conversation digresses to relationship topics, repeat calmly “I am ONLY going to talk about things related to the kids with you”


A Time and Energy boundary is about advising when you are available to be contacted or to help out. You might say “I am free to be called on Monday and Thursdays at 6pm if you want to discuss anything regarding the weekend changeover” instead of saying “You can ONLY call me on Monday and Thursday at 6pm” as this is directly telling them what to do whereby the former is advising when you are taking the action to make yourself available. There may be times when you are needed to collect the kids from after school care, so you can establish what days may be available such as “I am available to collect the kids from daycare on a Tuesday or Thursday as I work from home those days if ever you need me to” rather than saying when they call “No I can’t pick them up today as I am busy”. Providing your times when you are available sets your availability boundary.


A Mental Boundary is about choosing your own opinions, thoughts and values. This boundary is about empowering yourself to make your own informed decisions on what you believe to be true. You may not agree with what someone else is saying and decide that you will come to your conclusions once you have assessed a situation, gathered more information about a topic or engaged an expert to provide advice so that you can formulate your own opinion.  


A Material boundary is about how you spend your money or how your assets will be used. There are many coparents questioned on how they are spending child support. Child support covers the basic living expenses and not “extras” such as private school fees, school camp, extra-curricular activities, dental work etc. Setting the material boundary could sound like “I provide the basic needs as per the child support guidelines, the cost of the swimming lessons is not included”. You do not have to list off everything you fund out of child support to your coparent. The child support agency can provide them with a list. Stating you provide the basic needs for the child out of the child support sets the boundary that the discussion for “extras” is about discussing how extra costs for the children will be shared.


If we don’t set boundaries, we can become angry, exhausted, overwhelmed and even become passive aggressive.


It is important to know that you are NOT setting a boundary if you;

  • Ask someone to stop doing something

  • Walk away and not communicate with them

  • Telling them how much it hurts you when they do or say something that affects you


Setting boundaries is about empowering YOU to take an action to protect yourself, NOT asking your coparent to comply with a request. Feel more empowered through setting boundaries instead of battling it out with your coparent trying to get them to change their behaviour.


Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce & Conflict Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator and Parenting Coordinator

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