Setting Boundaries During Divorce
“And all you have to do to transform your hell into paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is.” Joseph Campbell
Most communication breakdowns do not happen during divorce, but before one or the other person decides to divorce. The causes of communication breakdown often include discovery of painful information we wish we had known sooner or could have done something to prevent.
We decide married life is not as we expected and not what we want. Change is afoot and whether we like it or not, we find ourselves in the transition phase. So, how do we wake up to hope in the midst of darkness and turn our perspective around? How do we re-engage in communication that clears the air and prevents further destruction?
One helpful step is establishing some personal boundaries so that each person has the space to cope. Begin by opening up to new ideas of who you are and forgive any self blame and shame. Time to get down to basics and know yourself deeply in order to come through this process with all the gifts of the lessons learned. Focus needs to be internal, rather than on all you feel has been done to you by others. The rage and hurt will course through you like a spring thaw in a river, and then comes the new insights and ability to move on. Talking about the hurt is appropriate when it moves things forward and people gain understanding. It is not helpful when it is revisited over and over as a retaliatory tactic. Some of this work may best be done with counseling support, and may or may not need to be done with both of you together. Hang on, get the help you need, and do not get caught in a spiral of never-ending rage and resentment.
Boundaries also set the stage for communication to change and become clearer. Boundaries include creating space for internal work to take place. During marriage people eat together, play together, dress together, sleep together, do laundry together and/or any other assortment of shared and intimate activities. Such closeness brings with it some merging of boundaries, sharing of space and intensity. This closeness in and of itself is one of the things that people do not often realize will be a factor early on in a relationship when the romance lights are all lit up and a couple is in the throes of passion. Sometimes it is this closeness itself which starts to erode a couple’s ability to communicate, because they do not know how to keep ownership of their own lives in the midst of this merge.
The dance in and out of closeness is one that takes practice. Some people do not know how to avoid blending two lives into a restrictive cocoon rather than a relationship of respect and partnership. During divorce, people are recreating themselves as separate individuals and must separate many blended activities in order to allow for air to flow between them. In this new space, people have the opportunity to ground back into their own knowing and clarify their thoughts. Out of this space can come language for expressing new goals and ideas for how to move forward.
In some states, a couple is expected to live separate and apart for a period of time before a divorce is granted. North Carolina requires this for a year and a day. There are several states that will grant no-fault divorce without any waiting period at all. A couple may be in a hurry to get free from the marriage and move on. However, giving each other time to stabilize and regroup is an important part of a transition out of a relationship. This is especially important when ongoing commitments still exist, such as caring for children, resolving outstanding debt, or maintaining relationships with family and friends. These commitments need to be shared in spite of a couple’s new status. Giving each other some time to shift perspective and release the sorrow is a sign of maturity. How to discuss these things must become the focus not the repeated story of the demise of the marriage.
Create Separate Spaces
Moving into separate living spaces, taking care of one’s own laundry, preparing one’s own meals, cleaning up after oneself, and sharing equally in the general responsibilities for any remaining commitments is the way to start a new foundation under your feet. Many couples cannot afford a second home during divorce. However, separate bedrooms, separate schedules, and separate access to shared resources can be the beginnings of creating separation. Once there is room for each person to breathe, focus, and relax a little, then creative and responsive conversations about ongoing needs and plans are possible.
Give each other room, reframe your thoughts, and begin anew. It is OK to end relationships. The trick is knowing when and how, and not being so stuck in rage, fear, and unreasonable boundaries that you cannot see the forest for the trees. Say thank you often. We are each bit players in each other’s lives and the lessons you learned are ones you needed to learn, or that person would not have crossed your path. Be brave, sit in wonder, cry and breathe. Let the words that come when you are together be words of grace and understanding, honor and respect.
Live within your means, know what your means are, and build a new life for yourself based upon hope and flexibility. Communicate conscious appreciation and recognize good wherever you can find it, no matter how hard you need to look or how trivial it may seem. This is a time to find your own deepest resources and use them wisely. Take the space to discover them and learn how to speak about yourself and to those around you with kindness and grace. As you do these things, your perspective will change, and life will become once again an adventure rather than a disaster.
“When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” Unknown