Do you have fuzzy boundaries?

Do you have fuzzy boundaries? Do you keep in touch with ex's or permit loved ones to contact you whenever it suits them? Are you afraid you will lose your relationship if you're not available 24/7?

Are you concerned that if you're not in constant contact, the person that contacts you will somehow fail, take drugs or do something silly, and you feel you're the ONLY person who can help them?

The difficulties of having boundaries

With regards to ex's, often people stay in touch for a myriad of reasons.

  • They're the father/mother of your son/daughter.
  • They upset you and you want them to know about it.
  • They abused you and you want to teach them a lesson that it's not ok.
  • They left you, you don't know why and still want to understand.
  • You had constant arguments and you want to explain your perspective.
  • They had an affair and you want to punish them, understand why or get even.

And so the list goes on. Obviously, I'm not saying you must avoid contact with your ex if you have children and shared arrangements, but keep the conversation about arrangements and the children ONLY. Do not use that as an excuse to open up emotional issues and problems concerning your relationship. You broke up, remember? They're not going to suddenly change, nor is your relationship going to immediately improve. Your patterns of relating can only change if you both change.

The only reason for the contact is because you want to contact. Nothing more.

What will the contact actually GIVE you? More frustration? More misunderstanding? More arguments? More hurt? More loneliness that you're not together any more? Envy of the new partner? Anger, sadness or frustration with yourself that you/he/she couldn't make it work? Will it truly help you understand and work through the pain you may be feeling?

How does this solve anything?

In Susan J Elliot's book "Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You", she cites a myriad of reasons why people continue to stay in touch with their ex's. When we think about this from a rational perspective, it is simply so that we can avoid facing the pain of the breakup and avoid moving through this process to come out the other side. It's not rocket science but often part of the human condition. That doesn't mean it's easy though.

After all, we spent time with this person, we got to know them, we probably spent nights together, shared events and family outings. When we break up with a particular relationship, we are saying goodbye to a whole lifestyle. We go to places together, and when we break up, visiting those places reminds us of them and what we had. Loneliness and pain are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

When a person dies, there is no turning back. Our visits to shared places hold different meanings and are a way to make sense of life on our own again. It is painful, but a necessary (at times) part of the grieving process. See Elizabeth Kubler Ross's book on Grief and Grieving and the "Five Stages of Grief".

But move on we must. A breakup can feel like bereavement without a body, someone once told me. How that stuck with me.

Incidentally, although there are "stages" of grief (feeling numb can also fall into the "denial" category), we don't simply bounce from one to the next. No, we bounce from one to the other and back again, randomly, at different times when things affect us, that was perhaps part of the earlier relationship. Work through it we must - shut it down; suppress it. Difficult relationships may recur time and again until we've worked through it, faced the pain, and allowed it to stop gripping us.

Divorce can feel that way too; staying in touch NEEDS to be on a practical/pragmatic level. If financial discussions are proving awkward, use a mediator (cheaper than solicitors) and use text or email ONLY for data exchange such as who is picking up the children and when/if you have shared arrangements.

Using text/email to list off a rant of all the problems you're experiencing - either together or with your new partner - is a no-no. Do not do it! It will not make you feel better because you may get a response that could make you feel a whole lot worse. Do not do it. No contact is the only way. If you really need to rant and make sense, write a letter that you DON'T send, and burn it. Or, keep it to remind yourself as to how you felt, although it may not help you in the long run except to see how far you've come since the split.

People who stay in touch on a "friendly basis" invariably experience more uncomfortable feelings... why are they telling you about their life - what has it actually got to do with you? Does this make you feel happy, empowered and in control of your life? Are you having make-up/break-up sex? Is it making you happy?

Ex-partners who believe they can come and go as they please are probably right because you've enabled them. Why?

I have done this. When me and my partner split up we had the keys to each other's houses for ease of dealing with the situation over our children. After a while, I realised how much I hated the fact that he could pop into my house at the drop of a hat (to pick up the children, perhaps). It felt like a violation as time passed. Rather than tackle the subject, I eventually changed the locks. I didn't need to tell him.

Nor did I need to email him over the financial issues we had. After the nth email about why I needed the maintenance, I realised I had to stop. Each time he would respond with details about my shortcomings and of course there were plenty of those. From his perspective, anyway.

Fuzzy boundaries aren't just about exes. It's can be about any close relationships. The more you rescue them and explain why they need to get a grip, the less they are taking their own personal responsibility. It doesn't mean you're unkind, it just means you need to take care of yourself and learn to heal so you can have the life you desire and deserve. You can point them in the direction of professional help and leave it at that.

It may mean you're unpopular for a while, but ultimately once the dust is settled and they have taken personal responsibility, you can begin to rebuild your relationship. This is where therapy can help!

"I hate you, mum" declared my beautiful offspring when I once grounded said offspring for being out of order one evening (I cannot remember the situation anymore, but most of us as parents understand how teenagers can affect us!). I had to lay down boundaries as a single parent. That was hard. Nowadays, we reflect on that and she knew that she didn't really; my love for my children will always be unconditional, but we need to have mutual respect.

What boundaries in YOUR life are fuzzy and may need looking at?

Recommended reading

"Boundaries and Relationships" by Charles L Whitfield.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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