Boundaries During a High Conflict Divorce
The magic word is boundaries! Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. Did I say boundaries? Boundaries. 🙂
Boundaries are not about pushing people away, it's about protecting your inner peace. Boundaries are your own personal rules of engagement and you share it with others to tell them what is OK with you and what is not. To understand yourself and your boundaries, reflect on your desires, your limits, your preferences and deal breakers. They are unique to you and only you. Most women don't even know their own preferences or dealbreakers because they are so busy caring about what other people’s preferences are. Society groomed girls from a young age that self sacrifice is the epiphany of feminism. Giving. Compromising. I sound like I am generalizing, but if you were married to a high conflict individual, chances are they were attracted to you because you were kind, collaborative, successful, loving and considerate. Through the relationship and overtime, you contracted the disease to please. For this reason, developing healthy boundaries with your ex is super important.
Having said that, high conflict personalities can be so exhausting with their continuous demands, their entitlement and their bullying ways. They also deeply resent it when you draw a boundary and they go into distress. As you distance yourself, they sense the withdrawal and intensify their efforts to give them what they want - your attention, reaction and your energy. For this reason, drawing boundaries with difficult people are not for the weak of heart. It won't be easy, but what is the alternative? The alternative is always giving in to your ex and losing yourself to their continuous demands.
When your ex requests something from you, ask yourself: is this request reasonable? Does this serve my children above all else? Is this request within my boundary? Go from there, and respond UNAPOLOGETICALLY. As mentioned, always respond to factual matters that are related to the children. Always put the children first, even in situations where it seems like you are making your ex’s life easier. It's for your children, not your ex.
If you feel the request is unreasonable and you are not in agreement, a simple no is enough. If your ex wears down your “no” or tries to change your mind, you do not need to explain yourself more than you choose to follow the parenting plan. Your response should never come across as angry, it should come with patience and respect. For example: “I have already responded to your request and I do not wish to discuss this any further. Thank you”. Setting boundaries requires continuously educating your co-parent over and over of your preferences and limitations. Consistency on your boundaries is key. If you keep going back on your boundary, that simply tells them that if they fight your boundary long enough, there is a chance you will give in. So, they will ultimately never respect your boundary. Use the same words and be consistent.
If that doesn't seem to work…
Depending on how high conflict your ex is, they may never ever respect your boundaries no matter what you do. In these cases, trying to train them out of their narcissistic and unreasonable behavior could be a lost cause. The key here is to shift your focus inward – you can't control their actions, but you can control your reactions. In such cases, I urge you to start seeing them in a different light. If your ex has a personality disorder, it could be really helpful to see them as someone with an illness that they cannot control. Research shows that people with a narcissistic personality disorder have brain dysfunction. These are parts of the brain that are responsible for empathy, emotional regulation and other executive functions. Understanding that this is a mental illness helps you view your ex’s actions as less personal.