Establishing Boundaries with Your Divorcing Spouse

According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, divorce ranks as the second most stressful event in life. If you are going through, or even contemplating divorce, you should know that the stress of divorce is probably going to wear you down. In my work with divorcing couples and individuals, I have found that one of the most difficult parts of this journey is setting appropriate boundaries with a divorcing spouse.

Once the decision has been made to divorce, the boundaries need to change. Otherwise, no one really knows what is okay, and what is not okay, and things can get messy. Without clear boundaries, you risk sending confusing mixed messages. You are also likely to feel angry and out of control.

Here are some areas to consider when setting boundaries with a divorcing spouse:

  • Sexual boundaries. Most experts recommend that you avoid sexual contact completely. Sex during divorce can be very confusing for partners. It can lead to false hopes and a feeling of being used. Legally, it can also create issues.
  • Physical boundaries. Many couples still live together for a short time after one of them has announced that they want to separate or divorce. This is one of the most difficult times for divorcing couples as the boundaries become blurred. Communication is key. Who sleeps where? Do we eat meals together? How do we balance time with the kids?
  • Emotional boundaries. The stress of divorce can make anyone feel raw. Plan time to discuss the difficult topics, and agree that if it gets too heated, you both take a break away from each other to cool down.
This is the time to practice self care. At times, you may feel like the world is moving faster than you are. Slow down. Do less. Remind yourself that the difficult divorcing phase will pass and you will be okay.

Ultimately, you are responsible for deciding what is okay, and what is not okay for you. If you struggle with setting boundaries, therapy -either individually, or with your divorcing spouse- may be beneficial.


Jackie Dunagan, LMFT