Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All About Boundaries

One thing divorcing couples almost always underestimate as they approach their divorce is the extent to which they were connected or linked.

When you and/or your spouse first consider divorce, you are most likely focused on the ways that you are different, separate, or have "grown apart". You both usually look at the conflicts, your opposing world views, or your disparate parenting techniques. You may have already taken up with different friends or groups, you are probably already re-entrenching with your respective extended family members, and you may even already be living at separate addresses. It's easy to see distance between you, and to notice ways and reasons to increase that distance.

That's why it often comes as a surprise to discover that you and your spouse have spent your entire marriage connecting, along a lot of threads that you may not initially notice.

The obvious one if you have children: you are connected as co-parents, and, no matter how much you disagree with your ex-spouse's child-rearing approach, you will have to live with it.

Here are some less obvious ways that you and your spouse are connected:

-- you may attend the same church, social clubs, or neighborhood groups
-- you probably rely on each other for emotional support far more than you believe
-- you know each other in the little ways: number of times the snooze button is pressed, how you like your eggs cooked or your coffee prepared, where you squeeze the toothpaste-and there is a certain comfort in knowing and being known
-- you know your spouse's weaknesses... and your spouse knows yours
-- your names appear together on checks, debts, the mortgage, insurance cards, etc.

And here is the point: when what used to be "one" entity is now becoming "two" separate people again, there is a space in between where a new boundary must be created. You may want to unload your emotions on your spouse, but now that would not be very wise. You can no longer assume that it's okay for you to know everything your spouse does, or everyone your spouse sees. You may discover that your spouse has signed privacy paperwork that denies you access to his or her medical records - something you previously took for granted. You cannot assume that joint debts will be paid by the other spouse just because they said they would. You may find yourself waking up and realizing that nobody has started the coffeemaker.

During the course of divorce, whenever either spouse creates a new boundary, it can set off emotions in the other spouse. No matter how much a person wants the divorce, running up against a new boundary will feel like a loss. For example, discovering that the other spouse has started dating may trigger a strong desire to know who they are seeing; and it may feel like "betrayal" or "infidelity", even though the marriage is over. This is more difficult for the spouse that has not progressed as far in the psychological divorce and who may be struggling to move on.

Nevertheless, boundaries are important. The divorce cannot truly be completed (even if there is a legal decree "dissolving" the marriage) until the two former spouses have become two completely separate entities. If there are still debts, property, or other ties, divorce is not truly complete.

When there are children involved, the need for strong boundaries becomes even more important. This is such an important topic, I will address in the next post, All About Boundaries, Part 2.


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