THE BLOG

How To Set Boundaries With Ex

11/08/2010 11:25 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dear Dr. George: I am a forty-three year old single mother of three. I am in a committed relationship with a wonderful man. I have been divorced from my "wasband" for seven years. He is a good friend, and things are generally not tense with us. We have really only argued about money, and never the kids. All in all we get along quite well and can talk through just about any challenge we might have.

For the most part, I am at peace with the relationship where it is. Until recently. In September he got remarried, on our wedding anniversary. I have no idea what that is about. He came back from his honeymoon and insisted that he wanted more time with the kids. An idea I applaud, but he has no plan in place for how this will happen, and the assumption is that I will "deliver" the kids to him rather than he pick them up. So he wants them, but he wants me to supply the support network revolving around getting the kids from one place to another.

When the children were little he traveled for long periods of time (3-8 weeks solid) and I was the only caregiver for the kids as he would not allow for any extra help. And while I am a full believer that kids need both of their parents, it gets in my craw that, now that they are older and no longer prone to children's issues such as ear infections, respiratory illnesses, not sleeping etc., he now wants to chime in.

Frankly, I am a bit pissed off, but do not want to stop the kids from having time with their Dad. How does one express their emotions about something but not get in the way of the kids? I think my response is reasonable, but maybe it's not reasonable to tell their Dad? Is it best just to keep this to myself? It may be, but it's a bit of a frustration in that I never voiced my discontent in our marriage and I feel as if he is playing house with the kids.

What do you recommend I do?

--- Angry On The Inside, Detroit

Dear Angry On The Inside:

You describe having had an amicable relationship with your ex and even call him a "good friend." It's wonderful that despite your differences, and divorce, you were able to find common ground with him for your children's sake. Research has shown that it is not always the divorce that hurts kids, but rather the acrimonious relationship between mother and father that leaves lasting impressions.

But then he got remarried. And worse, on your anniversary. I wonder if this is the real reason for your anger? True, he's also now making demands that piss you off, but is this new for him? His nuptials could be triggering unresolved feelings of resentment, loss and grief over the marriage.

You have a right to be more than a "bit" angry about your divorce and demanding ex. Don't deny those feelings---just take them to therapy to release them in a healthy place. Airing them now will only serve to inspire more animosity between the two of you and create stress for your kids.

Direct your anger into a constructive purpose: setting healthy boundaries with your children's father. Set up a visitation schedule that works for you. Give him a number of times when the kids are available to be picked up and dropped off. Tell him to honor those times or lose the privilege. You don't have to be a doormat or taxi service for him.

If this is hard for you, find an "accountability partner." This could be a family member or friend that holds you accountable to the new boundaries you're setting with your ex. When they sense you're giving in or giving up too much, allow them to point that out to you. Ask them for encouragement to maintain your position.

Setting boundaries with your ex is about changing the dynamics that existed while you were married. It's important to do this now, for your children and for any new relationships in your life.

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P.S. I encourage readers to offer their own second opinions. Scroll to bottom of the page to give Angry On The Inside your comments.

It's tough out there in the real world. So many questions without good answers. My goal is to provide insight into life's more difficult dilemmas, offering sound clinical judgment mixed with a straight-from-the-hip attitude. Email me for free advice on any subject.

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