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Ask Coach Jen K. Your Own Question

Coach Jen K.
Coach Jen K., LMSW, CPC
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1722
Experience:  Licensed Master Social Worker. Certified Life Coach
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Why can I not set and maintain appropriate boundaries with

Resolved Question:

Why can I not set and maintain appropriate boundaries with my ex-wife? I am afraid to upset her for fear or reprisal. It's stressing my current relationship and I seek to remedy this. Please advise.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Coach Jen K. replied 1 year ago.

CoachJenK :

Hi. Welcome. I am a Licensed Master Social Worker with more than 20 years experience working with individuals and families on a variety of issues.

CoachJenK :

It is not uncommon to experience what you are. You are clear as to why it happens for you...fear of upsetting her or fear of reprisal. you also have a child together so negotiation that space can be delicate and you may be taking the road that keeps things running smooth.

CoachJenK :

But even with that i do hear that you would like it to be different. In what ways are the boundaries not being maintained?

Customer:

she will occasionally send me an email with something pertaining to her life. recently, she sent me an email telling me her car was broken in to. no one was hurt or anything like that, but i only found out because i responded to her email. though i did ask if our 4yr old was ok, i wanted to know more. human curiosity i suppose.

CoachJenK :

and good parenting on your part. You care for the well being of them and that is okay. But boundaries are okay too. In this case if she didn't tell you about it you might have been more worried about your child hearing about it later.

CoachJenK :

Here is a great book on boundary setting that you may want to look at. http://www.amazon.com/Where-Draw-Line-Healthy-Boundaries/dp/0684868067/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354589195&sr=8-1&keywords=setting+boundaries+with+an+ex

CoachJenK :

In the case of the emails you can set the limit that you would like the emails to pertain to your child or parenting issues only.

CoachJenK :

I am also hoping that you are open with your current partner and she can be understanding that since there is a child involved that sometimes it can be a bit more complicated than just cutting all ties.

Customer:

also, when i all to talk to my daughter on the phone, kimberly and i sometimes wander off subject and we talk about inappropriate things. nothing sexual or anything. just things that dont pertain to our daughter. i struggle because i want to be nice, but it infringes on the boundaries that need to be set.

our divorce was from her being adulterous. our marriage was extremely abusive on both sides, with her instigating most times. shes been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder by the counselor we used to go to before she left.

CoachJenK :

then boundaries are even more important on your end. She may push them and you can set and maintain them not in an angry way but in a supportive way that serves both of you.

Customer:

yes, my wife now is well adjusted and normal. she full understands all things involved. her only issue is with me and my inability to keep the boundaries i have set.

CoachJenK :

When the conversation drifts you may say something like, I would rather we focus on our daughter.

CoachJenK :

Ok and that makes sense. I understand your fears. I hear you want to set them and so it will take some practice and you can start slowly and with small steps.

CoachJenK :

she might escalate but you don't have to engage.

CoachJenK :

stay calm and fixed on your goal and that is to have a smooth conversation about your child

Customer:

the issue i have is on my end. i cant stock to my own plan. i struggle to understand why i dont follow a set plan which i know in my hear to be good and i believe in, but i just dont. i lack the conviction. i cant see from my angle where i am going wrong.

CoachJenK :

I think it is as you say...fear of upset and fear of reprisal.

CoachJenK :

I dont think it is about your conviction....I hear a man who wants to be able to but fear has gotten in the way.

CoachJenK :

so go easy on yourself please. Keep practicing and it will become easier as you get some experience under your belt.

CoachJenK :

when she goes off path and onto personal things...take a moment...breathe and say to yourself here is where I need to remain on course.

Customer:

this has been on-going for apprx 10 months now. i know these things take time...theres no set limit. i get that. i feel that im the reason things are not getting better though. im failing to see why i dont place more importance on maintaining proper boundaries...well, enforcing is a better word choice. all i can come up with is what i initially said. i dont know how to overcome that.

CoachJenK :

I love the book that i suggested above as it may help you to look at some things. The way to overcome is to push yourself to a place that may feel a bit unnatural for you....meaning that keeping the boundary.

CoachJenK :

you may also benefot from some one on one counseling to deal with some of the scars that still have an impact from this abusive relationship that you had with her.

CoachJenK :

if you fell guilt or any other strong emotion about the relationship and not being with your daughter these could be reasons that it is hard for you to maintain the boundaries.

Customer:

i have definitely been to counseling but am currently unable to continue that due to geographical constraints. im currently stationed in korea [ usaf ] and the distance is taxing on all parties involved. i am away from my current wife, andmy daughter lives with my ex in a different state.

i want to have the courage to tell my exwife to stop. i find thats what i lack most.

CoachJenK :

you are dealing with so much right now. Even if you tell her to stop that might not help as you can only control your behavior so it comes down to you seeing when the boundary is getting loose and ending the call or not responding to any part of an email that isn't about your child.

Customer:

i have no guilt issues about anything related to my daughter she and i have excellent bonds. the one place i know i am doing great at. i do have guilt issues with how my first marriage went. i dont take responsibility with her adultery [ she found her high school sweetheart ] i do feel guilty for all the things that happened. i guess i feel i owe her something. i KNOW i dont, the divorce took care of that. but, here i am, still wondering why i talk to someone who has no bearing on my new life.

CoachJenK :

Because the feelings are unresolved and that happens....even if the relationship has ended there can still be some lingering feelings that cause this upset. I dont mean feelings of love or desire just feelings about how it all was. She has a bearing on your life because of your child.

CoachJenK :

so you dont want more upset because of your daughter but you will begin to see that engaging in this with her does nothing to help anyone.

CoachJenK :

she may escalate but you maintaining calm and consistency will help you get through it.

CoachJenK :

If there wasnt your daughter I dont believe there would be this contact.

CoachJenK :

you are a good dad and a caring person. but you can still set the boundaries and boundaries do not mean you are hurting someone...in fact you are helping.

Customer:

it upsets me that i dont have this issue with other people, only ex-wife. i think that i have looser boundaries than i should and she takes advantage of that. i feel angry at her sometimes over her contacting me. i think that is why.

CoachJenK :

exactly....you can do it with others but harder with your ex....you have a child...go lightly my friend.....easy on yourself.

CoachJenK :

as I said before we can't control her, only you. so she will continue to contact you but that does not mean you need to engage on any level other than your daughter.

Customer:

consistency seems to be key. perhaps my ability to hold the ground so to speak, will be what it takes to let the ex-wife know how things need to be. though i cant control her actions of course, my actions will show her that hers arent acceptable. but when i dont follow through on what i say, it shows her, in effect, that i think its actually ok for her to continue this.

CoachJenK :

EXACTLY! great work right there!

CoachJenK :

you can do it! You are in the usaf! you have strength and you know about consistency and how crucial that is!

Customer:

i appreciate the helpful ear. i have my work cut out for me. i think that once i get over the initial fear of telling her "please dont talk to me about that" a few times, that ill find it much easier to deal with her.

CoachJenK :

I think that is correct. It has been my pleasure to be a support to you. You can come back and request me anytime.

CoachJenK :

Please take a moment to click on the rating tab...my goal has been to give you excellent support.

Customer:

thank you again. take care.

Coach Jen K., LMSW, CPC
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 1722
Experience: Licensed Master Social Worker. Certified Life Coach
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