Setting New Boundaries: Why it Matters During Divorce, and Simple Steps to Put Them in Place  

by | May 29, 2024

According to, personal boundaries are “the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” Setting healthy boundaries can be difficult even in the best of circumstances, so it’s understandable that it takes hard work and intention to redefine boundaries during and after a divorce.

Author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown adds, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” I love this quote because boundaries are about more than pick-up times and unasked questions (i.e. where did you go last weekend?), though those things are certainly part of the big picture.

By using the word “daring,” Brown incorporates that we need to think enough of ourselves to set boundaries in the first place, which often feels very foreign. It can even feel impolite, or selfish, especially if setting boundaries is new to you. If you’re one of the many who struggle with why you should even bother with the effort, consider the following:

  • Boundaries are NOT about you imposing your rules on others.
  • They are designed to enlist the support you need to create an environment that helps you be at your best.
  • You at your best is good for you and for everyone you are connected to.

What is a healthy boundary?

Think of a boundary as the fence around your house. You get to decide who stays at the gate, and who comes in. Without a fence, someone coming toward your house may not know where your property begins. It’s not that person’s job to know where the property starts – it’s your job to tell them, and then to enforce the boundary.

You can do that with kindness and respect, and still enforce what works for you and what doesn’t.

There are four types of boundaries

  1. Interior Your intuitive sense of how to take care of yourself, maintain balance and heed the signals that something isn’t right.

You may not be accustomed to listening to that inner voice, and it may be hard to hear at first. You might need to figure out what you sound like when you advocate for yourself. But I bet you know when something is off. Start by just listening to yourself. Ask yourself, what feels validating, upsetting, challenging, reinforcing? Where are hard lines and what lines are softer? All this is information you can use as you decide how to navigate this new phase of your life.

  1. Exterior The lines you draw between you and others, where you decide what is OK and what is not.

It can be very useful to set new boundaries before there is a conflict. When you are reacting to someone crossing your boundaries, you are often in fight or flight mode –hot buttons have likely been triggered, making it very difficult to have a reasonable conversation about why a boundary is important to you. With some advance planning you can establish a signal to let someone know that they have crossed a boundary, and it is time to go back to the other side of the line.

  1. Proactive Steps you take to protect yourself before problems occur

For example, if you are going to a family event and you know the subject of your divorce will come up, create a message you are comfortable sharing, i.e. “I’d rather not talk about it this evening. Thanks for respecting my wishes,” or share your concern with someone you trust and ask for their help in enforcing your lines.

  1. Reactive Boundaries you put in place to protect yourself from reacting or responding to someone who tries to bait you with insults or criticism.

Create a message to use if needed, “Thanks for your concern. I’m comfortable in the approach I’m taking,” or even just walk away. Decide what will work for you.

How can you set effective boundaries?

  1. Understand why you need them. If you’re not clear about why a particular issue is important, maybe it isn’t. What underlying value is driving you? What is your true intention in this situation?
  2. Don’t apologize. For me, this is one of the hardest aspects of new boundaries, but I remind myself that it’s reasonable and appropriate to set boundaries that keep me healthy. I don’t have to apologize for doing so, and just as important – I can’t expect others to apologize for their requests.
  3. Engage your support system. Remember, what you need may not be obvious to others. Those who care about you will probably be happy to know how to support you! Don’t be afraid to ask. Examples include:
  • Would you mind leaving the event with me a little early?
  • If our friends ask about the divorce, can you please share that we don’t want to badmouth the other person?
  • Can you update (friend or relative) for me? It feels overwhelming to have that conversation
  1. Start with tighter boundaries that you can loosen as desired. It’s much easier to go that direction than the other way around.

For example:

  • Don’t come into each other’s new homes without prior notice.
  • Don’t ask about plans that are no longer your concern.
  • Keep communication based on facts and info that is need-to-know only.
  • Reduce opportunities for conflict by focusing forward, not on the rear-view mirror.
  • Pre-plan family events and child activities
  1. Make your request about what you need vs. about the other person, i.e. It’s time for you to figure out what you need to do without my telling you, vs. We should both be on the distribution list from school so we can keep our own calendars.

Many of us have been in the habit of people pleasing and putting other people’s needs first, so changing the relationship with our spouse by setting new rules can be hard! You might not be used to being treated with love and respect and may even feel unworthy or unlovable. Your new boundaries may ruffle some feathers for those who’ve gotten used to certain patterns, and it can be tempting to avoid conflict and go back to old habits.

Be kind to yourself as you make changes. Being aware of these challenges will hopefully help you set boundaries that are meaningful and appropriate for YOUR situation. You can always adjust them; this is a work in progress! It will take time and effort, so please be kind to yourself, and remember that you deserve a fulfilling future that brings you joy.