Newly divorced Nora is a successful screenwriter and loving mother navigating starting over with a new guy. Her ex-husband, Ben, is lazy, manipulative, unsupportive, wasteful and rude – and that’s all before he walked out on his family. In short, he’s the worst. The character traits would be hard for anyone to deal with, but they are particularly troubling for Nora, because Nora lacks boundaries. She also lacks communication skills, but that’s another conversation for another day.
What are boundaries, you ask? Boundaries are limits between people; and they can be physical or emotional and rigid, loose or nonexistent. You hold different boundaries with different people – and for good reason. A lack of boundaries leads to anger, resentment, miscommunication and generally wasted time.
Sound good on paper, but hard in practice? OK, let’s slow things down. Start by defining your needs. Then, plainly state those needs to the other person and any consequences (natural or otherwise) that will occur if those boundaries are violated.
Let’s play this out. Say Nora sets three boundaries (Yes, there are way more that she could be setting):
When promises are made to the kids, we as parents must follow through on them, or the kids will stop trusting us.
I will work with you on a mutually determined budget, but if you impulsively spend outside of the budget, you will need to give up something else or work more to make up the money.
I need more support in family responsibilities, like taking care of the kids and cleaning up. If I don’t get more help I will be too burned out to continue churning out the scripts that keep us afloat.
Unlikely, but Ben could shape up, and things could improve. More likely, Ben probably would violate all the boundaries. Then, Nora could actively decide to terminate the relationship on her own terms—rather than struggling until she was completely depleted and he (finally) decided to leave.
Since boundaries help Nora feel empowered, she would likely establish some from the very beginning in her next relationship, a nice set-up for success. Cue the happily ever after.