The importance of setting boundaries

The importance of setting boundaries

When their relationship breaks down, our clients are dealing with a turmoil of emotions, which often leaves them confused and vulnerable. 

To make matters worse, some boundaries in their new lives can become blurred. For example, one ex-partner kept his bikes at my client’s house, another returned there for his daily shower; both clearly exerting some control over their former partners, who were not sure if that was ‘wrong’ or not. Furthermore, former in-laws may still visit uninvited or make arrangements with grandchildren, without consulting our clients. Some even feel entitled to give advice or pass judgement on the breakup. This is an invasion of privacy, which denotes a lack of respect and prevents our clients from thinking clearly and asserting their rights.

An effective remedy is to encourage our clients to start establishing clear boundaries. Not permitting the same behaviours as before may seem mean, but quite the opposite, it helps reclaim a fragile sense of self. I often advise clients to ‘change the script’ in order to break the vicious circle that led to them being treated badly in the first place. Whether this is understood or accepted by others is irrelevant. What matters is the clear signal that people are worthy and expect to be treated with respect. Boundaries help to regain control, perspective and self-esteem; all of which are central to the recovery process.

Boundaries can include:

  • having the right to get angry or sad; the right not to see other people; the right to say ‘no’, to refuse invitations, to take time off
  • having the right to treat their home as their sanctuary; of choosing who is welcome or not
  • some people are a source of support and others create stress and anxiety; having the right to avoid those who drain their energy.
  • understanding that they are not responsible for other people’s behaviour or happiness (except their children of course); and stop trying to please everyone.

Instead, they must put their own needs first. In fact, the moment clients start asserting themselves, the moment their life begins to change.

This leads me to ask if, as family lawyers, you feel able to establish safe and clear boundaries in your lives too. How good are you at asserting your right to a healthy work-life balance, time off, quality relationships? How much of a priority do you place onto your own wellbeing?

Danielle Barbereau BA, MA, MAC, Divorce coach, providing emotional support to clients during divorce and separation

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