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Celebrating 30 Years of Service to Families Across Colorado

Establishing Appropriate Boundaries

Sometimes a marriage cannot be saved but a great deal can be done to ensure the healthy functioning of the still-existing family.

One area that deserves notice is the establishment of appropriate boundaries in divorced and divorcing families. It is important to avoid boundaries that are either too rigid or too porous.

Rigid boundaries express the desire to be completely separate from the former spouse. They are characterized by refusal to share information such as doctors' and teachers' names, sports schedules and the like, insisting that the other parent acquire the information independently.

Other examples might be refusals to share children's clothing or to help out occasionally with a needed child service on the other parent's custodial time. This type of structure impedes progress toward two fully functioning households. Children in such situations may feel less safe and less able to share concerns because there is no bridge of connection between their two households. Their adjustment to two-family living may be adversely affected.

Porous boundaries reflect a desire that no one feel the separation too strongly; that in many important ways life is “just like it was before”.

To this end, ex spouses may decide to continue joint holidays or provide after school care for one another. They may do household or financial chores for each other as they did before. The dangers here are of stagnation and incomplete mourning. The former partners do not move on in life to new skills and relationships; they do not fully accept the fact that they are divorced. When the loss is not fully acknowledged and mourned the entire family fails to integrate it, leaving impaired capacity to grow and move on.

Good boundaries in divorced and divorcing families allow cooperation and flexibility while providing enough separation for each parent to develop a complete and unique home for their children.