5 Expert-Approved Tips for Setting Boundaries with Your Ex (Whether You Share Kids, a Dog or They Just Won't Stop Texting)

Design your ideal after-relationship

setting boundaries with an ex: illustration of couple across from a conversation bubble
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How to write the story of your life when “happily ever after” morphs into “seriously, why is my ex so annoying?” That’s the challenge that many people face when they’re dealing with an ex-partner who is in some way still in your orbit—through parenting, community association or even just shared canine custody.

After all, setting boundaries with your ex can seem counter-intuitive—you already broke up, didn’t you? But according to therapists and successful broken-uppers we consulted, a manageable relationship (and possibly even an enjoyable one) is achievable. It just takes some guidelines. We consulted a life and relationship coach for tips in setting up a dynamic with your ex that helps you both in the future.

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Meet the Expert

  • Cassandra Love Lambert is a life coach who has certifications in brainspotting, somatic coaching and emotional freedom technique. On the Share Well Now platform, she facilitates classes on Trauma Healing and Nervous System Regulation. Lambert’s specialty is in helping clients recover from trauma, as informed by her own decades-long struggle with PTSD.

1. Get clear on what you want from your ex

According to Lambert, the first step to dealing with an ex is done solo—namely, getting clear about your own desires (or lack thereof) relating to the relationship. “You have the right to say no without guilt, be treated with respect, prioritize your needs, accept your mistakes and refuse unreasonable expectations from others,” she says. For example, you might have specific asks, such as being told when your ex is dating someone new or taking three months off from nonessential texts. Or your wish might be more general, like wanting calm and respectful communication. Dedicate some time to asking yourself how you’d like to move forward.

2. Reflect on what interactions feel uncomfortable

Sometimes the best way to envision what you’d like is to determine what doesn’t work for you, Lambert says. If your mind goes blank when asked sweeping questions like “how do I want to be treated emotionally, physically and psychologically by this person?” the counselor suggests working your way down this detailed list:

  • Am I comfortable with receiving texts and how often is ok with me?
  • Do I prefer a transactional or personal text?
  • Are phone calls ok, and if so, what topics am I ok with discussing?
  • How often should these calls occur and how long should they be?
  • Is email a preferred and safer way of communicating?
  • Would I feel more secure using monitored platforms such as Family Wizard?
  • If I have to be around this person, do I feel better if I have a friend with me?

3. Where are you flexible?

Remember, even ex-relationships are a two-way street, so identify which elements you might be willing to bend a little on, in the service of getting a workable system of engagement. Would you prefer no phone calls, but understand the benefit of an occasional weekend call to discuss details about the kids’ summer plans? Would you prefer a two-week notice of when you need to dog sit, but understand last-minute work travel may mean shorter notice? Are you okay with your ex holding mail for you, rather than having him drop it at your office? Even as you’re working out details, keep your priorities in mind. “Avoid falling into people-pleasing habits by clearly identifying firm “No’s” and deal-breakers,” Lambert says.

4. Communicate your preferences

Now that you have your wish list of boundaries, it’s time to share them. Spend some time choosing between a face-to-face chat, a phone call, a Zoom call or an email. Possibly, you might want to have a third party present. Lambert suggests bringing along a list of your needs and non-negotiables so that communication stays on track.

5. Negotiate clearly and make each other accountable

Be honest with yourself—did your ex hear you? Was there resistance to your boundaries, and were you able to stand firm? Were you able to compromise in your flexible areas? If not, an additional discussion might be in order. If you did reach an agreement, write down the agreed-upon terms so that both of you can be held accountable going forward. “You’re establishing a foundation by recognizing your basic human rights,” Lambert says…and we might add, this works to each party’s benefit.  Who knows, your ex-partner may wind up being a solid ally going forward.

One Final Word

Setting boundaries is an ongoing project, one that’s probably not going to turn into a perfectly crafted arrangement in one try. And when there are complications such as children or family dependents, pets and even co-ownership of assets, the details become more complex and the need for legal assistance becomes greater. However, whether you’re sharing an estate, twin toddlers or just a goldfish, you’ll want to follow these guidelines. After all, it’s for the benefit of everyone involved if you’re clear, considerate and communicative.

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...