Resolve to Establish Boundaries this Year

Published January 16, 2020

January –  the month when many people talk about resolutions and goals.  While resolutions and goals are great, what about establishing boundaries?

Boundaries are helpful during difficult times

In my practice, I work with people experiencing and struggling with life-altering events.  Specifically, divorce and death including the painful and sometimes contentious aftermath that can occur with both events.  Creating or keeping healthy boundaries can be very helpful to anyone especially those grappling with emotions and loss. 

A boundary is a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line (per Google dictionary).  When sadness, anxiety or uncertainty feel like they will swallow you whole, wouldn’t a dividing line that creates some separation from the emotion, situation or contributor be a relief?  We can’t avoid pain and hurt but we can create boundaries to help us get through these times. Here are a few suggestions for how:

  1. Set boundaries with friends and family.  Advice comes in volumes whether you are in the throes of a divorce, grieving or dealing with a difficult personal issue.  Feel free to set limits and don’t be afraid of hurting feelings by telling others that you do not want to discuss or share information about your situation.  It is your business, not theirs.
  • Schedule a time each day to specifically think about or tend to the situation causing you stress or upset.  Painful periods in life can be consuming.  Panicked thoughts and incessant worry may take up an entire day.  We may be distracted by compiling notes and reviewing blogs and articles online about whatever we are struggling with.  Instead of allowing your day to be eaten away by the situation causing you stress, try setting a specific time each day (or maybe a few) where you will focus on the stressor, grief or upset.  Maybe this is an hour in the morning where you will respond to your divorce attorney’s email or two times each day where you will journal and cry.  You may still think about and feel emotions at other moments in the day – that’s normal.  But, by giving yourself permission to focus on the situation at specific times, you free yourself up to tend to what you need to during the other times.
  • Redirect communication from those who increase negativity for you.  If you feel sick and upset every time you talk to a family member or your soon-to-be ex, redirect the communication.  Do not have phone calls or in-person conversations.  Conduct all necessary communication by email (ie. relevant requests and exchanges of information, not reprimands, threats or wallowing).  Text might be okay too, but people often expect immediate replies with text.  Taking time to allow a wave of emotion to pass before you reply to texts and emails is a really good idea.  Also, for emotionally-charged or high conflict situations, I often recommend to clients to create a separate email account just for the situation or stress contributor and only check it once a day or a few times each week.  Not seeing the contributor’s name or email address in their daily use email account is a huge relief!  
  • Say no.  Taking on new volunteer work (ie. running the school bake sale) or commitments may not be the best move.  Evaluate your current obligations and decide to step back from one or all of them.  Commitments take time and energy.  You should conserve energy to deal with the important (and emotional) stuff that you need to. It’s okay to say no even to friends. 

Boundaries can be simple

While the list above may seem more relevant to those in the throes of a divorce or dealing with a difficult ex, creating and maintaining boundaries is important for everyone’s emotional health.  Boundaries can be relatively simple (or seemingly simple).  For example, I recently returned from vacation and I did not check my work email for ten days.  I established this boundary for myself in advance and had a plan in place with my assistant if an urgent issue arose.  Fortunately, I maintained the boundary the entire trip and received a fantastic mental break. 

If you are trying to figure out how to get through a dark time in your life or if you just want to practice better self-care, boundaries are a step in the right direction.  More great strategies and self-care tips can be found in Chapter 6 of my book, Divorce Wisdom (available on Amazon).