Reader Frustrated Blurred Boundaries
Written By: Mark Smith
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Frankly I have always been mortified when media psychologists offered instant seemingly magical feedback to their advice seeking "clients". How could they offer sound feedback when they really don't know whom they are dealing with yet? I rarely give any feedback until I have spent several hours grilling my new client with assessment questions. However, now I find myself in the predicament of needing to answer an advice seeking media "client" of my own. I say that to say this - please take my feedback regarding this situation with the following disclaimer: life is extremely complicated and when anyone just hears one side of a story there very well might be gaps in full reality of the situation. I'll do my best to be clinically helpful given these parameters.
Here is the question: Dr. Smith, my question, if you can address it in a column is this: What are healthy boundaries involving ex spouses and grown children (ages 24, 26, 28)? My husbands grown children keep manipulating situations so that their parents are thrown together. For instance, inviting him to get together with them, they live in Ohio; we live in Indy then insisting they go to their mothers house. For example, they arranged a fathers day get together this summer and insisted that they go to their mothers house to visit with the son who was home on leave instead of the daughters house who lives a few blocks away. The one son has been stationed in Germany and has started sending emails to his mother and expects his mother to send them on to my husband, which she does. She forwards the emails to my husband at work with cheery little notes. My husband sends cheery little notes back thanking her. My husband sees nothing wrong with this. I obviously do. I think my husband should tell his son and it would be nice to stay in touch, but he should email him himself instead of involving his mother since they are no longer married. Is my radar off or is this triangulating and manipulating on their part? Do I have the right to ask that it stop? I have absolutely no desire to communicate with my ex and would tell my grown son to contact me directly and not go through his father. When is it okay to communicate with an ex spouse in regard to grown children?
Frustrated in Fishers
Dear Frustrated - It seems to be that your issue is not with your adult stepchildren or his ex, but rather with your husband. There aren't any black and white rules for behavior within families. In some families the scenario that you described would not bother the stepmother the way it bothers you. Many times the separation process in divorced families does not get completed. However, I have seen that strange type of family situation work for all concerned, i.e. both divorced parents coming over to the same house for Christmas dinner with their spouses in tow. That does not make you wrong. Your sense of personal boundaries sounds pretty healthy to me. The boundary blurriness is not working for you. I don't know if his kids or his ex are being manipulative or not. Again, they aren't your problem. They aren't married to you - your issues are with your hubby. You need to sit him down and have a little come to Jesus meeting. Tell him how it feels to you for him to receive and send the cheery little notes. Tell him how it feels for him to be visiting his ex's home. Do not point fingers, criticize him or attack in any way. Pleasantly ask him to please respect and protect your feelings in these situations. Then roll your boundaries out, if he is giving you the message that he will not respect your feelings. Just as pleasantly as possible inform him that if he makes the choices to continue to trample on your feelings you will need to allow him to chose some negative consequences that you can negotiate about. These could include any of the following: him sleeping on the couch for a while, you going on strike when it comes to cooking for him or doing his laundry, or taking a break from your sexual relationship until you feel more loved and protected. That is not sexual blackmail; it is a healthy, congruent boundary. You need to be ready to go to war if you feel strongly enough about this. You need to be angry enough and resolved enough to live with the consequences of the boundary yourself. If he chooses to go to war over these small issues, then you have some fairly large marital problems masquerading as small problems. The scripture says that a man shall LEAVE his father and mother when he marries - thus transferring his main allegiance to his new wife. A very similar shift in allegiance must take place between your husband and his adult kids/ex. And it is your job to see that that allegiance shift takes place and continues to take place. A short round of marital therapy just might be in order here. So there you go, that is how I see it in my very first advice column - see you next week.
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