Co-Parenting Boundaries in a New Relationship

Dear Dr. Jann,

My ex-wife’s constant presence in my life is causing tension in my new relationship. She frequently calls or texts me, often using our kids as an excuse. I suspect that if this continues, my fiancée will end our engagement, as it deeply upsets her. How can I establish healthy boundaries with my ex? What is the right approach?

Breakups are never easy. They involve untangling ties that have been woven together over a significant period. It can take years to fully disentangle yourself from an ex-partner. While there may be financial matters to settle, once everything is resolved, the only remaining common interest you share is the love and concern for your children. Depending on their age, this may mean regular contact, which can be overwhelming for a new partner, particularly if they have never had children of their own and don’t fully grasp the demands of co-parenting.

You’re right, clear boundaries are crucial. However, these boundaries need to be established not just with your ex, but with your fiancée as well. First and foremost, your ex must understand that her interaction with you should solely revolve around your children. Topics unrelated to your kids, such as her personal life, should be off-limits. It’s time for her to practice good ex-etiquette and focus on the children.

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Simultaneously, your fiancée must recognize that co-parenting with your ex is an essential aspect of your life. This reality will not change. Open communication about the children is a necessity, and it’s your fiancée’s role to support the co-parenting rules already in place. It’s important to remember the fourth rule of ex-etiquette for parents: “Parents make the rules; bonus parents support them.” If your fiancée tries to impose her own ideas on how you should co-parent, your relationship will be on shaky ground. The issue ultimately goes beyond your ex’s phone calls.

Consider this as well: your fiancée’s concerns may stem from fear. Those who have never had children often romanticize the parental bond, assuming it to be an unbreakable spiritual connection between two individuals. This idealized view can be intimidating. Divorced parents, however, know that reality can be quite different. Understanding this fear may shed light on your fiancée’s worries.

It’s your responsibility to address these concerns openly and firmly. Avoid ambiguity in your communication. Be clear with both women involved, or else the chaos will persist, delaying your ability to settle into your new life. Remember, your children are watching every move you make. Don’t underestimate their ability to sense tension between your fiancée and their mother. Any perceived conflict could impact their relationship with your fiancée. It’s crucial to address this issue promptly and effectively. That’s how you practice good ex-etiquette.