Setting ex-spouse boundaries that work — The Dynamic Divorcée

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Are you dealing with an ex-husband (or soon-to-be-ex) who is constantly trying to start a fight?

Or, you have to text him about something, and immediately, he’s accusing you of all sorts of things, out of nowhere?

Maybe he likes to do this at your workplace, or maybe he’s texting you or calling you at all hours of the day and night?

It can be difficult not to be drawn into the conflict he always seems to create, and, if you don’t respond at all, the situation rapidly escalates.

You may feel that you’re powerless in this situation, and he holds full control over you (even after divorce), because you feel there’s no way to assert yourself or set boundaries with him.

You may have come to think that he has a deeper problem than just a lack of interest in controlling his emotions. You may wonder about his obsession with making you the source of all his problems. You may even think he fits the clinical description of a narcissist.

Because of his behavior, you find that you’re spending so much time worrying about what he’ll do next — when, actually, you’re divorced, and he should be a non-entity in your life. You’re free — or you feel you should be.

In my work with women healing from divorce, I always feel that easy strategies are best. If I can give just one easy point to remember in stressful situations, that’s always more effective than saying, “If he does A, you do B; if he does C, you do D . . .”. You’re already under too much stress, and you don’t need an action plan that’s hard to remember.

Here, all you have to remember is that you are a grey rock, no matter what he says.

(If you feel that your ex may become violent and put you or your children in danger, it’s time to put a practical action plan in place. This isn’t the time for the grey rock strategy alone. Change the locks on your doors, set up an alarm system, and take all precautions to keep yourself safe. The following technique can help to minimize the escalation of potential violence, but I’m recommending its use only for situations in which you feel you are physically safe from harm.)

When dealing with your ex, you are a grey rock

The essence of “grey-rocking it” is that, from now on, in your interactions with your ex, you have zero personality. You have zero emotions. You give zero f###s.

In situations where, previously, you would have felt (and shown) strong emotion, you now offer one-word, facts-just-the-facts replies.

Where you would normally have tried to reason with him, there is now zero back-and-forth conversation. You listen silently, and make the shortest reply possible.

Your face shows no emotion. You give him zero payoff for his bad behavior, disrespect, accusations, or rage.

Refer, in as few words as possible, to the facts and only the facts

When appropriate, you calmly refer him to your co-parenting agreement, your negotiated settlement, or what would be the consequences of whatever path he is on as far as his repeated communications with you.

You can calmly state that you won’t be answering further texts or calls. You may have to inform the appropriate persons at your workplace, if you feel that an angry ex may turn up onsite so he can be met by security before causing a scene.

As you practice a completely unemotional response in all circumstances, a strange feeling of peace is likely to descend on you, even in the midst of the chaos your ex is trying to spew into your life.

Don’t take the bait

The essence of the grey rock strategy is that you learn never to take the bait, under any circumstances.

This is like dealing with a problem child, and just as difficult at the beginning stages. Don’t be drawn into his game or his tantrums.

At first, your ex will likely escalate his irrational accusations or his non-compliance with what he agreed to in the divorce. It will get more uncomfortable, and you’ll want to give up and try to calm him down, try to reason with him, try to do all those things you used to do when you were his wife.

But, if you stay firm and unemotional (you can cry later, when he’s not there), within a relatively short period of time, he’ll learn that the game is over. And you’re not playing anymore.

You may be wondering: What’s in it for him? Especially if he wanted the divorce?

Maybe he’s the kind of man who felt he “owned” you, and even if he’s now with someone else, he feels that he still deserves to call the shots and have his wishes catered to by you. He gets to demonstrate this by changing the plans, making things difficult for you, interfering with your schedule and your life.

Maybe there’s some part of him that regrets the divorce, and you’re his emotional punching bag since he can’t bear to blame himself.

Maybe he likes to punish you because it makes him feel in control of at least one part of his life.

There can be so many reasons, but a wonderful benefit of using the grey rock method is you get to practice detaching yourself from anything and everything related to your ex.

As you practice being as cold as a grey rock, you get to withdraw into your own inner strength and cut any remaining cords with your ex. It’s a way to practice your own power, while also practicing non-reaction and self-loving self-control. (Because it doesn’t feel good to fight with this man, even if you could win.)

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