Learning how to establish healthy boundaries with your abusive ex-husband is essential for your emotional safety.
Kate, a member of the BTR.ORG community shares how healthy boundaries with her abusive ex-husband have helped her find peace in a difficult situation. Listen to this episode and read the full transcript below for more.
Why Do I Need Healthy Boundaries Post-Separation?
Post-separation is a sad reality for many victims of betrayal and emotional abuse. Even though they have separated themselves from the abuser, the abuser may still try to exert power and control. Often, abusers will use communication, coparenting, and finances as means to create chaos and distress in victims’ lives.
I’m Ready to Establish Healthy Boundaries – Where Do I Start?
It’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin establishing healthy safety boundaries. Many members of our community have found these resources helpful:
- The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop helps victims navigate boundary-setting in divorce or married scenarios.
- This video simply and clearly breaks down what effective boundaries are, and how women can begin to establish them:
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
As you work toward navigating healthy boundaries with your abusive ex, we are here for you.
Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions offer daily validation, support, and guidance on your journey. We’d love to see you in a session today.
Today we have Kate on the podcast. Kate is divorced and has been working towards setting healthy boundaries with her ex-husband who is abusive. She was concerned about working through some financial problems that her ex was causing. Kate, do you feel like you were able to use boundaries to resolve those financial issues?
Yes, I was. It was difficult, but we resolved it. Retirement funds were transferred and bank accounts were closed, and so financially I am disconnected from my ex now.
Resiliency as a Result of Healthy Boundaries
So after considering blocking him on your phone and blocking his emails, now that we’ve had a few months go by and you have this financial thing resolved, what are your feelings now about doing that?
Right now? I don’t feel like I need to do that because I’ve been able to manage texts from him. He hasn’t called me at all and he hasn’t sent any emails. He’s only been texting. What I’ve found is that I have gained some resiliency in dealing with texts and in the minimum kind of response as possible. I find myself instead of reacting to his texts, I’m responding and I’m taking time to think things through before I respond.
And I don’t know the magic solution that has happened. I don’t know how to articulate it, but it has been a peaceful time in my heart and in my soul in dealing with him. I am really grateful for it.
Kate’s Internal Process As She Set Healthy Boundaries
Is that how you felt about it, Kate? Did you feel confident in your decisions? Or were you kind of like, I should be doing this, but I feel guilty? What was your internal process?
Well, at first, as I investigated apps to help me set some kind of barrier between the communication, I felt very guilty like, well, this just doesn’t work for me, but yet I need to do something. And as I went back and forth and researched, I’d realized the apps were going to be more difficult to implement than I had expected, and they really didn’t fit my situation.
And so I kept looking for something it didn’t come about. I guess I shifted the concentration on the specific boundary to an internal boundary for myself. Saying, well, if I can’t find the exact right fit, how can I tailor my own personal boundaries to fit my situation?
And I found that as I was healing and as I’ve been healing, my internal dialogue has been different, my internal thought processes about my ex’s behavior, whether present behavior or past behavior, and it creates a space where I can feel more safe and more settled and more resilient.
Healthy Boundaries Don’t Always Feel Good
Boundaries are interesting. Right after my ex’s arrest, I wanted to talk to him. It was hell to not talk to him. It was hell for me to not write him letters and to communicate and tell him all their things I was feeling. But I had the no contact boundary from the judge. I knew I needed to keep it.
So there is a difference I think between reevaluating what we’ve been doing in the past and making changes that might be extremely uncomfortable. It seems like a lot of women who want to be in recovery, they feel like this is what I want to do. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel right.
I want to set this boundary that I’m not going to have sex with my husband. But at the same time that’s mean. Or he’s going to get mad or this is going to happen and it’s going to be uncomfortable. So does that mean it’s not right? Does that mean it’s not the right thing for me?
“My body is my barometer on how I’m doing”
I have chronic illnesses. So my body is kind of my barometer on how I’m doing and safety and in all areas of my life. But I was in a lot of pain last year. I had a massage therapist that I love. She was talking to me about my process of going through a divorce and disconnecting from a husband. She suggested that I do some dance therapy. I’d never heard of that.
When she described it, I just knew it was something I was going to do. And so I picked a few songs that I really identified with. I went in my basement and I turned the songs on as loud as I could. I did a lot of ugly dancing to process things through my body. And I realized I was carrying so much pain and so much betrayal and trauma in my body. I wasn’t able to heal physically.
“I had to make a boundary for my own health and my own safety”
And so the physical and the emotional were trapped. I don’t know if that’s called a boundary. But I had to make a boundary for my own health and my own safety physically. And as I was able to do that using artistic expression, it became easier for my body to process the betrayal, the trauma, and get rid of pain.
And I’ve become healthier and happier. Not just because I did some ugly dancing, but for a lot of reasons connecting and checking in with my body. I think that women who are connected to men who are narcissistic or addicts are very sacrificial. They deny their own needs so much that it became second nature to give up physical boundaries as well as emotional boundaries. And that’s what I’d done for 35 years.
So I’ve disconnected with my own self. Just knowing myself, knowing my own boundaries for myself as well as with relationships. So in touch with my own body has been revolutionary in my healing process.
Healthy Boundaries Help Victims Establish Emotional Safety & Security
Kate, do you feel like you’re more on your way to getting your needs met? One of your key needs being safety, right? Do you feel like you’re farther down that path?
Yes. I feel like I have grown tremendously in safety and in being more in touch with my needs. When my husband and I were in the initial process of the divorce, he came to me several times and said, I have this list of needs that I want you to consider if we can consider a reconciliation.
And the healthier I got, I was able to say to him, well, I’m learning that my needs are important. I’m learning that I’m the best suited person, most qualified person to meet my own needs. Whether it’s asking for someone to help me meet a need or just being in charge of it myself. He would get angry when I would say that because he had this list of demands that he wanted me to automatically embrace and agree to so that we could stay married.
That was a really good sign to me that I was doing the right thing because I knew that he was going to continue to assume that I was supposed to meet his needs, and I knew that I needed to meet my own needs and be in charge of that and be in tune enough to know what they were.
“I’ve found my voice again”
I found out towards the end that my husband was writing journals of thoughts about me, and he was identifying me as a monster and talking about why doesn’t she just leave our daughter and I would be better off without her? Why doesn’t she do the right thing and go away? And it was devastating.
And the reason it was so devastating, I mean, you can imagine any wife finding volumes of journals like that, but it was so devastating because I’m a writer. Writing to me is an artistic expression, and it’s part of who I am. And so when I found these words that were really harsh and ugly and realizing the time and energy he had put into recording these ugly thoughts about me, it took away my writing voice somehow, and I was not able to write.
For a couple of years, I’d written a blog that was really popular. It literally shut me down. So a great barometer of knowing how I’m healing now is that I’m writing again. I’ve found my voice again, and it’s a different voice definitely, but I’m writing and it’s a good sign that healing has taken place.
Kate’s Poem, “The Road Home”
You sent me a poem and I would like you to share it with our audience. Do you feel comfortable enough to share it?
It’s interesting. As I started to write it, it was going to be about something else. and as I finished it, it was totally the right poem, but it had taken a turn and it was a totally different poem than what I had expected. So this is The Road Home.
“I followed the ice crested bear tracks north, ready to face my doomsday fear and dispatched the cruel beast once and for all. But as the tsunami like winds dissipated, hope, glimmered desperately under the wreckage of my snow cave, that’s when the thaw began.
So as the icicles dripped grieving tears, I took some hesitant steps toward the sun, even though it was just a distant vacation memory from a trip I never quite took.
As I picked my way through a desolate landscape filled with broken mirrors, rusty bed frames and shredded books, the splintered forest turned verdant and fresh. My feet fell on moss covered stones as I discovered new territory where all distant paths lead home. Then as if on cue, the leaf bed below revealed the tiniest of breadcrumbs bleeding into the horizon where all maps turned to dust.
So even though I was no longer lost, I stooped to pick them up one by one for nourishment along the way. Yes, I followed the ice crested bear tracks north, and they led me safely back to myself.”
Establishing Healthy Boundaries Helps Victims Come Back to Themselves
Thank you for sharing that. So in that poem, Kate, you went on a journey. You thought you were looking for something, but you found out that that’s not really what the journey was about, and that you came back to yourself. The feeling that that poem gave at the end is so peaceful and calm. What did you learn from the process of writing that poem?
I think I learned that I am responding to my own needs and I’m in my own corner. For the first time in my life. When I grew up, I had a narcissistic mother and I was always on alert as to how to behave so that she wouldn’t push me aside or blame me. And so I transferred to my husband and I had the same dynamic. So I’ve not had any practice advocating for myself and my own needs.
I’ve realized as I wrote the poem, I was taking a journey and I thought I was looking for another person in this journey, and yet I was the person that I needed to find, and I still am in the process of doing that as I find myself and validate my own needs and then advocate to get those needs met in some way. I know that I am becoming my own best friend and my own advocate in a world that can be very harsh and disturbing.
Healthy Boundaries Help Victims Establish Authentic Connections
Sometimes the relationship I have with myself is the primary relationship in my life. Now, not to say that I push others out, but it’s to say that I validate who I am and my needs so that I can bring and embrace other people into my circle and have real true connections, and that’s a boundary that I have never had in my life.
I’ve always felt like I’ve had to sacrifice my own needs in order to connect with others in an intimate way, whether it’s a friend or a relative or a significant other, and it’s always been a lose win situation. And for the first time in my life, now I can choose relationships according to a win-win.