Boundaries are guidelines that dictate what behaviors you will tolerate and which you won’t. They are as simple as, “I will tolerate XYZ, but I will not tolerate ABC.” For example, “I will tolerate my ex calling me out when I’m acting needy or immature, but I will not tolerate them not showing up for the date we set.”
Boundaries are also interwoven with responsibility. The stronger your boundaries, the more responsibility you take for your behavior and emotions, and the less responsibility you take for the behaviors and emotions of others.
In fact, the whole point of boundaries is to use them to eventually arrive at a place where you take full responsibility for your own behaviors and emotions while NOT taking responsibility for the behaviors or emotions of others.
Now, boundaries often receive a bad rap because people feel establishing them is selfish or unattractive, but that’s far from the truth.
And for those reason having them also makes getting your ex back that much faster. And even if that’s not your goal, even if all you want is to move on and find someone else, healthy boundaries will make the venture 10x fucking easier.
Two Types Of Boundary Issues
People with poor boundaries often come in two flavors: Pleasers and Breakers. The Pleasers take too much responsibility for the emotions and behaviors of their ex. And the Breakers take no responsibility for their emotions/behavior and often expect their ex to take too much responsibility for theirs.
Pleasers, or in psych terms, codependents, believe that if they can fix their ex, they will receive the validation and affection that they’ve always craved from them. Instead of expressing their honest opinions, they lie and hold things in to avoid rejection, conflict, and disapproval. They are more concerned with how their ex perceives them than how they perceive themselves. They also feel unworthy or at least less worthy than their ex, which, as you would expect, leads to some pretty nasty overcompensation.
Pleasers believe that the only way they’re going to get back with and keep their ex is by doing everything in their power to make them happy. Some of them will butcher their entire identity for them. Some will try to fix every issue and challenge their ex stumbles on, even when it’s inappropriate. Some will send a litany of “I love you” texts throughout the days. And others will try to manipulate their ex into feeling good.
Some examples of a Pleaser’s poor boundaries:
- Sorry, I can’t go to the cinema today. I’m still waiting for my ex’s call. She said she would call me when I explained to her how I wanted her back. (Spoiler: the call never came.)
- My ex cheated on me then dumped me. I must make it up to him. I better show how much I’ve changed and how much he means to me by setting up a grand surprise date for him.
- I would love to go study abroad. It’s been my dream but now is not the right time. I’m trying to get my ex back.
- I really want to order steak, but my ex always gets angry when I’m eating meat. He says it’s immoral and that I should change. So I better listen to him. I mean, it’s our first date after our breakup. I don’t want to screw it up.
Breakers, or in psych terms, narcissists, believe that if they put the responsibility on their ex, they’ll receive the love they’ve always wanted. Put it differently, if they keep playing the victim, they’ll eventually get their ex back because the ex will be inclined to save them.
Breakers are the raging assholes who never admit that they’re wrong. They never admit to faults and imperfections. They are the person they wish everyone else should be. They usually manipulate their ex, deflect blame, gaslight, and lie perpetually. They make everyone around them feel as though they’re an unworthy sack of shit who should be fucking grateful to be grazed by their presence.
Some examples of a Breaker’s poor boundaries:
- No, you can’t go out with Cindy because I’ll get jealous again. I don’t care that we’re broken up! Don’t date other people.
- If you want me back, block all the men you talked to or dated. You know how insecure I get.
- My ex is so stupid. She always took too long to make me coffee, and I was always late for work because of her.
- It’s my family’s fault that my relationship didn’t work out. I should’ve never listened to their opinions and advice.
Examples Of Unhealthy Boundaries With An Ex (The Breaker-Pleaser Spiral)
The most notable aspect of relationships where both exes possess some kind of boundary issue is the constant struggle to keep things stable. In other words, relationships where two exes keep breaking up and getting back together — a.k.a., forming an on/off relationship.
These on/off relationships constantly fluctuate in intensity. You could be on cloud nine for the first two weeks, then in hell for the next two. Rinse, recycle, repeat. Think of them as a rollercoaster; at some points, you’re up, and at others, you’re down. There is not much “in between.”
In other words, the Breaker never takes responsibility for their actions or behaviors and keeps blaming the Pleaser for everything. Conversely, the Pleaser thinks the Breaker’s failures and bad feelings are all their fault. And so they shower them with validation and affection and solutions to their problems to make them feel better.
The Breaker shields themselves from any responsibility; the Pleaser makes themselves exceedingly responsible. The Breaker keeps blaming the Pleaser; the Pleaser keeps blaming themselves for the Breakers’ problems — ad infinitum.
As you might guess, the Breaker/Pleaser dynamic is equivalent to the Avoidant/Anxious dynamic in the realm of attachment theory. The Breaker is often an Avoidant, while the Pleaser is the Anxious.
For a Pleaser to stop breaking up and getting back together with their ex, they have to realize that making themselves fully responsible for the feelings and behaviors of their ex and forcing their attention upon them will only end in misery and frustration. And probably a lot of profanity.
For a Breaker to stop breaking up and getting back together with their ex, they have to realize that they’re not special or flawless or whatever dumb arbitrary definition they’ve invented for themselves. They should also realize that since they’re human, they make mistakes, which they should take responsibility for, not deflect.
Examples Of Healthy Boundaries With An Ex
Figuring out what healthy boundaries with your ex look like is often a challenge. It’s a confusing topic. Hopefully, the example below clears some of the confusion you may have.
The first example outlines a situation between two exes who are trying to rekindle their relationship. One is secure. The other is codependent. One has sturdy and healthy boundaries. The other has no sense of boundaries whatsoever.
The Codependent: You know I love you, but I need you to spend more time with me. I’m really trying to make this work again. You didn’t respond to my message for over 3 hours, nor have you answered any of my calls. Why would you do that?
The Secure: I told you, I was staying at my grandma’s — and you know where she lives. In the bloody mountains, where there’s virtually no cellular network, let alone a stable internet connection. Geez. I told you this already last week. And besides, we’re not officially even together yet. Please, just give me some space.
The Codependent: Fine, whatever. I just wanted you to know that I’ve gone ahead and finished editing your master thesis and have already sent it to your school faculty. I felt generous.
The Secure: Um, thanks, but you didn’t have to do that. I didn’t even ask you to edit my papers.
The Codependent: It’s okay. I wanted to do it. I want you to be done with school and find a great-paying job. That’s why I even went and looked for some new job openings for you today.
The Secure: As lovely as that sounds, you really don’t have to do these things for me. I can do them myself. Plus, I’m not even sure I want a full-time job yet. I’m thinking of adding another major to my CV. Maybe psychology or something similar.
The Codependent: Oh, I know that. I just figured it makes sense to help you out as much as possible. I also went ahead and discussed how to rent an apartment with my father, so we’ll have everything ready for when we get back together.
The Secure: Look, I’m not ready for that yet. We’ve only been on a couple of dates since our breakup. It’s way too soon to think about getting back together, let alone moving in together.
The Codependent: But I love you… I want to take care of you and make this work this time.
The Secure: I love you too, but you have to let me do things my own way and at my pace. You have to let me come to you. What you’re doing is not healthy. You’re rushing things. We’re not even together, and you’re already thinking about us moving in together? You haven’t even consulted me about it.
The Codependent: I can’t believe how selfish you are! I do everything for you, and now you’re blaming me for it and telling me how you’re not ready?!
The Secure: If you really cared about me, you would stop trying to control my life and let me live it independently. I won’t get back with you if you don’t let me have my peace.
Just in case the previous example wasn’t clear enough, I’ll also add three shorter ones below. They outline three everyday situations you may get yourself into with your ex and ways you could respond to them to get the best chance of rekindling your relationship.
Your Ex: I don’t want a friendship either, but I also don’t want to get back together with you. Let’s rather have an open relationship.
You: We talked about this before. I’m just not that type of a person. I want a monogamous relationship. And I don’t want to compromise on my want. I figured it’s fair to put this out there since it’s really important to me.
Your Ex: Yeah, I thought you were still going to meet with Tamara. You always liked her more than me. You probably don’t even care about me anymore. Go, have a great time with your friend. I’ll be fine.
You: Okay, let’s not resort to guilt-tripping. You know I want to repair our relationship, but for us to do that, you’ll have to become okay with me having female friends and a life of my own. Please respect and not limit my social life like I respect and never limit yours.
Your ex: If you want me back, I want you to come to my place and show me. I know it’s a 3-hour drive away, but I really don’t have the time to come to your place. I have a really busy schedule right now, and lot’s of errands to take care of.
You: I totally get that, but I’m not coming to your place. You’ve left me, and now you want me back. Well, prove it. Prove you really want me. Come to my place for once. We can make a nice dinner together and have a great time. I just want to see you put in the effort into us. If you can’t do that, we’ll simply meet up some other time, perhaps when we’re visiting the same town or something.
Boundaries Vs. Threats
Establishing boundaries is healthy, mature, and self-empowering. They imply self-respect, non-neediness, and high value. Establishing threats is toxic, immature, and self-defeating. They imply desperation, weakness, and low value. The main difference between the two is that a boundary never entails physical harm to your ex if they cross it.
For example, you won’t choke your ex until there’s blood drizzling down beneath their eyeballs if they call you names one too many times. Preferably, you will communicate how you don’t appreciate it and/or remove yourself from their presence. Perhaps even let them go for good.
Below are a few examples of the not-so-subtle differences between threats and boundaries. Remember: they are not necessarily things you would say to someone, but rather only things you would think first and execute second.
Boundary: If you keep shouting, I will hang up the phone.
Threat: If you keep shouting, I will punch you in the face when I see you.
Boundary: If you send me five more texts in a row, I’m blocking your number.
Threat: If you send me five more texts in a row, I’ll shit on your doorstep.
Boundary: If you don’t respond to my text in the next two hours, I’m going to go to the theatre alone.
Threat: If you don’t respond to my text in the next two hours, I won’t respond to you for a whole day, even if it’s an emergency. Fuck you, by the way.
Boundary: If you keep arguing with me about our breakup, I’m going to stop trying to rekindle our relationship, end our date, and go home.
Threat: If you keep on arguing with me about our breakup, I’ll strip myself naked and start yelling, “BLOODY MURDER!”
Boundaries Vs. Compromises
There’s one common question around boundaries that keeps popping up in my inbox: “how to strike a balance between having solid boundaries and making healthy compromises?
My readers would go on and ask me what to do in cases when their ex asks them to do something that they’re not crazy about, but it wouldn’t hurt doing it from time to time.
Now, before I head to the advice portion, let me be clear: rekindling a relationship has a lot more to do with setting boundaries than making compromises. Compromises should only become a recurring theme when you’ve actually got back together with your ex.
Therefore if your ex wants a “good night” text every other weekend when you don’t see each other, AND you’re in a committed relationship with them, feel free to send them the text. It’s not that big of a deal, even if you don’t feel like doing it all the time.
But if they want that same “good night” text AND you’re not committed, then they are crossing your personal boundaries, and you should communicate that to them and not send the “good night” text.
On the flip side, if you have the sudden urge to send your ex a text of that sort (if you’re the problem essentially) and you’re not together yet, don’t do it. As you can guess, it’s a violation of their boundaries. You’re not a couple anymore, after all.
Boundaries for being friends with an ex
Before we dive into boundaries for being friends with an ex, let me ask you this: why? Why would you ever want to be friends with your ex in the first place?
Interestingly, your answer has a lot to do with how you’ll need to go about setting boundaries with them.
For example, do you want to stay friends with your ex only so you can use that friendship as a backdoor to a reformed relationship? Do you think being friends with your ex will somehow boost your chances of getting them back? Do you consider them a plan B if your dating life doesn’t take off?
If so, know that you’ll probably fail. Your ex will eventually begin to discern your true intentions, and their attraction for you will plummet. And don’t even get me started on the drama you’ll have on your hands as a result.
Therefore, I suggest your boundaries look like you telling your ex the truth: “Hey ex, I want you back. I don’t want us to be friends. If you ever feel the same way, let me know, and we can give our relationship another shot. Otherwise, please don’t contact me again. I love you and want to be with you.”
That’s it. Now let your ex go. If they ever reach out or blatantly tell you they want to try again, invite them on a date. If not, you’ll eventually find someone else. It’s a win-win scenario.
Now, if the reason you want to stay friends with your ex is because you have kids together, or you work together or even share a home, then you have no choice but to communicate with them occasionally.
These situations also involve a whole different array of boundaries for being friends with an ex called “communication boundaries“. And while I have covered them in more detail in my article on no contact, here’s the gist:
- If you live together, find another place and move out, or make an agreement with your ex to move out. Basically, find a solution — any solution — where you don’t have to reside together anymore.
- If you have kids together, schedule times when each person will see them, how you’ll handle them and their expenses, and any complications that may arise. If you find this too tricky due to a toxic ex, hire a lawyer to help you out.
- If you work together, simply avoid them. If you can’t avoid your ex, at least minimize your communication with them.
And above all, you don’t need to — nor should you! — be friends with your ex to make things work if you still have to see each other for whatever reason. Formal, detached, yet polite communication is all you really need to make things work.
How To Go About Setting boundaries with An ex
Setting boundaries with your ex is different for everyone, but at its core, it always comes down to deciding on three things:
- What behaviors you’re willing to tolerate and what behaviors you’re not willing to tolerate.
- How you will respond to situations where your ex crosses, tries to cross or disrespects your boundaries.
- Communicate your boundaries clearly.
While you might think setting boundaries is hard work, that’s actually the easy part. The real struggle is keeping your boundaries intact when your ex doesn’t respect them or reacts negatively to them — which is bound to happen at some point.
A couple of pro tips:
- Define your boundaries and the consequences when your ex crosses them before any backlash. It will be difficult to think of the consequences for them once you’re in the middle of a heated argument or disagreement, which may occasionally occur during your time spent together.
- When you encounter anger as your ex’s reaction to your boundaries, avoid mirroring their attitude. Getting angry yourself will only magnify the conflict. Instead of being vicious, keep your composure and calmly state or re-affirm your boundaries and what you’ll do if they are not respected.
- When you encounter guilt-tripping as your ex’s reaction to your boundaries, immediately call them out on their bullshit with a calm yet earnest and sober tone. Don’t explain yourself, get defensive or angry. Keep your composure throughout the conversation. At its core, guilt-tripping is just a way for your ex to cloak their negative feelings and pain in subtle passive-aggressiveness instead of owning up to those things and expressing what’s actually bothering them.
Whenever you assert your boundaries and whatever reaction you get from your ex — negative or positive, they will always ultimately respond in one of three ways:
- By threatening/warning to end the date/relationship if you don’t sheath your boundaries.
- By actually ending the date/relationship.
- By respecting your boundaries, learning to live alongside them, and continuing with dating you or being in a relationship with you.
When it comes to the first two responses, if you let go of your boundaries while not wanting to, you’ll lose most, if not all, respect your ex has for you. And that will eventually cause their trust and affection to dissipate as well. Then you’ll just end up in a toxic relationship which is bound to end at some point anyway (again).
And if that’s not harsh enough, by failing to keep your boundaries erected, you’ll only condition your ex to give you more of the same disrespectful treatment that they’ve might’ve been giving you. Hence the saying, “What you tolerate…you encourage.”
Ultimately, whenever your ex responds negatively to your boundaries, chances are, you’re just going to break up again or get rejected regardless of how you handle the situation.
Life sucks, right?
Rejection and heartbreak are good. They are life’s filtering mechanisms. They slaughter relationships that don’t (or wouldn’t) work and lead you closer to finding those that do.
Sure, the transition feels like someone’s dragging you across broken glass and razor wire, but a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with someone who respects and loves the authentic you is worth all those bitchin’ cuts — and probably a few broken bones, too.
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