The Modern (Complicated) Family, Step 1 – Rules

For this exploration of complex relationships, we’re going to break it into steps. This first one deals with creating Rules or agreements that you each will follow and respect. You may already know why this is important. If not, stick with me.

Relationships take work. Surprise! Before you explore the pictures that just invited your mind to paint, consider that includes every kind of relationship.

The mother-daughter relationship challenges are legendary. Though as with any other set of relationship challenges, meeting and resolving those challenges, if you can do so, offers great rewards.

Another common relationship that can be challenging is between a new relationship and a prior one—where children are involved. If you and your former spouse divorced or broke up, but had no children together, there may not be a compelling reason to maintain that connection. But if you share kids, in most custody arrangements, you two will co-parent those kids for a specific time. It may be until the child turns eighteen, though even then, as the child grows into adulthood, you are both their parents. You may still experience challenges involving which of you will enjoy that child’s company during holidays. It’s not that common that former spouses celebrate such events together, particularly if they have created new relationships.

Yet one aspect that can be very challenging there is how your new partner (of if you are that “new partner”, in a relationship with such a divorced parent, how you) deals with “the other person.”

Boundaries are key. Having firm “rules” that all involved follow and respecting the unique dynamics of each relationship are critical.

Say you are the mother in the question. You and your ex-partner share a child and you have joint custody. The child’s father has equal rights, though there are terms that each of you must follow. Both you and your former partner have moved on in your love lives and you now are seeing someone new, as is he. “Turf” is a very real phenomenon and perceptions of this exist everywhere in the animal kingdom. Doubt me? Consider how you’d feel if your child’s father allows his current girlfriend or new wife to invite your child to call her “mom”. Now do you recognize the challenge? This can exist from every angle, for each person involved. From that new girlfriend or wife’s perspective, your former partner is her “turf” and your continued connection to him may feel threatening.

And that’s just another perspective. There are as many viewpoints as there are people involved. There are some basic rules that all must respect, however. First, the legal decision rendered during the custody hearing, and if applicable, divorce proceeding. Nothing you do that violates these legal agreements will make sense. Protect yourself and everyone involved. If you don’t like the outcome or decisions in those cases, get a better lawyer and challenge them. Until then, treat them as Gospel.

As we all know, however, something may be legal, though that doesn’t make it right. In addition to any legal requirements, everyone must establish boundaries and respect those. So if your ex used to live with you, he or she needs to now recognize this is your home and they relinquished all rights to claim it or to treat it as though they were “home”. They aren’t allowed to just enter without permission, obviously. Nor help themselves to the refrigerator when allowed in. These may seem like obvious boundaries, but it’s often good to begin with the “obvious” and then build upon them to the less-so. Ask yourself, “What feels okay or right to me? What are my boundaries for this person?” Naturally, this becomes more complex when you both have created new relationships. Now those new people are involved, and they have their own rules, expectations. And boundaries. To make this work, long-term, we must consider these as important as our own rules, expectations and boundaries.

You must begin with agreements, rules, and respect for boundaries. With that as a foundation, you can build highly complex interrelationships.

From that foundation, what to build next? We’ll get there in a moment. First, think about what sort of rules would make you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. Consider that you deserve to have those rules honored by the people in your life. And make no mistake, if a former partner or lover is still connected by a shared child, they are still at least a small part of your life. The rules are for everyone in your life, not just the ones you actively love right now.

Come back to explore what we can built on top of that simple, though crucial, foundation.

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