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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

Friendship with Ex Blurs Healthy Boundaries

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • 2013 28 May
Friendship with Ex Blurs Healthy Boundaries

Dear Dr. David,

My fiancée still talks to her ex-lover of seven years on a regular basis. She says it's very innocent because they have been friends for many years. I’ve told her I’m uncomfortable with it, and she tells me I don’t need to be bothered. Should I be concerned? Nervous

Dear Nervous,

From your question, it sounds like you are concerned, and with good reason. To tell someone—you—that you shouldn’t feel what you’re feeling, is unfair at best, and even insulting. You feel what you feel, and your concern is understandable.

I have spoken before about building hedges of protection around our relationships. It’s so easy to live in the “gray areas” of life, where we flirt with danger, never thinking we could fall into temptation. But, we do. The Scriptures repeatedly warn us about these things: “So, if you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” (I Corinthians 10: 12) The Apostle Paul warns about “fleeing any appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5: 22)

Think about it. Even if your fiancée has no inappropriate intentions, she has shared her heart, soul and body with this person—for seven years! They know the most intimate details of each others lives—more than you know about her at this point. Most would be appalled and very threatened at her behavior.

Your fiancée’s willingness to engage in a relationship with her former lover suggests a serious blind spot on her part. To purport that she is on safe ground seems foolish. To suggest that he has pure motives as well also seems naive. The Scriptures are right when they warn us about the sureness of our footing, and how easy it is to fall. She appears to be standing now, but a fall would be disastrous.

Even if your fiancée has innocent motives, your relationship—being engaged—indicates that your feelings need to be of paramount importance to her. In other words, if it bothers you, that should be enough to influence her behavior. Let her know, again, that you are very uncomfortable with her relationship to this man, and ask her to honor your concerns by ending the relationship. 

Let me use another illustration. If my wife is bothered about how often I watch professional football on television, her concern should be enough for me to re-evaluate my behavior. Even if I can justify my football watching with a hundred and twenty arguments, her concern should be enough to influence me. When we enter into a committed relationship, our autonomy ends. While we certainly retain individuality, including preferences, feelings and personality, we now have another person to whom we must respond and be accountable.


Let your fiancée know you expect, and will give, purity in your marriage, in thoughts, behavior, attitudes and intentions, forever.

Dear Dr. David,

I have two boys, ages five and three. The younger one is very hard to discipline. He does not listen to either my husband or myself and will purposefully do bad things. If we tell him to stop doing something, he will look right at us and do it anyway. We have tried all forms of discipline and nothing seems to work. So far we have seen that he is only this way with us. At school we get only good reports on his behavior.

My biggest concern is that he hits and is mean to his older brother. My oldest son just lets the younger one hit him and then he will come tell us, but he doesn't try to get out of the way or move. I am not sure of the best way to get our older son to defend himself and not allow his younger brother to be mean to him, and also how to discipline my younger son for his actions. ~ Anxious Parent

Dear Anxious,

You are challenged in ways that most parents understand. Parenting has never been an easy task. The Scriptures teach us that it is our duty as parents to “chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction.” (Proverbs 19: 18) We are further advised that any spiritual leader is “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.” (I Timothy 3: 4)

I have a number of concerns as I read your letter. Let’s start with the oldest son. While I certainly don’t advocate him socking the younger son in the nose, I hope he would assert himself in some way. I assume he is stronger, and smarter, and needs to know that he can defend himself. Allowing himself to be hit and tormented is not healthy, but creates a perfect opportunity for him to learn how to express healthy boundaries with his brother and in his social life.  

Concerning your younger son: He certainly sounds willful, defiant, and disrespectful of your authority. I note that he respects the authorities at school, which points to a problem in your style of discipline. I have a couple of suspicions:

One, are you sticking with the form of discipline you choose? Many parents try one form of discipline, or parenting strategy, and then give up too soon when they don’t see immediate results. Consistency is an invaluable parenting tool—whether at home or in the community. If your son misbehaves in the store, for example, he should immediately have a three minute time out right then and there.

Second, are you making sure any restrictions you use are meaningful to your child? In other words, when he strikes your older son, he needs a time out (generally one minute for every year of age) where he has no reinforcers—no toys, no games, no talking to anyone. You might have him sit in a corner, perfectly quiet, for three minutes before he can return to family functioning. The clock starts over if he doesn’t sit quietly for the full three minutes.

Third, are you teaching your son to make amends for his wrongful actions? If he punches his brother, for example, he should then have to help his brother pick up his toys, or some other helpful action. Children need to learn that they cannot hurt others without having to “pay back” what they have taken. This is a powerful tool for building a conscience into our children.

Fourth, instruct your older son to firmly, and consistently, set boundaries with his younger brother. If the younger brother violates his boundaries in any way, the older brother should tell him to “stop” and then disengage from him for a period of time. Playing together is a privilege, and must be done respectfully. Your younger son is likely to miss playing with his older brother and won’t like the amends he must make before resuming play.

Finally, are you and your husband modeling healthy interactions? You cannot be angry and hurtful to one another and not expect your children to model these behaviors. As you are consistent in your parenting strategies, as well as modeling healthy interactions, your children will grow up to be healthy young men.  

Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at

David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.