02 April 2012

What the heck are "boundaries"?!

I mentioned in my last post that Pete was sleeping on the couch.  That is part of the boundaries we set together.  I remember being really confused about boundaries in the beginning.  What the heck are they? The 12-step manual defines them like this:

"Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that we choose to establish for ourselves that are reasonable, safe and permissable ways for interaction with others.  Boundaries can empower us to decide how we will allow others to treat us and how we will treat and respond to others."

I'm still trying to figure out some of these things, but I'm going to give some specific examples of boundaries Pete and I have agreed on.  I'm going to be specific not because I think our way is the right way, but because I think it might be helpful in planting seeds of ideas for others.  I don't think there is much that is more personal than one's boundaries. 

In the 12-step program we learn that we can not set boundaries for others, only for ourselves.  Pete and I discussed this together, but if your spouse is non-cooperative I encourage you to prayerfully consider your limits and make them clear to your husband.  But be prepared to follow through and stand your ground when your limits are violated.

When Pete has a slip, for him that is defined as an episode of self-gratification or pornography, he sleeps on the couch.  (Our idea for this came from this post by Maurice, it's an awesome post, I highly recommend it.)  While this might seem very strict, each man is in a different place with his addiction and this was how Pete decided it would be best to manage his recovery.  First slip= one night on the couch,  second slip= two nights on the couch, etc.  12 weeks of sobriety cleans the slate and he starts over.  Additionally, after a slip, we do not have sex for a week. 

Why these boundaries?  They give me safety.  I never thought I wasn't "safe" with Pete.  I never thought he was going to hurt me, kill me or that my general well-being was at risk.  For some women, these issues of safety are real.  But I learned that my safety that was on the line was emotional safety.  If you've never felt this way it is hard to explain, but I suspect that most reading this will be able to relate.  Not being emotionally safe is when just looking at your husband makes your heart break.  Being in the same bed as him makes you feel almost ill.  Your strength to avoid codependency becomes threatened when you are emotionally unsafe.

When Pete tells me he's "lost a battle", we both know what is going to happen, we both know the plan, and it empowers me.  I can't speak for him, but it might remove some of his fear about my reaction.  It's no longer my responsibility to come up with a consequence, the boundaries are set.

Not having sex for one week after an episode gives me emotional safety and freedom to work on forgiveness.  It used to be that in the days following his rough times I worried that he was coming to me just to satisfy his lusts, and I felt like an object.  If I relented, and gave him what he sought after, I resented him and intimacy.  If I didn't give in, if I withheld sex, I felt guilty and worried that I was going to contribute to further problems. 

I mentioned that follow-through is so imporant with boundaries.  For example, if you decide that infidelity is your limit, rather than threatening divorce if your husband cheats, carefully consider a more define-able boundary.  Perhaps say "If you ever confess to infidelity, or should I discover it, I will ask you to leave the house." Then when the moment arrives you can both be prepared for the predetermined response, and it will give you the safe space you need to cope. 

Sometimes I am so angry the couch doesn't seem far enough away.  Sometimes I am so compassionate I want to say "It's okay, sleep here by me." But both are rooted in codependency by either punishing or enabling.

Learning about this can be so helpful, I can't say enough about Maurice's understanding of the subject.  But it takes courage to do this, and although it isn't the case for me, many addicts are power-hungry and controlling and make it extremely difficult to put boundaries in place.  Best of luck as you sort it out and please share if you have come up with some effective boundaries of your own.

POST EDIT:
I thought of a few more examples of boundaries that I thought I should share.

1.  "I will not be your babysitter.  I will not sacrifice my well-being to protect you from yourself."  (I've done that.
2.  "I will not tolerate pornography in this home. If I discover it, I will throw the computer out the window."  I'm mostly kidding, but for the spiritual well-being of myself and my children I take this very seriously.  Perhaps a more realistic response would be a password on the computers.  Just make sure this is done after making clear in advance that it would be, and that it is not retaliation or done out of anger.
3.  "I will not view pornography with you, nor will I be in your presence while you participate."  This seemed obvious to me until I talked with a woman who is still struggling to set/enforce this limit.

Like I said before, once you determine what your limits are, pray for strength to enforce them, boundaries are meant to help you recover from codependent and unproductive behaviors, and to give you a safe "place" for recovery to occur.

2 comments:

  1. Sometimes the fact that I would even have to set boundaries bothers me. I mean, we got married, we committed to each other. I thought there was an unspoken sense of mutual respect and love. We treat each other the with the golden rule in mind. I suppose that is trust. You trust someone with your heart. The moment I saw his dual life was the moment I grew up a little and realized not everyone has others best interest at heart. It was a sobering moment.

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  2. Sobering... and heartbreaking, confusing, and so totally unfair.

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