You see, I'm a softie. I always knew the decision to marry was serious, and because of that, I was really laid back about very important things--as in I gave and gave and gave. For example, we both agreed that we would work through anything and would never get a divorce (back when we were engaged, and the addiction was nonexistent to me). Even when I found out about the addiction, I told him I would never leave him--that we could work through it together. I've given everything I have to our marriage. I've been super patient, loving, and understanding. Thus, I was a little too nice for an addict--maybe even enabling at times because of the little consequences he had to face. It's only been over the past year that I've really drawn lines and enforced boundaries intentionally (I did enforce types of boundaries earlier on, but I didn't really know what I was doing).
Right now, we are in a position where about six weeks ago, Ben disclosed to me many lies he had told since day 1, and by day 1, I mean when we were dating--when I asked him if he had a problem with porn (wasn't really sure how to word that question so it ended up being awkward and trivial. But still. I asked, and he lied.). Since learning of the addiction, Ben had always led me to believe that he thought he was in recovery at the time I asked the question, and he chose not to tell me because he had put it behind him. Maybe he truly didn't think he was lying, in the twisted addict-brain way of thinking. But things he disclosed to me in February showed me that he was not in recovery when we were dating. Therefore, I was lied to, no matter how you justify it.
But anyway, that is minor, and that is only a small piece of the disclosure I received. The bottom line is the full disclosure (which still isn't the full disclosure, and he is working step 4 all over again) broke my heart. It broke my trust. It broke my will to fight for our marriage for a short time. It broke everything I believed in, and I did not know what to do.
I needed boundaries (among other things--self-care, prayer, meditation, you name it). But I didn't fully understand them. So, I've worked hard to develop an understanding of boundaries. I truly think boundaries are MUST for optimum recovery--for you, the addict, and the marriage. [at the end of this post, I will link my new boundaries.]
I've learned a ton from this whole being-married-to-a-sex-addict experience. I wouldn't go back and change the way I've done anything because it's made me who I am, and it's brought us to where our relationship is now--which is a necessary place for our healing. BUT I do want to share with you what I know about boundaries now with the purpose that you can gain a better understanding of boundaries and gain strength to create your own and follow through with them.
Boundaries are rules, principles, and guidelines you set for yourself. Speaking of them in terms of a spouse's addiction, boundaries are necessary for your safety and healing.
Boundaries can be hard to set and follow through with for many reasons:
1) It's possible that you're the kind of person who always puts others' needs and wants first (that's totally me). If this is the case, you may feel uncomfortable or unconfident putting your needs first. [but you need to! You are important!]
2) Or you may not feel that you have rights of your own. I mean, it is hard, especially in a marriage relationship, to determine your rights when you are bonded together in matrimony. And it could be especially hard if you were taught growing up that women/wives/mothers are peacemakers and need to strive to avoid contention in the home (that's me again). [but you have rights! and boundaries will be so helpful in creating peace and avoiding contention!]
3) You may think that setting boundaries could cause increased problems in the relationship, or that you're being too controlling if you set boundaries (that was my biggest beef with boundaries. I mean, if I've learned anything, it's that I can't control his addiction). [but by setting boundaries, you aren't controlling his addiction: you are controlling your safety and security!]
4) Or maybe you have just never learned how to have healthy boundaries (that was also part of my problem).
5) You also might not know yourself enough to know what you need.
Boundaries, to me, seem to be easily confused with enforcing guidelines/rules/punishment for the addict--as a way to control the addict. This isn't the case, however. Effective boundaries are not created with the intention of controlling the addict: they are created with the intention of managing your safety.
The beauty and effectiveness of boundaries lies with the motivation behind the creation of them. Are you creating boundaries to control your husband? Or are you creating boundaries to control your safety? Control makes us feel safe, but we don't have control over the addiction. We only have control over ourselves--in this case, our safety.
We could say we have a boundary that he doesn't look at porn, but what will you do when he does? Are you prepared to follow through with a consequence that will help increase your safety? Boundaries must be backed up by actions. There must be consequences of the boundary being broken, and the consequences must be things you are willing to carry out every time. If the consequences are inconsistent, the boundaries will be ineffective.
Creating boundaries is kind of complicated. It takes a lot of self-awareness, understanding (of self, addiction, husband, God, etc), and courage. I won't tell you how to create them because it's a very personal process (I will, however, give you examples of boundaries at the end of this post).
When following through with boundaries, it's important to do so as calmly as possible. Acting with a spirit of love, compassion, firmness, and assertiveness--rather than anger--will help with the peaceable carrying out of consequences. Acting in anger and resentment will cause deeper problems and make the relationship a possibly unsafe and volatile place for the both of you (at least for a time). Because of the nature the addiction and how it impacts us, spouses of addicts, it's only natural to feel anger or resentment upon confession of acting out or when he (or she) breaks boundaries. Feeling that emotion is okay and normal. However, using that emotion to fuel the carrying out of boundaries can be dangerous, so it's important to be careful.
As previously stated, boundary-setting is a must to achieve optimum healing. A year ago, I didn't believe that. Now I'm a boundaries-believer because of the experiences I have had over the past year and the learning they have brought me. With my recent boundaries-revision, I have felt much more peace in my life. I feel stronger, more courageous, more beautiful, and more in-tune with myself and God.
Setting boundaries will bring consequences.
For your addict-spouse, the consequences will be consequences of his actions. There is a difference, though, between consequences and punishment. He may feel like he is being punished, but if you have created the boundaries with the right mind-set--that it is for your healing--the consequences will simply be consequences of his actions. How he reacts to the boundaries is out of your control (and will also show you how willing he is to recover and how invested he is in your relationship and family).
For you, the consequences will be an escape from the trauma-related fear (or a return to peace--because sometimes you can't physically escape when you want to, and sometimes when you DO, the fear follows you) that you may feel is ruling your life. It could free you from negative co-dependency habits. It will help you discover who you truly are, a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father, and show respect and love to yourself. It will help you learn more effective communication skills. It will bring you courage and strength to do hard things. Most importantly, having effective boundaries will speed up the peace and healing you desire and need.
Setting and following through with boundaries has been a crucial piece in my quest for wholeness. I am feeling change in myself and my ability to cope with what is happening around me. I'm feeling more loved and beautiful, and I have a confidence and strength that has been lacking for the past few years.
If you're still in doubt, give it a test-run. Baby steps are also important to recovery.
For more examples of boundaries, see:
In their free six-week recovery program, ADDO does a little chapter on the safety-plan (week 3). Check that out too!
And a special thanks to YoursNotMineNotOurs and DoughtyDaffodils for giving input and editing abilities on this post :)