The idea of boundaries in connection with addiction recovery is one that interests a lot of people–the wives of addicts in particular. My wife and I have discussed it quite a bit. I know she discusses boundaries with her sponsor and the women she sponsors in S-Anon.
I have my own thoughts about boundaries. These are just my musings and I’ll readily admit that I’ve done almost no reading on the subject. I’m not sure why. Boundaries are actually very important to my addiction recovery.
The first thing I’ve noticed about boundaries is that they often get confused with rules and punishment. Marriage therapists will often encourage the wife to set “boundaries” for her porn-addicted husband. Those “boundaries” end up being things like: “If you act out, you’ll tell me within 24 hours” or “If you act out, you have to sleep in the guest bedroom for a week.”
Like I said, I think these aren’t so much boundaries as they are rules and punishments. I think it’s very easy for the spouse of an addict to use the idea of boundaries as another effort to control the behavior of the addict.
So what kinds of boundaries should be set? Here’s what I think: I need to remember that the boundaries I set are my own boundaries and not someone else’s. My boundaries determine what I will and will not do, and what I will and will not live with. My boundaries depend on me, not on someone else. My boundaries are not rules for someone else and they are not intended to punish, control, manipulate, guide, influence, suggest to, badger, beg or do anything else to anyone else. My boundaries are my own.
So how does this apply practically in the case of an LDS man with a porn problem and his wife. I know I’m coming from the perspective of the addict and maybe that’s a fatal position to start from. Nevertheless, I’ll take a stab at it. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and responses in the comments below.
These are the boundaries I think all LDS wives of addicts should consider:
1. I will not allow my husband’s addictive behavior to dominate my life and I will get whatever help I need to ensure that it doesn’t.
2. I will not sleep in the same room with a husband who is not sexually sober.
3. I will not be sexually intimate with a husband who is not sexually sober.
4. I will not live with a husband who is not actively and enthusiastically working on a recovery program that includes therapy and an effective 12 Step group such as Sexaholics Anonymous.
5. I will not remain married to a man whose continued sexual acting out destroys my self-esteem and sanity.
You’ll notice that all of these boundaries are ones that the wife sets for herself. They dictate how she will live and what she is or is not willing to live with. They are all within the wife’s control. She decides whether she will observe her own boundaries or not.
These are the boundaries my wife has set. It took her a while to get there. And thankfully she has not acted on boundary number 5. I pray she never will.
I can tell you, however, that there came a day when she acted on each of her other boundaries. There came a time when I was not sexually sober, she knew it and therefore she was no longer willing to be sexually intimate with me. It was not a punishment. It was not intended to control or manipulate my behavior. It was simply her boundary number 3. For her emotional safety and sanity, she was not willing to be sexually intimate with me until such time as she did once again feel safe and sane.
That was also around the same time that she acted on her boundary number 2 that she would not sleep in the same room with me if I was not sexually sober. Again, while my behavior put her in a position to choose to observe her boundary, she was the one acting on the boundary, not me.
There also came a time when she determined to act on boundary number 4. I was not sexually sober. I was losing traction in my recovery. I was struggling with my own co-addictive behavior. I was not enthusiastically working my recovery program. My wife said she was unwilling to live with things the way they were and we concluded that I needed to move out. She needed her boundary for her safety and sanity–not to control or manipulate my behavior.
So what’s the big deal about me setting my boundaries and my wife setting her boundaries? It all comes down to co-addiction. If my wife’s happiness and sanity in this life are dependent upon what I do or don’t do, she’s in big trouble. See, I’m an addict. My brain is broken. I take anti-depression medication. I’m prone to bouts of lethargy and debilitating procrastination. Why would a sane woman hitch her wagon to that horse? She wouldn’t.
In the same way, I now have my own boundaries. They have to do with the way I interact with my wife and live my life. One of them is that I will not interfere in her recovery from her own addictions and co-addictions. Another of my boundaries is that I will not engage in lust-driven behavior. Another of my boundaries is the Sexaholics Anonymous definition of sexual sobriety: No sex with self or any person other than spouse; and progressive victory over lust. These are only some of my boundaries.
What’s important is that none of my boundaries have anything to do making my wife think or do anything. I do not act with the hope or expectation of making her feel a particular way. That’s not to say that I don’t care about her or her feelings. To the contrary, they are very important to me. But my boundaries simply dictate what I am willing to live with or not. They are not dependent on or an attempt to manipulate her to feel a certain way.
Again, let me know what you think.
Image 1 credit: Bill Morrow