During your recovery journey, you will hear a lot of talk about boundaries so it’s important for you to understand what they are and how they will benefit you in your relationships. Boundaries define and determine who, what and how we are and how we relate to other people. Boundaries let people know where you start and stop and where they stop and start. Through good boundary work, you are able to see your own limits and the limits of others. It’s like a property line between two people that allows each person to learn how far each is willing to go in your relationship. NorthPoint Church Pastor, Andy Stanley uses the example of a guardrail when he talks about healthy boundaries.
Did you know: The words boundary and boundaries are mentioned 66 times in the Bible. This means they are important!
Those of you who are at the beginning phase of recovery from betrayal trauma may think that if your sex addict partner gets help, all your problems will disappear. Sadly, this is just not true. Instead, I am going to help you see you can experience lifelong healing by taking control and utilizing boundaries as part of your self-care strategy.
Question: Is he still active in his addiction? Answer: Keep reading!
If your answer to the question above is yes, you desperately need a strategy! Trust me when I say, I’ve been there. Your self-esteem a.k.a. God-value have taken a significant hit and your physical, sexual, and emotional well-being has suffered greatly. On a scale of 1 to 10, these important areas of your being might even have a negative value. You’ve lost your self-respect and the questions below are stuck on repeat in your head:
Why have I chosen to stay in this relationship?
Why do I tolerate his bad behavior?
How did I ever get to the point in my relationship where I’ve allowed these repeated disappointments and indiscretions?
How did I EVER get HERE?
What’s wrong with ME?
If your partner is still acting out you are living a life of shattered dreams, falsehoods, and other crazy-making experiences. The confusion that seems to be all around you leaves you feeling helpless, and your life is falling apart at the seams. Your partner is playing you like a puppet, and you can’t get yourself on solid footing. The purpose of this article and the two that follow are to teach you how developing and implementing boundaries will help you regain your strength and confidence in your life. You will see not all hope is gone. I believe in this process, and I believe in YOU!
The Haze of Addiction
“Will I ever be able to think clearly again?” Many times, I hear this question from my mentees. The truth is your brain has been directly affected by the trauma you've experienced. The confusion that surrounds you is intensified if you're partner is still acting out or is in early recovery because your life and relationship are in a crisis state. Most likely you've been lied to repeatedly, manipulated or gaslighted. Gaslighting is a term I will write about in more detail in the future. But for now, I’ll describe it as a strategy many addicts use to avoid being found out. At its core, gaslighting is psychological abuse and manipulation intended to cause you to question your own sanity. For example, your partner may tell you that you didn't see what you know you saw or that he said something you're sure he didn't say. When these deceitful incidents repeat with regularity you eventually lose faith in your ability to know what is true and what isn't.
Living in the turmoil and haze of addiction creates deep pain, suffering, loss of self-worth and undeserved consequences. Out of desperation, you may have thought if he loved you, he could or would stop hurting you. Sadly, sex addiction and recovery from it is not that simple. Whether your sexually addicted partner is in recovery or not, the reality is establishing boundaries is one of the most effective ways to keep yourself safe.
You've Been Traumatized
Above all, you must be heard and validated. If the sex addict is highly defensive or worse, a bully, as was my case, you have probably grown accustomed to neglecting your own needs and you have not been able to speak your truth. In addition, most partners experience trauma symptoms as a result of discovery and disclosure.
The most immediate need is to assess the level of trauma you've experienced. Many partners suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your once calm and confident demeanor has been hijacked by panic episodes, distressing memories, and intrusive thoughts about discovery and or disclosure, sleep problems or feeling perpetually on guard and anxious. Your trauma is brought on by the addicts lies, deception, and gaslighting, which I mentioned earlier.
Although it's true that partners can exhibit codependent behaviors and play a role in a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, please hear me when I say, you are not responsible whatsoever for the sex addict behavior and choices.
Get Your Journal
Before you can really begin, there are a couple of things you’ll need to assess. I recommend carving out some time in your schedule to dedicate to this work. Pull out your journal because it helps to write these things down on paper. First, you need to know your reality. Second, identify your needs and wants and third, determine where you have power and where you do not. Knowing these truths will give you clarity and get you prepared for developing your strategic boundaries.
Boundaries in My Story
You probably heard in my video, my marriage ended. My x-husband was not committed to recovery and this occurred at a time when counseling for the betrayed spouse was not available. When I did talk to a professional, I was told I was a co-addict. This did further damage to my perceived self-worth, and I was desperate. As a result, I dove headfirst into my alcohol addiction to numb my pain. This led to many years of unhealthy living and devastating twists and turns. Thankfully, now however I have been clean and sober for over ten years. Praise God! Why am I telling you this? It was after I got sober when I learned about boundaries, and they changed my life! Boundaries have played a critical role in my healing and I want you to experience the same freedom and joy!
Since boundaries entered the recovery scene, millions of people have gained clarity from and found peace by developing and maintaining healthy boundaries. I believe you can too! Please know, they take work, but I promise it’ll be worth it.
Boundaries are Powerful
Taking the perspective that you'll feel better if and when he stops or gets better puts you in a very vulnerable position. To begin the process of healing and eventually thriving it’s important for you to recognize and own the power you have now, in this moment. This is critical whether the sex addict is in your life or not. By following the 5 steps that I’ll introduce in the blogs that follow, you will learn the power that comes from focusing on you on your needs and wants. You’ll also learn how to make requests when that's appropriate, and what to do when boundaries are broken.
The truth is that you're the only person you have control over. When you lose focus of your goal and engage in power struggles, you're stuck in the victim role, and caught up in attempting to use control versus doing good boundary work. As you will learn, one of the ways you'll know when a boundary you've set is right for you is when you feel a sense of peace and calm, even in the face of pushback, opposition or blatant aggression.
You will also come to realize that, although you don’t have the power to change your partner, you do have the power to change how you navigate this difficult phase in your relationship. You can reduce the chaos in your life, gain clarity, and ultimately experience serenity.
Boundaries are Practical
The basic fundamentals of boundaries can be applied in your every day life including in your professional, financial and spiritual life!
When I discovered boundaries, I implemented them in my financial life by following Dave Ramsey’s principles and that was one of the best things I've ever done. With practice I've been able to adjust as needed and this has kept me on a stable financial footing throughout my post-divorce, single years.
In addition, boundaries have played a key role in my spiritual life. Learning and growing in my understanding of who God is and who I am in Him has molded me into the person I am today. Having healthy boundaries allows me to maintain my faith at a high priority level. Please know, I am nowhere near perfect! I am just a different person today as a result of holding my boundaries in place over the years. I’ve had to sacrifice some habits, relationships and beliefs along the way, but the work has paid off! I hope you’ll join me in this journey.
Boundaries are Transformational
Some boundaries are ill-defined and loose whereas others are too rigid. In healthy relationships people should have both strength and flexibility. When requests and boundaries are clear and simple personal authentic power you will be unshakable. You will feel calm in the midst of the storm. When you’re experiencing betrayal trauma pain, those words may feel absolutely out of reach, but healthy boundaries can change your life for the better! I believe some day you’ll look back and see and feel the progress you’ve made.
Boundaries are Self-care
Boundaries must be a significant part of your self-care plan. My mentees establish boundaries in these four key areas: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Oftentimes others.
Physical – Ultimately you are, let me say it again…you are responsible for your own physical health and well-being. I strongly recommend all of my mentees get tested for sexually transmitted infections and diseases. I did this and I know how embarrassing it can be. But, I don’t stop there. I also encourage my mentees to practice safe sex every single time no matter what, until they have more information about their partners behaviors.
Intellectual - My mentees are encouraged to pursue knowledge and education on sex addiction and recovery. It's important for you to work with a mentor who actively pursues continuing education in sex addiction, trauma and related topics. One of the best things you can do for your healing journey is to partner with a trusted source like a mentor.
Emotional - As you deal with feelings of isolation and uncertainty about whom you can talk to, you’ll find trusted friends, communities of support and your mentor will be your lifelines. Betrayal trauma is especially confusing because the person you trusted the most is now someone you barely recognize. Please don’t go through it alone.
Spiritual - You will benefit greatly from spiritual support and guidance through this process. Spiritual practice can be as simple as spending some time in nature, reading inspirational books, or listening to podcasts that bring you a sense of healing and serenity. If your spiritual life has been dormant, this is a perfect time to explore spiritual practices that resonate with you.
Boundaries are gifts
Good boundary work enables you to see your limits and the limits of others. What a gift! You’ll discover how far you're willing to go with others and how far they're willing to go with you. The reality is the effective use of boundaries is one of the best ways to determine whether your relationship is salvageable. Limits are boundaries, and boundaries are self-care. I’ve even heard people describe boundaries as an act of self-love.
The Heroic Journey
With healthy boundaries it is possible to move beyond the despair and pain of discovery. You too will travel the heroic journey to find a new and better way of living than you ever imagined. You will truly move beyond betrayal.
The five-step process I’ll outline in the next blog posts can be your guide through this painful time in your life and beyond.
In my next blog I will go a little deeper into how to recognize a good boundary and I will cover steps one and two in the five step healthy boundaries plan.
Between now and then please consider engaging in healing mentoring either privately or in a group setting. More information can be found by scheduling a free initial consultation. I’m here for you.