Last month, one of the therapists in my Moving Beyond Betrayal Online Course for Clinicians & Coaches shared with me that one of her biggest challenges in supporting partners with their boundary work is not the actual boundary setting, but rather the follow-through after the boundary is set.
Following through may mean doing what you said you would do, or increasing your self-care—boundary work—when a boundary is violated or broken.
For example, did you tell the addict that if he had another slip you would ask him to go to a recovery intensive or in-patient treatment—but you didn’t follow through?
Or did you tell yourself—after the addict’s repeated slips, relapses, or ongoing deception—that the next time you made yet another discovery or endured another disclosure that you would start sleeping in another room, or make a plan for therapeutic separation—but you haven’t follow through?
If these lapses in boundary work sound familiar to you, you’re not alone.
Boundary work—especially follow-through—is challenging, and there can be many reasons partners struggle to either do what they said they would do, or take their boundary work to the next level.
Here are 5 things that will hold you back from following through with boundaries:
You believe that if you follow through with a boundary, the addict will act out, won’t do what you’d like him to do, will get angry, depressed, or leave.
The simple truth is that if you believe you can cause another person to do—or not do—anything, that’s delusional thinking. These are the kinds of thoughts that can give you a false sense of having control. Yet none of us has this much power over another person.
As the familiar Al-Anon slogan—sometimes referred to as the Three C’s— says, “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” Memorize these Three C’s.
Paradoxically, the best thing that can happen to any addict still active in addiction is to reach the bottom. Anything that slows him down or prevents him from reaching the bottom faster is merely a delay—or roadblock—to his recovery and health. This is a very challenging mindset for partners to embrace, but addicts, and those who work with addicts, know it to be a deep truth.
You’re struggling with love addiction
Although on the surface love addiction may not seem as dangerous or life-altering as drug addiction or sex addiction, love addiction is a serious issue. In fact, Pia Mellody, author of Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love, often says that love addiction is the most challenging addiction to treat because a love addict can go about her/his daily life under the “influence” of the high that love addiction creates with little or no external signs or obvious consequences.
The other issue that makes love addiction extremely dangerous is that most love addicts are severely dependent on the object of their addiction. They over-value their partner, the relationship, and—in extreme cases—will believe they can’t survive without the relationship.
This makes love addicts extremely vulnerable, and dangerously dependent. Simply put, if you’re terrified that you’ll lose your partner or believe you can’t survive without him/her, you’re boundary-challenged.
If you’re wondering whether love addiction may be a problem for you, read my article, “Are You a Love Addict? 10 Questions to Ask.”
You have unresolved childhood trauma
In 4 Reasons You Need to Understand Your Childhood Story, I talk about why it’s often crucial for partners to explore untreated or unexamined childhood abuse. If you experienced childhood abuse—especially sexual abuse—discovery and disclosure of sexual betrayal can bring up powerful responses related to your trauma history.
Partners who have a history of childhood trauma and haven’t done in-depth family of origin trauma work can get stuck in a cycle of victimization in her current relationship due to significant or repeated boundary violations when she was a child.
It’s not safe to follow through
Occasionally, a partner will be in a situation where her physical and/or sexual safety is in serious danger. In situations of domestic violence, a partner can jeopardize her safety by attempting to set boundaries. In fact, victims of domestic abuse are in greater danger of being murdered by their partner immediately after leaving than at any other time in the relationship. In other words, she is in the most danger when she sets the ultimate boundary—leaving the relationship.
If you are in a situation of domestic violence, I urge you to contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233 in the U.S. to find out how to make a safety plan, or leave. Most major cities in the U.S. have safe shelters for victims of domestic abuse and their children that accept intakes 24 hours a day.
Undisclosed secrets or active addiction
Occasionally, partners have undisclosed secrets or are struggling with an active, untreated addiction. Both interfere with your ability to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
For example, if you’re holding a secret from the addict and you feel guilt or shame about it, you may consciously—or unconsciously—believe you don’t have a right to make specific requests of him or hold him accountable for his behavior.
The same is true if you’re struggling with an active addiction. One of the unfortunate consequences of addiction is that addicts often allow other people to cross boundaries with them because they think they don’t have a right to protect themselves due to their problematic behaviors and deception. Or, they don’t hold others—even their children—accountable because they believe that if they do, they’re hypocrites.
The truth is that no matter what you’ve done, you have a right to protect yourself, set boundaries, and hold others accountable. If you have an undisclosed secret or are struggling with active addiction, find a safe person to confide in or seek help for your addiction.
Ready to take your boundary work to the next level?
Read my book, Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. Order on Amazon here. Or check out my online courses and online community forum memberships for partners here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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