This post is Part 5 of a 6-week series celebrating the release of my upcoming book Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. Each week I’ll share an excerpt from the manuscript, along with one of the book’s endorsements.
This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 8, entitled Evaluate Your Results—Mission Accomplished . . . or Not: When Boundaries are Broken.
The following section of Chapter 8 discusses why and how you must increase your self-care when boundaries are broken or violated.
How to Handle Broken Agreements and Boundary Violations
Using the 5-Step Boundary Solution© process, when a boundary is broken or violated, there are four possible responses, depending on the importance of the issue, your ability to create the outcome without making a request, and whether the issue is a long or short-term problem.
Here are the four possible responses to a boundary violation:
- Return to Boundary Solution Step 4 (Take Action) and repeat the request and/or request a repair or an amends from the other person.
- Return to Boundary Solution Step 4 (Take Action) and take necessary action, if possible, to create the result you want—or get your needs met—without the participation of the other person.
- Return to Boundary Solution Step 1 (Identify Your Reality) and work Steps 1–4 based on the new issue.
- Do nothing and accept powerlessness (provided you can let go without believing you’re a victim).
There are times when reestablishing, renegotiating, or creating the outcome you want through your own actions simply isn’t possible. Perhaps you’re dealing with a repeated broken agreement or you’ve experienced a significant impact from a boundary violation. In cases like this, you must increase your level of self-care around getting your needs met.
In boundary work, this is the step where partners are most vulnerable to giving up, or in more extreme cases leaving the relationship, because they don’t know what to do next.
What does it mean to increase your level of self-care? Boundary work—at its core—is about self-care and self-protection. By drawing limits with yourself and others, you take care of yourself. When someone breaks an agreement with you or violates your boundaries in a significant way, a natural and healthy instinct is to create safety and protection.
If you have an agreement with the sex addict that he won’t have contact with any former acting-out partners, imagine how you would feel if he broke the agreement. You would feel angry, sad, and fearful. When you’re with the sex addict, you may notice that your anger increases or that you don’t want to be physically close to him or touch him. This is a normal and natural response to fully experiencing the emotion of anger. If you’re paying attention to your thoughts and emotions, you may choose to limit contact or even sleep in a separate room for a period of time.
When choosing how to handle a broken agreement or boundary violation, your response must match or be proportional to the boundary violation.
If you asked the addict to comply with his therapist’s recommendations around how many twelve-step meetings he should go to each week, and he went to one less meeting than the therapist recommended, divorce would not be a proportional response. In that case, you might merely express your feelings and let your partner know how his lack of follow-through with recovery impacts you and the way you feel about the relationship.
However, when the issue involves a more significant breach—the addict having contact with a former affair partner or lying about his whereabouts—a low level response such as simply telling him how you feel, or worse—doing nothing—isn’t advisable.
If you’ve arrived at Boundary Solution Step 5 (Evaluate Your Results) and you’re facing a broken agreement that is significant for you, you need to return to Boundary Solution Step 1 (Identify Your Reality) and work the first four Steps based on the new reality—the broken agreement or boundary violation. By identifying your reality, understanding where you have power (and where you don’t), and what actions are available to you, you can determine exactly how to address boundary violations and broken agreements.
I didn’t realize until after the relationship was over how often he had violated my boundaries over the years. He constantly shamed and belittled me and asked me to do things sexually that made me uncomfortable and that I really didn’t want to do. Looking back I see that not only did he violate my boundaries but I also violated my own boundaries doing things that aren’t what I believe in.
“I worry about getting into another relationship in the future. I worry that I’ll let my partner treat me the way he did. I’m working hard on myself, doing trauma work to heal what happened in my relationship with the addict and even deeper work from my family growing up where all this got started for me. I don’t think I would have put up with as much from the addict if I had been treated with more respect and love when I was younger. I’m determined not to let it happen again.”
Special Praise for Moving Beyond Betrayal
Vicki Tidwell Palmer has filled a void in partner literature, and provided an extremely helpful resource for those who discover they are in a relationship with a sex addict. This clear guide on the purpose of boundaries and how to craft and set them will equip and empower partners of sex addicts to use boundaries wisely and well.”
— Marsha Means, MA
Author of the Journey to Healing and Joy: A Workbook for Partners of Sexual Addicts, and co-author of Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners Can Cope and Heal
Very soon, I’ll be announcing special bonuses available only for pre-orders of Moving Beyond Betrayal before the release date on May 17 (recently updated from May 10). Want to get on the list to receive notices of bonuses, programs for partners, and more? Sign up here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
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