The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Boundaries and Consequences (but I'm not your mother)

In my group therapy last night we brought lists of boundaries and consequences we'd drawn up. Specifically these are boundaries with regard to our sex addicted partners.

Before doing this list, I realized that while there was one clear boundary that I'd communicated (no sexual contact with anybody else while we're married) I hadn't communicated other boundaries around sex addiction issues, nor had I articulated any consequences for broken boundaries.

I've been resisting doing this kind of list because I refuse to draw up a list of rules Husband has to follow. I want my partner to have his own moral compass, and responsibility for his own thoughts and feelings, and to use recovery tools, support groups and therapists to address compulsive behavior - NOT to turn to something I've spelled out to know what is okay and what's not.

I'm not his mother and I don't want to be.

However, knowing my boundaries, thinking them through in detail, is good for me. It's part of my self-definition. What works for me, and what doesn't. So this is my list-in-progress of what doesn't work for me (in other words, boundaries to protect me, not to control him):

It doesn't work for me if Husband:
1) has sexual contact of any kind with anyone else, in person or otherwise.
2) lies, hides or purposely omits anything that I would want to know as his partner.
3) uses porn or media of any kind for sexual activity.
4) visits online prostitution sites, or phones or otherwise contacts prostitutes
5) gets a massage of any kind from a woman (if he needs a theraputic massage, he can get a man)
6) spends large sums of our money without consulting me
7) discontinues weekly 12-step meetings
8) discontinues therapy against the advice of his therapist

He is free to do any of these things, but now he knows that if he chooses to do them he's making a choice that threatens the basic level of comfort and safety I need to feel in our relationship and that there will be consequences for crossing my expressed boundaries.

Even as I write it, it sounds too punishment oriented to me, too much like a list of things not to do if he wants to be a good boy. (Yuk!)

But on the other hand, boundaries without consequences are meaningless, and will get me nowhere in terms of having a strong sense of self.

I never felt the need to establish boundaries with Husband before. At least not about these kinds of things, and not explicitly. (I guess I was assuming wedding vows would count for something.)

But here we are. And that's my recovery work for today.

We agreed that the consequences don't need to be shared, although I did tell him that as long as he's actively participating in recovery I won't end the relationship without discussion. (Though if the boundary crossing is major, we'll have the discussion AFTER he moves out.)


Mrs. Jane Doe said...

I like this post a lot! I have tried to set up boundaries for myself, but then I don't follow threw with the resulted reaction if one of my boundaries is broken. I think often times I don't know what my boundaries really are. Your list is inspiring and I am going to take some time to really think out my own boundaries.

Question though.... how do you know if he is lying or not? My husband has lied to me so much, I can't tell the difference between truth and lie.

Stephanie said...

My biggest challenge is that I have always had boundaries but never followed through on the consequences. So now that I know that he is an addict or uses sex/food/internet/zoning out compulsively, how do I get past knowing that I didn't kick him out for cheating on me. I keep telling myself that everyone says its ok that he has a one time pass called "illness". But I am having trouble buying it as a good enough reason stay with him. How do you stay with someone for whom you have -0- respect and who has constantly violated your boundaries even if he's no longer doing it?

woman.anonymous7 said...

stephanie - I think that the serenity prayer is a great place to start when I'm lost. What can't I change, what can I change?

You can't change the past (not following through with consequences) but you can do something different starting right now if you want. I try not to feel bad about what I didn't do in the past.

About trust and respect going forward, this is a question only you can answer for yourself I think. Just because someone is an addict (has a clinical explanation for what he did) doesn't mean you have to stay with him.

Husband ongoingly and profoundly violated the boundaries I assumed were clear via wedding vows and what a partner might reasonably expect in a monogamous relationship, so trust is still an issue between us.

However, understanding that he has an illness (addiction) helped me not lose respect for him. He is a good an admirable man in many ways. If he wasn't, I wouldn't still be with him.

Wishing you wisdom, courage, strength and peace.

woman.anonymous7 said...

mrs. jane doe - I'm learning to come to terms with the fact that I'll never really know if husband is lying if he's determined to keep something from me. If I think about it, that's really true with everybody. If you don't see it with your own eyes, there's a certain amount of trust involved.

So I'm looking at other indicators. Is he going to meetings? Is he calling his sponsor? Is he in therapy? Is he expressing himself? Is he seeming angry and resentful and brushing me off when I ask him about it?

I guess what I look for now is not whether or not he's telling the truth, but whether or not he's living like a person in recovery. I think people in recovery can't bear going back to who they were. It's when they stop participating in recovery that they slip, I think.

Hopefully other people will share their thoughts on this, because I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer for this question.

Willow said...

Thank you for this post as well as your responses to the comments. I find them all helpful.

I struggle with not wanting be his mother or the guard dog.

Early on a put a block on our computrer but really it's a false security. He works with computers all day long and has a work laptop. He can erase anything he wants, which is what he was doing for so long. The only reason I saw it was because he was drunk and didn't erase it. I took the block off because every time I wanted to blog or read or reseach sexual addiction for that matter, I had to remove the block.

I told him I removed it because I was a false sense of security. He could still be looking on the other computer. I don't know if I did the right thing or not.

woman.anonymous7 said...

Willow - I never put blocks on our computers for the very reasons you discuss. He has so many other options if he wants to keep looking at porn online, visiting escort sites, etc.

So I didn't want to give myself any illusion that I could impact his behavior.

However, I think it's also a reasonable boundary for someone to not want porn of any kind in the home for any reason, and a block might be in line with that.

For me, if Husband is going to sneak online porn, that's up to him. As long as my son doesn't see these things, it's on Husband's side of the street for me. (I have to admit, I do look at the history from time to time.)

The (very large) collection of porn magazines went in the trash the night I discovered what Husband had been doing. I'd put up with those because growing up I'd gotten the message that porn can be part of a healthy sex life, and that it's normal (especially for men) to use porn.

Now, while I think it's possible that some healthy people enjoy porn, I also know that Husband is an addict and having those kinds of magazines in my home makes me uncomfortable. So I've said that I want none of that in the house any more. Back to the boundaries issue, this limit in our house is for my comfort and peace, and not to control any activity of his.

davka said...

what about hiring someone to try and seduce him and see if it works?

i think your great- your strength and compassion is amazing.

i would do some crazy shit like that though. i would test him.

Sophie in the Moonlight said...

"Even as I write it, it sounds too punishment oriented to me, too much like a list of things not to do if he wants to be a good boy. (Yuk!)

But on the other hand, boundaries without consequences are meaningless, and will get me nowhere in terms of having a strong sense of self."
I read this part of your post a few times, and then went back and read the first half a few times, but I still can't see where you have even implied any "punishment", so how can your list of addictive behaviors that don't work for you be "punishment oriented"?

IMHO, really humbled, it seems to me, as another SA codie, that you are too concerned with the rules of responsibility and also worried about how your list might be perceived by someone else.

This is just a list, one in-progress no less, of acting-out/disinterest-in-recovery behaviors that you don't like. This is a very reasonable, thoughtful, and respectful list. There is a strong Perhaps that I am missing something about your ideas on consequences, but from this post alone I truly think you have created some wonderful thought patterns on boundaries for your continuing recovery.