Boundaries 3: Consequences

76% of respondents to the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts stated that they communicated consequences for boundary breaking at the time they set the boundary. Still, only 15% of respondents said they always followed through with the consequences.

Why do so many of us struggle with following through on consequences?

Fear of His Reaction

46% of respondents stated that their husbands reacted 'negatively' or 'very negatively' to following through with consequences. As one woman put it, ‘[Consequences] made him more angry and gave him more reason to blame me.’

However as one sage respondent points out – a man whose reaction to boundaries and their consequences is negative is not to be trusted:
When he responded positively it built trust. When he didn't respond well it exposed his heart and I knew where he stood. This helped me not be deluded by his lies.

It’s Not Computer Science

Many boundaries work a lot like a simple computer program.
IF you do this again
THEN this will happen

However real life is often too complicated to squish into simple machine-readable logic. What most commonly muddies the waters?

  • Grey areas (was that a true crossing of the line, or not)
  • Miscommunications/misunderstanding
  • Our emotions (colouring our perception either positively or negatively)
  • His lack of honesty
  • Others influence (including those who feel that a wife’s job is to submit, not set boundaries/enact consequences)

Thus it’s not surprising that so few women (15%) felt they were always able to enact consequences. However 38% stated they were able to enact them most of the time and 23% said some of the time. (9% said they didn't need to enforce consequences but their husband had not broken any).

Consequences and Regrets

Dr John Townsend – the 'boundaries' master, along with Dr Henry Cloud – states that consequences are a necessary part of creating boundaries. Where most people misunderstand boundaries and consequences, however, is in interpreting when they have succeeded.

‘…Boundaries aren’t guaranteed to instil ownership, responsibility, or concern in someone. They can bring reality and clarity. They can protect you. They can show someone the path to change. But boundaries can’t remove the other person’s choice. So if you look at the real purpose of boundaries from this perspective, they do work.’

So, yes, some husbands will get angry and leave their wife when she follows through on consequences for her boundaries. Some women will see that as a failure. But, it isn’t because the goal of boundaries/consequences is your health and healing (and his too, actually) not the saving of the marriage at some horrific cost.

When asked about what their regrets were around boundaries, 28% of respondents said they had no regrets about setting boundaries or about how they set them. However, 39% said they either regretted not setting enough, not being firm enough in setting/following up or not setting them sooner.

Happy with Boundaries

The women who found boundaries the most helpful, were those who also followed through with consequences. As one respondent explains,

It [enacting consequences] has had an immense effect. It created a 'space' for me to be able to live without total panic and fear and anger. Times that I've followed through on established consequences have left me feeling strong, liberated, and in control of my future.

So whether or not you have set clear strong boundaries (with consequences) in the past with your husband, you can always start. If needed, seek the support of those who understand how boundaries work, and value you and your wholeness. Remember, that boundaries with consequences are one of the most loving things you can do for a person with an addiction or sexual integrity issue while they are healing.

They’re also one of the most loving things you can do for one of God’s favourite daughters: you!


Courage to Stand Strong