Boundaries... or Control?

If you haven’t yet been introduced to the concept of healthy boundaries within the context of an early SA/PSA relationship, these refer to limits and guidelines the PSA sets for the SA's conduct, and consequences for acting outside these guidelines. Some people refer to boundaries as personal or house “rules” — though these people then risk being berated by some (including certain therapists).

The reason for the quibbling over semantics (boundaries vs. rules) is simply that the  term “rules,” implies something that is imposed on others. It seems to some to more reflect a "wrong" motivation, such as control, punishment or revenge. Punishment and revenge – as tempting as they may be with a destructive person in the family – just don’t tend to give great results in the natural or the spiritual. But what about control?

Sadly, PSAs are often accused – by their husbands in particular — of being controling when they implement new rules (or, boundaries, etc.) post-discovery or disclosure. Frankly, I think there is an element of control in most boundaries: "I want to stop your hurtful acting out behavors so that I'm not devastated by your betrayals again." The first part of this statement speaks of control, the second, though, demonstrates a desire for protection.

The need for protection

Personally I don't like to to get too hung up on "is she being controlling" or "is she trying to protect herself". Wives of sex addicts are, almost to a one, seeking safety. When people focus on the "controlling" aspect of her safety-seeking they are more likely to disempower her, and encourage self-centred, distorted thinking in the person with the addiction. This doesn't help either of them.

As one survey respondent said: "[I] felt an intense need to create safety for myself. I needed as much information as possible about his acting out so I could be on guard of anything that might lead to more acting out so I wouldn't be blindsided by the devastation the pain of it caused.  Everything considered co-dependent was NOT. It was, and is, me needing to protect myself by being prepared as much as possible as well as being able to get what I needed to heal."

Another survey respondent stated: “I couldn’t communicate to counsellors/therapists the depth of these emotions and they continued to address my symptoms as co-dependent and I never got better. The SA/SAA world put my husband on an opposite team as me… Their demand for "privacy" was, for me, another version of secrecy — e.g. sending pictures outside the SAA meeting place to prove he was there was, per the SAA group, “relapse behavior.”  For me it was knowing that he wasn’t lying about going since this was what had happened before.”

Reframing

If our husband, or certain therapists, want to discourage us from "controlling"  (I'm not talking about revenge here, just boundaries), they should consider talking to our husband about how he's doing recovery.

I've found that most SA recovery journey's are "wife-driven" intially. Once a man settles into the journey though, something shifts and he becomes internally movitated. See more on this in this excellent video on the difference between being in recovery and doing recovery.

Once our husband begins to take full responsibility for a solid sobriety journey, and relational recovery process, trust will get rebuilt and "control" will tend to naturally fall away. After all, when we feel safe with someone, the boundaries tend to be mutually agreed upon and more or less equal for both parties. In the words of the well-known therapist, Jake Porter, we can call this, both parties being "on the coaster."  If trust has not yet been restored, however, boundaries and consequences provide protection for the more vulnerable party and a helpful means by which trust can be rebuilt by the offending party. When applied consistently, boundaries invariably succeed… even if the marriage ends.

Boundaries with God's help

Thus, if you’re looking for safety with a husband who is not yet doing good self-motivated recovery, don’t let anyone shame you into giving up boundaries. If your situation is more complex and you do wonder if you are being controlling, that's a good question to put to God, and perhaps some wise support people. Either way, know that God wants you and your children safe, whether or not your husband chooses to heal. And if he is choosing to heal, your boundaries will probably help him on that journey.


My colleague Cat Etherington at Naked Truth Project/Whole Hearted Program has an amazing webinar on boundaries. Consider checking it out.


This article was written by:
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Lisa Taylor

Lisa is a PSA trauma survivor, counselor and award-winning author living with her kids & recovering husband in New Zealand. She runs groups and sees international clients via Naked Truth Recovery.
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