How to Make Boundaries When Your Spouse is Boundary-less
According to Merriam Webster, a boundary is something that shows where an area ends and another area begins; a point or limit that indicates where two things become different.
Boundaries are then unofficial rules about what should not be done; limits that define acceptable behavior.
But when addiction takes root, boundaries become blurred, extended, trampled on, and unrecognizable. And the spouse of an addict can feel very disoriented and alone.
As a Christian mental health therapist, I've worked with wives who have endured this boundary-less loop from their husbands due to various addictions. Their intent has been to uphold "till death due us part" and to love and support their spouse in good times and in bad. But at the same time, to not lose their own identity in Christ (and sanity) in the process.
Identify Your Own Boundaries
Identifying your boundaries is important for all individuals but particularly important for wives when their husbands struggle with addiction and are boundary-less.
Take the time to identify all of your boundaries, guardrails, hard-lines, whatever you want to call them. Write them down. Know them.
These limits should pertain to all aspects of your life. Not just your husband's addiction.
Areas to Identify Boundaries
Belief in God
Time with God
Who are friends
Amount of time with friends
What is shared with friends
I know. It's a long list.
Know Why They are Your Boundaries
More importantly than creating your boundaries is understanding why they are your boundaries. Where do they come from? What are they rooted in? If you don't have sound reason and logic behind your limits, it will be all too easy for you to be swayed to cross over them.
Every single item from the above list is discussed in the Bible. Look them up. See what the Word says about these topics to help you form your opinion and boundary lines.
Remember to write your boundaries down, include the "why" associated with them and the Bible verses you referenced. I can't stress enough how important this part is.
Because you're going to need this list. You're going to need this list as an anchor when your husband's boundaries topple down. When he tries to negotiate. Beg. Justify. Badger. Belittle.
Share Your List with Someone
Find a trusted friend, a mentor, or a therapist to share your list of boundaries. I have given this assignment to women and had them come back with a list of boundaries that showcased their wounds and brokenness. They needed someone else to help them draw the lines and rebuild guardrails. Their worth had been shriveled. Their insights skewed.
One woman had come to believe that $1,000 a month was acceptable for her spouse to spend without questions (no, they weren't millionaires).
Other women have given me their acceptable physical abuse parameters - nothing on the face, only when drunk or high, not in front of the kids.
I've heard the same types of things for sexual abuse and infidelity.
These relationships had become so far from "normal" that the expectations had gone down lower and lower. They needed reminding that they were worth more. That God's view of them was more.
While your limits may not be as skewed as the examples I gave, it's still important to have someone else help you remain rooted in healthy boundaries and Biblical truths.
Share Your List with Your Spouse
This conversation will likely look different depending upon the stage of recovery your spouse is in. I've seen this done as a letter to the spouse, a focus for a weekend get-away, part of a recovery therapy session or as informal as a sit-down conversation at the kitchen table.
I've helped facilitate this conversation on occasion as well. I had the wife make a copy for her husband and for me.
Note- this is not a list of demands on the husband. These are not threats.
This is a list for you and it needs to be presented this way. As your thoughts, your needs, and your boundaries so you can love and support your husband and not lose yourself in the process.
Share with your spouse your "why" for each area and present the truth and logic. Again, another reason it is beneficial for you to have written them down ahead of time.
Another reason to establish boundaries in all aspects of your life is to find the shared lines and limits that you agree upon. Make note of these. Celebrate these. Even if there are only a few, a couple, or even one.
Anyone else know the song 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Deep Blue Something and the line, "I guess that's one thing we've got"? It's from the early 90's. I know I'm aging myself but I always viewed that song through the eyes of hope. While it was silly that he was grasping at connection through the shared interest in a movie. It was something. He was trying to stay connected through any means necessary.
It's important to know where you and your husband agree. No matter how little the boundary. It's something to build from and hold onto.
Guardrails to Put in Place for Differing Boundaries
These are the aspects that cause friction and conflict. The components that your spouse will try to twist. The ones that cause you to feel like you are losing your mind and your identity.
These are the boundaries that need guardrails, safety nets, and contingency plans. These are the ones that you need to be strong in your "why". Your husband's stage of recovery will depend upon his level of involvement in this conversation.
For example, if your husband is a recovering gambler and acknowledges his money problems, he can help establish the safety nets of bank accounts, credit cards, and titles/deeds only in your name. If he is not as far down the recovery process, these boundaries may need to be done in secret to establish financial security for you and the family.
The same would be true for all other addictions.
This may also mean boundaries and safety plans set up for you and/or children. Established places in the house that are safe. Neighbors/friends to reach out to. Even code words if necessary.
While this post is about the wife whose spouse is boundary-less, do you notice how infrequently I spoke about the spouse?
Because ultimately you can't change him. It has to be his choice. You can support him. Encourage him. And pray for him.
But his addiction is his journey.
Your journey is to maintain your boundaries and identity in Christ while supporting him. Allow your steadfast behaviors to be a beacon for your husband and your marriage.
Melissa is a Christian mental health therapist, a wife, and a mom of two pretty neat kids. Her clients come from all walks of life and are on various paths in their pursuit to know Jesus. She has been a therapist for over 8 years. Melissa works with children and adolescence, families, and married couples. Her areas of experience include: anxiety and depression, attachment disorders, trauma, autism, military service men and their families, marital issues, parent education, self-esteem, and grief. Melissa's goal is to glorify God and share Christian living and wellness tips that are practical and easy to implement.