Many women who have been betrayed and abused have never set a boundary before. Many have never even heard of boundaries, so what exactly are they?
Some have set benchmarks, thinking they were setting a boundary because they didn’t know the difference.
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, discusses benchmarks and boundaries with her friend, Lindsey. They talk about the differences and how benchmarks can help with setting boundaries. Lindsey previously joined Anne to talk about her experiences with 12-Step, finding resources, and setting an in-home separation boundary.
What Are Benchmarks? What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are like fences. They help define where one person ends and someone else begins.
Benchmarks are a standard that is set to measure something against.
“You set a boundary, then you wait for benchmarks. A benchmark is something that they do. A boundary is something that you do.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Many women begin their healing journey not knowing where to start. Then, they hear about boundaries and that they should set them.
Everyone has boundaries anyway, but setting a boundary helps us understand exactly where we stand and exactly what we can do.
Anne’s friend, Lindsey, for example set a boundary for herself around her husband’s recovery.
“One of the roots of his dishonesty is that he wants to fulfill other people’s expectations of him, so I made a very conscious decision early on to say, ‘I am not going to outline a plan for you. I’m not going to tell you what I need to see, in order for this to be better.’” -Lindsey, Shero
Lindsey recognized that if she told her husband what she wanted to see happen (told him the benchmarks she was looking for) then he would do those things to keep her happy.
Anne agrees with Lindsey’s approach.
“If you give them this list of what you want to see happen, then they can fake all of that. They can check off all those boxes, but it doesn’t mean anything. It means nothing.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Currently, Lindsey holds an out-of-home separation boundary with her husband.
How did she know she needed to set such a hard boundary?
Watching For Benchmarks Can Tell You What Boundaries Need Set
Lindsey had decided to set an in-home separation boundary when she discovered that her husband had continued to lie about his acting out. When she saw that he was still acting out and lying about it, she decided that, for her safety, an out-of-home separation was necessary until she saw that he was taking steps to become safe again.
Neither of these were easy decisions for her to make, but she saw the signs and her husband wasn’t hitting the benchmarks that she’d decided she needed to watch for.
Lindsey still hasn’t told her husband exactly what needs to happen, other than him not lying to her, because she wants to make sure it is honest change that he’s truly committed to. She knows that, if he makes a plan, follows through with it, it’s going to work.
“That wouldn’t work for everybody because some people would just make a list and check off the boxes, but where he’s at right now, I can trust, pretty much, that he’s not going to commit to something that he’s not ready to do.” -Lindsey, Shero
Lindsey tells Anne that she has considered a full therapeutic disclosure and polygraph as a benchmark, but her husband isn’t quite ready for one. He just started seeing a new therapist and he can’t even disclose that he acted out last week.
According to Lindsey’s husband, his therapist doesn’t think he’s ready for a full disclosure, but she realizes that it’s coming through her husband’s filter so it may not be entirely accurate.
Lindsey also thinks her husband is okay with the idea of a polygraph but doesn’t want to do the work and face it. Anne points out that it’s a benchmark that says something about where he’s at.
“But what that shows us is that he’s more concerned about his own comfort than your safety.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Lindsey agrees and says that’s why they’re where they are right now.
Right now, as Lindsey waits and watches, she hopes her husband will start making more progress.
Hold Your Boundaries While Watching For Benchmarks
While Lindsey waits and watches, she continues to hold her boundaries.
As her friend, Anne is impatient.
“I’m mad. I’m mad, because I’m your friend and I care about you and this process to determine whether or not someone is going to actually learn, apply, practice, and live healthy behaviors takes a long time. It’s not like divorce is going to solve your problem.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Lindsey doesn’t want a divorce. She wants her husband to finally get it and start working to become healthy and safe.
Even Anne, who is divorced, never wanted it. She wanted her ex to do the same thing she wants Lindsey’s husband to do.
“The ideal is that he would stop wasting time and hurting you and hurting himself and suck it up and do the right things.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
As Benchmarks Are Met (Or Not), Your Boundaries Will Change
When Lindsey’s husband is ready to take that next step and start putting Lindsey’s safety first, she’ll start working on deciding what her new boundary will be.
She had expected her husband to progress right along with her, him working his recovery and her working on her healing.
“It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that, simply because I had started to do my own healing and my own work, it did not mean that he had. It did not mean that he’s ready and did not mean that he’s committed.” -Lindsey, Shero
Lindsey doesn’t want to stay separated, in fact, she’d love for her husband to come back home, but not until he’s safe. Their in-home separation lasted a whole year before she decided that an out-of-home separation was needed.
She’s going to watch and wait and pray that he makes the changes necessary.
“I don’t want to settle into this because this is not my ideal. Realistically, I don’t control him. I can’t make him do anything. For me, on the relationship front, it’s a waiting game. Wait and see what happens. See what he does, see how he acts, and see what happens.” Lindsey, Shero
Watching For Benchmarks Can Take Time
Lindsey has been at this for at least a couple of years, so she’s been very patient, but she continues to set and hold boundaries.
Anne recognizes that it does take time to make sure you are going to be safe. That kind of safety usually doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s taking a long time, which is fine, but that’s where you’re going and whether or not your safety ends up being that you hold a no-contact boundary with an ex-husband, or if that safety means that he’s made enough healthy choices that he can be safe enough to move back in. Either way, you have worked toward your own safety and you’re making progress.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
By Lindsey’s personal definition of safety, that isn’t what she’s looking for right now. Right now, she’s looking for peace.
“The idea of getting there is not my goal. My goal is to keep moving in that direction because, realistically, I don’t think there is ever going to be a point at which I totally say, ‘Okay, I’ve made it.’” -Lindsey, Shero
For her, the one thing that has helped her the most has been working on her healing. She does work the 12-Steps, as she and Anne talked about in a previous discussion, and that has helped her improve her relationships with her family members, friends, and her Higher Power (God).
Self-proclaimed as unobservant, Lindsey says she has had to rely on God to tell her when things aren’t right. If she wants to know when the time is right to let her husband come back home, she knows what she needs to do.
“For me, it’s developing and keeping my relationship with my Higher Power, such that I feel like I can trust my Higher Power to let me know if something is off. Because, realistically, I don’t know if he’s lying to me. I don’t know if he’s acting out.” -Lindsey, Shero
Understanding Boundaries Takes Time
Lindsey didn’t know what she was doing when she started. Like most women in her situation, she didn’t understand boundaries.
“It’s okay to not know what you’re doing because, realistically, I don’t know that I would have learned the things that I needed to learn in order to set these boundaries any sooner than I did. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not have it down right now and it is something that’s going to take time.” -Lindsey, Shero
Even Anne, who now knows a lot about boundaries, didn’t know what she was doing at first. She thought benchmarks were boundaries until a boundary was set for her.
“I am now such an expert at boundaries, but I didn’t set a boundary at all before my ex was arrested. That was God telling me, ‘Let me help you out. You clearly are having problems and just let me do this for you.’ I feel like that’s what happened and then I was like, ‘Thank you! I can breathe now!’ and then I could figure out how to set boundaries.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When it comes to setting hard boundaries, like an in-home or out-of-home separation, Anne asks Lindsey what advice she would give to other women.
3 Tips For Deciding To Set A Hard Boundary
Talk to a lot of people.
“I just know what I did. It helped to talk to a lot of people. It helped to talk not only with people who are in the same boat as me, but also with people who aren’t. People who have a completely different perspective and also talk with experts.” -Lindsey, Shero
Talk to an expert.
“Reach out to a therapist, reach out to a sponsor, reach out to somebody who may be a little bit ahead of you on the journey and then the people who are right there in the trenches with you. It helped to talk it out. It helped me clarify what my thoughts were and what my feelings were.” -Lindsey, Shero
Talk to your Higher Power.
“Also, being open to guidance from my Higher Power. I can’t honestly say that it’s something that I knelt down and prayed about because that’s just not the place I’m at right now but connecting in other ways and being open.” -Lindsey, Shero
Lindsey didn’t decide on the separation boundaries on a whim. She put a lot of thought and research into it. It took her several months to come to a decision. They weren’t easy decisions.
“This is a tough journey. It’s kind of wild, when you think about it. It’s like a relationship rodeo. It’s intense and it’s unpredictable. I think that peace is a good goal to work towards. I do think it’s possible.” -Anne, Founder at Betrayal Trauma Recovery
One person you could reach out to for help when deciding on a hard boundary is a Betrayal Trauma Recovery Coach. Betrayal Trauma Recovery wants all women who have been betrayed and abused to make the right decisions for them to be able to find safety.
If you are stuck and not sure what the next right step is for you, Betrayal Trauma Recovery offers Individual Sessions with a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist. Each coach has personal experience with betrayal trauma and has gone through extensive training to be able to help you find your strengths and determine the best healing path for you. The first step on that path is to help you find safety the best way you can.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been talking with my friend, Lindsey. She lives in the same area as me, and we have attended the same 12-Step group, so we know each other personally, and we hang out. I’m so grateful that she’s spent this time with me.
If you have not heard the last three episodes with Lindsey, I encourage you to go back and start from three weeks ago and listen to them in order so you’re up to date and have the full story.
What Is The Difference Between Benchmarks And Boundaries?
Today, we’re going to start talking about benchmarks. Benchmarks aren’t boundaries. You set a boundary and then you wait for benchmarks. For example, if your boundary is a separation and one of your benchmarks is that they do a polygraph and then you can see how the polygraph went, or one of your benchmarks might be that they take accountability.
A benchmark is something that they do, and a boundary is something that you do, and that’s the difference. We’re just going to jump right into this conversation about benchmarks.
Anne: Talk about some of the benchmarks you have now, for this boundary.
Lindsey: I smile at that, because this is something that we’ve gone back and forth on quite a lot. One of the areas of his recovery that my husband is really trying to work on is the expectations. One of the roots of his dishonesty is that he wants to fulfill other people’s expectations of him.
For me, I made a very conscious decision early on, in our in-home separation and, also in this out-of-home separation, to say, “I am not going to outline a plan for you. I’m not going to outline what I need to see, in order for this to be better.”
Anne: I’ll stop you there because I think that’s a good idea. The reason I think it’s a good idea is that, if you give them this list of, “Okay, I need you to go to group every week, I need you to do this, I need you to do that,” then they can fake all of that.
They can check off all those boxes, but it doesn’t mean anything. It means nothing. I think it’s a good idea to just say, “I don’t know. I’ll keep praying, I’ll keep pondering, I’ll keep observing and I’ll see how it feels.”
Lindsey: Yeah. For him, what I know of him, I felt pretty comfortable saying, “If he comes up with a plan himself and then follows through with that plan, I feel like I can trust that that’s a move towards healthy behaviors.”
That wouldn’t work for everybody because some people would just make a list and check off the boxes, but where he’s at right now, I can trust, pretty much, that he’s not going to commit to something that he’s not ready to do.
A Full Therapeutic Disclosure With Polygraph Can Be A Benchmark
Anne: One of the things I’d encourage you to do, you don’t have to do this, but in your scenario, because he’s lied to you so many times is to consider a polygraph of some kind. Is that something that you’ve considered or something that he’s said, “I’m not doing that” or anything like that?
Lindsey: We’ve definitely talked about it. I am definitely all for doing a therapeutic full disclosure, along with a polygraph. At this point, both of us are very aware that it’s pretty far in the future in terms of possibility. In terms of what his current therapist and his former therapist, have both, basically, said, he’s not ready to be working on that yet.
Anne: That’s really annoying.
Lindsey: It is.
Anne: Why is that? He’s just a sissy?
Lindsey: No, because he’s at a place where he can’t even disclose that he’s acting out last week and his new therapist he’s only met with twice so that relationship is pretty early on as it is.
Anne: I’m not a fan of this drawing it out. Not that you can do anything about it, but I don’t want therapists to be putting it off for months and months. That seems like it’s putting you in danger.
Lindsey: No, I can’t do anything about it. Here’s my caveat to that I’m hearing what his therapist is saying through his mouth, so it’s definitely possible that it’s going through a filter there.
Anne: Yeah, and my guess is, I’m probably wrong, but he really doesn’t want to do a polygraph because you’re going to find out way more than you know right now.
Lindsey: I think he’s okay with the idea of it, but when it comes down to the reality of actually having to sit down and deal with the tough stuff, he doesn’t want to face that, which makes sense. Honestly, I did my Step 4 and that was a pretty hard experience for me, so I can see why he wouldn’t feel up and ready to jump right into it and really excited about it.
Anne: But what that shows us, you and I, is that he’s more concerned about his own comfort than your safety.
Lindsey: Well, absolutely, I mean that’s why we’re in this place right now, to begin with. That’s why the lying happens. That’s why the lapse in recovery work happens. That’s the heart of it anyway.
Lindsey: I’m not surprised by that.
Anne: Yeah. I’m mad. I’m mad because I’m your friend and I care about you and this process to determine whether or not someone is going to actually learn, apply, practice, and live healthy behaviors takes a long time. It’s not like divorce is going to solve your problem.
Lindsey: No, absolutely not.
Anne: Because, if you got divorced, then what? You’re just going to date another guy that has a sex addiction? No, it’s not an option, that is not an option. The ideal is that he would stop wasting time and hurting you and hurting himself and suck it up and do the right things.
Anne: I’m sorry I called him a sissy, but he is one.
Lindsey: No. I think it may feel like I’m downplaying it.
Anne: No, it doesn’t feel like that.
Boundaries Keep You Safe While You Watch For Benchmarks
Lindsey: Well, with how much that might hurt me right now, simply because that’s kind of been my own recovery journey and it’s something that I’ve had to come to terms with. Initially, when I started recovery, in my ignorance I thought, “Okay, they have a three- to five-year recovery time.”
When they start working recovery, in three to five years, you can see significant improvement. I thought, “Okay, I’ve started my recovery, let’s start that clock.” It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that, simply because I had started to do my own healing and my own work, it did not mean that he had. It did not mean that he’s ready and did not mean that he’s committed. In some ways, it was harmful to him, and to me, for me to have that expectation.
Anne: I think that’s why safety first is the best way to go. If you’re thinking, “I need to establish safety for myself and for my home and I don’t know how to go about that, but it’s a top priority, and I’m going to continue to set boundaries until I feel safe, whatever that looks like,” then you’re never going to go wrong.
It could take ten years. You don’t know how long it’s going to take but, that way, it’s based on your level of safety and that’s something you can actually progress towards.
Anne: You’re making progress towards that. It’s taking a long time, which is fine, but that’s where you’re going and whether or not your safety ends up being that you hold—let’s just pretend—in four years, a no-contact boundary with an ex-husband, or if that safety means that he’s made enough healthy choices that he can be safe enough to move back in. Either way, you have worked toward your own safety and you’re making progress.
That might not feel like it right now but you’re going to get there. That is completely within your own control.
Lindsey: The idea of getting there is not my goal. My goal is to keep moving in that direction because, realistically, I don’t think there is ever going to be a point at which I totally say, “Okay, I’ve made it.”
Anne: Yeah, I agree. For me, I’ve set a no-contact boundary. I’m now divorced. I am getting safer all the time, but I definitely feel like I’m way safer than I was before. I’m still working toward that, but my level of safety is extremely high now compared to how it was before.
Also, as I have worked through my own weaknesses and problems, it’s really cool that all the people who surround me now, who are close to me, are really safe people. Even though there are lots of people who don’t like me—and I have a lot of haters, including my ex and his family—I feel pretty safe in general. There are days when I don’t.
Lindsey: One thing that I feel is some caution around the word safety. Just the idea that any relationship, whether it’s marriage or just with a friend or family member, you can’t expect there to be no conflicts.
You can’t expect there to be no risks and no hurt, no reason for being in pain. I feel some caution around the word safety simply, because I don’t want to be so focused on the goal of safety that I don’t open myself up to deep, meaningful, loving relationships.
Anne: That’s interesting because I don’t feel that way at all. I feel very safe with my close friends and family, but we’re getting in fights all the time. But it’s a safe space. I’m not abused.
Anne: I’m not lied to. I’m not accused of things. I’m not being gaslighted. Is there conflict? Totally. In fact, I’m very confrontational, as are so many other people around me.
Lindsey: And that makes sense. With your background and your personality, of course, it makes sense. But, for me and who I am naturally, and I know this about myself, I’m naturally conflict averse, I want to be careful about me pushing safety too far.
Anne: Or you’re confusing—I think that might be the better word—safety and peace with a complete and total lack of conflict.
Lindsey: Maybe, because safety can mean not being in pain to some people.
Anne: For sure, but I wouldn’t say I’m in pain. I have conflicts that hurt my feelings but it’s resolvable with a safe person.
Lindsey: Well, yeah, but I guess what I’m saying is—
Anne: You can resolve it. The pain can be resolved—not quickly, but rather quickly. If you get in a conflict you can resolve it within a week, let’s say, which is great. These other conflicts with your spouse or ex-spouse that are unresolvable and cause pain forever—they’re not unresolvable, they’re resolvable just not anytime soon.
The safe space that I have now is, do I get my feelings hurt? Yeah, but the level of pain is completely different because it’s so much different to repair.
Lindsey: I guess what I’m saying is. it’s not just pain from getting feelings hurt, but it’s also I want to be open to the pain of growth. The growth in a relationship that may come from a conflict that lasts for a while.
Anne: Right, but that doesn’t mean you’re unsafe.
Lindsey: No, but to some people, and in some situations, the idea of being in pain, period, may feel unsafe. For example, in my relationship with my parents, I have a lot of growth to do there. There have been some areas of conflict that have not been resolved at all, ever, and that is painful when I’m thinking about it.
I don’t always sit and dwell on that one relationship or area of conflict, but it’s okay if I feel like that is the pain of growth. Saying that it’s okay for me to feel the pain of saying I’m wrong sometimes.
Anne: Yeah, totally, but that again, safety is about, “Is this person lying to you? Are they trying to manipulate you? Are they hurting you on purpose to try and take the attention away from their unhealthy behaviors?”
If the person is genuine, they really genuinely care for you, they’re not trying to manipulate you. Like my mom, for example, she really wants me to do certain things and she tries to convince me in a lot of different ways.
Could I call it manipulation? Maybe, but not really because she’s very direct about it. “I don’t like those shoes your wearing. I don’t want you to wear them. Let me tell you the 17 reasons why they’re ugly,” and then she’ll tell me that over and over and over and I’m like, “I like those shoes.”
She doesn’t say, “Oh, let me buy you shoes.” No, there’s none of that it’s, “Those shoes are ugly. Don’t wear them anymore.” She’s doing that because she genuinely loves and cares about me, which is so different than coming from a place of, “I’m trying to hide things from you. I’m trying to make sure that you don’t confront me about my abusive behaviors.” I think safety with people even if there is conflict is totally achievable.
Maybe we can agree to disagree.
Lindsey: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely okay with that.
Anne: I believe you can get to safety, you really can.
Lindsey: I do believe that. I just know that, from my perspective, where safety has been a very unclear thing to me, when I was early in recovery, and to people who are around me, it can be misinterpreted very easily.
Anne: That’s so interesting. Maybe I need to go back and fix all my podcast episodes because I’m always talking about safety and people are like, “Well, that means that we never get in an argument or that means this” and I’m like, “No it doesn’t. It’s never meant that.” I’m wondering now if people are interpreting this differently than how I intended?
Lindsey: Oh, I’m sure.
Anne: There is no way we can ever have a life free of conflict and, actually, we don’t want that.
Anne: Which would mean someone is lying or someone isn’t sharing.
Lindsey: But I used to think that that’s what I would want. I used to think that, if I was in conflict in a relationship, then things were not okay. That relationship is not okay.
Anne: I think it depends on what you’re having a conflict about. If you’re having a conflict about your shoes, that relationship is fine.
Anne: If you’re having a conflict about whether or not someone is stabbing people, that is not okay.
When Benchmarks Are Met, You Can Change Your Boundaries, If You Want
Anne: What are your next steps? Are you feeling like you want to just settle into this?
Lindsey: No, I don’t. I don’t want to settle into this because this is not my ideal. Realistically, I don’t control him. I can’t make him do anything. For me, on the relationship front, it’s a waiting game. Wait and see what happens. See what he does, see how he acts, and see what happens.
I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, so I’ll mention this now. The key to that, for me, is developing and keeping my relationship with my Higher Power, such that I feel like I can trust my Higher Power to let me know if something is off. Because, realistically, I don’t know if he’s lying to me. I don’t know if he’s acting out.
There’s a lot that I don’t know because I’m unobservant and that’s just how things are. However, I have had multiple key moments in my relationship with my husband and in my own recovery journey where I know that my Higher Power has made me aware of things that I did not know.
Anne: Do you feel like your relationship with God has improved over time?
Lindsey: Yes and no. Yes, obviously it has because I’ve been working on myself and that’s always a good thing. No, in that I still struggle in some of the basics. I still struggle with connecting with my Higher Power on a regular basis. I still struggle with having the motivation to want to do the things that I know I need to do to keep that connection strong.
Anne: Like prayer or scripture study?
Lindsey: Scripture study. Even doing Step work, which is not quite a connection with my Higher Power, but it is. It’s the little things that, even on a day-to-day basis, I know I still have a lot of work to do on my end to make things feel in a better space for me, where I want to be.
Anne: Not a ton of women set boundaries like this. Boundaries are hard and, especially, having your husband move out is a very difficult boundary to decide on and to do. Let’s talk about, if you could go back in time and talk to your younger self and tell her some things about boundaries that you have learned, what would you tell her?
Lindsey: That it’s okay to not know what you’re doing because, realistically, I don’t know that I would have learned the things that I needed to learn in order to set these boundaries any sooner than I did, even if I told myself anything, any advice I could have given myself, and that’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not have it down right now and it is something that’s going to take time.
Anne: I agree. I am now such an expert at boundaries, but I didn’t set a boundary at all before my ex was arrested. That was God telling me, “Let me help you out. You clearly are having problems and just let me do this for you.” I feel like that’s what happened and then I was like, “Thank you! I can breathe now!” and then I could figure out how to set boundaries.
I’ve just basically kept the boundary that God gave to me. Thank goodness, I don’t think I ever could have done it otherwise. Going back in time, I was really, really bad at boundaries. That’s what I would have told myself.
Advice For Setting A Separation Boundary
For women, right now, who are considering an in-home separation or an out-of-home separation, do you have any words of wisdom you can share with them?
Lindsey: I just know what I did. It helped to talk to a lot of people. It helped to talk not only with people who are in the same boat as me, but also with people who aren’t. People who have a completely different perspective and also talk with experts.
Reach out to a therapist, reach out to a sponsor, reach out to somebody who may be a little bit ahead of you on the journey and then the people who are right there in the trenches with you. It helped to talk it out. It helped me clarify what my thoughts were and what my feelings were.
Also, being open to guidance from my Higher Power. I can’t honestly say that it’s something that I knelt down and prayed about because that’s just not the place I’m at right now but connecting in other ways and being open.
Anne: Yeah. This is a tough journey. It’s kind of wild, when you think about it. It’s like a relationship rodeo. It’s intense and it’s unpredictable. I think that peace is a good goal to work towards. I do think it’s possible. A relatively peaceful life. I like the Serenity Prayer. A reasonably happy life now and a super-duper happy life in the afterlife.
Lindsey: Supremely happy.
Anne: Yeah, that we can make our way toward that and boundaries make that possible. They really do, and I really genuinely hope that your husband starts to make healthy choices, but time will tell.
Anne: Again, a great big thank you to my friend, Lindsey, for coming and spending so much time with us over these past four weeks. I’m so grateful for her. She is a really great example to me of someone who sets boundaries and is doing the best she can to be as healthy as possible and I genuinely admire her and I’m grateful for her friendship.
I want to thank all of you who have donated to this podcast to make it possible for me to continue sharing this message of hope, healing, and safety to women throughout the whole world. If you haven’t already, please go to our website btr.org, scroll down to the bottom, click on Make a Donation and set your monthly recurring donation today.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.