How To Stay Safe When Your Husband Is Unfaithful
Dr. Adam Moore writes about boundaries in his article, “Defining and Enforcing Boundaries in Sexual Addiction Recovery”.
The classic example of boundaries often used is that boundaries are like fences between neighbors. They define the limits of a relationship. They give us safety and structure, define appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact.
Defining Boundaries With Unfaithful Men
When a husband is abusive, uses pornography or engages in emotional or sexual infidelity, they are unfaithful. The abuse can be in the form of angry attacks, criticism, or stonewalling. Emotional neglect is also a form of mental abuse. Another word for unfaithful in the context of marriage is abuse.
These behaviors affect wives. No matter how we try to avoid it, we can't control our husband's behavior or the effect it has on us.
UNLESS we learn to set boundaries.
Wives of Unfaithful Men Feel Confused
Wives of unfaithful and abusive men often struggle with confusion about how to set and enforce boundaries. Most are confused about what to do, and how to solve their problems. Because we are frequently victims of gaslighting, it's hard, sometimes, to sort out the reality of our situations.
They look to change their husband to avoid being abused, but that only perpetuates the problem.
Boundaries Provide Safety from Unfaithful Men
- Define limits of relationships.
- Are healthy responses to someone violating you.
- Keep you safe while someone who has hurt you rebuilds your trust.
- Protect you from repeated harm.
Boundaries Are Not:
- A way to force someone to act the way you want.
- A way to avoid pain.
- An excuse to emotionally disconnect.
A Healthy Way To Respond To An Unfaithful Husband
Many wives of unfaithful husbands find themselves feeling responsible for their husband’s behaviors to stop the negative consequences that naturally occur from such behaviors. Boundaries are the opposite of becoming responsible for his behaviors or recovery.
Some warning signs that you may be taking responsibility for your husband’s unfaithfulness:
- Giving constant reminders of recovery behaviors (have you set a therapy appointment, are you reading your scriptures, did you call your sponsor, etc.).
- Blaming yourself for his lack of recovery behaviors.
- Pushing or coercing him into doing things he has committed to do but is not doing.
- Basing your commitment to your own healing on his recovery.
- Numbing or disconnecting from your emotions.
- Attempting to control or manipulate the unfaithful and abusive man.
Good boundaries will help you abstain from these unhealthy responses.
Personal & Relational Boundaries In Relation To Unfaithfulness
You set personal boundaries for yourself. Your own trauma may sometimes lead you to unhealthy responses to your husband's perceptions and behaviors. This might include zoning out, punishing, controlling or managing others.
Examples of personal boundary statements are:
- I can choose my responses to my husband's behaviors. I do not have to let my trauma control how I respond.
- Instead of lecturing him for hours for hurting me (which only keeps me in harm’s way), I'll take care of myself in a healthy way. After he's earned my trust, I'll share my feelings and needs with him.
- I'll decide when and how I begin to trust him again.
- I'll work on my own healing, regardless of what he is doing.
- Instead of numbing or disconnecting when I'm in pain, I'll reach out to safe people and share with them how I am feeling.
- I choose not to be responsible for his choices.
- I choose to love myself unconditionally even when my husband is abusive or acting out.
Relational boundary statements sound like this:
- Even if you decide to continue to be unfaithful and abusive, I will continue to heal from the consequences of your actions.
- If you abuse me or use pornography, I will sleep alone until I feel safe with you again.
- I will feel much safer and consider trusting again if you are attending weekly 12-Step meetings. If you choose not to go, I'll be limited in my ability to emotionally connect with you.
- If you blame me for your behaviors, choices and perceptions, I will not argue with you or defend myself. I will not communicate with you until I feel safe again.
- I will not have sex with you when I feel coerced, emotionally disconnected or unsafe.
- If you don't work toward understanding how your abuse and unfaithfulness has affected me, and if you continue to excuse your behavior, I will move toward separation from you. In this state, you are not safe to be around.
If you have difficulty defining your boundaries, writing them out may help you. If the boundaries involve your husband’s behavior and your response (finding safety) to them, it is important to share them with him.
Enforcing Boundaries with Unfaithful Husbands
Enforcing boundaries is one of the most difficult things we need to do to find safety.
Four steps to help enforce boundaries from Dr. Adam Moore:
- Slow down, breathe, and quietly decide how you will respond.
- Remind him of your boundary and that your response is about your own emotional and relational safety.
- Follow through with the boundary.
- Help him understand that your boundary is in place until you feel safe again, and not for a set period of time.
Defining and enforcing boundaries is very difficult for wives of unfaithful men. However, our safety depends on it. It's often the defining process of our recovery and the true start of our healing.
Enforcing Boundaries With An Unfaithful Husband Is Hard
When I started to set boundaries, things got worse for me. At first, I stopped initiating sex with my husband. Instead of connecting with me and initiating sex himself, he started isolating more. Then I asked him to sleep downstairs. He didn't work toward getting back upstairs but told me that he planned on living like that. He also told me that he was using pornography and masturbating again, so I asked him to move out.
He refused to move out but was eventually removed from the home by the police when he physically assaulted me. My boundary after that was that I would not have contact with him, except for emails about the kids through my father.
He did not use his ability to contact me through my father to build safety or trust, instead, he continued to abuse me. Then he abandoned his family by filing for divorce.
Before this, many, many women in recovery told me that when I focused on my own recovery and set boundaries, things would get better. Even my husband told me that if I focused on my recovery he would do better.
For me, things just got worse and worse until my family was destroyed. Does that mean I shouldn't set boundaries? Heck no! I wasn't safe.
Not setting boundaries didn't make me safe. Setting them has kept me safe from an abusive addict. And setting boundaries didn't make my situation worse, they allowed me to clearly see my unsafe situation.
I have had to step back and let go of my husband's choice to continually take one step after another away from recovery and away from our family by separating bank accounts, moving all his stuff, not seeing the kids often, etc. It has been extremely painful to watch. Because I was working on my own healing, I was able to watch him make these choices, feel the pain of the consequences and not take responsibility for his choices.
If you are struggling to define, set or enforce boundaries, BTR offers Individual Sessions with a BTR Coach on Setting and Holding Healthy Boundaries. You can also find recommended books about boundaries on our Books section of the website.