How Can I Set Healthy Boundaries With My Ex-Husband?

Anne bears her soul in this early podcast, sharing her first attempts to set healthy boundaries. She misses her husband and shares the intensity of her trauma.

Like many of victims, it took education, community, and self-compassion for Anne to learn how to set boundaries that would truly begin to help her achieve safety. Can you relate?

In this early podcast episode, Anne shares her very first attempts at healthy boundaries. She refers to a 12-step program, “addict behaviors”, and sex addiction. Now, of course, we understand that abuse is NOT addiction, sex addiction therapists do NOT help abuse victims find safety, and 12-step programs can be harmful to women in abusive relationships.

True Boundaries Aren’t About Controlling Others’ Choices

“Every time my husband was abusive towards me, I thought that my boundary was giving him a lecture, literally like a 40 minute lecture about how terrible things were and how I was feeling and what he should do. I thought that’s what boundaries were.”

Anne Blythe, Founder of BTR.ORG

Boundaries Don’t Change the Abuser: A Hard Lesson to Learn

Many victims experience even more trauma when they seek to help the abuser change and become healthy through boundary-setting. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but accepting the reality that your boundaries are NOT about changing the abuser, will help you get to safety much sooner.

Anne’s trauma was intense in the early days of The BTR.ORG Podcast. Are you in that place right now? Please know that you’re not alone. Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions are available – attend a session today and find the community that you deserve as you beginning your journey to safety.

Anne (03:14): So I didn’t know squat about boundaries. In fact, every time my husband abused me or every time he had a slip up, I thought that my boundary was giving him a lecture, literally like a 40 minute lecture about how terrible things were and how I was feeling and what he should do. I thought that’s what boundaries were. I have learned since then that that is not what boundaries are at all. In fact, God was very merciful to me and he taught me about boundaries in an extremely traumatic way by having my husband arrested and having a court order do not contact order. That was my first boundary I have ever had, and it was God-given, and then I had to make the decision about what to do with that boundary to keep it, to not keep it what that boundary meant for me.

What are boundaries, really?

(04:04): I realized that my boundary is I need to keep safe and be safe while you continue to act out in this behavior. In my husband’s case, once he was arrested, he did not show any clear signs of recovery behaviors. There were a lot of things that he could have done. He could have texted every single day, for example, and said, what can I do today for the kids?

He did not choose to talk with. My dad apologized to my dad about some things. There were, there were several things he could do that he was legally able to do. He did not show any signs of that. He did not put forth a plan of, I realize that this is what happened. I’m very sorry, this is my plan for recovery. This is what I’m going to do to come back in the house. He never asked to come back in the house.

“Boundaries are like fences between neighbors”

(04:51): So for me, there was no way that I could remove or amend the do not contact order to be able to talk with him because he was not showing any recovery behaviors. So what are boundaries? Boundaries are like fences between neighbors. They define the limits of a relationship. Also, they provide safety and structure and define appropriate and inappropriate engagement in the relationship. They delineate responses to inappropriate or unhealthy engagement or interactions.

So first, let’s define what boundaries are and are not. Boundaries are used to define the limits of the relationships. They are healthy responses to violations of self. Boundaries are in place as trust is rebuilt in relationships and boundaries are protection against pr. Repeated harm boundaries are not punishments, they are not methods of coercing or forcing behaviors. They are not a way to avoid dealing with pain and boundaries are not used to emotionally disconnect or isolate.

Have you tried to force your abuser to be kind?

(05:51): So when I was not practicing boundaries, my fear, my character, defects of fear or control would crop up. And rather than set a boundary for myself that I would turn to my sponsor, that I would do recovery behaviors, that I would surrender to God’s will and do self-care, I would turn toward my husband and try and make him be safe. There were so many times where I literally got down on my hands and knees and begged him to love me and he said, looked at me and said, no, I won’t.

Or I begged him to be kind and he said, no, I’m not gonna be kind to you. And that only put me in a further state of stress and it wa he was abusing me and I was, instead of detaching from my abuser and setting a boundary and getting myself to a safe place, I just continued to be abused by trying to force my abuser to be kind.

“I did that all the time and I didn’t realize it”

(06:44): Because boundaries are the opposite of becoming responsible for his behaviors or recovery. It is wise to self-assess occasionally and determine whether or not you’re crossing the line to becoming responsible. Some warning signs that you may be crossing the line to becoming responsible for your husband’s behavior are providing constant reminders of the recovery behaviors he is supposed to be doing. I did that all the time constantly and I didn’t realize that I was taking the responsibility for his behaviors, his anger, his abuse.

I thought I was just quote unquote helping him experiencing consistent, intense emotional reactions to his lack of recovery behavior. Absolutely when he would get into his rage or he would be irritable, and I knew that was a lack of recovery behavior. I didn’t have words for it back then, but I knew, oh no, something bad is coming. I’d get so much fear and so much, you know, I was worried that my family would be destroyed.

“I will choose not to be responsible for his choices”

(07:39): I was worried that something super bad was going to happen and so I would go into control mode punishing or shaming him into doing the things he has committed to do. Basing your own commitment to recovery on whether or not he is doing his own recovery work, numbing out or disconnecting from your own emotions based on his behaviors or controlling or manipulating. Now, I did not know that I was doing that at the time I was, I just thought I was trying to serve my husband and help him and express my needs.

And there’s nothing wrong with helping someone or expressing your needs or you know, stating to your husband what your needs are. My problem was that he was not safe in those moments and so I would be further abused. So good boundaries will help you avoid these types of responses. Your own triggers in recovery and emotional responses may sometimes lead you to unhealthy coping.

“I will take care of myself in a healthy way”

(08:30): This might include emotionally disconnecting, punishing, controlling, or micromanaging others’ behaviors. Personal boundaries will allow you to make healthy choices in the face of powerful emotional triggers. I wish I knew that then. I wish I would’ve been in recovery, but I wasn’t. And I am genuinely sorry and I am looking forward to steps eight and nine so that I can make amends for those things. I’m genuinely embarrassed actually that I participated in those behaviors when I honestly and authentically thought that I was helping my husband. Examples of personal boundary statements are I can choose my responses to his slips or relapses. I do not have to allow my trauma to control how I respond. Instead of punishing or hurting him, I will take care of myself in a healthy way. When he has earned my trust, I will share with him my feelings and needs.

“I did not trust my husband”

(09:22): This was my main problem is that I did not trust my husband, especially when he was in addict mode, when he was angry or irritable. And so I tried to make him trustworthy, which is taking responsibility for his actions or I tried to make him compa, be compassionate or kind and that never worked. Instead, I needed to detach, set a boundary, take care of myself in a healthy way, and then see if he worked toward earning my trust again.

When I finally did that and let go and observed from a distance to see if he would earn my trust again, he did not attempt to do that. From what I could tell, there was absolutely no attempts to earn back my trust. Another one is I can decide when and how I begin to trust him again. I will work on my own recovery regardless of his commitment to his recovery instead of zoning out and emotionally disconnecting When I’m in pain, I will reach out and share with others in my life who are safe.

“I can choose to love and accept myself”

I think that’s essential. I’d always reach out to my husband. I rarely zoned out or emotionally disconnected, but my husband wasn’t safe. And so I reached out and tried to connect with someone who was emotionally unsafe and that always put me in a very precarious position. I will choose not to be responsible for his choices. And here’s one last example of a personal boundary statement. I can choose to love and accept myself even when his addiction affects the way I perceive myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about one night when my husband was extremely calm and he came to me and he said, I know you’ve asked me your whole marriage to tell you that you’re beautiful and the reason I have not said that is because I don’t think that you’re beautiful. So I should have detached right then and been like, okay, he is very unsafe.

“He never repaired that”

But instead I decided to engage with him and fight him and say, that’s not true. You do think I’m beautiful. And then he said this, and this is the part that hurt me so deeply. He said, well, physically you’re beautiful, but your personality and who you are, they make you ugly. Your face when you are scared or when you’re frightened and your personality and the way you interact with me and who you are from the inside is completely, I can’t ever tell you that you’re beautiful. I felt devastated. I think that was the beginning of things getting really bad for us and he never repaired that. There was never a time and fact. We went to the temple and we did sealings at I don’t know how long after that and we went to the Celestial room and we were holding hands and I just could not do it because here was a man who could not me that I was beautiful, who did not think that my soul was beautiful, even if he didn’t like my hair or he thought I was a little overweight, he could not bring himself to tell me that I was beautiful to him.

“I can’t be with someone like this”

That was just totally lying and I thought, I can’t be with someone like this. I remember standing up in the slush room and walking off in pain and hurt and being completely and totally hung out to dry by my husband who just seemed fine and had never tried to repair that. That was before I had boundaries. Now I know that I would’ve set a boundary and said, okay, when I feel safe and when you can see me and when your perceptions of me are not abusive, because those perceptions in and of themselves, that’s what made him abusive, is the way he perceived me. He perceived me a certain way that I was trying to hurt him or that my questions were Shay or whatever. And really that was what propagated the abuse. I needed to set a boundary until he was not abusive anymore, which takes a long time and that has never happened.

“I realized that I have never really felt emotionally connected”

So I’m still setting those boundaries now. I realized that I had never really felt emotionally connected, like there had never been a time in our marriage where I had initiated sex because I felt emotionally connected. I was doing it just to keep, you know, just cuz I thought he would want to not because I felt this deep emotional connection and my husband rarely, rarely initiated, and when he did, it was because he was horny, not because he felt emotionally connected with me. In the last 10 months, my husband has not been safe enough for me to be with or even communicate with. So implementing and enforcing boundaries is really important and that’s the hardest part. It’s easy to think about what boundaries you’re gonna have. It’s easy to tell someone what your boundaries are going to be, but it’s very difficult to actually en enforce them.

“Enforcing the boundaries is the hardest part”

Like I said, I did not have any boundaries before my husband’s arrest. I was working toward figuring out what those were and then God stepped in and said, boom, this is gonna be your boundary. And I’m so grateful that he provided a safe means for my escape from my abuser. So addicts hate boundaries and then they set boundaries. Usually in order to disconnect or isolate, I sponsor a woman whose husband, when he is in addict mode, he says, my boundary is I’m leaving and I’m not coming back until tomorrow. That’s abandoning your spouse. That is not a boundary and that is emotionally disconnecting. It enables him to practice his addiction. Enforcing the boundaries are the hardest part. I was lucky enough to have the police enforce my boundary that I didn’t even know I had for me or the boundary that God created for me.

“He filed for divorce on Monday”

My husband was not choosing to protect me or our family and it has been destroyed. He filed for divorce on Monday. Of course, that’s not protecting our family either. It’s continuing down the path of destroying our family and I’m very sad, very, very sad. But that doesn’t mean that I will change my boundaries in order to be in contact with someone who is so unsafe that they would destroy, that they would destroy my family. So boundaries right now are essential for me. Defining and enforcing boundaries is often one of the more challenging aspects of wives recovery process. However, becoming adept at boundary work is often the defining process for wives. I work with a few women in recovery. I’m a sponsor to three of them, and they’re learning how to set boundaries and it’s very difficult. I’ve had a lot of women in group tell me that when they learned how to set boundaries and they actually set them and kept them until they felt safe, miracles began to happen.

“My heart is so broken”

Either that is light and light repels darkness, so either their husband’s left or divorced them or really terrible things happened, which is what happened to me and it has been heart wrenching and basically felt like the gates of hell were gaping after me. It was very difficult to, and it still is to maintain that my heart is so broken and I am completely, totally devastated by that. And I’ve heard of other miracles where that boundary is set and the husband makes amazing choices for themselves, and that is the beginning of their real true recovery where they take responsibility for themselves and their actions. So boundaries are imperative to everybody’s progress. As my boundaries have improved, my sense of self has as well. My trauma is still very intense, but I think it will begin to lose its power over time. As I practice recovery behaviors, it doesn’t always feel like it’s working.

“I know eventually I will heal, and the trauma won’t be so intense”

In fact, I’ve had days lately where I’m just walking like down the hall and suddenly it’s like someone punches me in the stomach and I start just howling uncontrollably sobbing and I feel so alone and I feel so completely abandoned by my husband and his choices that he chose his addiction and his anger over his family that he purposefully is destroying our family. I feel so much trauma and I do surrender. I surrender. I’ll keep my boundaries, and I still just am in this trauma place. And I have faith that if I continue to read my scriptures, I continue to pray. I continue to attend the temple which I’m doing. And I continue to reach out. I continue to do connecting behaviors with my sponsor and friends and family, which I’m doing that eventually I will be healed. This morning I went to yoga and I got a little mantra card from my teacher and it said, your healing is already in process. I know eventually I will heal and the trauma won’t be so intense. The boundaries that I have set, which have been very difficult to keep, have been the defining part of me healing.

Anne (17:26):
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