What Is Safety And Why Do I Need Boundaries?
How Do I Set Boundaries In My Marriage?

You can establish healthy boundaries in your marriage, post-betrayal, by following these simple guidelines to gain greater emotional safety & stability.

How do I set boundaries when my husband is being unfaithful?

How do I set boundaries with my ex as we attempt to coparent our children?

Is it even possible to set boundaries when my boyfriend is emotionally abusing me?

Your specific situation requires boundaries, but how do you set boundaries when everything feels confusing and intimidating? Anne shares the BTR Boundary Model on the podcast – including this simple formula to help you know how to set boundaries:

“Ask yourself, ‘What is making me feel unsafe? What action can I take right now – today – to put proximity between myself and the harm?”

Anne blythe, founder of btr.org

How Do I Set Boundaries When Every Time I Try Things Just Get Worse?!

Many women in the BTR community tried for years to set boundaries, only to experience further harm and discouragement.

Often, well-meaning professionals teach boundaries as:

  • If/Then Statements
  • Ultimatums
  • Statements of desires or values

Unfortunately, these forms of communication don’t protect victims of emotional and psychological abuse. Instead, they often expose victims to further gaslighting, manipulation, and humiliation.

3 Steps to Establishing Effective Safety Boundaries

You’ll know that your boundaries are effective when you’re experiencing greater emotional and psychological safety. So how do you set boundaries in an emotionally abusive relationship?

Identify the Cause of the Harm

The first step in establishing effective safety boundaries is identifying the cause of the harm:

  • Do I feel emotionally safe in my home?
  • What in particular is causing me to feel emotionally unsafe?
  • When do I feel the least emotionally safe? When do I feel the most emotionally safe?

Ask Yourself This Question:

After you’ve identified the cause of the harm, ask yourself:

What action can I take today to separate myself as much as possible from the harm?

As Anne shares in this episode, for some women, this means simply closing a door, blocking a phone number, or putting in headphones. For others, it may mean separation, divorce, or reporting a crime.

Seek Support

A essential action that victims can take in the boundary-setting process is to seek support. Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions are a safe space for you to process trauma, ask questions, and experience the safety of a community of women who understand what you’re going through. Consider attending a session today.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, BTR.ORG. This is Anne.

Anne (02:58):
Today I’m going to talk about boundaries because so many women are confused about what boundaries are and how to use them to be safe. The purpose of a boundary is to stop harm. If you think about boundaries in the traditional sense, you’ve got a boundary line or maybe a fence and it stops someone from coming over the fence, but if the boundary does not stop the harm, then it’s not a boundary. It’s not a good boundary or not a boundary at all. A boundary is not something that is an idea that doesn’t work.

How Do I Set Boundaries That Protect Me From Harm?

(03:55):
So if you have a property line and someone can just cross over it, no problem. The boundary doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. When I talk about boundaries, I want you to think of something that can actually stop the harm. If you then put up a fence and they climb over the fence, then you still don’t have a boundary. So then if you put a lock on the fence but they still climb over the fence, you still don’t have a boundary. What can you do to make an actual boundary that stops the harm is the topic of today’s discussion. Now, the reason why so many women are confused about boundaries is because traditionally speaking, therapists and other experts, I’m going to put in quotes, I’ve set up boundaries this way. You set a boundary, meaning that you state what you will or will not accept.

Traditional Boundary-Setting Models 👎👎👎

(04:46):
So you’ll say something like, I will not accept pornography in my home or I will not be lied to, and that is your quote boundary. And then if the boundary is crossed, then you have to enforce your boundary, that pattern of boundary and then a violation, and then you have to enforce your boundary or then you have to hold your boundary is problematic. That is what so many therapists or coaches are teaching right now and it is not working for a lot of women. If that model works for you, shine on, keep using it. But if you’ve been taught that model and you’re like, this is hard. Now how do I enforce my boundary? I quote, set the boundary. I said, I will not be lied to or I will not be treated this way, or porn is not allowed in my house or something, and then it gets violated, and then you’re like, what do I do now if you’re in that boat, I want to teach you a new model for boundaries that I think is way more practical.

A New Model For Boundaries

(05:50):
That makes a lot more sense. Okay, so instead of thinking of a boundary as a statement or as a thing that you will or will not tolerate, I want you to think of a boundary as the actual physical or mental thing that stops the harm. So if the harm has not stopped, then think in your mind, I don’t have a boundary yet. Okay? So like I said, if you think, okay, my property line is the boundary, but then the person just walks over it, okay, you don’t have a boundary, okay? A fence is the boundary, but the person just climbs over the fence. Okay? I don’t have a boundary yet. Right? When that person stops crossing your property line, that’s when you know that you actually have a viable boundary. Number one, and you might want to take notes here. Number one, a boundary is something that actually stops the harm.

Set Boundaries That Actually Stop the Harm

(06:47):
If the harm has not stopped, you have not set a boundary. That’s the first thing I want you to know because the whole point is for the harm to stop. If the harm hasn’t stopped, then what you’re in the same situation that you were before. So we’re just going to deal with actual practical things here in terms of how can you get to safety. Okay, so number one, a boundary is something that actually stops the harm. Number two statements like You cannot treat me this way or I will not allow this in my home, or whatever are just statements and they cannot keep you safe, and so therefore they are not a boundary with a coach or a therapist. If you’re doing boundary work and you’re making a list of things you will or will not tolerate, you are not making a list of boundaries.

Making Lists & Writing Out Statements Aren’t Actually Boundaries

(07:42):
What you are making a list of is safety issues. These behaviors help me feel safe. These behaviors do not help me feel safe. As you make that safety list, you can write down number one, I don’t feel safe with someone who uses porn. I don’t feel safe with someone who lies to me. I don’t feel safe with someone who is grooming me through being kind to me when really they just want to have sex. I don’t feel safe when this, I don’t feel safe when that you can write a list of that that is not a list of boundaries, that is a list of safety issues. Many women need to understand what safety looks like. Many women haven’t really gone into what would help me feel safe? How can I feel more safe? What behaviors are safe and what behaviors are not safe? So making that list of safety issues is key.

The Difference Between Setting a Boundary & Stating a Safety Issue

(08:34):
You can write them down. You can even state them to your abuser. You could say, I don’t feel safe when you try to manipulate me or I don’t feel safe when I’m gaslit or whatever. You can say it or not say it. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you understand what the safety issues are. You can state a safety issue, you can write it down, but you cannot state a boundary because if you just say, my boundary is this, it doesn’t make a difference, they can still climb over the fence, so to speak. I don’t want anyone to think that if they make a list of things, they will or will not tolerate that. That will help keep them safe from those things. It will help them identify the things that are unsafe, but it doesn’t really help you be safe apart from just being able to identify it, which is an important step for sure.

“A boundary is an action”

(09:28):
You have to be able to identify it to set a boundary around it, but making the list of safety issues won’t in and of itself keep you safe. That list of safety issues, that’s not a list of boundaries, that’s just a list of safety issues. Once you understand what the safety issues are, then you can work from there to determine what actions you can take. They can be mental actions, they can be physical actions, what actions you can take to keep yourself safe. Number one, the point of a boundary is to stop harm. Number two, writing something down or making a list of statements or determining safety issues is just that. They’re just safety issues. If you’ve made a list of things you will and will not tolerate, you have not created any boundaries. You’ve just made a list of safety issues. Number three, a boundary is an action.

Here Are Some Examples of Boundaries👇👇👇

(10:24):
Now, it could just be a mental action. It could be like you close your eyes. That could be a boundary. It could be that you turn the other way, so it doesn’t necessarily mean divorce or something. It could mean a lot of different things, but a boundary is an action that stops the harm. So let’s take the example of the property line again. So you’ve got a property line person keeps crossing it, so then you put up a fence, so then they climb over the fence. You still don’t actually have a boundary because a person could still get over it. Then you put a lock on it, which doesn’t really do any good because they can still climb over the fence. So then you next step might be that you call the police, right? You call the police and say, this person is trespassing on my property.

“Once the harm has stopped, you know you have an actual boundary.”

(11:09):
The police come and they arrest the person and they take them to jail and they charge them with trespassing. That might stop it, okay? So once the harm has stopped, you know that you have an actual boundary. That’s what I mean when I say a boundary is action. If the harm has stopped, then you can be confident that you have an actual boundary. For example, blocking someone on your phone actually stops them from being able to harass you, call you, text you, things like that. Now, can they call from another number or a block number or something like that? Yes, they can, but if you make boundary that you will never answer a number that you don’t recognize, then you’ll never be caught off guard. Then they’ll have to leave a message and are they going to leave a verbally abusive message? They might, and then you can block that number and you can just continue to block numbers saying, I won’t talk to him.

Here’s the “How To”:

(12:12):
Just saying it if he continues to lie and manipulate doesn’t really keep you safe because then every single conversation he can lie and manipulate you. So if you notice that he’s getting over the fence, then blocking it on your phone or blocking his email or deleting your social media accounts, that’s an actual boundary because it literally stops the harm that seems extreme. You could go for a smaller boundary, like every time he says something, you walk out of the room, let’s say, or every time he starts stonewalling or just looking at his phone and refusing to talk to you, you get up and walk out. Does that stop the harm? I don’t know. You need to know what the harm is. So if you have that list of things that harm you, then you can kind of assess, okay, I set this boundary, which means you actually took action and it stopped.

“As they escalate their abuse, you can escalate your boundaries.”

(13:02):
So let’s say he’s verbally harassing you in the car and you turn and you look out the window and he stops talking. Did that stop the harm? Is that a boundary? The answer to that might be, yeah, yeah, it did. It worked. He stopped in that moment. Great. You can say, okay, that’s a good boundary. I’m going to continue to do that. Now, most abusers, especially psychological abusers, they’re going to increase their abuse once you start setting boundaries, and so you can notice that as they escalate their abuse, you can escalate your boundaries.

(16:59):
Those are literally basic skills. It is not rocket science. You don’t have to lay it out for him, okay? You can say if he wants to step up and be an adult and be a healthy person, great, I’ll let him back into my life, and if he doesn’t, great, I’m safe. If you’ve set the boundary already before you look for the benchmarks, then you’re going to be safe the whole time. This thing where you have to come up with your boundaries and then you have to tell the perpetrator, okay, my boundary is no porn in the house, and if you do porn in the house, then I will ask you to move out.

The Two Parts of Boundary-Setting

(17:47):
I think that’s completely backwards. If they use porn in your house, you don’t have to tell ’em upfront. You don’t have to decide beforehand if it happens. You don’t have to give them notice, none of that. If it’s a safety issue, you can say you use porn in the house, you now need to move out so it doesn’t go boundary violation and then enforce a boundary. That’s not how boundaries work. Functioning, responsible, mature adults don’t need to be told, if you lie to me, I feel unsafe, and so I am going to set a boundary. They don’t need that. A functioning adult and a mature person would know that you shouldn’t lie to people. So what we have boundaries have two parts. Number one, a safety violation, and then a physical thing that stops the harm. So the way it works is safety violation and then boundary to stop the harm.

You Do NOT Have to Explain or Justify Your Boundaries

(18:38):
You can take action and create a barrier to keep you safe. Whether or not he understands it, you don’t have to tell him what it’s for. You don’t have to explain it, nothing. You can just set the boundary and be safe, and then if he gets it, he gets it. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. It’s not your responsibility to try and explain it to him the things we want them to do. Be honest, not manipulate, not look at porn, not cheat. It’s not rocket science. These are basic skills that adults should know. So it’s not your responsibility to have to explain it. If someone tries to make you feel like it is, that’s simply manipulation to try and get you to communicate with someone who’s not safe enough to communicate with. I was reading in the Book of Mormon this morning, and with the coronavirus, it’s interesting because all this apocalyptic end of the world things people are talking about, and in two Nephi chapter 30, it’s talking about the end times.

(19:37):
I’m not saying right now is the end times, I have no idea. But in the scriptures, verse 10, it says, for the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people and the wicked he will destroy and he will spare his people even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire and righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins and faithfulness, the girdle of his reigns. So this division that we’re talking about where the wicked or the unhealthy, let’s call it, are separated from the healthy is prophesied throughout the scriptures, and I did a podcast about boundaries and New Testament scriptures that bring up boundaries. So if you’re a woman of faith and you think, well, wait a minute, this lack of communication or separating feels bad, like my church doesn’t teach this, that’s not true.

A Christian Perspective on How to Set Boundaries

(20:30):
We’ve got evidence of that throughout the scriptures of in the last days, there will be a great division between the wicked and the righteous, and it’s okay if you’re seeing wickedness or unhealth in your own home and you’re realizing, wait a minute, I need to separate myself from this. It’s similar to needing to quarantine. If you have coronavirus, I’m not saying you wicked if you have it. No, that is not what I’m saying. But what I am saying is even just with public health issues, it’s a safety issue. If you have the virus, you need to stay separated from people who don’t, so you don’t get them sick. Same thing with wickedness here. Again, I don’t want you to think that I think that people with coronavirus are wicked or that they’re sinning, so please don’t take that from that example. But in the example of harm, separating yourself from the harm is important, otherwise you are going to be harmed, right?

“There is no other way to protect yourself, other than separating yourself from it.”

(21:25):
There’s no other way to protect yourself other than the separating yourself from it. So when someone asks, what is a boundary? I want the answer to be a boundary is a protective barrier. A boundary is a protective barrier. It’s not something that you can say. So if you’re in a fight and you say to them, if you don’t speak to me with respect, I’m not going to participate in the conversation, right? Let’s say you say that out loud to them. You have not set a boundary, but you have identified a safety issue and you have said what you will do, but that’s not the boundary. If you’re in the discussion and they’re not speaking to you with respect, the boundary would be actually walking out of the room because if you keep engaging with someone who is harming you, even if you keep telling them, please don’t do this, please stop, but they keep doing it, and you don’t leave, you haven’t stopped the harm.

“A boundary is a barrier that stops harm.”

(22:26):
When someone asks, what are boundaries? What is a boundary? The answer is it is a barrier that stops harm. It is a barrier that stops harm. And in order to determine what kind of barriers you need or what kind of harms you have in your life, you may need to write a list of safety concerns. Safety issues. These are the behaviors I’m seeing that are safety concerns. These are things that I don’t want in my home. Those are safety issues. That is fine, but writing that list again is not a boundary. So let me give you some examples. So from a community member, someone had an issue with, do they interfere with their husband’s recovery or not? Because he’s not really going to therapy, he is not doing what he’s supposed to do, and the woman wanted to set a boundary and say, I only want you to have a male therapist.

Here’s an Example of How to Set Boundaries:

(23:23):
She wanted to request that, and so she set a boundary and told him, you can only have a male therapist. Well, that’s not a boundary because it’s just a safety issue. She’s concerned. She doesn’t want him to have a female therapist because she doesn’t want him to be alone with another woman, which is totally reasonable. So instead of her thinking, she set a boundary in telling him, Hey, I don’t want you to have a female therapist. Then how does she set a boundary around this? What does she do? And so my response would be, it is totally reasonable for you to expect that your husband refrain from being alone with other women, including a therapist. What are you going to do to feel safe in that event? And she might say, okay, well, he did choose to go to a female therapist. So my boundary is going to be that I’m going to go stay with my mom because every time I see him, I’m so triggered that I feel unsafe.

“What boundary would help you feel emotionally safe in your own home?”

(24:19):
So to stop the harm she needs to remove herself from the situation. Here’s another one from our community members. Someone just found out for the last month, her husband had been viewing porn almost daily or every other day, and she said it was so disappointing. Of course, all he could say was he was sorry. And she said, I know that he’s sorry, but how does that change anything? And so a response with a boundary is, I’m so sorry that you feel sad that your husband’s been using porn. What boundary would help you feel emotionally safe in your own home? Would it make you feel safe if he moved out? Would you feel safer if he slept in another room? What actions can you take to stop his actions from harming you? So using the BTR model for boundaries, we have two parts. Number one, a safety violation.

What is a Safety Violation?

(25:09):
And a safety violation is an abusive behavior that would include lying, manipulation, gaslighting porn use, extramarital sex, having affairs, whatever, any type of abusive behavior. And then a boundary is a protective barrier, the action that you take to stop him from harming you. So let me give you an example. If someone is soliciting a prostitute in Brazil and you don’t know them and you don’t know the prostitute, does it hurt society in general? Yes. But is it hurting you directly? It hurts all of us directly, I guess, but no, right? It’s like, but if it’s your husband soliciting a prostitute, that hurts you a lot, right? So it’s getting enough space to say in your mind and in your heart that what he does is far away from me, right? You’re trying to push his behavior as far away from you as possible because that is what stops the harm.

“How Do I Set Boundaries?” With This NEW, Effective Model!

(26:08):
It’s always going to harm you if it’s really close to you. So whatever way you can detach, you can’t control what he does. You can make requests, but you can’t do anything about it. So how can you separate yourself from him so that his behaviors no longer harm you? That is the question. This new model is great because then nobody needs to enforce the boundary, and also the boundary doesn’t feel punitive. With the old model where you go boundary, then someone violates your boundary, and then you have to enforce your boundary. You have this sense of like, oh, no, I told him. Then he crossed that boundary, and now what do I do? Right? That’s the main problem that everybody has. So with that model, it doesn’t quite work as well as just the two-part model with a safety violation and then a boundary, because then you don’t have to worry about enforcing anything or anything like that.

(27:02):
You have a safety violation. He lied to you, and then you do something to keep you safe from the lies, which might be that you don’t talk to him, because if he talks to you and he lies to you, the only way to stop that harm is to not talk to him anymore. There’s no other way to do it. There’s no way to get him to stop lying. The only thing you can do is separate yourself from someone who is lying. I am a teacher, and I think this whole situation would be much better if I drew it out on a whiteboard.

“What is a boundary? How do I keep myself safe? How do I set boundaries?”

(27:49):
If the old school model works for you, shine on, go for it. But if it doesn’t and you’re still like, what is a boundary? How do I keep myself safe? How do I set a boundary? This new model of safety violation, and then boundary will help you? So just to recap, a boundary is a protective barrier that stops the harm for you. He could still be doing the harmful behavior, but he can’t do it to you anymore because you have this protective barrier. Is he going to hurt you? Yeah, I mean, you can set this protective barrier and he can still do his harmful actions out in the world, and will it still hurt you? And the answer to that is yes.

Do YOU Have Questions About How to Set Boundaries? Comment Below!

I mean, if he’s lying to other people about you and stuff, it’s still harmful, but the actual harm to you is greatly reduced when you don’t have contact. And then knowing that you can bring up and you can talk about safety issues, you can talk about safety concerns, but just talking about it or making a list doesn’t help you much if you don’t actually take some type of action to keep yourself safe. I hope that makes sense. I want to hear your comments and your questions. I want to hear your confusion about boundaries.

12 Comments

  1. Joan

    FINALLY a clear explanation about boundaries! I liked this part the beast: “ You can take action and create a barrier to keep you safe, whether or not he understands it. You don’t have to tell him what it’s for. You don’t have to explain it. You can just set the boundary and be safe. ”

    The old fashioned methods of making him sleep on the couch or kicking him out of the house or “I’m leaving for mother’s “ were all actions that attempted to keep a wife safe.

    I wish I had done any of those when I first found out about some of the cheating. The sad thing is I didn’t know about most of the cheating until I had my self esteem ground down. I moved with my husband frequently & lost friends, I had several children, quit work & was dependent on him. That led me to NOT kick him out when I found out.

    Trying to read books on boundaries or discussing boundaries in 12 step groups led me to think the cheating was all my fault because ”I didn’t set a boundary, “ or because ”I never had boundaries.“

    In reality, MARRIAGE was the boundary that my husband chose to repeatedly violate, most often hiding it from me. He does know the adult behaviors of not lying, not looking at porn, not going to prostitutes, etc, & that’s WHY he chose to conceal his actions from me.

    I think my desperation to not lose my marriage & our current life with the kids made me seek solutions that I thought were possible. Like just trying to make him understand! He did understand. And what he probably understood better than me is that he would continue to do those behaviors and that I was easy to lie to, manipulate, & hide things from. And that I would work hard to keep our marriage going, so hard that he didn’t have to do much at all!

    Now, after many years, I ask myself, is that really the kind of man I want to be with?

    But it took years to learn to see reality & ask myself that question. And years to learn from trial & error & grief & frustration that what I could do were the things that make me feel safe & be safe, such as no sex, not depending on his answers, taking full control over the checking/savings/bill paying, & not discussing my thoughts & feelings with him because they DO NOT matter to him!

    It is refreshing to read this transcript. I have come to believe that if a man cheats or does porn or other unacceptable actions & hides them, he knows his wife would be upset. If he keeps doing them, he will not change NO MATTER what the wife does or doesn’t do. The only answer is to get herself to safety which means to get away from him.

    Reply
  2. Rachel

    Does anyone know of groups out there for kids that are now adults that grew up with their parents like what you’ve talked about in this podcast? Thank you

    Reply
    • Dovid B

      I have found that ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) 12 step groups are very helpful for dealing with issues stepping from how our defective parents raised us.

      Reply
  3. Paula

    I really resonated with this podcast. Exactly right. Adults deserve respect. Let’s show them the respect they deserve, and hold them to the standard they pretend to believe in. I do not have to spell out to the abuser that discovering his actual actions in life are the exact opposite of the person he has pretended to be for almost 20 years makes me feel unsafe. If I am not responsible for his actions, it is also not up to me to think up an “effective boundary” to stop his actions. It is up to me to be an adult, respect and protect myself. It is up to me to impose a barrier that prevents harm. I could not agree more. Excellent podcast.

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you found it helpful!

      Reply
  4. Wendy

    Thank you! Your straight forward explanation truly help me see what I need to do to be safe.

    Reply
    • Anne Blythe

      I’m so glad you found this explanation of boundaries to be helpful! Emotional safety, when it comes to emotional abuse always needs to be the number 1 priority.

      Reply
  5. Patricia R. Langdon

    I googled how to set boundary because I am too involved in his recovery – own wounded trauma spilling over to our 35 years of marriage including 25 year affair that I only recently discovered. I thought he just didn’t love me any longer and esteem whittled a way. Now thinking I will have to move out if I can’t set a boundary that stops him further harming me emotionally, thankfully not physically, but trying to reclaim myself.

    Reply
  6. Bev

    I’m still not clear. I’ve asked my husband to stop the porn and all the communication with girls online because I feel very uncomfortable and hurt. He just hides all night (I won’t allow him to sleep with me)saying he’s playing games on his phone. He refuses to leave. He can’t stay off his phone and doesn’t mind if i leave the room. Is divorce the only hope left?

    Reply
    • Anne

      The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop will launch VERY soon! Rather than think about divorce, we recommend this workshop for women in your situation to first learn foundational thought, boundary, and communication strategies to establish emotional safety:).

      Reply

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