We know about boundaries and how those boundaries can keep us safe, but do we know that boundaries can be look different depending on individual circumstances? What happens when a boundary for safety needs to be maintained, but a formal separation is not realistic? Many women are finding safety in setting in-home separation boundaries, which can both maintain safety and invite peace in to their lives with a porn addict.

What Is An In-Home Separation?

“Separation is a really important boundary that some women use to establish safety,” says Anne, founder Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Anne has spoken to countless women over the past several years in her work with wives of porn users about boundaries that they have found that have helped them feel and be safe in situations of abuse. She has found that many, many women implement in-home separation for several reasons.

5 Reasons To Consider An In-Home Separation

  1. Physical separation is needed to maintain safety.
  2. Having two different addresses would cause a financial strain on the family.
  3. A woman may feel unsure about the next steps she wants to take regarding the situation of abusive behavior by her husband.
  4. An in-home separation may be better economically for a woman’s domestic circumstances.
  5. An in-home separation can allow time for peace, meditation, and clarity in times of confusion and uncertainty.

Lindsey, a wife who experienced betrayal trauma when she learned of her husband’s porn use, describes how she decided on an in-home separation,

“When I started doing my own recovery, I learned how important it was to me to have my husband both working recovery in a way that I could see so he needed to share with me what he was doing or going to meetings and various other things and then also that he needed to be honest with me. The honesty has been a real sticking point in our relationship. When he went through another repeated experience where he had gone through 2 months of acting out behavior without disclosing it to me, that’s when I felt unsafe and I needed to change something.”

“I knew I felt unsafe and I knew that something needed to change. It was actually almost a month between me knowing that there was dishonesty happening and me actually coming to the conclusion that an in-home separation was the boundary that I wanted to move forward with. Mostly because I just didn’t know what to do. I was totally at a loss but I happened to go to a retreat within that month period of time, it was the SAL Women’s retreat, and while I was there I had some really amazing experiences with meditation that helped me come to the conclusion that I really needed to have safety within my home and I needed to have a place in my home that could be my safe place. For me, the easiest way that I could envision that happening was to have an in-home separation where I could have my bedroom be that safe place.”

Anne adds,

“A lot of women listening might think he was lying to you, so you felt unsafe but were there any other evidence that felt unsafe? Which there doesn’t need to be, but I want to talk about this because a lot of women think: “Well he’s not yelling at me, he’s not punching walls, he’s not screaming in my face, so I’m safe.” When emotionally they might not be safe because they’re trusting someone or they’re interacting with someone who’s lying to their face. Talk about how you came to realize that you deserved more than just “well, he’s not yelling at me.”

An In-Home Separation Can Help Maintain Safety

Lindsey clarifies her experience in dealing with porn use in her marriage, she says,

“The lying is abuse in and of itself but for me, it was just these red flags of things like not seeing him go to group or he hasn’t gone to a group in a couple of weeks or his therapy has been spotty. All these little things that say to me something is off. Each one of those in and of itself isn’t totally wrong, but when you look at the big picture and you look at all these little red flags that are coming up and he’s not communication with me, he’s not telling me what he’s thinking and what is going on in his recovery, that to me becomes a red flag that says: “Something is probably off in terms of his sobriety, in terms of his recovery.”

Anne also reminds us that even though the need and implementation of in-home separation may not be understood by everyone, saying,

“It is completely okay that I cannot explain all my reasons why I feel unsafe, but my decision to set a boundary is justified. I don’t have to justify it to other people.”

As always, our aim here at BTR is to be here for you. If you are struggling with issues related to the trauma of betrayal, check out Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group to help you explore boundaries and maintain safety. As always, our Individual Sessions are also helpful in recovery and empowerment.We are always looking for stories of victims. If you would like to come on the podcast and share your story, please email us at anne@btr.org and share your story. The more we can share and get stories like this out into the light the more it helps all victims everywhere.

If this podcast and these types of materials are helpful to you, please make a recurring donation. Similarly, every single one of your ratings on any of your podcasting apps like iTunes or Stitcher helps isolated women find us so please rate the BTR podcast.

Until next week, stay safe out there.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

Lindsey is back again to talk about separation. Separation is a really important boundary that some women use to establish safety. Lindsey has done both an in-home separation and now a separation out of her home and she is going to talk about her experience.

Can you tell us why you felt unsafe in your own home?

Lindsey: Pretty early on when I started doing my own recovery, I learned how important it was to me to have my husband both working recovery in a way that I could see so he needed to share with me what he was doing or going to meetings and various other things and then also that he needed to be honest with me. The honesty has been a real sticking point in our relationship. So, when he went through another repeated experience where he had gone through 2 months of acting out behavior without disclosing it to me, that’s when I felt unsafe and I needed to change something.

Anne: Did you feel unsafe before you found out he was lying to you or was there something in your gut that you knew was wrong and you just didn’t have “evidence” until you found out?

Lindsey: I definitely felt uneasy, that’s for sure, and I knew that I wasn’t seeing the recovery behaviors. He wasn’t communicating with me and so I knew something was up, but until I really had the direct evidence I didn’t want to move forward. It was only a matter of months and I don’t move that quickly with making boundaries. It takes me a while.

An In-Home Separation Can Allow Time For Decisions

Anne: So, once you determined that you felt unsafe and that your husband’s behaviors were unsafe, mainly that he had been lying to you, why did you choose an in-home separation for your boundary at that time?

Lindsey: At that time, I knew I felt unsafe and I knew that something needed to change. It was actually almost a month between me knowing that there was dishonesty happening and me actually coming to the conclusion that an in-home separation was the boundary that I wanted to move forward with. Mostly because I just didn’t know what to do. I was totally at a loss but I happened to go to a retreat within that month period of time, it was the SAL Women’s retreat, and while I was there I had some really amazing experiences with meditation that helped me come to the conclusion that I really needed to have safety within my home and I needed to have a place in my home that could be my safe place. For me, the easiest way that I could envision that happening was to have an in-home separation where I could have my bedroom be that safe place.

Anne: Let’s talk about safety for a minute. A lot of women listening might think he was lying to you, so you felt unsafe but were there any other evidence that felt unsafe? Which there doesn’t need to be, but I want to talk about this because a lot of women think: “Well he’s not yelling at me, he’s not punching walls, he’s not screaming in my face, so I’m safe.” When emotionally they might not be safe because they’re trusting someone or they’re interacting with someone who’s lying to their face. Talk about how you came to realize that you deserved more than just “well, he’s not yelling at me.”

Lindsey: In my relationship with my husband this is definitely the case. My husband is in a lot of respects a good husband and a good father to my children. He’s respectful, he helps around the house, he does all the right things on the surface, and he’s not manipulative or abusive verbally in some ways. In that, he doesn’t try to put me down or other ways that I’ve seen in other people’s relationships. Obviously, the lying is abuse in and of itself but for me, it was just these little red flags of things like not seeing him go to group or he hasn’t gone to a group in a couple of weeks, or his therapy has been spotty. All these little things that say to me something is off. Each one of those in and of itself isn’t totally wrong, but when you look at the big picture and you look at all these little red flags that are coming up and he’s not communication with me, he’s not telling me what he’s thinking and what is going on in his recovery, that to me becomes a red flag that says: “Something is probably off in terms of his sobriety, in terms of his recovery.”

Anne: So, at the time, when you’re telling your family: “I don’t feel safe. I’m going to have an in-home separation” where they like: “Why don’t you feel safe? I’m confused, what is he doing?”

In-Home Separations Are A Boundary

Lindsey: Yes, absolutely. Honestly, even to this day, it’s something I’m not sure I have words to capture exactly what it means. Which is hard because in a certain sense you want to feel justified when you’re talking to your family or when you’re talking to your friends about the actions that you’re taking. So that’s then a struggle. It’s kind of a back and forth continuing conversation with my parents, with my siblings, with other people who are aware of what’s going. It’s trying to share with them how I’m feeling, and when I do come across podcasts or if I come across a quote from some recovery materials that I feel captures what I’m feeling, I’m more inclined to share that with them to help communicate. It’s hard.

Anne: Do you feel like you’re better at communicating how you feel now than when you first started the in-home separation?

Lindsey: Yes and no. In some ways obviously, I’ve definitely grown in my recovery and read more, listened to more, gone to more things, but in other ways no because it’s still something that’s hard to describe to somebody who hasn’t experienced it themselves. So, for me, one of my personal boundaries for myself has been to say: “It’s okay for me to not be able to describe to somebody what I’m feeling.” That’s okay and it doesn’t mean that my feelings are unjustified.

Anne: Both that, and then also: “It’s okay that I can’t explain all my reasons why I feel unsafe, but my decision to set a boundary is justified. I don’t have to justify it to other people.”

Lindsey: Right.

Anne: It’s okay, it’s just a tough position to be in.

Okay, so you were doing an in-house separation for how long?

Lindsey: About a year.

Anne: And during that time, you didn’t necessarily see his healthy behaviors improve?

Lindsey: I did for a time. He had a lot of external factors in his life change and so for a period of time he was doing really well.

Anne: And it felt different to you?

An In-Home Separation Can Be An Option For Safety

Lindsey: It felt different. He was consistently going to a 12-step meeting. He was consistently meeting with a therapist. He was consistently doing 12-step work and sharing it with me, not that I would always read it, but I knew that it was happening, and just regularly sharing with me where he was at. So, for a time, things were feeling better.

Anne: Let’s pretend, and I really mean pretend, for just a moment that in order to change your abusive behaviors there’s no such thing as a 12-step group, there’s no such thing as therapy, there’s nothing. All there are the changing behaviors themselves, let’s just pretend that for 1 second. Would you say his behaviors toward you and how that felt were improved? Or was it just he was going to group?

Lindsey: It actually reminds me of some conversations I’ve had with other women who talk about being able to tell the difference between when their husband is acting out and when he’s not. For me personally, I have not been able to tell. Now that doesn’t mean that’s on him or it’s on me. I’m pretty unobservant as a person generally. I just know that about myself and it’s one area where I have had to ask things of my husband accordingly because I’m unobservant. So, I’d say: “If you don’t tell me about what you’re doing, don’t just assume that I’ve noticed it because I don’t notice things very easily.

So, there’s definitely that playing into it but it’s also I don’t know that he was acting that differently simply because, in general, he’s a good husband and a good dad. His behaviors, generally, are pretty “okay.”

Anne: “Reasonable” or healthy.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: They seem that way to you?

Lindsey: Yes.

Anne: So, for you, it was just that you knew he had a history of porn use

Lindsey: Yes

In-Home Separation Can Be Economically Best For A Woman

Anne: You can’t necessarily tell from his behavior whether or not he’s using it or not, all you could see is he doesn’t seem to be interested in meetings and therapy. That was your indicator that you were probably unsafe because you’ve got somebody with a history of lying to you and somebody with a history of using porn.

Lindsey: Exactly.

Anne: I’m thinking right now that those of us who can clearly see through their behavior, they’re very irritable, we’re kind of lucky maybe. The behavior is so much more extreme, but the weird thing is it doesn’t mean you’re in any less danger from being lied too.

Lindsey: No.

Anne: So, I’m not saying that we’re lucky it’s just an interesting dilemma and the spectrum of these abusive behaviors is so vast, and it can look so different.

Lindsey: Oh yeah.

Anne: So, you’re separated in your home for about a year. You’re living upstairs and he’s living in the basement.

Lindsey: Yes

Anne: I am personal friends with you, in the same state and the same place, and so I know you’ve been making an effort to have friends come over in the evening when you’re lonely and you’ve been learning new skills on how to navigate a life where you’re separated from your spouse. Now, after about a year you found out that he was still lying to you and using porn.

Lindsey: I wouldn’t say still lying. He wasn’t lying to me for that whole year. There was a 2-month period of time, that I know of, where he definitely was.

Anne: And he could have been, you just don’t know yet.

Lindsey: He could have been.

Anne: So, after you found out that he had been lying to you again, you took some time.

Lindsey: Yes

Anne: Let’s talk about that process of what to do now. You’ve been separated in your home, then you found out he’s been lying to you again, he’s been using porn again. You’ve already been separated in the home, so now what do I do? So talk about how you felt and the process that you went through to determine what steps to take next.

Lindsey: I actually need to back up a little bit because that process started a little bit before I knew that he was lying to me. I had had some other pretty big indicators that something was really wrong.

How Can An In-Home Separation Help In Situations Of Abuse?

Anne: Can you tell us what those were?

Lindsey: I had a conversation with him shortly after one of his therapy appointments. He was on his way out the door so it was not a good time to be talking but I had just asked him about how his therapy went and he was sharing with me about him being in a slump, that he had shared that with the therapist, and the therapist had been working with him on trying to determine what his motivation for working recovery was, kind of doing pros and cons of working recovery and not working recovery. They had been doing a couple of different exercises and then he shared a question that the therapist had asked him, and it was basically saying: how long do you think this is sustainable to stay in this slump? And then he told me that his answer to the therapist had been something to the extent of: “well, that depends on my wife.”

Anne: That depends on Lindsey.

Lindsey: Yeah, and I was like: “Oh, that’s not okay with me.” I don’t know if I could put words at the time to why that wasn’t okay with me, but that did not feel right. I want his recovery to be his own. I want him to be motivated to do it for his own well-being and I don’t want him to feel that it’s okay to not work recovery as long as I’m not making his life unbearable.

Anne: Or harder

Lindsey: Yeah

Anne: So, it’s like: Well, if she doesn’t bug me anymore then maybe forever, it just depends on Lindsey.

Lindsey: Granted, we talked about that conversation later. He didn’t intend it the way that I interpreted it. That said, it still came across really as a big red flag for me. So, at that point, that was actually the first time that I had ever considered the reality or possible reality of an out-of-home separation, and that scared me. It terrified me. So, the thought had been planted a couple of weeks before.

Anne: Before we go on, can you put into words, why if all other behaviors seemed healthy, why lying and porn use to you in unacceptable?

Lindsey: Yeah absolutely, the lying is just not an okay foundation for any relationship because if he’s lying about this who knows what else he could be lying about. Yes, on the surface of the things that I see and experience, seemed to be okay but who knows.

Anne: Like you said, you’re not the most

Lindsey: Observant.

Anne: I know you personally and you are, but it would be interesting to see if someone else were in your situation if she was like: “No, these things are really bad” these other things that maybe you’re not recognizing.

Lindsey: Yes, absolutely.

Anne: That would be interesting to know.

Lindsey: Oh, I’m sure it would be very different.

Anne: Or if she was like: “I agree.”

How Can Boundaries Help Me?

Gail Dines was on the podcast previously, if you have not heard that episode please go back and listen to it, she’s amazing. She was saying women: Even if nothing else is going on you do not want, you cannot accept porn in a relationship period. It is an abusive act and it’s not okay. So, I’m proud of you for admitting even though you don’t exactly know how these behaviors are affecting me. I know that it is, and I will not accept it.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: That is a really brave thing to do.

Lindsey: For me personally, pornography is something that goes against my values, my spiritual belief system, so that also has been very clear from the start. This is not okay. Before I found recovery for myself, I knew it was not okay, but I didn’t know that anything could be done about it. I would be told by Bishops what felt to me was contradictory statements. Like: Recovery is possible, sobriety is possible and yet addiction is going to be a life-long thing. I didn’t get how those two things that felt to me like opposites could both be true.

Anne: It’s possible for him to change but if he doesn’t it’s actually possible for you, the victim, to find peace and to find happiness. It’s taking a long time.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: It takes a long time to figure out what that looks like and how that’s going to go. Because lying and pornography are unacceptable to you, then you start this process of determining what is my next step for safety? I’ve already done an in-home separation and it seemed to keep me safe for a little while. For a little while, it held him accountable for his behaviors, but it didn’t necessarily motivate him to change, which wasn’t your point. You point was just to keep yourself safe. So, now you’re realizing you’re not any safer.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: How do you decide that you needed to increase your boundaries yet again toward an out-of-home separation (where he moves out of the house) because you’re still unsafe?

Lindsey: Yeah, that was a long thought process for me because realistically the boundary of an in-home separation has a wide range of levels of connection, even within that. I thought about it and I realized I had pretty much explored that range, at least as far as I knew how. We had a period of time fairly early on in the in-home separation where things were awful. He was acting out every week and telling me about it.

Anne: When you say acting out, you mean using porn and masturbating?

Lindsey: Yeah. So, that was happening on a weekly basis. It felt to me like it was endless and so that was really hard for me. At that point in time, out in-home separation was very low contact. I would schedule the times when I would be seeing him. It would be family dinner with the kids. Outside of that and maybe a few other things I would pretty much say: “Okay, text me if you’re going to walk through the upstairs so I know that you’re walking through the upstairs.” Things like that where I would very much know where he was and where I was and that those were separate places.

An In-Home Separation Is A Boundary

When things were a lot better, we did spend time together and he still slept in the basement and I still slept upstairs, and I still maintained my bedroom as my safe space, so he wasn’t going in my room if I was in the room. At all. Ever. I felt like I had explored that range and I felt like I was out of options. That’s a hard place to be because I don’t like making decisions from a place where I feel like there are no other options. That was a place where I had to sit for a while to think about: Have I really explored all my options?

Anne: I think that’s really interesting because people don’t understand that women who are in abusive relationships want the relationship to work and so they try every single option. It’s only when they are out of options that they think: Alright, I have to do this because I’m out of options. Before, when you did the in-house separation that seemed like the only option at the time or the best option.

Lindsey: It did seem like the best option. I did feel like I had a lot more options when I was making that decision.

Anne: What options were you considering at that time? You were considering an out-of-home separation and an in-home separation?

Lindsey: Honestly, I didn’t even consider an out-of-home at that time. It was pretty much options just within our relationship where I could say: “Okay, I need to not go on dates or I need to have variations in this space emotionally, physically.

Anne: So then, when his abusive behaviors continue, now you’re thinking: I’ve exhausted all those options and now my only is an out-of-home separation. Does this out-of-home separation include variations?

Lindsey: Oh yeah, absolutely. I know that there is a huge range of options in terms of does he still spend time at the house, does he spend time with the kids, is it really just a different place to sleep or is it like we’re living in different states? There is a lot of options within that, but it was less. It felt like I was at one level and I was jumping up to 5 levels higher in terms of my boundaries. That’s a big jump to make.

Anne: I was talking with you while you were trying to make this decision. You texted me and called me and asked if you were thinking through this straight, are these boundaries appropriate? So, you finally decided: “Yes, I am going to ask him to move out.” Your family again was confused.

Lindsey: Absolutely.

In-Home Separations Can Be Helpful For Porn Users

Anne: They’re like: “Why are you asking a perfectly capable, non-violent man who holds down a job, who is active in our church, who is seemingly a good dad to move out. It is confusing to us.”

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: At that time did they understand it any more or was it still just baffling to them?

Lindsey: I don’t know if I can make a good judgment on that honestly, because I was in such trauma myself. My perspective on what they were thinking and feeling, is probably very skewed.

Anne: Eventually you moved forward regardless of what your perception of how other people felt was and you’re currently separated with him out of the home?

Lindsey. Yes.

Anne: How have you felt about your level of safety now? Now, before we talk about that I want to say that it’s so difficult to assess your safety in this situation because both scenarios feel unsafe.

Lindsey: Yeah.

Anne: So, having them stay in the home feels unsafe because they’re lying to you and using porn. It feels uncomfortable and it’s against your value system. Then secondly, having your children’s dad move out. The financial ramifications that this might cause emotional ramifications and the fact that this could result in divorce, which you don’t want, feels unsafe too. So, it’s like which “unsafe” scenario do I choose and why? The decision is very complex. It’s not easy at all.

An In-Home Separation Allows For Meditation And Clarity

Since you have asked him to move out, have you felt, generally speaking, more emotionally safe.

Lindsey: I would say I felt more at peace. I don’t know if I would say more safe because realistically I don’t know. I felt a lot of unease around asking for the out-of-home separation simply for the financial aspect of it. That was another reason why I hesitated for a long time. The conclusion that I came to, and it worked for us (it doesn’t work for everyone), was I asked that he cover the cost with extra work. He came up with the cost so that it doesn’t dip into our normal finances. So, that gave me a lot of peace going into this. Saying: “This is possibly temporary. It could be temporary, and if it is temporary and he does end up moving back in and we end up reconciling and our relationship moves forward in a healthy way, it’s not going to impact us negatively in terms of our financial nature.

Anne: Lindsey and I are going to pause now, and we will continue this conversation next week. We’re going to talk about what benchmarks are. Benchmarks are not boundaries and we’ll have that discussion next week, so you know the difference between a benchmark and a boundary. We’ll also talk about safety and different interpretations of the word safety. So, please stay tuned for next week. I’m excited to have Lindsey back on.

If this podcast is helpful to you, please make a recurring monthly donation. Go to our website BTR.org, scroll down to the bottom, click on make-a-donation, and set your recurring monthly donation today. Your donations enable me to continue to bring this message of peace and safety to women throughout the world.

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