Boundaries In Marriage: How To Stay Safe When Your Husband Is Unfaithful And/Or Abusive

narcissistic husband

Defining Boundaries In Relation To Sexual Addiction & Narcissistic Behaviors

Thanks to Dr. Adam Moore for this description of boundaries:

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. 

When a husband uses pornography or engages in emotional or sexual infidelity, emotional abuse and narcissistic behaviors generally result. The abuse can be in the form of angry attacks, criticism, or stonewalling. Emotional neglect is also a form of mental abuse.

These behaviors affect wives. No matter how we try to avoid it, we can't control our husband's behavior or the affect it has on us - UNLESS we learn to set boundaries.

Wives of Sex Addicts Feel Confused

Wives of addicts often struggle with confusion about how the set and enforce boundaries. Most are confused about what to do, and how to solve their problems. Also, because we are frequently victims of gaslighting, it's hard sometimes to sort out the reality of our situations.

Generally speaking, they look to change their husband as a way to avoid being abused, but that only perpetuates the problem.

What Are Boundaries?


1. Define limits of relationships.
2. Are healthy responses to someone violating you.
3. Serve to keep you safe while someone who has hurt you rebuilds your trust.
4. Protect you from repeated harm.

Boundaries Are Not:

1. Retribution.
2. A way to force someone to act the way you want.
3. A way to avoid emotional pain.
4. An excuse to emotionally disconnect.

A Healthy Way To Respond To A Sex Addict When Narcissistic Behaviors Are Present

Many wives of addicts find themselves taking responsibility for the behavior of their husband, in an effort to stop the negative consequences that naturally occur from such behavior. Boundaries are the opposite of becoming responsible for his behaviors or recovery. 

Some warning signs that you may be crossing into becoming responsible for the negative behaviors of a sex addict are:

1. Giving constant reminders of recovery behaviors (have you set a therapy appointment, are you reading your scriptures, etc).
2. Experiencing trauma (intense, consistent emotional reactions) to his lack of recovery behaviors.
3. Pushing or coercing him into doing things he has committed to do, but is not doing.
4. Basing your commitment to your own recovery on his progress in his recovery.
5. Numbing or disconnecting from your emotions.
6. Manipulating or controlling the addict.

Good boundaries will help you abstain from these unhealthy responses. 

Personal Boundaries And Relational Boundaries

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:

1. I can choose my responses to my husband's behaviors. I do not have to let my trauma control how I respond.
2. Instead of shaming him for hurting me, 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.
3. I'll decide when and how I begin to trust him again.
4. I'll work my own recovery, regardless of what he is doing.
5. 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.
6. I choose not to be responsible for his choices.

Relational boundary statements sound like this:

1. Even if you decide not to work recovery, I will continue to do my own recovery work.
2. If you act out in your addiction or abuse me, I'll ask you not to sleep in my bed until I feel safe with you again.
3. I will feel much safer and consider trusting again if you are attending weekly SAL 12 Step meetings. If you chose not to go, I'll be limited in my ability to emotionally connect with you.
4. If you blame me for your behaviors, choices and perceptions, I will not argue with your or defend myself. I will stop communicating with you until I feel safe again.
5. I will not have sex with you when I feel coerced or emotionally disconnected from you.
6. If you don't work toward understanding how your addiction and abuse have 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.

Defining and enforcing boundaries is very difficult for wives of sex addicts. However, our safety depends on it. It's often the defining process of our recovery and the true start of our healing.

Much of the content of this post is from Dr. Adam Moore's post: Defining and Enforcing Boundaries In Sexual Addiction Recovery.

Boundaries And Surrendering Go Hand In Hand

When I started to set boundaries, things got much 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 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 texting about the kids or through my father. He did not use his ability to contact me through my father to build safety or trust, but rather to continue to abuse me. Then he abandoned his family by deciding to file 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 abuser and addict. 

I have had to surrender my husband's choices 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. But because I was in recovery, I was able to watch him make these choices, feel the pain of the consequences without taking responsibility for his choices.