facebook-pixel How Can I Set Boundaries If My Husband is Emotionally Abusing Me?
This is how I set boundaries with emotionally abusive husband.
How to Set Boundaries In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

If you're wondering how to set boundaries in an emotionally abusive relationship, you are NOT alone. Elizabeth continues her story.

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This is how I set boundaries with emotionally abusive husband.

Learning how to set boundaries in an emotionally abusive relationship may feel confusing and overwhelming. But here at BTR.ORG, we know that with the proper tools – including support and self-compassion – you can master boundary-setting and begin your journey to emotional safety and healing.

Elizabeth, a member of the BTR.ORG community, is back on the podcast, sharing the second part of her story. As she learns and grows, so do her safety boundaries. Tune in and read the full transcript below for more.

This episode is Part 2 of Anne’s interview with Elizabeth.
Part 1: Is The Cycle of Abuse a Myth?
Part 2: How to Set Boundaries in An Emotionally Abusive Relationship (this episode)

Boundaries in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship Should Establish Greater Safety

Have you ever tried to set boundaries expecting more safety and security, only to feel more exposed to harm than ever? That’s because traditional boundary-setting models simply don’t work in abuse scenarios. Strategies like:

  • If/Then Statements (“If you yell at me, I will move sleep in another bedroom);
  • Statements of Values (“I want a healthy partner who treats me kindly and non-abusively); and
  • Ultimatums (“If you don’t stop gaslighting me, cheating on me, and lying to me, then I’m filing for divorce”);

Have been touted by relationship “professionals” as solutions to emotional abuse, when in reality, they usually keep victims exposed to harmful situations.

The BTR.ORG Boundaries Model Actually Works in Emotionally Abusive Relationships

We created the BTR.ORG Boundaries Model because we want victims to actually experience greater emotional and psychological safety.

How to Set Boundaries if My Husband is Emotionally Abusive

Effective Boundaries in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship are:

  • Courageous actions that evolve to fit the needs of the victim
  • Often unspoken
  • Essential to emotional and psychological safety.

Boundaries are NOT:

  • If-then statements given to the abuser verbally or in writing
  • A statement of ones values, or of what a person hopes for or needs
  • An expected behavior with an attached consequence or threat.

How Do I Learn to Set Boundaries in My Emotionally Abusive Relationship?

Establishing effective safety boundaries is new territory for many women who find BTR.

If you’re wondering how to begin this process, ask yourself these questions:

  • What actions can I take today to begin creating more emotional & psychological safety for myself?
  • How will I learn effective strategies to keep expanding my emotional & psychological safety? (The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop teaches you, step-by-step, exactly how to establish and maintain effective boundaries in an emotionally abusive relationship)
  • Where will I seek support as I begin the process of establishing safety boundaries? (We recommend BTR.ORG Group Sessions)

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:01):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne.

Elizabeth, a member of our community is back on today. We’re going to continue the conversation that we had last week. We were talking about how she was going to move back to Canada, so if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, listen to that first and then join us here. We’re just going to jump right in.

Canada’s laws are much more effective when it comes to domestic abuse. Did you end up moving to Canada?

Elizabeth (01:56):
I did.

Anne (01:57):
Okay. And was that before or after your divorce?

Setting Boundaries Requires Strategy

Elizabeth (02:00):
After. I didn’t have a green card. I was just authorized to work in the United States, and he had thought I would continue to pursue my green card and he could help me so that I could remain in the United States. So I didn’t tell him that I had changed my plan and that I changed the plan to, I’m actually going to move back to Canada where I’m a citizen.

So for a couple months he believed that he still had a certain amount of control over me after we were separated, and then I pursued to do everything legally and upfront. When he found that information out, he was obviously very upset, but it protects me. I’m not a citizen there and I don’t have any support.

“This guy sounds like a coercive controller”

Anne (02:40):
And at that time, in that instance, protected you from prolonged legal abuse in terms of the divorce, but maybe not in terms of custody. I have a feeling that you’re going to bring up custody because this guy sounds like a coercive controller. This type of abuser really enjoys chaos and pain, and they will even hurt themselves because it’s so fun for them to see someone else in chaos and pain. And so it’s very strange.

They do things that seem really stupid because it’s hurting them, but it’s also hurting you, and it also seems very smart. And women in this situation are usually like, how can you be so smart and so stupid at the exact same time?

Elizabeth (03:31):
It is a question that’s crossed my mind.

Anne (03:33):
So let’s talk about the post divorce abuse. What happened after?

The Bank Record Subpoena Process

Elizabeth (03:39):
They asked, do we want to subpoena his bank records? And we had never shared banking. I’d never looked at any of that. They said it’s just something we typically do during divorce. So I was like, okay, sure. And his bank records showed when we first separated the first couple months after, he was at a college bar every second night.

So he was right back into the kind of behaviors that he’d been used to. I just said that because when we first were moving away, I think he was busy with his own thing, so he wasn’t as intent and wasn’t as involved. But then maybe something changed in his life. And when we were, in fact, across the border, he started to really just harass me a lot through the parenting app. And we had created this parenting plan when we lived in the us and when the borders finally opened and we moved to the area we moved to, we had no real concept of the impact it would be on my daughter, who was two at the time, barely two.

That Moment You Realize You Need To Set Boundaries

But it was a rigorous, rigorous schedule for her. And I worked full-time. She was in daycare, and two nights a week she’d have to be away from home for 12 hours. We’d have to meet him at this neutral location. It’s dark, it’s raining, the roads are bad. He had no intent.

As much feedback as I gave him that this was so hard on her and can we please possibly figure out a different way for him to get that one and a half hour visit by extending his weekend visits or something? He just wouldn’t budge and he could see the difficulty for her in terms of her sleep schedule.

Anne (05:14):
And for you. Because it was hard for you too. And he’s thinking, awesome, awesome. It’s hard for her and it’s hard for the baby.

When You Set Boundaries With An Emotional Abuser, You May Find They’re “All Talk, No Action”

Elizabeth (05:23):
Exactly. I’m sure he knew and he didn’t care if it was hard on me, then she was just kind of a byproduct of that or whatever. So that went on for about six months, and then I just said, enough, you can take me to court, but I’m decreasing this to one night a week on her weeknights, and this is where I find him to be kind of a lot of talk, but then no action.

I think if you get down to the truth of everything of what he actually wants, it’s not that extra one and a half hours. It was more that, like you said, it was kind of impacting our lives and we had no free time. We’re exhausted all the time. We’re bending to his will. And so that’s been the main thing, still kind of a lot of crazy making in that he’ll say, you never give me any time, dah, dah, dah.

Setting Boundaries is Empowering!

But then there’s evidence of all through the parenting app. And the parenting app has been so great because it’s all there. It’s all documented and you’re not having to fish through to find, and it’s very validating to look back and go, oh, this is all the times I offered, or these are all the things. So it contradicts itself. And now here we are three years since we moved, and I can just say you’re contradicting yourself. Well, now I don’t even really say that much. He knows.

But at first I was overexplaining and deflecting, and now I don’t do any of that. He doesn’t really try to make up any extra time with her so that it’s kind of playing itself out. And the less I engage, the less of a rise he gets from me. The more I have cut down any interaction on the app to the bare minimum, he kind of shrinks away. That being said, now he won’t let me talk to my daughter when she goes away on the weekends. So that’s a way to kind of unquote make me pay.

The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop Teaches YOU How to Set Boundaries in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Anne (07:11):
So the strategy that you used, that’s one of the concepts that we teach in The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop. It’s how to think about the abuser so that you are in a state of mind to be able to respond to them in a way that protects you, how to communicate with them, and then how to set boundaries the way that is effective, where they can’t actually cross them because it’s all you. And these types of boundaries that we teach in the workshop, they’re never anything that you say.

Elizabeth (07:44):
I love that.

What Will The BTR.ORG Living Free Workshop Teach You About Setting Boundaries?

Anne (07:45):
Because women who take the workshop will learn this with an abuser if you tell them, Hey, I don’t like it when you wear green, just for example, they’ll be like, sweet, now I know how to bugger. I’m going to wear green. It’s never a way to solve the problem. You’re always just giving them a sign how to harass me. It bothers me when you do this. They’re like, great, thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep doing it. We never ever want to tell them what our boundaries are or what we need or what we want or anything like that, because that only puts us in more danger.

So The Living Free Workshop talks about that, but one of the things that you said is a really important principle that we teach in The Living Free Workshop, and it is, do not believe them. So many times these abusers will say, well, I’ll take you to court. And you’re terrified, right? You don’t want to lose your rotter. Yes. So you think, well, I better do what he says, or he’s going to take me to court.

When You Set Boundaries, He May Threaten Family Court – Here’s What to Do:

Elizabeth (08:39):
And that went on for a couple of years. For me.

Anne (08:42):
The better way to respond is, oh, okay, sounds good. This is my attorney’s phone number. Have your attorney contact him. Just be like, oh, alright. That sounds good. Here’s my attorney’s phone number. Let me know how it goes and leave it at that. Some of them will take you to court, so just know that it’s not always going to end up like that.

But the majority of them, they just want to make you do what they want and they think threats are going to get them that, but they don’t actually want to spend the time and energy to take you to court because in reality, their actions very rarely match their words. And that goes the same for promises. Of course, I love you. I’m not going to look at porn.

And then it goes the same for threats too. Usually if they’ve threatened to harm you physically and in your state, that enables you to get a protective order, get it, because that will always help you. And the criminal route is always better than civil for protection. So if you can get some kind of criminal action, that’s always going to help you more. So that’s good that at this point, more or less, you’ve been delivered because you stopped believing him.

The BTR.ORG Boundary Model Teaches You How to Set Boundaries in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Elizabeth (09:54):
Exactly. And I just advocate for myself and my daughter, and like I said, I have the documentation to support decisions and all of that, so I’ve just kind of protected myself that way. What you said about the boundaries, I think of that all the time, and I share it with other people because I learned it from the podcast. It’s an actionable, it’s not words because many people think it’s a lot of words to describe your boundary, and I love that. It’s an action, an action you take.

Anne (10:21):
Yeah. That’s the only thing that will actually protect you. And if you tell them your boundary, it’s a big giant flag that says, Hey, this is how to abuse me. So you never, ever, ever want to tell them once they’re an abuser. Of course, in the beginning you’re trying to figure out is this abuse what’s going on?

And instead of asking him or talking to ’em about abuse again with living free, we recommend that you just observe, just watch. You don’t have to ask him, Hey, are you abusive? Or This is abuse. You don’t have to bring it up. You can just observe and you could see that he’s abusive. If you see that he’s abusive, you don’t have to tell him you need to get to safety, but you don’t need to say anything about it.


Elizabeth (11:04):
He’s heavily just projected that towards me. So the parenting app, I had to go through some of the documentation recently, and I think it was over 30 counts of being, he accusing me of being a parental alienator and a narcissist, and I don’t comment. I learned that early on too. I’m not here to diagnose him, but I will comment on his behaviors at times, but I really refrain from that as well. No point to it.

But yeah, he’s very heavily projects on me that I’m mentally unstable and where I was living, like I mentioned there just, it’s in the northern states near the Canadian border, and I just couldn’t find anything in the city I was at for support. And so I mentioned he started SAA, they did have a group, and then I found a COSA group of about four or five women in that area.

How Did Elizabeth Find BTR.ORG?

I just didn’t find that I got much from it, and so I just started looking for podcasts and different information, and I stumbled across BTR and where I was being so isolated, it was what was my main support really, and just starting to connect the dots. I did read some books as well, but I would say the podcasts from BTR were the main thing that kept me rooted in reality, where I was like, yes, this is what matches, because like you said, certain parts of COSA, there were certain things that I was like, yeah, sort of.

But then listening to the podcast and the different people you would have on was kind of the main thing that rooted me in reality of what I was experiencing. It was like a big, yes, this fits with what I’m experiencing. That’s kind of what helped me in a lot of my decision making. His counselor even said to him at one point, he said, she’s reading these books. He didn’t know about the podcast. She’s reading these books. And she kind of silenced him and said, she’s becoming empowered. It threatened him that I was learning what I was learning then I was no longer kind of trapped in the chaos.

“This makes sense as to what I already know.”

Elizabeth, BTR.ORG Community Member

Anne (13:09):
Was the BTR podcast when you found it, was it kind of revelatory? Was it something totally new that you hadn’t thought of or heard before? Or was it something that you did know inside but you just didn’t know you knew it?

Elizabeth (13:22):
Looking back, I would say the latter for sure. From working in healthcare, I have some knowledge of mental health knowledge from books I’ve read and things like that. And so I think as I started to listen to it, I’m like, yes, this makes sense as to what I already know. I talked about the addiction side of it and attachment. I knew about attachment kind of.

Omar Minwalla’s “Secret Sexual Basement”

So it kind of brought everything together at that time. It was like in 2018, and you had the gentleman on who’s written a couple books, he talks about the secret sexual basement. Those episodes were around that time and just starting to kind of put pieces together. It was like I knew that this was ill treatment, but I didn’t think it was as calculated as it was.

I think the thing that is really interesting is that women, when they find the podcast, they’re like, yes, they knew it, but they didn’t have words for it, or they couldn’t really bring it to the surface.

“How did I not know? How did I not understand?”

And then I think the other interesting thing is that they’re, how did I not know? How did I not understand? That’s how I felt when I read Why Does He Do That? I was like, how am I a college graduate with a master’s degree who doesn’t want to be abused?

I’m not afraid of divorce, and how can I not realize I’m being abused? This is crazy. So it’s both a, I knew it, and then how did I not know it at the exact same time? And it’s such a strange place to be where at least I felt so stupid that I didn’t see it.

But then also not stupid at all because I’d never been educated about it. And all of the abuse checklists are like, does he control your transportation? And you’re like, no. Does he trap you in a room? No. I mean, maybe he might trap you in a room. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t. I’m just saying the classic abuse checklists didn’t seem to fit my situation. It was just confusing.

Secret-Keeping is Power Over

Elizabeth (16:40):
The idea of secret keeping, secret is power over. That really resonated with me. I’m like, yeah, because at first I thought he didn’t realize that it was painful for me, or he didn’t realize the depth of his actions, the impact of his actions. But then I kind of circled to the fact that I didn’t really matter to him, is what I kind of came to.

Anne (17:03):
Well, it’s even the opposite. He does it on purpose.
He uses your feelings against you to control you rather than listens or caress about your feelings. So the only reason he pays attention to your feelings is to be able to manipulate you, control the situation, control the narrative, and that’s where women, well-meaning awesome, caring women, they don’t know what they’re dealing with.

And so of course, they’re going to share their feelings with their husband because they think in sharing their feelings, they’ll be able to resolve the issue. But with an abuser, sharing your feelings is literally offering them a list of how to manipulate you better. And so that’s why it’s so important to know what you’re looking at. So Elizabeth, if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you tell her?

As You Set Boundaries, “Trust your gut”

Elizabeth (18:00):
It’s kind of cliche, but trust your gut. How do you feel around that individual that you’re with? That was a big one for me. I never felt calm or always felt like something wasn’t right. I would teach myself and I teach my daughter. How do you feel when that happened to you? The feeling attached to being around someone or how their behaviors make you feel, and then boundaries, because he was sometimes snide or joking, and I’ve experienced this with other people I’ve dated.

If you put up a boundary that he, in the beginning would be like, oh, yes, you’re right, I should have that boundary. But then I felt like there was undermining surrounding, it kind of diminishing me, invalidating me, and those things I just pushed aside. I was like, oh, when I brought it to him, he did say he would go along with it, but there’s the whole understanding of boundaries and the response to them.

Learning How to Set Boundaries in an Abusive Relationship Can Change Your Life For Good

I watch my own daughter give a no if she’s having a video call, no, I don’t like that book. Or no, and I watch the response, and I’m like, oh, I know that. Of course you like it. You just don’t know. You do get this constant kind of harassment almost. So I think just that knowledge about boundaries, it shouldn’t be something that they come around the back door and harass you about, obviously, or make snide remarks about or attack your character if it’s something that you have made clear that you stand for or that align with your values.

Anne (19:26):
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I appreciate the time that you’ve taken to talk with us today. Thank you so much, Elizabeth.

recovering from betrayal trauma
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Discovered porn or inappropriate texts on your husband's phone?
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