Why Boundaries Are Infidelity Are Harmful
Setting Boundaries After He Cheated (Do You Really Need Them?)
I’m going to say something today that may sound a little shocking if you’re accustomed to the trendy terms and ideas tossed around by contemporary psychologists. Get ready for it: setting boundaries after infidelity that are truly just an attempt to control his behavior will not help anyone, including yourself.
It's not fair that he chose to dishonor your marriage vows. With one stupid decision on his part, everything you hoped for vanished. Your sense of safety and trust disintegrated into thin air, and a relationship is missing its core without those two things. Life as you know it is now over. You don't have to try to think about what you know about your husband’s affair; it is now a permanent companion of every single moment.
Sadly, you will be told by people who love you and experts in this field that you need to create and keep boundaries when it comes to your husband. If he does not comply with your expectations, you’re told to dole out consequences. Your desire for safety drives you to give the responsibility of your safety to your spouse, who has just ripped your heart out.
Hand Over That Phone
You might demand that he give you all of his passwords and not take his phone into the bathroom. You might insist that he needs to participate in active recovery forever (such as in AA or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous). Perhaps you’ll tell him that he needs to be transparent about his location. You’ll almost certainly tell him to stop all contact with the affair partner immediately.
Imagine it: you have all of your husband's passwords and are trying to restore trust by becoming a social media, text, and email detective. You are going to waste your life away trying to find evidence that he is still lying, despite the fact that he could easily be deleting texts or DMs all the while.
If you’ve told him not to take his phone into the bathroom, then you’re only allowing yourself opportunities to regain trust and repair your marriage when he has to pee. Has he agreed to a tracking app? Even though you’ll be able to see exactly where he is, you will still be wondering about who is in the car with him. The problem is that no matter what you do or do not see, you don't trust it and a restored sense of safety remains nowhere to be found.
If you do find something damning, there is a brief moment of validation. “Ha,” you think, “I knew there was something more.” If you don't find anything, you will automatically tell yourself that he's just getting really good at hiding. And now what? Even with new information, you are at a standstill. The information goes into the big bag of ammunition you are gathering of all the reasons you should stay or leave, but you still find yourself paralyzed and unable to make a decision. Want to know what's even worse? You can't help but keep digging for more information, whether it’s through Facebook, his credit card statement, or under the seats of his car.
There's this strange feeling of powerlessness when we are trying to save our marriage after infidelity. It's like we feel as if we can somehow control our husbands enough to ensure that they will never hurt us again. In all actuality, trying to do this will only leave you feeling more powerless. You can pour through email after email and text after text, hating every second of this, all without knowing how to stop your sinking feeling of powerlessness. Do enough of this, and you’ll end up laying on your bathroom floor in a puddle of your own tears, while rehashing and ruminating on old stories and conversations. You’ll end up spilling your emotional vomit onto friends and family, during which you’ll try to protect him while also throwing him under the bus.
Powerlessness will follow you throughout hours of individual therapy, group therapy, reading self-help books, and your reflections over how, what, and why this all happened. You’ll know powerlessness during your weekly massages, facials, shopping trips, and growing debt, as you seek for an elusive moment of happiness. You’ll be powerless as your children speak to you, during which you’ll want so badly to be able to be there and listen to them, but your mind will be elsewhere. You’ll be powerless in that you’ll have lost the very being of who you are, existing only as a shell of the person you used to be.
The truth is that telling your husband what his boundaries need to be, which may include telling him that he needs to be okay with you checking and monitoring his phone, will in no way keep him abstinent from any addictions and will not ensure that he is being honest with you.
The problem remains that, after experiencing infidelity, you will constantly feel as if you’re in danger. Therefore, whether or not he is being truthful to you, you won’t be able to tell because your body is continually telling you to run.
On community forums, a woman will frequently share about her victories after adultery, explaining how her husband and herself are doing great in their recovery. She’ll state that her husband has complied with everything she has asked him to do and is respecting her boundaries. He has given her all of his passwords. He texts her at a certain time of the day. He checks in with her every night. He is attending his recovery meetings and is never late coming home from work. She'll tell the forum that she’s happy, but that couple is only doing ‘great’ as long as the husband does what he's supposed to do. The second that he steps back into human mode and doesn't do one thing perfectly, they'll be back to square one.
Trust and safety are not going to be rebuilt in your marriage by waiting for your husband to accept the boundaries that you've decided he should have for himself. Boundaries don’t work that way. Trying to set boundaries for an individual other than yourself will only emphasize your own powerlessness.
Regardless of whether or not he desires to heal your marriage, you will not be able to fully embrace your life with or without him while your body is in a state of trauma. After you experience the disheartening truth of your husband's infidelity, your body goes haywire. You have been severely injured, and your brain and body are now on a mission to ensure your safety. This takes the form of recurring thoughts and panic every time his phone pings because it must be her on the other end. You might recognize this if your heart rate rises anytime he tells you he's going to be late from work. Perhaps you are blowing up and raging at your children because you can't stand the feeling inside of you. In its attempt to guarantee safety in your future, your body continues to send you signals reminding you of the harm you've endured in the past. Because of these signals, you will remain cautious, tepid, and unsettled. You will go to therapy and read certain books. You will look for warning signs and question everything regarding him for the rest of your life. These signals will cause you to suffer for years, never feeling safe.
My client, Joyce, came to me after working with her husband since 1998 to reconcile their marriage. She and her husband had traveled the United States visiting specialists and participating in week-long retreats and weekend workshops. After 24 years and tens of thousands of dollars spent, she still didn't trust him. She still wasn’t investing herself fully in her marriage. The major missing element was that she hadn’t healed her emotional trauma.
Laying the Trauma to Rest
Let's be real for a second. If you don't heal the emotional trauma you've experienced soon, you are going to continue to suffer for years and miss out on the love and life that is here and available for you. Regardless of any boundary that you set and whether or not he is complying, clearing your emotional trauma allows you to stop running on the hamster wheel. You’ll stop wasting your life away, trying to control and police him, because we all know that's not working. It's only increasing the anxiety that is already rampant in you. Once you've cleared your emotional trauma, you'll never set another external boundary that requires you to give your power to anybody else. You will trust yourself, recognize your own power and be able to hold yourself safe, because you will no longer be functioning from a place of fear.
What if I could show you how to do this? What if I could show you how to get your life back? What if I could show you how to experience the peace you desire? It's so simple and yet so hard. Setting up a list of boundaries and hopes in order to find safety only leaves you looking at your husband's phone and being a detective of his social media, leaving you feeling out of control. Pema Chodron says that the most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.
This is possible for you. This is what has been missing for thousands of women. I hope that just by hearing this, you experience a sense of peace. What healing from this trauma looks like is learning how to live again, to not be triggered by a song or a word or a look, to not be wound so tightly in an attempt to keep it all together that you end up exploding shrapnel into everyone and everything.
Healing from this trauma looks like seeing the blue sky and feeling the sun on your face. It looks like hearing your child's laughter and enjoying the touch of your husband's hand in yours.
Now, I would love to hear from you in the comments section below. Please tell me what boundaries you have tried to set with your husband in an attempt to find trust and safety
and then tell me if they worked.
You can make yourself crazy trying to control someone else’s behavior or you can put your energy towards what is in your control: your own recovery. Apply for my group coaching program and learn how to finally be free of your emotional trauma. So many women who have completed the program are now living lives full of peace, love, and contentment, and I want that for you too. Give yourself a chance to get off that hamster wheel. You’ve been running so hard, but you’re still stuck in that cage.