Setting Boundaries

2 Jul

This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately.  Last week we were supposed to have marriage counseling together, but Mr. Mess got sick and couldn’t make it.  I decided to still go on my own because I really like our therapist and enjoy getting the chance to bounce things off of him.  He was running late because of a new appointment that entered “crisis mode” as he put it, so we only had about 30-40 minutes.  He asked me what I wanted to talk about, and boundaries was the first thing on my mind.  I have written about boundaries here a few times (Letting Go… Easier Said Than Done and Finishing up the Checklist among others), but hadn’t really delved into it much in therapy.

One of my first questions was how to go about setting boundaries when it comes to things like lying.  I know that I don’t want to accept dishonesty in my relationship.  However, I don’t know what a healthy response to my husband crossing that boundary would be.  I don’t want to blow things out of proportion, but at the same time I don’t want to hold my feelings back or make it such a non-issue that it seems like I’m okay with it.  He agreed that it can be difficult sometimes to determine what the proper response is to another person crossing our boundaries.  In this case he definitely agreed that I don’t want to make my husband feel like it isn’t a big deal to lie to me.

He reminded me of when we first came to him and how he felt our biggest issue – then and now – was the loss of trust.  Lying is an almost hard-coded response that my husband has been doing since childhood.  That contributed to his affairs, and it also made our recovery much harder than it would have been otherwise.  Because lying has been a constant part of our relationship it is very important that I be able to express my feelings.  My husband really needs to understand what his lying does to me, us, and the marital repairs we are trying to make.  Keeping those things in the forefront of his mind will hopefully help condition his mind that lying is NOT the easiest or best resolution to discomfort.

We have definitely come a long way since the first day we walked into his office, but the continual small lies keep breaking my new-found confidence in my husband.  We have talked through several such lying incidents in marriage counseling.  He said that he can see progress in my husband.  I agree.  For example, I explained a lying incident that happened before our last counseling session.  Mr. Mess initially lied to me about something, then when I questioned him again he admitted the truth.  This was progress for us, believe it or not, because it only took me asking “is that really the truth?” for him to be honest with me.  We also were able to talk about why he would lie and how disappointed and hurt it made me feel.

The MC told me that was a good way to handle things.  He said that in future instances I should be sure to let him know how I am feeling.  He said to try to avoid overarching “always” or “never” and “you” statements and stick to “I” statements that refer to a specific action – like “I feel shut out and hurt when you do xyz” versus “You always shut me out.”  We also talked about strategies for redirecting the conversation if it turns into a defensive, sarcastic, or unproductive argument.  He told me ways that I can refocus us – like saying “That isn’t what we are talking about here” or “Let’s get back to the main topic.”  He told me not to temper my feelings or hold back for fear of how he might respond.  My husband has to manage his own response and learn to control his anger, defensiveness, and lashing out.  If I feel uncomfortable or like we will not make any progress if things continue in a negative way, then I am free to disengage, tell him I won’t speak to him when he is behaving that way, and stop responding.

The moral of the story – if you will – was that I should be responsible for conveying my feelings in a healthy way.  That includes setting boundaries and responding with consequences (whatever they may be) if those are broken.  I should control my own response just like my husband should control his.  If something he does hurts me, I should express that.  If he responds badly, I shouldn’t reinforce that by reacting and being drawn into the drama.  If he crosses a boundary, then I need to be responsible for protecting myself and taking myself out of the line of fire.  I can only control me - what I ask for, what I accept, how I approach the situation, and how far I let him go.  What a ground-breaking concept!

Sadly, I had to put that new knowledge to use far sooner than I ever expected.  That’s because my husband lied to me again yesterday.  About something stupid that there was no need to hide from me.  Again.  Just like in my post Lessons from Judge Judy, all I needed was common sense to break through his flimsy lies.  Unlike the last time when he confessed pretty quickly, this time he reverted all the way back to the days of covering up and lying even as he was admitting part of the lie.  There were several times he lied to me yesterday, all about the same subject.

During the process I told him clearly that finding out he was keeping something insignificant from me (that he shouldn’t have any fear about telling me), makes me feel very afraid that when it matters (i.e. if he is tempted to cheat, or otherwise has something he would have fear about) he won’t tell me the truth.  I think I did a pretty good job of sticking to how I feel and not using “always” statements, although I will admit that I brought up past instances of lying as well.  I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not since I did stick to specifics.  I just felt like he didn’t understand why I would be hurt about the lies and omissions that he considered “not a big deal.”

I thought that we had things worked out, and I ended up deciding to accept his last explanation of the situation.  Until I heard his phone vibrating in the other room.  He picked it up and said he had a voice mail.  He told me what it said – in the loose way that he does  (“oh, it was xyz who said blah”).  Then he quickly said that his phone was on vibrate because he must have forgotten to turn the ringer on after work on Friday.  Okay.  Except, wait…  We lost power on Saturday and couldn’t find his phone.  He had me call it from mine, and his phone rang.  Not vibrated – rang.  Hmmm…..  That got my Spidey senses tingling.  Why the lie?  I checked his phone and once again, I had facts in my hand that directly contradicted what he told me.  Still he tried to gaslight me into thinking I was crazy and should believe him instead of my eyes.

That was it.  As I mentioned earlier, I had already decided that one of my firm boundaries is that honesty is required in my relationship (honesty is one of the most important things to me and has been my entire life – see Being Honest).  That means openness, sharing, no topic is off-limits, and no lies.  Until that moment I didn’t really know what I needed to do to enforce that boundary.  If this was a new relationship that would be it – see you later, sayonara, have a good life, but this won’t work for me.  It isn’t a new relationship, though, and we have been working on this underlying issue of his for a while.   That doesn’t mean I have to accept lies, though.  I told him he needed to sleep somewhere else.  He collected some clothes from the bedroom for work, and headed to the couch.

As I sat there in bed alone I started thinking (big shock, right?).  The more I thought about it, the more I liked my response.  At first I started to ask him why.  Then I asked how he could do that – lie to me, then “come clean” with more lies, reconcile knowing it was based on a lie, and then gaslight me when I found ultimate proof.  I felt myself starting to get worked up.  I tried to stop him from walking away from me.  Then instead I stopped myself.  I told him he wasn’t sleeping in our marital bed that night or any night until he talked to someone about this, really committed to working on it, and got back to weekly IC (his pattern is to go for a few weeks then stop).  Then I ended it.  Because it doesn’t really matter why he lied to me right now.  What matters is he did.  He needs to figure out his why.  I need to protect myself from further hurt.

Truthfully, it felt good.  It was nice to just worry about me.  I couldn’t engage further, get angry, and start a screaming match that would keep me up all night, get my emotions running crazy, and not resolve anything.  I couldn’t jump into therapist mode, and try to help him figure out his issues.  I also couldn’t sleep in the same bed with him.  I couldn’t allow our feet to brush together, feel the rhythm of his sides as he inhaled and exhaled, hear his snoring, and be woken by him rolling out of bed in the morning.  It is all too intimate.  That’s a vulnerability and closeness I can’t share with someone who has just lied to me.  So here I am – a woman who just set and enforced a boundary.  It has left me feeling peaceful.

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21 Responses to “Setting Boundaries”

  1. Cdn Stormlover July 3, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    I’m so sad that you’re dealing with this. I do pray that you both will find “peace” within this relationship….and within yourselves. I applaud you for being so brave and committing yourself to him and the relationship given the hardship of what you’re enduring. The road you’re taking is not a smooth one by any means. Setting boundaries and sticking to them is not as easy as others may think…..but they’re essential. Kudos to you my friend.
    HUGZZZZZZZ
    Lee

    • beautifulmess7 July 3, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks so much! You’re right that the road isn’t a smooth one. I think the ultimate destination will be spectacular, though. That’s why I can hold on and go for the ride. I try to think of it like a safari. :) You have to take some dirt roads filled with potholes and take off across plains that have no paths at all, but the view at the end is amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

  2. Samantha Baker July 3, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Trust. It’s earned, not freely given.

    Honesty, I too expect it in my marriage too. But it’s something my husband struggles with too, as you know.

    Being vulerable is so difficult.

    I think you did amazing. You gave a consequence. You didn’t fall back into the same cycle. You took care of you. Bravo.

    THis paragraph???

    The MC told me that was a good way to handle things. He said that in future instances I should be sure to let him know how I am feeling. He said to try to avoid overarching “always” or “never” and “you” statements and stick to “I” statements that refer to a specific action – like “I feel shut out and hurt when you do xyz” versus “You always shut me out.” We also talked about strategies for redirecting the conversation if it turns into a defensive, sarcastic, or unproductive argument. He told me ways that I can refocus us – like saying “That isn’t what we are talking about here” or “Let’s get back to the main topic.” He told me not to temper my feelings or hold back for fear of how he might respond. My husband has to manage his own response and learn to control his anger, defensiveness, and lashing out. If I feel uncomfortable or like we will not make any progress if things continue in a negative way, then I am free to disengage, tell him I won’t speak to him when he is behaving that way, and stop responding.

    Is exactly what my therapist has said to me and then us together. It’s been so effective for me I think. THough I’m still working on the whole not holding back because of how he might respond.

  3. survivamama July 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    God does this ever sound like my week! it’s so frustrating isn’t it?…especially for those of us who try to “fix” everything and this lying habit just seems so easy to fix…and yet it isn’t :-). I’m sorry you’ve got to face this crap yet again but it sounds like you’re thinking of you and that’s the best place to start.

    • beautifulmess7 July 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

      Yeah… The lying thing really does seem like it would be easy to fix. Just stop lying!!! It really is that easy. But apparently not for them.

      This time around I’m actually paying attention to the steps in the 180. I like it so much that I’ve decided to add it to my blog as an additional page. It really has been keeping me sane to just focus on ME. :)

  4. Allison September 11, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    Wow! So very well said! I am having such a hard time setting and enforcing boundaries with my husband. We’re separated now, and have been for 3 months….I finally set a boundary and told him to continue counseling….and he has been fighting me tooth & nail making every consequence my fault. He is still in denial and has been for a yr now. He’s just playing games, threatens divorce, wants a 2nd, 3rd, 4th opinion cause he doesn’t agree with the counselor we’re going to. He goes to counseling but drags his feet, and doesn’t really apply what’s been told to him. I’ve caught him in so many lies too, or he’ll purposely omit info to twist the truth. He’s such a good spin Dr and manipulator. I don’t even know why I put up with it for our entire 8 yr marriage!! I’ve learned, like u, I’m co-dependent apparently and get anxiety worrying that he’ll just lie & hurt me again. This is so extremely frustrating and he just blames me for leaving.

    • beautifulmess7 September 11, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      All addicts are master liars. They blameshift and gaslight and try to make you feel crazy. They twist your words, focus on whether you used the exact right word, and generally act like toddlers.

      The point of boundaries is that you make it very clear what you need to feel safe and continue working on the marriage. He may or may not comply. If he doesn’t, you need to be prepared with what the consequences will be. Choosing the consequence over complying withthe boundary will then be entirely his decision. You don’t want to go to therapy? Fine, that means we stay separated and I move towards divorce. Don’t want to get help with your porn addiction, same thing.

      It isn’t easy, but no matter what you have to be prepared to follow-through. It is hard to stay strong in the face of someone who is lying to you and blaming you for their own actions. You just have to keep telling yourself that you didn’t cause his problems, you can’t change them, and you can’t cure them. All of that is his responsibility. Your responsibility is keeping yourself safe and sane.

  5. DonnaM June 29, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    WOW! That last paragraph sure hit home to me. I started that yesterday after another lie and I feel so peaceful about it. I finally feel like I am taking care of me and not allowing him to control everything.

  6. madelinelaughs July 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    I love this post! Spread Information will be featuring this post on the Facebook fanpage this week. Please stop by and check it out, say hi and post a link back to your own fanpage too. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spread-Information/182778828417013?ref=hl

  7. sameboat75 June 8, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Thank you for writing this, it resonates so deeply with me, I have just left my lying and cheating husband but am open to trying to work it out for sour children, but from a safe distance. He knows this is on him to fix not me, and is finally facing his truths. But like you my faith and trust in him is shattered so I dont know how long it will take. It truely saddens me though to read all the responses and see so many women are in the same boat. When will this vicious and destructive cycle end?? When will they see the beauty and value in who is standing in front of them instead of searching elsewhere?? When will they stop breaking our hearts?? When we say enough!!! That’s when! Thank you again. You have reassured me that I have made the right decision.

    • beautifulmess7 June 8, 2014 at 8:32 am #

      You have. There are good people who wouldn’t lie and cheat. Don’t let this make you jaded. You’re doing the right thing.

  8. StrongerMe July 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Its hard not to take the bait and fall into the old pattern…they gaslight and storytell, you plead for answers. No matter what you say or how much you cry, they don’t get the hurt. I like that you handled it in a way that made you feel good. That, above anything else, tells you that you handled it the right way. No beating a dead horse, no pleading for truths that you may never get. State the obvious and move on. The ONE time that I remember my ex owning any behavior was when I handled it that way. I still doubt that I got the full truth, but I can tell you that my mouth hit the floor when he said, “You were right. I was at a bar.” I had told him that I knew the truth and that I didn’t care to talk to him until he could admit it. I hung up the phone and went about my life. 30 minutes later he called with that statement. I will treasure that moment forever.
    Of course, my ex never met a boundary that he didn’t love to cross, so that is the only example that I can find. Most of the time he made up more and more lies to cover the other lies. And never admitted anything. UGH.

    • beautifulmess7 July 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

      I know that feeling so well!!! Congratulations for him being your ex. :) It’s so much better on the other side.

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