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.
- How to Draw the Line When You Have No Idea Where to Put It (toddlohenry.com)
- Why Saying No in Your Relationship Is a Good Thing (psychcentral.com)
- The Benefits of Establishing Boundaries (rhachellenicol.com)
- Being a Fixer (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com)