You asked for more: Boundaries and Consequences

Your feedback from “The Big Boundary Bluff” (posted two weeks ago) kept me busy for days as messages poured into my inbox. Thank you for taking the time to write. The blog travelled widely and much discussion ensued: women were screaming “YESSSSSSSS!” and panicked men called sex addicts got busy mansplaining boundaries to me—at least till they noticed too many wives and partners on the forums were walking through the prison door they’d just realized had been unlocked all the time. Too late! Too late! They’re getting away!

1.     Why are these men so panicked when you stop making up boundaries to curtail and direct their behaviors?

The moment you stop creating boundaries that men really already know, the jig is up. When you realize you want someone you don’t have to treat like an out of control toddler, the whole treatment program stalls out. It appears men called sex addicts aren’t interested in becoming responsible adults. Their program is about training you to continue to make them appear to be one, after you learn they aren’t. This is a key point to understand about boundaries: your incessant boundary homework is how these men continue to off load their responsibilities onto you. That’s why when you stop doing it, they are the ones to execute the consequence and drop “recovery.” You’ve been doing their work. And with you gone, they sure enough don’t want to start doing it!

I know, let’s break that down.

2.     Most Boundaries That You Create Are Actually Basic Life Responsibilities He Won’t Accept

Requiring you to create boundaries about his offences is off-loading his personal and relational responsibility to you. It’s not just that these men know the boundaries already (as I wrote in the first boundary blog)—it’s that they are actually their personal and relational responsibilities. The “boundaries” the wife or partner creates are her attempt to enforce his responsibilities for everything from providing basic human courtesy to her, to keeping standard and specific marriage expectations and vows and not abusing her through manipulation and other covert abuses against her.

By turning his responsibility into your “boundaries”, you take on the impossible task of keeping the infantilized compulsive-abusive sexual-relational disordered man (CASRD—rhymes with hazard—is the correct name for men called sex addicts) in line, dealing with his resistance, and making him stand in the corner with your “consequences.” As I said two weeks ago, this also sets you up for absorbing more abuse from him, and even putting yourself in danger.

Think carefully about this assignment. Shouldn’t his deficits in these most basic areas of personal and relational responsibility be sounding an alarm for assessment, proper diagnosis and qualified treatment in the area of character disturbances and/or personality disorder traits and characteristics?

3.     Boundaries and Consequences Create a False Sense of Control for Wives and Partners

By assigning his responsibilities to you as “boundary work” the treatment industry also creates the impression that you can leverage some control in an uncontrollable situation. Of course, you have no control, really, since adding responsibilities to your already huge list of them means you are just busier, not in any more control of anything. You are now functioning as his 24/7 personal coach for being a normal human being as well as the treatment program’s unpaid staffer—along with your daily responsibilities to others at work, in family, with friends, and in your volunteer commitments. As much as you want him to be normal, you can’t take another responsibility on, especially as you struggle with the trauma symptoms still crippling you. But, at the same time you are desperate to feel safe again and so, you sign on.

When, exactly, will he be asked to address his character deficits? Experience tells us that never happens, but before you realize it, you will become so exhausted and crippled by trauma symptoms and supervising him that you will get angry, lash out at him, and then be accused of being abusive by him, his group, and his practitioner. As Lili Bee of PoSARC.com reminded me, the men also create boundaries—but theirs aren’t based on your irresponsibility. They are based on their freedom to be irresponsible. Yes, it’s just one big set-up for more abuse. You cannot win.

4.     Other People In Your Life Rarely Require This Kind of Policing

Have another look at the “boundaries” you’ve been creating. Are they things that other people in your life require? And when someone does violate them, you usually keep that person at arm’s length. Yet here you are with your life partner, dreaming up all the ways he might disrespect or harm you, and creating a bunch of rules that he already knows but for which he doesn’t want to be responsible—all so you can keep him as your most intimate partner in life. What’s that about?

Isn’t it rational to hold a basic expectation of better treatment from your life partner than from the other people in your life? Why is this treatment industry and its practitioners trying to normalize his irresponsibility to meet basic expectations for courtesy, primary relationships, and non-abusive behaviors—and make them your responsibility? This task puts you in a defensive posture in your primary relationship, without warning you about living with an abuser.

Just hold those thoughts while we take a look at the “consequences” part of the boundary bluff.

5.     When Consequences Are Really Just His Opportunities

Women may get confused about the notion that consequences are supposed to be something that will motivate the CASRD man to honor the boundary next time, not make them plan on violating it. But consider the following example from someone who is an accredited partner specialist. While I don’t remember the whole boundary involved here, it had to with having some kind of confrontation episode and how she wanted him to act towards her. When he violated the boundary, the consequence was that she would get in her vehicle and leave for an hour. So, let’s just make this clear:

  • He knows the boundary and the consequence.

  • They have a conflicted exchange.

  • He refuses to honor the boundary.

  • She enacts the consequence.

  • She leaves their home.

  • He knows exactly when she will return.

  • So, her horny houndog (and now irritated) husband is on his own, undisturbed, for exactly one hour.

As they say, what could possibly go wrong?

There are many ways that consequences actually provide CASRD men with what they want most, including quiet, no interference, alone time, no obligations to have conversations, a break from surveillance, a break from childcare and home responsibilities, an excuse for avoiding the demands of other sexual and sexualized activity partners, a story of accountability to tell at group to make it all sound like something’s different, a chance to pretend like she’s in charge of something, and a break from other inconveniences of cohabitation.

6.     Consequences Are Not Insulation From Ongoing Traumatization

The hideous truth is a haunting thing. Women try to live with it by insulating their lives with whole lot of marshmallow fluff they learn to whip up as boundaries and consequences. I understand the terrible pain that leads them to choose this. I understand the fear that makes them betray themselves and set up a self-generated trauma cascade for the rest of their lives—“if I am causing my hurt because I’m not handling my boundaries and consequences correctly, then I can still fix this.” I understand that these strong and brave women want to direct all that strength and courage to insulate themselves from the truth that they married someone who cannot and will not love, honor or cherish them. That’s never good news. Meanwhile the covert abuser, the manipulator, the CASRD man continues to spread his character disturbance across her precious life like creamy peanut butter on fresh bread, waiting for the dollop of marshmallow fluff.

But why is this boundary bluff so resilient?

7.     The Codependent Roots of Boundary Homework

The big boundary bluff is actually a leftover from the misogynist underpinnings of the treatment model expressed in the hateful labelling of wives and partners as codependents. Treatment practitioners gorged themselves on this stuff for over three decades, puking it up onto already traumatized partners as shaming, blaming, labelling, insults, gaslighting, criticism, humiliation, and disempowerment—and the only way out was boundary homework.

That’s right. The essential piece for treating women labelled codependent was to have them create lots of boundaries and consequences. While the industry tries to hide all the co-words with which they expressed their contempt for wives and partners for over three decades, the treatment still reflects those same beliefs.

The premise, then, is that the problem originates within the wife or partner. This rationale means that the women are abused because—wait for it—it is their own fault. They are mistreated because they “allow” things to happen and all they have to do to stop this experience is to create a boundary and a consequence.

This, of course, is false. People who abuse you are responsible for their choice to abuse you. You are not. But the socialization of abused women into taking responsibility for their abusive experiences is stunningly resilient. Unfortunately, it is also a “comfort” piece to women socialized by cultural and especially religious traditions that protect the right for men to subjugate women and blame them for being victims. Sick though it is, it can feel like “home” to women who are already traumatized. It keeps them in community without creating greater conflict. Who among us hasn’t looked with dread at the thought of losing more human connections as a result of his covert abuse? Every time I saw another domino go down I cried all over again like the first time.

Boundary homework reflects what is now a covert strategy to treat women as codependents while the industry pretends not to do that anymore. They keep doing it, however, in order to avoid the correct trauma care response to ensure the safety of wives and partners from their abusers. The first task is not boundaries, it’s getting these women out of danger. Abuse isn’t stopped by boundaries. It is stopped by being out of range.

Get yourselves out of range. Now there’s a consequence that becomes your opportunity for living with the simple gifts of joy and freedom that safety allows. Dwelling in safety is your right, and shouldn’t depend on whether your life partner is feeling generous that day.

I have those simple joys now. I don’t spend one ounce of my energy creating boundaries and consequences for people who abuse me. I’ve set them free. Now I have a life partner who is an adult with compatible core values he lives out every day—so much laughter, so much healing, so much courage, so much kindness, so much integrity, so much soul, so much love, so much adventure, so much loyalty, so much hope, so much respect, so much passion, so much support, so much transparency, so much growing, so much generosity, so much acceptance, so much gratitude, so much strength, so much trust, so much partnership. No abuse. Simple joy. Two people equally yoked.

So, a little more on boundaries and consequences.

With you,

Diane.

 

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Diane Strickland