The Big Boundary Bluff

I received a message this week from an exasperated wife. She had come to realize the farce of all the boundary work she had been asked to do to save him and their marriage. Nearly ten years ago I remember thinking the same thing about all the “keep ‘em busy and let them think it will make a difference” boundary work the industry and even partner advocates espoused. Somehow it just didn’t make a lot of sense.

And nearly ten years later, I have a better idea of why it didn’t make sense then, and now. So, I’ve listed the points I believe wives and partners should consider before they comply with the industry’s boundary homework assignments.

1.    If he didn’t know what my boundaries were, why did he use lies and strategies of deception to violate them?

Exactly. He knows your boundaries. He knows your core values, and how your moral compass works. This is why he picked you. You are predictable and consistent in behaviour and perspective. You have high level values that benefit others, not just yourself. By associating with you he rides in your “wake” of credibility and reputation. He knows your boundaries. He is not confused about them. He uses them to make himself more believable and also enjoys secretly violating them to satisfy his control needs. This is what covert abuse is about. By pretending you haven’t been clear about boundaries, the treatment model avoids identifying and addressing the covert abuse.

2.     In assigning you this boundary work the industry and its practitioners infantilize him and relieve him of the adult responsibility that also belongs to him about relationship boundaries and consequences.

You are set up as the “mommy” who has to remind him of his “chores” instead of laying the foundation for a relationship of positive mutuality. It is beyond credulity to pretend he had no idea his secret sexual and sexualized activities violated relationship boundaries with you. It also requires that you try to imagine all the specific things he’s going to do, and that’s impossible. So, we end up with men claiming we never said they couldn’t look at porn in the car, or post pictures of their genitals on the internet because it wasn’t on the list of boundaries. Don’t participate in the further infantilization of these men.

3.    If you are married, have your relationship boundaries changed since you said “I will” or “I do” to a declaration of intent about what you believed about marriage, or since you then made vows that explicitly described the expectations you had of each other and for each other?

Probably not. So, you don’t need to spend money and energy coming up with relationship boundaries that you already have made explicit. Although the following example may not match your wedding content exactly, you can substitute what happened in your service or ceremony:

The officiant provided a preamble on what marriage is, often including some scriptural base (e.g. “a man leaves his mother…etc.”) After hearing that, we gave assent by declaring our intent to live together according to this understanding when the officiant asked each of us: (Name), do you take (Name) to be your husband/wife. Will you love, honor and cherish him/her, and forsaking all others be faithful to him/her alone all the days of your life?

We each said:  I will.  

Then, we exchanged vows: In the presence of God and these witnesses, I (Name), take you, (Name), to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, and to live according to God’s holy ordinance, for as long as we both shall live. And thereto I pledge you my faith.

Next, we exchanged rings “as a sign and reminder of the vows made today”

Then, we sealed our vows with a kiss.

So, I suggest you remind him and his therapist or treatment center that the boundaries for your relationship remain as first expressed in your marriage service. He can work with his therapist about the declaration of intent and vows to clear up what he did not understand he was violating and why he did not understand. That’s his work, not yours. And since he and his treatment group usually don’t want you to leave the marriage, sending him back to its foundations for further study makes perfect sense. As he goes forward in self-regulation, he could ask himself:

  • Is this loving (YOUR NAME),

  • is this honoring (YOUR NAME),

  • is this cherishing (YOUR NAME)

  • is this forsaking all others,

  • is this being faithful to (YOUR NAME)

  • is this “according to God’s holy ordinance?”

Personally, I was left wondering where exactly his confusion possibly could be about the boundaries in our relationship.

4.    If you are not married, have your relationship boundaries changed since you set up your intentions about your life together, or created a co-habitation agreement of any kind?

If they haven’t, then you should invite him to state what he thought the boundaries were when you made your relationship more than “casual.” Stop doing all the work. He knows what they are. This is his work to do.

5.    Consider the consequences of violating the boundaries you both have established.

What did he think the consequences would be? What did you think the consequences would be? Don’t set yourself up as the only person who knew the boundaries or the consequences. Being realistic about his capacity to respect relationship boundaries he agreed to respect is important because the “best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

6.    Being the boundary sheriff in the relationship will set you up for further abuse from your man called a sex addict and the treatment practitioner will always be his advocate, not yours.

Most women learn the hard way that pointing out boundary violations to their husband or boyfriend most often triggers abuse from him directed to her. The treatment industry does not prepare you for this truth, equip you to respond in your best interests, or support you when you bring this forward in recovery programs. You are NOT their priority client. He is. Therefore, they do not do risk assessment with you about enforcing boundaries. Instead they diminish or ignore the risks you are taking, the danger he presents to you, and the basic signs of domestic violence you are enduring. So, you cannot expect any support or advocacy for your safety needs. The survival of the industry depends on the classic signs of domestic violence that usually appear in your relationship being ignored or misinterpreted. The most common experience when women bring his boundary violations to the treatment practitioners is that they are told they must expect “slips” and lapses”. All that boundary work they had you do kept you busy thinking you were doing something that mattered. But when he violates the boundaries you will point it out, then endure his rage and abusive behaviors, bring it to an appointment with his practitioner and be told you have to expect those violations. That is when you will understand that the boundaries aren’t actually boundaries after all. And the work around the boundaries is about keeping you invested in the program while grooming you for a codependent relationship with your abuser.In that relationship you will eventually give up the boundaries in order to stop the abuse you endure when you point them out.

7.    If you object too loudly to the constant boundary violation, then he and his treatment practitioner will likely launch a campaign against your sexual boundaries.

In this case, you will hear a sad puppy story about his “needs” not being met by your sexual boundaries. Once again, your sexuality will not be considered as an equal dynamic of the relationship even though he will have sexually abandoned you, rejected any of your sexual overtures, humiliated you if possible, and treated you like a porn actress if you do have sexual relations. He will present himself as someone with far more “open” sexual interests, etc., than little old colonial you, and his therapist will support him. Your quaint boundaries will be rejected as parochial hangovers that he has simply outgrown as a broader sexual citizen of the world. Sigh. All this will come from the man that couldn’t meet the most basic premise of sexual intimacy—namely intimacy. And off he will go in search of his ideal porn women (many of these men are so stupid as to believe those are real orgasms she’s having from being sexually abused and humiliated), clutching his Viagra/Cialis bottle (and memories of mommy) and believing he’s the studmaster for whom the world is waiting. And his therapist will pronounce him cured.


Here are key summary points about today’s topic:

  1. He’s the one who needs to do relationship boundary work, not you.

  2. The treatment model infantilizes him and casts you in a mommy role.

  3. Boundary enforcement usually triggers abuse.

  4. The treatment practitioner will not be acting to ensure your safety or the dignity of your sexuality.

BUT there’s one piece of real boundary work I am asking wives and partners of men called sex addicts to do:

Remember your personal boundaries at all times. If you get flustered just use the marriage service and make a commitment to love, honor, cherish yourself, and to be faithful to yourself, your beliefs, your place in the world, your sacred value and what that means to you. Don’t be confused by their homework into thinking that the only boundaries that matter are about your relationship. You are a whole person and your life matters just as much as his does. Teach them all that means along the way. Ask these questions to identify your personal boundaries and when they are being violated:

  • Is this loving to me?

  • Is this honoring to me?

  • Is this cherishing to me?

  • Is this being faithful to me?

  • Is the respecting the beliefs I hold about my place in the world, the sacred value of my life and what it means to be me?

As I told a new client this week: If we do not choose to make ourselves visible as whole people whose worth, beliefs, core values, and human rights matter, don’t expect anyone else to do it.

He doesn’t expect you to do it. And neither does the treatment industry and its practitioners.

So, do it.

Time to talk? Your story is safe here, and you can book a special discounted trial session here:  If you have further questions, contact me:

With you,


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