"We cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person's feelings."
~Melody Beattie, author
Boundaries continue to confuse the hell out of us, don't they? If there's one thing on this site that seems to trip so many of us up, it's boundaries. (Though I'm not commenting so much, I still read your comments and you warrior women never fail to make me proud to be among you.) Boundaries seem selfish. They seem dictatorial. They seem unfair.
They're not. And Melody Beattie, best known for her books about co-dependency (that's another term that a lot of us instinctively recoil from), makes it clear when she says that boundaries are about self-care. Nothing more, nothing less. They are about keeping ourselves safe.
My daughter's friend was recently kicked out of her home. She's 18. She did nothing wrong, unless you count forgetting to make her bed now and again. It's the second time she's been kicked out – the first time she was put in foster care at 12 with her twin brother because they fought too much.
This girl's mother deserves my award for shittiest mother of the year, however, I'm conscious of the fact that we love others the best way we know how. I'm trying hard to practice compassion. I don't doubt that this mother loves her daughter. It's just that her love is toxic.
And so this girl has the monumental challenge of reconciling her love for her mother with her pain at being rejected.
That's where boundaries come in.
Somehow this girl needs to come to a place where she can acknowledge her love for her mom while still keeping herself emotionally safe. And she gets to decide what those boundaries look like. For instance, she might love her mother while at the same time deciding that she can't have her mother in her life right now. Or it might look like the occasional phone call. Who knows. But it's about this girl's self-care not her mother's feelings.
And that's your challenge too.
Your partner betrayed your trust. Setting boundaries isn't about penalizing him, it's about self-care. It's about deciding what you need to begin to feel safe in your marriage again. Maybe that looks like access to his phone and computer log. Maybe it looks like regular check-in calls. Maybe it includes his commitment to a 12-step program or weekly therapy. Maybe it's about physically separating.
Whatever it looks like, it's your decision. They're your boundaries. It's about your self-care, your safety, and your right to feel safe with the people you've allowed into your life.
It isn't about penalties, manipulation or selfishness.
He might not like it. He probably won't, especially if you've been someone who hasn't, historically, enforced (or even had) boundaries in the past. It can be hard for your partner to realize that things are going to be different.
But remember what Beattie says: you cannot set boundaries and worry about another's feelings at the same time.
It's not that his feelings don't matter. It's that they're not yours. His job is to take care of his feelings. Your job is to take care of yours.
A key part of boundary setting is letting go of the outcome. This isn't about controlling another, it's about ensuring your own safety. You might not like how the other person responds to your boundaries.
But that doesn't mean you should back down. It means that you're with someone who doesn't respect your boundaries, who prefers the old you who puts others feelings above your own.
Learning a new behaviour is tough, especially if you've been taught for years that self-care is selfish, that boundaries are manipulation.
But it gets easier with practice. And it's crucial to your emotional health, to your healing.
Safety. Self-respect. Self-care.