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#408847 - 09/04/12 03:40 AM Boundaries versus Expectation
CdnDW Offline

Registered: 08/24/12
Posts: 105
Many responses to various topics have referred to boundaries and while this seems like a simple word to understand, I feel like I am in the dark about what this truly means in practice. How is a boundary different than an expectation or than an ultimatum. I have always tried to avoid these because I have no interest in controlling him... And maybe in part because I have this romantic, foolish wish that he will respect my needs out of loving care and not because I have threatened to leave him if he doesn't.

So, how do I set boundaries and what examples would these include? I have already set the boundary around his drinking, but it's the more subtle emotional issues that I don't know how to handle. Whenever he thinks I am saying something that is criticising him, he interrupts and shuts me down. This happened today and I wasn't even saying what he thought I was. I then tried to explain, and he claimed I actually said his assumed criticism. I had NOT said these words and had not even intended to or even thought them. I was going somewhere else entirely with my statement, but he interrupted, so I was not permitted to finish. When I tried to calmly explain this, he gave me a smirking look like I was foolish and claimed I say things all the time and don't remember them later.

I don't know how to deal with this in him. He twists conversations and makes these claims that are entirely false and will argue them to his grave. I know in my head that it is a way for him to shut me down, disarm me and dismiss me, but I end up so tied up in knots that I can't think straight and cry for hours (and sometimes days). He walks away and smugly goes on like nothing has happened. I feel like this is emotional warfare and he is much, much better at it than I am... So how do I stop it from spiraling. How do I function in a relationship with someone who literally won't talk and when he does, approaches every convo like it is a vicious battle he must win at all emotional cost. He can be so very very cold and make me feel so little and foolish. But then the rest of the time he just won't talk at all. I talk AT him and when I prompt for a response, he says he doesn't know what to say.

How does one set a boundary to protect themselves emotionally. I have never tried to make him feel little. I know he does this as a defense, but it is painful and if anything is going to crush and destroy our marriage, it will be this.

I just don't know how to function and talk with him about anything more than how the weather is and can't stand this anymore. I want so much to end this pain by asking him to leave, but I have two young children and this would turn their world upside.down. I just feel so stuck and trapped sometimes. My heart has been slaughtered by him today and I couldn't function, so he went on like nothing happened and was the "bigger" "better" person for having no emotions. I am just so sick of feeling I am this crazy person when he leaves me feeling shattered and I can't just bounce back. My parents were kind and understanding and we talked about everything. I was taught to totally and completely trust someone you love with you heart, feelings and vulnerability. Why.can't I.defend myself from him. Why can't I just learn. It just hurts so much to be in pain and then to have him ignore me like he cannot see my.tears or my pain. Like I am invisible.

I feel very invisible tonight. I feel very meaningless and irrelevant tonight. I feel like nothing.

I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride, I am the sky
- Audioslave

#408863 - 09/04/12 05:28 AM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
mmfan Offline

Registered: 09/25/11
Posts: 115
Hugs for you tonight (((((CdnDW))))) if ok. I can relate to the headgames during conversations. My survivor is also an expert at emotional warfare and leaves me so confused I am speechless at times. It is all tactics to disarm me and try and regain his lost sense of control, and it's not even done on purpose, but it feels awful being on the end of this. I am not good enough to beat him at his game and I struggle to avoid the game. It's hard to set boundaries around it. I have tried different things, like leaving the conversation when I start feeling like he's manipulating it, but it's all so subtle and confusing, I don't always know when to draw that line, and then he turns it around saying in a superior tone, "you always run away when things get tough." (Ahem, if that were true I would have been gone long ago.) I'm sorry I don't have the answers. Are you guys in couples counseling? He might not know any healthier ways of communicating and might actually need to re-learn how to argue/express himself.

#408900 - 09/04/12 04:56 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
Robert1000 Offline

Registered: 06/27/12
Posts: 453
Thank you for writing this post. I'm so sorry that you and your husband are stuck in this relationship-destroying rut. I want to answer the specific questions you posed at the top. And I want you to begin with a few other thoughts. I hope you're getting therapy. A good therapist who knows how to deal with sexual trauma and marriages can help a TON. It sounds to me like your husband lives with an extremely heavy load of resentment, which is likely caused by his inability to have his emotional needs met (because he doesn't feel like he can ask for them to be met. He may not know how to verbalize them. He may literally lack the vocabulary.) Life can and will get better for you, and you'll be able to find a way forward for you and your kids, and with your husband, whether or not he stays in the marriage with you.

As a quick point of background: It's common in my experience for someone with an abuse history (me) to feel betrayed by people he loves and who love him (my wife) EVEN THOUGH SHE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ABUSE!!! It's not logical, and yet there it is. Because I felt betrayed by my mother and father. Because I felt betrayed by a sibling who did nothing for me. Those feelings aren't logical. But those feelings exist nevertheless. That's why we call them feelings, not logical what-evers. But because of that feeling of betrayal, and my resentment because my wife couldn't sort her way through the maze of emotional traps I laid for her, we had TONS and TONS of arguments that sounded if not exactly at least a lot like what you're talking about.

But let's get to the boundaries. A boundary is just like it sounds like. Imagine a protective wall around yourself and your family. What do you want it like inside? Pleasant. Honest. Direct. Loving. Dependable. Safe. Drug-and-alcohol free.

There can be criticism within your safety zone. There can be emotional pain. There can be disappointment and anger. But it should all still fit within the stuff I listed above. The truth is that life delivers disappointments. There are mistakes. Sometimes there is sadness and death. But always there should also be as much pleasantness, honestly, directness, love, dependability and safety as possible, and (for you, I think) no drugs or alcohol.

Interestingly, the boundary works both ways. Say you're in high school and someone has threatened to fight you and has in fact cornered you. They're now within your boundaries, meting out pain and anger with their fists and feet. Even then, it's hard for you to break past your own boundary to punch and fight back. Letting loose with your own anger feels terrifying. Your expression of anger feels like things are out of control. And then you do it. And life goes on. Except that your boundary to fighting has basically been destroyed. You have a lingering feeling that you're unsafe, because someone came into your space and hurt you, and you feel a little violated and fucked up and evil because you beat someone else. You're a different person now. You feel more grown up. You feel ashamed of the old you, the one who cowered in fear before an aggressor. Now, maybe, when you see someone who reminds you of that scared boy you once were, you feel an urge to beat that fear out of them.

So in other words, these boundaries are real things. They resist behavior... both the behavior of yours and others. And each time one falls, it produces other new and often unintended ones.

Look at the example of the teenage boy (kind of like me). He was humiliated and hurt. And then he lashed out. Now he no longer has a boundary against fighting, and yet he now has a boundary about exhibiting signs of something that he thinks of as weakness--and that new boundary is so strong that it invokes an urge to destroy his old boundary against hurting other people.

You can look at all of your behavior in terms of boundaries. Remember your first passionate kiss? Remember how electric it felt? That was because while you were kissing, you were crossing a boundary with that person. And it's exciting and exhilarating to pass boundaries. Your boundaries exist to keep you safe, but they also exist just because of momentum. For instance, if you're the kind of person who never likes to eat at anything but a chain restaurant, you might feel a little strange and freaky going into a little hole-in-the-wall. I think some people have boundaries against trying something new.

Anyway, say for instance that you were molested as a kid. That sexual abuse violated your boundaries. Maybe it hurt physically and emotionally. It was confusing. It was messy and ugly. You felt violated. Used. Freaked out. Ashamed. Dirty. Angry. Powerless. Confused.

So it destroyed lots of sexual boundaries. It probably also ruined boundaries against emotional honesty. Maybe the person said it was fun. It wasn't. Maybe the person said it felt good. It didn't. It also violated your trust. It gave you a new set of feelings, experiences, all that, but nothing to help deal with them.

If you were older than me when the abuse occurred (I was 10 and not yet at puberty) you might not have understood that sex was supposed to feel pleasurable. I didn't. When the guy's semen got on me or in my mouth, I thought it was basically pee! I didn't know why he was acting so weird about it. I mean, I've peed. You just pee, for God's sake. But when a person is in puberty when the abuser victimizes them, they get another set of problems... because an orgasm produces pleasurable feelings, so there's another raft of guilt and shit. All of that tears down some boundaries (there aren't simple boundaries... I'm talking about a crazy network of all kinds of shit involving what happens in "public" and "private" and all sorts of other stuff) and builds others.

Your boundaries have been trashed in your relationship with your husband. He has violated you in so many ways. Your boundaries coming down have for sure given rise to new ones. His complicated life history has given him his own set of problems/boundary issues/what-have-you.

So as you try to reset your boundaries, this is the way you have to think of it, at least I think so.

-You don't want deceit in your life, so he can only be a part of your life if he's respecting the truth and trying to be honest and accountable.
-You don't want resentment and pain in your life, so he can only be a part of your life if he communicates what his real needs and feelings are and doesn't resort to verbal and emotional abuse or games of blame and emotional control.
-To get these boundaries back, you need to rebuild your own boundaries, because you've developed boundaries AGAINST holding him emotionally accountable. You and him together have created this relationship you inhabit, and you will need to destroy the new boundaries against dealing with things in a functional way at the same time that you rebuild decent boundaries that will protect you and your kids.
-THESE ARE NOT EXPECTATIONS. Expectations are like this--I expect you to.... That's you imposing something on your husband. It's fair. It's decent. But it's not a boundary.
-YOU CANNOT REBUILD YOUR HUSBAND'S BOUNDARIES. You can only rebuild your own. YOU CANNOT REMOVE HIS BOUNDARIES AGAINST TRUST AND COMMUNICATION. You can only remove your own against dysfunction.
-When/if your husband understands that he can trust you and confide in you and have safety and love, then he will be able to come back within your boundaries. But otherwise, he has to stay out. He can't bring that shit in with him. Otherwise, he's violating your emotional safety, and he's fucking up you and your kids.

Safety first, my friend. There is a way forward. You're not trapped. You have options. Keep seeking peace. Keep searching for a healthy way forward. Good luck.

#408910 - 09/04/12 06:10 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
aksnowyowl Offline

Registered: 08/18/12
Posts: 47
Hang in there! this situation is totally workable. i have experienced very, very similar arguments with myself being the dysfunction (i'm a rape survivor) and then with my husband, and sometimes if we aren't on our game, both of us.

i know there are a lot mixed views of 12 step programs. but i got into AA (not religiously, but fairly regularly) two years ago. codependency is common in the 12 step programs and it is a RELIEF to be around people who manage their codependency and have healthy relationships.

i also found myself isolated in life and AA folks weren't afraid of or judgmental of my story or situation. i also bring my kids and everyone loves them being there. just a suggestion. there's also al-anon, which is designed for codependency.

i agree with robert1000. i'm in therapy. my husband is in therapy. we go to couples therapy. i find that if i go to couples therapy with the heart of openness, vulnerability, and love that you describe, the cycles of dysfunction break quickly. i don't always like the results...sometimes it's painful, but it's a relief to be PROGRESSING, NOT STUCK, PROGRESSING.

the difference between expectations and boundaries for me are that expectations have a set or definite concept of what should happen. AA is full of slogans. most bring out my cynicism, but my favorite is "don't should on me."

boundaries don't have a should, they have a limit. expectations have to be let go of in order for everyone to feel loved and accepted. boundaries have to be held onto in order for everyone to feel loved and accepted.

so at the very least, safety and respect is a limit. you can feel when you are being disrespected and it's totally, completely ok to say "don't use that tone, don't say those words to me because it feels disrespectful." or if you are confident "it is disrespectful."

it's also okay not to be as "clever" as your partner. these dysfunctional arguments (having been on both sides) are self-destructive wars of strategy, trying to get the other person to admit that they aren't who they say they are, that they aren't committed, that like robert1000 said, they are IN FACT betrayers. it's a futile endeavor.

by clever i mean, you don't have to be as good a strategist as your partner. it's not a game of risk and world domination, it's a relationship. you don't have to be 100% sure of what you are feeling or why. having the inkling that you being disrespected is enough to say something and draw the boundary. "i feel like this is probably disrespectful and it's not ok" or "i think this might be disrespectful and i'm going to go for a walk, we can talk later."

it's ok to start with uncertainty. confidence comes with practice.

trust of your intuition and honesty is often unsettling for a traumatized partner because they feel like "rational" emotions are the only valid ones. often, traumatized people don't trust their inner voice. but go with YOUR intuition. trust your inner instincts. you intuitively know what is acceptable and what isn't. it's subtle and very, very powerful.

and it's exactly what a traumatized partner in a dysfunctional argument isn't using. intuitively, they may know that they are being cruel or irrational, mean or self-destructive, but the rational mind says that they have to figure out the truth, and their raw experience (without perspective) says "the truth is __________(fill in negative belief) i'm not worth anything, everyone will betray me, etc.) so they ignore their intuition or have hushed it as a survival instinct, and rely on a so-called "rational" mind that bends reality around their trauma. does that make sense?

your reliance and trust of yourself and your intuition will help adjust the dynamic, because it's adjusting to trust yourself, and this shift will have a ripple effect on the relationship. maybe not immediately, but it will with time. however, it's dangerous to expect a specific outcome from the ripple.

i was just asking my sponsor about boundaries and expectations a couple of days ago, pertaining to my H getting help. i have also been repeating the words of someone else who posted on my thread: is it enough today? is the relationship healthy enough today? it sets a boundary, without expectation. it's a good place to start.

my sponsor said that self-care is essential because in order to trust my intuition, i have to be grounded and it's hard to be sane when feeling (and often being told, i'm the crazy one). so i have filled my life with people i admire: other mom's, friends, people of varied ages, people who are different enough that when they tell me "you are grounded, you are sane" i believe them. i need that in my situation.

i have two young children as well. i know how scary it can be when i project into the future. will EMDR cause a relapse in my H? will he leave us when his past resurfaces? how will i manage financially? it gets scarier when i live in the past because i have a history of trauma. but if i am grounded, the kids feel safe and respected. i am currently homeschooling and financially dependent, so i feel particularly vulnerable. but staying in the present, with boundaries,without expectation, is the daily goal. making sure that today, the kids have a healthy home. if you feel safe and respected, they feel safe and respected.

honestly, my kids were my motivation for dealing with my own addictions, trauma, unhealthy first marriage and codependency. i'd go through any amount of uncertainty and difficulty and pain if it meant they would be healthier. so i used my intuition as a mother, trusting my ability to parent, as my first guide to getting better.

i agree with robert1000 on alcohol and drug use though. the effects of an alcoholic family dynamic are learned very early by children. i got my eldest (who is 5) into play therapy as soon i realized she was picking up behaviors associated with children of alcoholics.

in my experience, drugs and alcohol unravel all the good work of therapy. the wisdom and realizations of therapy never really stuck while i was drinking because i thought i could simultaneously change and hold onto my coping mechanisms.

i sincerely wish you the best. i hope i haven't offended you or been too long-winded or preachy. i applaud you for reaching out and asking for perspective and i'm in your corner saying "you're doing great!" please feel free to contact me personally if you want someone to talk to. i have a lot of empathy and compassion for moms who feel stuck. you are in good company, if you want it. thank you so much for posting. it's good for me too.

#408922 - 09/04/12 07:24 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
Robert1000 Offline

Registered: 06/27/12
Posts: 453
I agree with everything above. Good luck.

#408928 - 09/04/12 08:31 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
Esposa Offline

Registered: 10/19/11
Posts: 811
Loc: NJ
I like the idea that expectations come with SHOULD and boundaries are definite. Interesting way to look at it.

#408929 - 09/04/12 08:36 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
northernflicker Offline

Registered: 08/20/12
Posts: 88

#408931 - 09/04/12 09:38 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
CdnDW Offline

Registered: 08/24/12
Posts: 105
Thank you all for replying. Absolutely no offense taken to anyone's honesty. Unfortunately, things have taken a left turn today. One year ago when we started couples therapy he realised he had a porn addition and quit. It was obsessive, was being used multiple times a day and was becoming risky as my review of his usage proved that he was doing this in our basement at his computer while the children were upstairs. The subjects were also becoming more and more bizarre. It had obliterated our sex life as the combination of not dealing with his csa and masterbating to porn multiple times a day incapacitated him. Since that time he remained physically and emotionally dysfunctional in this area, but I hoped that when he finally took the step to begin personal therapy, this might improve. He seemed to finally be operating from a place of honesty so I accepted his word and trusted him, but after recent events I decided to look on his computer today. He now has a mac and I wasn't sure how to look it up because he has it set to automatically delete history, but a few google searches helped me figure out that there are still files kept on a computer even after history is deleted.

I found evidence that he is using porn again... as recent as yesterday while we were in the midst of an emotional standoff. In addition, I found evidence that he is also using a live chat on a porn site. I have no idea if this has happened in the past as today is the first time I was able to retrieve the cached images from deleted history, but I suspect so.

One month ago I set the boundary that he may not drink alcohol ever if he wished to remain living in our home after he got absolutely loaded while in the care of our 6 and 10 year old children and our neighbours child who is 11. I came home to find him incapacitated, unable to accurately tell me where the children were or even focus or have a conversation. The kids were hiding in the bedroom, already in PJs even though it was shortly after supper time and terrified of him. He had told them he hated them, told our very healthy weighted son that he was out of shape and needed to loose weight, yelled at the kids and forced my 6 year old to watch a violent movie called The Punisher with him and the 10 and 11 year old boys. I have seen him on multiple occasions in this state, but our children had not yet been exposed.

The next morning he apologised to my son and told him he would never drink again. That seemed to restore my son's trust as he has never experienced this behaviour from him before or seen him that drunk, so it was easy for him to dismiss it as simply alcohol. I am not so sure how it affected my daughter as she is not able to articulate her feelings like our son.

My point is, after this incident a month ago, the fact that he was attending, but not participating in our marriage counseling and had taken no steps to begin recovery from his csa and finally the knowledge today that he has been continuing to act out AND lie to me about it, I decided to set my boundary. I am learning slowly that I am codependant and that I have allowed myself to be disrespected and hurt by not setting and then protecting my boundaries. It was so simple to do this for my children, that I realised I did not feel worthy of this same protection because I had never done this for myself. Today I wrote the following to my H:

"I will no longer remain codependent on our relationship to define who I am and whether I am worthy of love and respect and good enough to make you recover. I consider us separated at this point until (and if) we reach a point where we can consistently respect one another and ourselves. I will not share a bed with you, but I will support you in your efforts to recover should you choose this road and as long as you choose to accept my boundaries. I will not support you in any way if your behaviour is disrespectful to either one of us or our children. If this occurs, I will take necessary steps to allow for us to live in separate residences. I love you and take this very difficult decision with nothing but love in my heart.

I know that I still have a deep well of forgiveness left in me, but I now need you to want it, truly, truly want my forgiveness. I also need some separation from you so I can begin to heal myself. So I can focus my energy on no longer being codependant. I no longer want to feel anxiety, panic and shame when I can't change your behaviour. I no longer want to act in controlling, manipulative, emotionally hurtful ways towards someone I love so dearly. I accept that I am powerless over anyone else but myself and only I can give myself what I need to feel joy and worthiness of love and respect. YOU did not do this to me... I did this to me by accepting your behaviour and by never setting my boundaries. Last month, I instictively felt, knew, our children were worthy of my protection from your behaviour, but I have never done this for myself. I have talked and begged and cried and shamed you, but I have never taken responsibility for my own protection. I will no longer play the victim. I will no longer choose to only feel worthy of respect when I am given it as a gift for being "good enough".

I hope you get answers from this therapist... And if he is no good, I hope you keep looking for answers elsewhere. You are worthy of this. I love you immensely and entirely... all of you... and I will always and forever. This will never change. If the nature of our relationship must change for us to be healthy, than I accept this. I have no power over us, only me. But I will always be by your side if you want me to be your friend and supporter. I hope I can learn to trust you again, but the one area that is essential for me to feel joy in my relationship with you as a wife is trust in our intimacy. Right now I don't have that. Right now I feel betrayed, angry, used and very, very untrusting. I want intimacy that is borne from love and trust. This is not possible right now, but I hope and believe it is possible again. This is why I have not ended our relationship completely. I will never give up on us, but I also will not be your wife if you choose not to work hard for us. I know this asks a lot of you, but it is a fundamental need for me to remain your wife. I love you."

This feels like the most frightening thing I have ever had to face in my life, but I know I must see this through. I know I must take the chance that he will not choose his own recovery, that he will continue to deny himself this right and pretend it has no impact on him anymore and that he will continue to have no boundaries or respect mine. I feel guilty for doing this because I know it causes him great pain, but I also know my guilt comes from my old belief system that I am responsible for his pain and joy and he for mine. Under my knew belief system, I have no power over him, nor do I want it. I am doing this for me, for the emotional health of our children and finally, for us.

So far he has responded with an admission, an apology for his addictions and a commitment to enter therapy. I hope he follows through, but I am frightened he won't. I have no idea what we should tell the children, if anything at all. I know they will wonder why he is sleeping in the spare room. My kids are very perceptive and emotionally sensitive and I know they will ask questions and sense that something is wrong or different between us. I have no idea what to say. As it is, my 6 yo daughter pushes my H and I to hug, hold hands and to kiss because she instinctively feels the distance between us.

I no longer feel stuck, but I do feel profoundly sad, completely terrified for our future and extremely angry - I feel like I have to bury this anger for now because it does not feel healthy. It feels like it will consume me if I let it go. It feels like it will destroy all ability I might have to continue to function and care for myself or my children. I don't know where to turn for respite though, because this is not something that I can discuss with any of our friends. There are some that are in the know and some family, but they are all an hour or more away, so I feel quite alone in managing right now. This has been a very exhausting day, but I will keep functioning somehow - today I will do this for my kids and tomorrow I will begin how to learn to do this for myself.

#408934 - 09/04/12 09:58 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
northernflicker Offline

Registered: 08/20/12
Posts: 88

#408935 - 09/04/12 10:00 PM Re: Boundaries versus Expectation [Re: CdnDW]
CdnDW Offline

Registered: 08/24/12
Posts: 105
@Robert, thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. Sharing your experience really does help me to understand him better so I can stop reacting and start making adult choices about his behavour and my boundaries.

@Aksnowyowl, I LOVE "don't should on me". Made me laugh and lightens the learning process. I do see that boundaries are limits and do not carry an expectation of what someone "should" do.

To everyone, thanks for the support, the hugs and your thoughts. I don't know what I would have done today if I had not come to it with the wisdom I have got from all of you over the last couple weeks. It is a special, safe place for us to be vulnerable and this has been so important for me lately.

(((Hugs))) back to you all.
I am not your rolling wheels, I am the highway
I am not your carpet ride, I am the sky
- Audioslave

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