Boundaries may bring on Monster. Do not fear Monster! But at the same time approach early boundary setting carefully. Jim Conway had this to say:
At the beginning be soft, conciliatory, flexible, and focus mostly on your changes. After he starts saying he wants to come back that is the time to be tough by asking that you get counseling to make sure that the problem doesn’t reoccur.
Most of the time when a woman is tough at the beginning it will guarantee that the husband will run—but because women are so hurt they often find it easy to be tough and angry. Most women also have trouble being tough as the relationship comes back together—because they’re so happy that he is wanting to move back – but now is the time to be tough and go to counseling to make sure that the problem won’t reoccur. Summary—flexible, soft, growing and changing at the beginning, firm and tough at the end.
Start slowly or gently with boundaries. They are still important in the beginning—Jim Conway is not saying you should forgo them until later, but how you approach them will change as will the level of strictness with which you may apply them and of your consequences may change. In the beginning, I felt that it was going to be paramount to bring the relationship back to some positive ground of friendship and I would alienate my MLCer if I were too strict with boundaries. My initial goal was to Pave the Way by showing him that I was strong, self-sufficient and that he could trust me to believe in him and not shame him or induce toxic guilt or use Emotional Blackmail against him. This meant that I needed to keep him turning toward me for positive reasons rather than because he was angry at me for setting a boundary. To pull this off I needed to be detached and confident in my ability to guide or lead. Detachment goes along with having strong boundaries because you need to have enough emotional separation to allow the other person to react or respond without reacting to their emotionality—without taking their (re)actions personally.
In other articles I have said that a boundary must be communicated–I have read this from other authors as well. I am going to step back from that statement as a broad generalization. In the first part of this series, I reviewed several categories of boundaries. Cultural boundaries of personal space are not something we think about and thus are rarely communicated. We realize they exist when they are crossed–perhaps when meeting someone from a different culture. Mental and Emotional boundaries may be less clear in a literal way than a specific boundary about no contact or do not enter my house without my permission. When they are crossed we may even have trouble verbalizing the problem–at least in the beginning. Think about and discuss how you might communicate and set consequences for boundaries that are more subjective.
Though there may be some general boundaries which you may communicate up front, many boundaries are set as a response to a problem. You may not need to officially restrict access to your home if your MLCer respects your space—such as knocking before entering the house. Once there is a problem, communicate it to your MLCer and tell them the boundary and consequences. Be prepared for them to accept or reject your issue. They may Monster, but some may acquiesce without resistance, so approach the situation with an open mind and positive attitude. You may also have learned a lot already about how they will react (which may be very different from how they were before MLC) and be prepared.
Respect-Boundaries are boundaries that are universal for everyone and are about proper treatment rather than rules that may be specific to your situation. Monster is often the target for Respect-Boundaries and may try to bait you by breaking them.
- Speaking or behaving rudely
If you speak rudely to me, I will…hang up the phone, leave the room/walk away…
- Yelling or shouting
- Rudeness in front of others
- Talking about the alienator with or in front of me
- Calling, texting, chatting with the alienator when with me—or with the children (though this may not be within your control)
- Taunting, teasing—a common part of cake-eating in later MLC
- Issues with personal property—touching my stuff (if there has been a problem)
Though what you will be dealing with in your individual MLC stories varies greatly, there are two important situations that will make a difference regarding what boundaries you set. Is your MLCer living at home?
An MLCer who continues to live at home even after many months or years is more likely than others to be a Low-Energy Wallower and may exhibit overt rather than covert Depression. This MLCer may seem sullen with anger bubbling just below the surface and may withdraw from family or household activities and life. Some who continue to live at home move into another area of the house such as a basement or garage.
- Time Home—call when late
- Family Meals
Together or separate? Should there be notice for an absence…?
Will these change?
If known, what rules to prevent continuation of an affair (please understand MLCers are unlikely to follow these which will then lead you to apply the consequences)
If an affair is supposedly over, rules regarding texting, monitoring devices and accounts…
- Household Expectations—Maid or Mr. Fix-it
An At-Home MLCer may expect the same from you in the way of what you did to care for them as you gave before MLC when they were treating you well. It is up to you whether you continue to mend clothes or change the oil on the car… But should this be expected? That is something you need to decide.
Other than infidelity, that list is about household participation and expectations—something that may not be relevant for an MLCer who is living somewhere else.
Close Contacter, Not At-Home
- House Access
You may allow no access unless you are present and only with an invitation or notice or you may not restrict access at all. In the beginning and through most of my husband’s MLC I did not restrict access because I wanted to encourage him to be in the place he felt was home where he was comfortable and where he could be with the good memories of us together. In his first months away, he spent time at home (he though I didn’t know) while I was at work. Later he came home while I was at work and did chores—seriously! I once came home to find that the Chore-Fairy had painted my deck!
If you have an MLCer who insists on stopping by and intruding whenever he feels the urge, you may need to set a boundary—my MLCer was always respectful of my space and called ahead if he wanted to stop by when I would be home.
In later MLC, when cake-eating became a problem, I restricted house-access because we were at a point where he needed to feel the loss of me. His respect of my space had not changed, but his actions with the alienator and taunting meant I needed a No Contact boundary and this meant I needed to restrict house-access to show him I was serious.
- Custody or Child Contact/Communication
- Infidelity/Alienator Issues
This may cover several boundaries such as no alienator if the presence of the children and/or no discussing the alienator with the children.
No texting, calling, chatting…when with me or at the house…
- Restricted Topics
I told my MLCer that I would not discuss the divorce with him—talk to your lawyer about that and my lawyer will talk to me about it. In case you are wondering, yes, that incited Monster and I accepted that and applied the consequences for Monster treatment—often a hang-up.
Where you draw the line is a personal choice, but some MLCers may tease and flirt and they may assume they have conjugal rights without requesting permission. Your body is your body. You may consent to sexual intimacy if you feel you can handle it and that it may benefit your situation, but you have the right to say no.
Do not call during… Only call on or after…
Call before coming to the house
Boundaries may or may not be needed. If they are, they may be more about issues with the children and even these may be relayed through intermediaries since your MLCer refuse contact with your or may have disappeared.
I discovered my husband is having an affair and confronted him, telling him it was not acceptable. He denied it and in the morning acted as though nothing had happened. How should I act now? I am Standing for my marriage, so I kind of regret that I said anything.
How would saying nothing change the situation and benefit you and your marriage? Silence in such circumstances breeds resentment. Please don’t regret confronting your husband; you did nothing wrong. It was confront or step around the elephant in the room which has just grown bigger—since he now knows that you know. There are times to put off the confrontation, but these are limited to evidence gathering and a quick period in which you need to decide what to do—gather your wits about you, catch your breath and decide how to confront and what to do depending on his response or reaction to the confrontation. Basically, you don’t want to go off half-cocked with no plan other than to scream your hurt and anger.
Now that he knows that you know, it is time for you to set boundaries—and in this sort of situation you need to move swiftly. Silence and inaction disempower you. Boundaries teach people how to treat you and failure to swiftly set strict boundaries in this situation teaches your spouse to continue their behavior, thereby treating you like a doormat.
But what should you do? It’s easy to tell you what not to do: don’t do nothing! ARGH
The level of action required is dependent on your history. I dealt with this exact situation, but after my husband had already been in an affair that had been public. After he had been home for 13 months I discovered he was communicating with the alienator. We’d been through this already, so the consequences were now supposed to be swifter and stricter. I had discussed this scenario with my mentor who had advised me that if he was caught in the affair I needed to kick him out of the house immediately. I still did not act as quickly as I should have; I waited a day so that I could speak to my mentor—courage gathering I guess. But once I had spoken to her I stopped second-guessing myself and packed his bags. When he arrived home, I walked him from the back door to the front and out—he was inside less than 2 minutes and his bags were waiting in his truck which had been home that day. I had told him I would do this if he was with the alienator, but he hadn’t believed me. He was shocked and I admit it felt good because I felt empowered.
That was a strict and drastic consequence. It is not what I advise if this is the first discovery of an affair—unless infidelity is your line in the sand and you want to end the relationship. First, give your spouse the opportunity to end the affair and attend counseling. It’s not going to work out as simply as that sentence made it sound, but not every case of infidelity is MLC and/or an emotionally-bonded affair.
The betraying partner (MLC or not) wants to sweep the elephant under the rung and is hoping you will silently agree to this. Will you? Unfortunately many do and it is extremely unhealthy—taking both a mental and physical toll. If you become complicit in his rug sweeping, you are allowing him to have his affair. Before you knew about the affair—and especially before he knew that you knew, you weren’t really allowing, but now that it’s not a secret, something needs to be done or you both become guilty if it continues.
What are some boundaries you can set when your spouse is in an affair—and refusing to end it?
- Kick them out of the home—this may not be legally allowed in some places.
- Kick them out of the bedroom. You sleep in a separate room and must leave the bedroom if your spouse refuses to leave.
- Counseling—you attend even if your spouse backs out.
- A plan of action for ending the affair.
- Change work or personal schedule—if the affair is a work partner or fits into the personal schedule.
This is a boundary for when they agree to end the affair, but you can still try; just accept that it’s not really something you have the power to enforce either way.
- Cut-off sexual intimacy.
How else might you handle this?
What other boundaries not listed might you set and what consequences would you apply?
What I have listed is just my own brainstorm of ideas, take your thoughts to the forum thread for this post or the comments section below and share them with your peers.
This has been the second installment of this series. The next article in this series will review Setting Boundaries.