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Boundaries with an Addict

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Boundaries with an addict....this is a question I get asked. A lot. What do they look like?

How do I keep them?

When referring to an addict, I specifically mean a Sex Addict (SA) or someone with Problematic Sexual Behaviors.

Most people know that an addiction is something that developed due to an emptiness...a pain, traumatic event, an unhealed hurt....that is needing to be filled. When you realize it’s there, you use ‘something’ to fill that empty feeling to make the pain go away. Most common ‘pain fillers’ are drugs, alcohol, or often times, food- something that will give relief, albeit temporary.

In the case of a sex addict, they will use sex in whatever form, as a way to fill the hole or emptiness. This can be porn, masturbation, prostitutes, massage parlors, etc. Anything that will help numb the pain.

Because of the complexity of this type of addiction, it’s the most common one to be shrouded in lies and secrets, which cause destruction to most every relationship, and trauma to the most intimate partner/spouse.

Once this addiction has been discovered or disclosed, the hope is that the addict will choose recovery. At this point the partner will not only need to do her own recovery work,

but will need to set some firm boundaries.

I know....finally getting around to the original question, right?!

The simplest way to explain what a boundary is is to use an analogy from Townsend and Clouds book, Boundaries. They liken boundaries to a yard with a fence around it. Usually when we have a fence, there will be a gate so that people can enter and exit, having the freedom to come and go with permission from the owner.

My yard is mine, yours is yours. We are each responsible for what we allow to come in and out of our own yard.

This is the premise of a boundary.

Let’s say that one day you come into my yard, which has been allowed because we’ve built trust in order for that to happen and then you decide to throw your trash in my yard. I’m not okay with that. I’m willing to help you with your trash if you ask me, but I’m not willing to allow you continued access to causing me more stress in my life because you don’t want to deal with your own trash. Again, I’m willing to help you but I can’t force you to pick up your trash that you threw in my yard. And it’s not my responsibility to do it for you even though it’s in my yard.

However, I CAN choose to no longer allow you in my yard if that’s how you are going to treat it. I am not going to give you the same freedom of access that you had before because you abused it. If this is the first time you’ve done this, I might say that you can’t come into my yard for two days. I have that right because it’s my yard. I will get to decide how long, whether or not you like it, because it’s my yard. I am choosing to protect me. This is not a punishment for you, even though it might feel that way.

Remember....we are each responsible for our own yard. I can’t control what happens in yours but I can control what happens in mine.

Boundary-less people don’t like boundaries. Often you will be accused of punishing them or not forgiving them because they no longer have the freedom to do what they want to in your yard.

What does all of this have to do with boundaries with a Sex Addict?? Glad you asked!

Let’s transfer all of this to your relationship with a sex addict.

He says that he is in recovery, yet you are not feeling safe.

Let’s say he takes his device to the bathroom and spends 20-30 minutes in there. He had already disclosed that this is when he views pornography, so it’s a no-brainer that you don’t feel safe about his recovery. While you can’t make him not take his device into the bathroom, you can say how you feel about it and that in his doing so, it doesn’t create safety and trust for you.

How does he respond??

A man in good, solid recovery who wants to build trust with you and have you feel safe, will make the choice to no longer take the device to the bathroom. He will not come up with excuses, justifications, cast blame, or argue that you should trust him. He’ll just do it. One who isn’t in solid recovery or hasn’t been in recovery for very long, will respond very differently.

This is where you have a choice.

If he chooses to argue with you, justify his actions, blame you for not trusting him, etc, (throwing trash in your yard), you don’t have to listen to it. You get to decide to make a choice for yourself that creates safety for you (being responsible for your own yard). Remember...this isn’t about punishment, this is about what you will and will not allow in your yard.

You don’t want blame? Walk away. You don’t want justifications? Walk away.

You don’t want endless excuses and blame thrown your way? Walk away.

What does walking away look like? Whatever you need it to. If you need to go take a walk, do it. If you need time out with a friend, do it. If you need to move into another bedroom if you haven’t already, do it. If you need him to move out of the house for a time, ask him.

His responses to your needs will bring clarity to the status of his recovery and how he values you.

Taking care of our own yard doesn’t mean throwing your trash in his yard as a way to retaliate. That doesn’t bring health or healing. It just shows immaturity.

When we can learn to set some basic boundaries for keeping ourselves safe while living with a sex addict, we will be able to think more clearly, make better decisions going forward, and live peaceably.

What boundaries have helped you?

In what way are you needing help with boundaries?

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