“Limbo” — that place between knowing your sexually addicted spouse is not in recovery, and feeling like there’s nothing you can do about it, except divorce, or just “live with it.”
I’m here to tell you, that you don’t have to stay there, and you have more than two options. There is a way out of that life-sucking limbo: boundaries.
I was there for over 20+ years, of my 28-year relationship. Then I finally understood boundaries and felt sane for the first time in my wounded marriage.
Sex Addiction Limbo: when your partner won’t take responsibility for his wounding, traumatizing behaviors. He wants you to act like it’s, “all good”. But it’s not all good, and though he may not (or may be) currently acting out, you’re still bleeding from the last discovery, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This is limbo, not fully happily married, and not fully divorced. Living in someone else’s compartmentalized version of their own thread-bare safety net.
Boundaries may be met with, “No, I prefer my addiction” but you will be out of limbo. Stitching a whole-cloth safety net of your own design and creation.
Boundaries are what freed me from that limbo. Boundaries gave me the data I needed, to know if my sexually addicted husband could change and become a safe person, or not. Boundaries gave my husband choices, to either seek recovery or choose his addiction and experience the consequences of me choosing to leave the relationship.
Boundaries don’t seek to change other people.
They define what YOU will do, in response to another’s behavior that makes you feel physically or emotionally unsafe.
It’s important to express how you feel, and what emotions and values you have based these boundaries on, when you communicate them. Your voice is important.
For example, you can set a boundary around:
- a relapse prevention plan.
- Your partner sever all ties and no longer have any contact with an affair partner
- That there be no pornography in your home
- That you will not be in a relationship with an addict who is not fully embracing recovery and following all treatment recommendations
- That you not be touched in a way that causes you discomfort, or without your permission
- Anything that you’re not comfortable with, or causes you pain.
Your boundaries and your partner’s response to them, will give you important information about whether your relationship is salvageable or not.
A boundary not enforced, is not a boundary. In other words, if you don’t constantly and continually enforce your boundaries, you are disrespecting your own feelings and values, and sacrificing yourself for the sake of the relationship. If you don’t enforce boundaries around your safety, because you’re afraid of abandonment, you’ve already abandoned yourself. You deserve better, and you can have it.
This is the formula and script I was taught to use by my awesome therapist:
“WHEN YOU (behavior)
I FEEL (use words to describe your emotions when he does the behavior)
IF YOU (continued behavior)
I WILL/WON’T (what you will do to feel safe, for example, ask you to sleep on the couch, invite you to my therapist’s office, go to xyz’s house, enact an in house separation and not be in relationship with you — whatever makes you feel safe until he can change the behavior)”
“When you message women on Facebook, I feel shattered, pushed aside, hurt, not good enough, and I don’t feel safe being emotionally vulnerable with you. So if you continue to message women on Facebook, I will not be in relationship with you, I won’t sleep in the same bed (what you feel comfortable with) until I can feel safe being vulnerable with you again.”
“When you watch porn, I feel invaded, hurt, scared, not good enough, not pretty, not sexy, and I feel absolutely devastated, and I don’t feel safe being emotionally or physically intimate with you. So, if you continue to use porn, I will not be emotionally close to you, and I will not provide you with any relationship comforts, including physical intimacy. I will invite you to counseling with me for a relationship professional’s advice on how to restore trust in our relationship. If you don’t come to counseling, I will continue to go to counseling on my own, to get advice on whether I should stay in this relationship or not.”
“When you refuse to actively seek legitimate, medically recognized recovery efforts for your addiction to sexually acting out, I feel scared, hurt, demoralized, less-than, pushed aside, not seen as a human, not seen as a partner with rights to fidelity and emotional safety and connection and I don’t feel safe.
So if you don’t seek recovery, I will ask you to leave this home. If you cannot leave this home, I request that you sleep in another room. I will not be in relationship with you. I will not provide you with relationship comforts such as sex, physical touch, emotional conversation, and we will only discuss housing, shared financial responsibility and co-parenting. This will be in effect while I consider my options regarding the future of this relationship. Meanwhile, I will seek counseling with a qualified trauma therapist, and seek support groups for spouses of sex addicts. My hope is that you will seek recovery, so we can work towards a healthy future together.”
These are expressions of a boundary, not an ultimatum. An ultimatum is said with anger, and said bluntly, “Stop, or I will leave you forever.” That does not foster an environment for the addict to make a better choice or leave any room for “progress, not perfection”, which is required for recovery from a disease like sexual addiction.
You have the courage to enforce it, and a group of recovery support friends to encourage you, keep you grounded in reality. I encourage you, to get with a betrayal trauma informed therapist and read that to him in their office, where the addict can’t play word games, gaslight, minimize, justify, blame, guilt you, with his response.
Boundaries set me free from the insanity of limbo. In my case, my husband chose recovery.
I won’t sugar coat this: Some men may not choose recovery, and in that case, that’s data you can use to decide your own future.
Either way, it frees you from limbo, so you can pursue joy freely again.
…while discussing my husband’s squirrelly, early-in-recovery behavior with my sanity-saving therapist said:
“But can I put a boundary around THAT?” I asked.
She smiled. She leaned towards me and said,
“…if in order to feel safe, and heal in the relationship, you need your husband to wear a purple-and-pink-polka-dot-bowtie every day, he has the choice to lean into that and give it to you because that’s what you and the relationship needs. Or, he can choose to not do it, because he cares about something else more.
His response to that request or boundary, is cold, hard data about how committed he is to your safety and security in the relationship.”
You can make a request for whatever you feel you need. You can make a boundary, around whatever you’re willing to enforce with your lack of participation in the relationship.
Your need for safety should be his primary concern. He created your focus on it with his betraying behavior. It’s his job to rebuild trust, “whatever it takes.”
Your boundary is both request and proclamation. It doesn’t have to be a conversation (unless it’s a healthy conversation.) It doesn’t have to be agreed upon by another person.
Go forth, and make boundaries your, “Get out of limbo” superpower.
Recovery boundaries support group. Get support for boundaries to guard against gaslighting, blame, denial, minimization, manipulation and isolation.
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