1. CRISIS MANAGEMENT

BOUNDARIES

BOUNDARIES FIRST

Ideally, we all like to think that we will be able to extend grace to a partner who has hurt us, especially if that person is genuinely sorry and is committed to change. When this type of grace is happens it is a magnificent and beautiful gift. Nonetheless, giving grace doesn't mean that you are safe. It means that you have forgiven the other person, NOT that he/she has actually changed or will not hurt you again. Therefore, to protect yourself, it is absolutely necessary to negotiate clear boundaries.

Important boundaries in the process of Affair Recovery include:

BOUNDARY BASICS

Before we discuss these specific boundaries in detail, let's look at the basics of what boundaries are. 

Boundaries in a marriage:

  • help each person figure out where one person ends and the other begins. 
     

  • define what you are comfortable with and how you would like to be treated,
     

  • work both ways,
     

  • assist with creating some sense of safety, security, and predictability,
     

  • create emotional health and are created by people who are emotionally healthy, and 
     

  • allow relationships to thrive with less uncertainty of knowing what is hurtful or helpful.

These boundaries can help spouses determine a clear understanding as to how they will interact with each other.

 

While none of us can make others do something they do not want to do, we can still set expectations involving what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and be clear about what YOU will do (the consequences) if the boundary is not respected. 

Here is a list of possible boundaries that should be discussed by couples.

TIMEOUTS

Establish a plan for taking a “timeout.” This should be discussed early on when interactions are likely to become volatile and destructive. Timeouts are most effective when you’ve determined how long the timeout can last and what constitutes a healthy outlet (i.e. going for a walk, journaling, listening to music) during the time out. Your therapist will train you to use the Red/Yellow/Green card approach to timeouts. 

PHYSICAL SEPARATION

Discuss whether a temporary physical separation is necessary. Physical separation can take on many forms:
 

  • no contact, physical or virtual

  • not being in the same location, scheduled virtual connection (text, phone call)

  • 3 days in the same home, 4 days apart in separate locations

  • 1 day per week when one partner leaves

  • 4 hours per day when one partner leaves

 

In general, physical separation is not recommended as it makes it more difficult to work on your recovery together. Nonetheless, separate locations should be strongly considered, at least temporarily, if:

 

  • your interactions are full of rage,

  • if being under the same room seems to constantly make the relationship worse, or

  • if your marital dynamic is damaging to the children.

 

Lastly, even though we encourage you to put your emotional wellbeing first, you may need to consult with an attorney or accountant to factor in legal and financial considerations.

CONVERSATION SCHEDULE AND LIMITATIONS

Agree on the timing and frequency of talking about the affair. Setting a clear "talk schedule" for affair conversations will help you from becoming overwhelmed by too much talk or feeling deprived from too little conversation.

 

When talking about the affair, try to be clear about what recovery step that you are on in the Roadmap. Our general advice is not to spend more than 1 hour talking at any one sitting. Breaks are essential to maintaining perspective and being able to listen. Lastly, restrict your conversations to times when the two of you are alone. Only speak in the front of others (never the children) if you both agree to do so in advance and you that it is a safe person.

CLOSING THE DOOR

The unfaithful partner must agree to end all forms of communication with the affair partner(s). This includes all electronics such as text messages, emails, phone calls, Facebook, and all other forms of social media. Closing the doors gives your relationship a chance to reopen the door to each other. 

Ideally, the door closing must be a choice of the unfaithful partner, not forced on him or her. If it is only done as a demand by the betrayed partner, there may be a lingering doubt as to the desire of the unfaithful partner to return to the marriage. This may be difficult for the unfaithful partner to do given the bond that may have developed with the affair partner. Nonetheless, this must be full processed so a clear decision can be made.

The process and details of how the door was closed may also become important. In therapy, we will discuss this in detail, however, for now, some of the questions that must be discussed include:

  • How does the affair partner know that the door is closed?
     

  • Does the betrayed partner (or a friend) need to witness the communication that closed the door?
     

  • What will happen if the affair partner reaches out to the unfaithful partner? Is there a rehearsed response? Will the betrayed partner be told within 12 hours?

CONTACT WITH THE AFFAIR PARTNER

The couple should determine what boundaries should exist between the offending spouse and the “outsider.” The default boundary is usually NO contact but this gets tricky in certain situations such as when the affair partner is a co-worker or another parent in your child's school.

 

In such situations, boundaries should be based on what is needed for the injured spouse to feel safe enough to begin recovery and reestablish trust. (See more on the work topic.) These boundaries may need to be granular enough to address specific threatening situations and should also include a process informing the injured spouse of any attempted contact from the affair partner. 

GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THE AFFAIR PARTNER

The unfaithful partner usually will need to grieve the loss of the affair partner. This process is inevitable and must happen. There are 3 ways that this can take place:

  1. By talking to a trained therapist or other reliable wise person. This process can happen in parallel to the healing process with the betrayed partner but does not involve the betrayed partner.
     

  2. By talking to a trained therapist and then reporting the progress periodically to the betrayed partner but only in general terms without any details. This allows the betrayed partner to gain confidence that the pull of the affair partner has been reduced or eliminated.
     

  3. By talking to a trained therapist AND talking to the betrayed spouse. This is unusual because it requires the betrayed spouse to be incredibly strong and self confident. The benefit however is that this can draw the couple closer together as they experience the grieving together.

 

PROACTIVE TRANSPARENCY

TRANSPARENCY - Passwords

Often, a large portion of the infidelity occurred in cyberspace. Since technology is so pervasive, unless this is fully dealt with, the fear of a repeat offense can be overwhelming.

 

Addressing this issue can be difficult. Having free access to your partner’s phone, email, or social media can really feel like a violation of privacy. Complete sharing of electronics usually does not happen in "normal" marital circumstances; however, the breach of trust inherent in an affair acts as a game-changer. Trust is broken and all sense of security is lost. Therefore, living a transparent life, also called Proactive Transparency, is a way of recognizing the insecurity that was created and showing one's willingness to rebuild trust.

 

Thus, it is helpful when the unfaithful partner volunteers the following:

  • share his/her usernames and passwords and access to everything on all devices.
     

  • when he/she is at home, all devices are placed in a common area so the betrayed spouse doesn't have to ask for them.
     

  • any time the betrayed spouse asks to look a device, the unfaithful spouse freely shares the device while expressing understanding at the fears that drove the request.
     

  • allowing your partner to view messages on social media. 
     

  • agreeing not to use Snapchat and other automatically deleting material.
     

  • keeping one's phone visible/ face up.
     

  • not taking calls outside of the room.

Usually, this level of technology transparency is temporary, lasting from a few months to a few years. Some couples keep it in place, believing that is a good practice and doesn't really hurt anyone. In any case, please remember that the more transparency exists, the less the betrayed spouse will obsess about the risks and then can get on with the healing.

TRANSPARENCY - Location

Another boundary that is often helpful is to set phones so that partner's can track each other's location at all times. This is often accomplished with Find A Friend type apps. Also, some partners use Facetime to show where he/she is. 

LEVEL OF PHYSICAL INTIMACY

A good rule of thumb boundaries for physical intimacy is:

 

“Only do what the most uncomfortable person is comfortable doing.”

 

The betrayed partner's feelings of love and repulsion will feel like riding on a roller coaster. Some days any physical touch may feel painful for the betrayed partner, even a well-intended gentle touch on the shoulder. On other days, a lengthy full body hug would be welcome.

 

The unfaithful partner will not be able to guess what is wanted or needed in the moment. Even though the betrayed partner may not be sure what is desired, he/she must attempt to communicate the appropriate boundary. This could range from sitting next to each other on the couch, holding hands, a touch on the shoulder, hugs, cuddles, and even sex. When either partner is in doubt as to what feels right, physical intimacy should be deferred until the appropriate boundaries is discussed and becomes clear. The clearer that the boundaries are about touch, the more that you both can relax and start healing.

LEVEL OF EMOTIONAL INTIMACY

In the same way that a couple considers physical boundaries, boundaries for emotional intimacy should be discussed as well. Your partner can not always read your emotional state so you must let him/her know what you are experiencing.

 

For example, it may be helpful to ask the unfaithful partner stop saying “I love you”. In fact, the betrayed partner may feel completely triggered as a result of hearing "I love you", thinking only of how those words were shared with the affair partner. The couple may need to be much further along in the Affair Recovery process of building trust to be able to say those words again.

FINANCIAL BOUNDARIES

For many couples dealing with betrayal, the unfaithful partner’s behaviors have damaged family finances. This may include:

  • money being spent directly on sexual behaviors such as paying for prostitutes or erotic massages,

  • funds spent on the affair partner such as paying for a trip or hotel rooms or buying gifts,

  • opening secret bank accounts or credit cards,

  • secretly withdrawing funds from family accounts, and

  • a reduction of salary due to neglect of work duties while focusing on the affair.

For the betrayed partner, placing boundaries around your finances is an important part of feeling safe again. If you have been disengaged from family’s financial management, this is the time to become involved enough so you know what is going on. This may require you to get the help of someone who is an expert in this area. By being proactive and knowing what has happened and can happen, you will be in a much better place to face the future.  

 

The betrayed partner may also need to consider steps to take to become more financially independent. Should a separate credit card be established or a separate bank account be opened? The financial boundaries will vary greatly by couple but should be discussed as a couple in an open and constructive manner. 

INTERACTION WITH OPPOSITE SEX

Many affairs are rooted in insecurity of the unfaithful partner. This may lead to patterns of flirting with the opposite sex. Many affairs start at work and they involve a married individual becoming good friends with someone of the opposite gender.

 

Going forward, it is wise to set boundaries around with whom you and your spouse interact. This is especially important within a work setting.  There is too much closeness that can develop in an office environment under the guise of it just being business. Also, some partners, often men, become good listeners so they can connect with women.

 

In such situations, some couples establish boundaries when it came to contact with the opposite sex, especially not spending any one-one-one time with them and/or restricting where such meetings can take place and what will be discussed. 

 

Here is a set of guidelines you may consider:

  • No personal or business lunches/dinners one-on-one with the opposite sex.
     

  • No one-on-one meetings outside of the company office or outside of work hours (this is complicated by the world of COVID).
     

  • No intimate friends of the opposite gender. To clarify: A married woman should not have a (non-family member) male confidant with whom she shares the same things that she would share with a female best friend. On the other hand, a married man should not have a female confident with whom he shares his personal life, personal thoughts, or what is going on in his marriage and family.
     

  • Neither spouse should tell others of the opposite gender details (especially problems) about their marriage or life.
     

  • No contacting ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends via social media.

RECOVERY WORK

The unfaithful partner must take responsibility for his/her actions and the need to change. As the betrayed spouse, it is NOT your job to manage your partner's recovery work. That burden is too much for the betrayed partner, especially since he/she is not in control of the work! 

 

Nonetheless, it is perfectly fine for the betrayed partner to set the expectation (boundary) that there is a serious recovery process taking place. You should be able to see and intuitively feel that genuine efforts for change are taking place. If it is not occurring, you should communicate that to your partner. Your therapist can help you do so in a non-threatening and non-pressuring way.

SUMMARY

Boundaries much be clearly communicated to be effective.  This is not easy to do and requires frequent fine tuning. Once a boundary is fully understood, it is up to your spouse to make sure they find a way to put them in place so that you feel taken care of and safe in this recovery process.