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Tips for Setting Limits and Boundaries {Thursday Therapy}

Welcome to Thursday Therapy With Susan where I post various bits of advice, insights, and worksheets I use in Biblical counseling. Building a spiritual legacy involves continued growth in our personal lives and relationships, so grab your coffee and let’s talk.

Today we’re looking at setting limits and boundaries with adult addicts we love, although most of the information I’m listing will help with setting boundaries in any of your relationships.

Setting limits and boundaries with alcoholics, drug addicts, sexual addicts, gambling addicts, or any kind of addiction is important because any addiction involves boundary failure.

Spouses and parents understand that letting a recovering addict live with them will add stress to their lives.

Many know that God has placed them in the addict’s life to support him or her in recovery. Yet often spouses and parents don’t know how to set boundaries.

Addiction hurts the family and many wives and husbands struggle with how to set healthy limits with an addicted spouse.

Parents find establishing boundaries equally difficult when an adult child wants to move home.

Without boundaries and consequences, relationships can quickly deteriorate.

What is a boundary?

Boundaries are limits on behavior that bring order to our lives. They help define our relationship with others.

Boundaries allow us to choose what to let into our lives and what to exclude. Like a fence, boundaries separate me from you.

Boundaries are important when living with an addict, as addicts live their life without regard for you unless you have clearly stated boundaries that you are willing to enforce with consequences.

We see boundaries used in Scripture with the “if/then” principle:

“If you do ___________, then _____________ will happen.” (If you honor your parents, then you will live long. If you sin, then you will reap the results of your sin.)

Tips on setting limits and boundaries

  • It helps to clearly define your boundary—to give it a description. Think through what you need to feel safe and comfortable in your relationship with your spouse or adult child living in your home. Than describe it by writing it down.
  • A boundary needs to be specific and involve action. A boundary is usually not about what someone is thinking or feeling, only about what they are doing. The exception would be thoughts of suicide or other dangerous feelings leading to destructive behavior.
  • A boundary needs a consequence attached in case that boundary is broken. This consequence needs to be specific and measurable, which involves time, distance, and/or a specific action.
  • A boundary requires ongoing evaluation and maintenance. Revisit your boundaries often to see if they are relevant or need attention.
  • A written contract often helps to clarify expectations, boundaries, and consequences between the addict and the spouse or parent. The addict reads the boundaries and consequences listed, and then signs and dates the paper as a contract that he is agreeing to follow. The spouse or parents also sign and date the contract. Each party keeps a copy for their records.

Examples of setting limits and boundaries

1. Parents letting their adult addicted son or daughter return home might say:

For us to feel comfortable with you living here, we need to know that you are committed to your recovery program long-term.

Therefore, if we hear from your counselor that you are not doing your homework to the level of his expectation, you will need to move out of the house for one week.

Note the following in this above example:

The son or daughter would need to sign a release form for the counselor to be able speak to the parents, but that can also be a condition for the son or daughter living in their home.

Boundary: commitment to the program

Specific: action of doing recovery homework

Measurable: one week out of the house / the counselor’s measure of homework done

2. A spouse of someone involved in pornography or other addiction might say:

For me to feel safe I need to know that you will not be involved in pornography (or whatever the addiction is).

Therefore, if you come to me within 15 hours and tell me that you viewed pornography, you will be asked to leave the house for three days and not have any contact with me.

If you do not tell me within 15 hours, you will be asked to leave the house for one week as this is deception and tells me that I can’t trust you.

Note the following in this above example:

Boundary: no more pornography

Specific: viewed pornography and out of the house

Measurable:15 hours, three days, and one week time frames

Of course the parents or spouse would need to calmly follow through on any consequence. Otherwise they would be enabling the person to continue in his or her addiction and not helping.

Growing with you, Susan

Your turn: Did you find this post helpful, and if so, how? What have you found difficult about setting boundaries?

“Jesus likes it when we share.” -Adelaide, age 3: Pass this along to everybody and their brother. OK, maybe not everybody’s brother, but you know . . . all of your friends would be nice.

Related posts:

Pornography Isn’t Pretty. Here’s Help For the Wife of an Addict

How to Respond to Unacceptable Behavior

How to Respond to a Drama Queen

Check out this great post on How to Create Healthy Boundaries by Terri Cole

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