Boundaries are generally very simple to set up in recovery; however, they can also be one of the most misunderstood parts of recovery. There are boundaries couples individually set up form themselves. He is expected to set up boundaries for his sexually acting out and acting in for himself outside of his relationship to his wife. To be proactive, he will then set up consequences for himself if he breaks his boundaries. She is expected to do the same. For example, together they will set up boundaries and consequences for themselves if they do not meet their weekly sexual agreement. Boundaries can also be established to protect yourself from your spouse when they become codependent or act out or act in. In this way, boundaries are used to protect you – not punish your spouse.
However, these types of boundaries are not want I want focus on today. I want to address the lessor known issue of an intimacy anorexic setting boundaries with his or her own parents to protect their spouse and children. For example, many couples in the first few years of marriage may struggle with which set of parents they will be spending their holidays or vacations with. Figuring out a “fair” system or rotation can be a very complex decision, especially when the couple starts having children and the grandparents want see them more then you. If you have divorced parents, this makes the decision even more difficult.
Generally, intimacy anorexics have a very difficult time setting boundaries with parents. One of the character traits of an intimacy anorexic is enmeshment with the opposite gender parent. Most intimacy anorexics have played the role of a surrogate husband or wife to this parent, which helped them survive their childhood. Often, they have parents who had poor boundaries themselves or poor parenting skills. All this helps us understand why they turn into that little boy or little girl when they are around their parents.
Most parents do not help this issue, as their son or daughter can do no wrong in their eyes, and the new son-in-law or daughter in-law can quickly feel like the third wheel around their new in-laws. Parents will often make comments or demonstrate behaviors that are passive or aggressive in nature. This may occur in secret from the son or daughter. Usually, the intimacy anorexic son or daughter will not speak up or even take sides with the parents. Parents have also been known to plant seeds of doubt or unfairness in the mind of their son or daughter with comments such as, “I am not sure why you married her/him. It looks like she/he does not pull their weight in your marriage. Why are you doing all the work around the house? When is she/he going to get a job?”
If the intimacy anorexic wants to change such a system, they are going to have to fight every passive bone in their body and begin to be assertive if the marriage has a chance. These behaviors that helped them survive as a child will not help them thrive in their new marriage.
If you are an intimacy anorexic struggling with setting boundaries with your parents, here are some recommended steps.
- Boundaries are about protecting your wife/husband. They are not about hurting your parents. Setting boundaries and telling your parents “no” can be very stressful and anxiety provoking. However, changing your understanding about boundaries can make it easier for you to initiate a conversation with your parents. Some parents are very controlling. The person asking questions is in control of the conversation. If your parents ask you questions you do not want to answer, then answer with a question. Oftentimes, parents can be passive aggressive with your spouse in front of you or behind your back. “You’re having another piece of cake? When will you be getting a job? You don’t get up to feed the baby at night? You don’t help clean the house?” You can respond to comments like this with your own questions, such as “Do you think I am overweight? Does it make you uncomfortable that I am not working outside the home? Should I be getting up and feeding the baby at night? Do you think my home is messy?”
- The inability to forgive your family of origin due to your unresolved anger that has caused bitterness and resentment will make it nearly impossible to set healthy boundaries with your parents. If you attempt to set boundaries with anger in your heart, it will most likely not go well. Get help to let go of your anger, so you can forgive. If you have issues of unforgiveness toward yourself, you may struggle with shame. This too will hinder your ability to set and maintain effective boundaries.
- Generally, if you are not able to forgive your family of orgin, there may be an issue of being offended. Holding on to real or imagined offenses keep you in a place of deception, and you will not be viewing the relationship clearly. You can see deception in others, but it is nearly impossible to see deception in yourself, as long as you hold onto the offense. The only way out of deception is to let go of the offense regardless if they ever come and ask you for forgiveness.
- Many young married adults are still very codependent with their parents. Codependency will keep you from being yourself and create a desire to please your parents; however, you may betray yourself and not provide for your spouse’s needs. It is good to love your parents, but you have to love yourself first.
- Saying “no” to your parents can be very intimidating. Begin by setting small boundaries and saying “no” to minor things. Generally, most people who have a difficult time saying “no” to their parents also have a hard time saying “no” to most anyone. If this is difficult for you, I encourage my clients to blame me, as their therapist. Oftentimes, I tell my wife to blame me, as her husband, and my children to blame me, as their father. Say “no” first. After talking to your spouse and taking time to think about the request, you can always say “yes” later. It is much more difficult to say “no” after you have already said “yes”.
- Passivity is not assertiveness. Silence is violence. Responding to your parents with silence or passive behaviors is not protecting your spouse. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Sometimes, it is more helpful to write things out in a list. Then, you can speak to your parents over the phone rather than in person.
If feelings are involved, speak to them face-to-face or by phone. E-mail and text is good for facts and information but not for feelings.
- Imagine yourself successful. See yourself speaking with honor and respect to your parents with your new boundaries. Visualize you and your partner successfully maintaining the new boundaries with your family or origin.
Just remember when you are setting boundaries with your parents or in-laws that you too one day might be in their shoes.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.