In Part One and Part Two of this series on boundaries and marriage, we’ve told you about our messy journey to recovery. Although 15 years ago we almost lost our marriage to pornography addiction, this year we will celebrate 38 years of marriage.
One of the basic parts of every recovery program is giving back to others whatever has helped you. Reluctantly and still scared of sharing our story publicly, we began leading recovery 12 years ago. Very quickly, churches began asking us to lead purity seminars. We couldn’t go into either of these situations feeling unresolved about our own relationship.
So, we made an agreement to keep it real. In our groups, we took what sometimes seemed like insane risks to paint the picture of our individual walks and our recovering marriage accurately, even though others were looking to us for leadership.
Our bumps with boundaries became object lessons for our classes and seminars. Other married couples told us that our realness helped them let go of shame and also see themselves in their own pitfalls.
But then an amazing thing began to happen. Couples who came to our Pure and Simple conference year after year began telling us that each year we were completely different. We had grown. We had new insights and new ways of approaching boundaries.
This helped us understand an important truth: boundaries are a moving target in a recovering marriage. Sure, we’ve kept some important marriage boundaries throughout the last 15 years, for instance:
- We don’t stay in resorts/hotels where people are dressed scantily; instead we rent a home.
- We don’t watch R-rated movies, only making an exception when we have reviewed them thoroughly in advance and found them sexually clean.
But our marital boundaries have also grown as we have grown. One of the most helpful areas for us is having boundaries that protect our most vulnerable parts.
The Guardrail of Vulnerability: Moving Through Conflict to Intimacy
As we’ve grown and each shed layers of fear, we made a huge realization. In order to heal, we need to stop abandoning each other due to conflict. We needed to learn to hang in there.
This required taking a deeper dive into marital boundaries—ones that called for vulnerability. The Latin for vulnerable, vulnus, is so apt to our experience, able to be wounded. Any couple in recovery can testify how crazy it feels to rebuild vulnerability after sexual infidelity.
To help, we developed three marriage boundaries to protect that vulnerability:
- We will try not to abandon each other. When it gets messy, we don’t run away or abandon each other by walking away or leaving the room (or house) without consulting the other. If one of us needs time out, we ask for it with an agreement we will circle back to the discussion.
- We own that we are not experts on each other. Whenever the pain of an encounter makes one or both of us jump to conclusions, we use the phrases, “I make up that you think…” and then… “Is that true?”
- We let each other know when we feel vulnerable. Whenever one of us needs to talk about something that feels full of risk, we give the other person a head’s up… “Honey, I am afraid (or nervous) about talking to you about this.”
To honor these boundaries, we had to learn to communicate differently. For instance:
- “Robin, I make up that you think I am lousy at finances. Is that true?”
- “Dave, I make up that my sensitivity is a burden to you. Is that how you feel?”
- “Robin, I make up that you don’t think about sex very often. Am I correct?”
- “Dave, I make up that when you said you were emotionally bankrupt, you were blaming me. Is that what you mean?”
When we first used the phrase, “I make up…” we both felt a little silly. But quickly, we found it protected us from expressing our worst fears as realities and, in doing so, shaming the other.
The key is, after asking this question, we trust the other to tell us the truth. Whatever they say is now the truth of what is going on.
Most of all, we were now protecting sacred moments where listening carefully and putting aside defensiveness was needed. To this day, we try to remember that our mutual vulnerability is a healing balm that needs to be protected at all costs.
Healing After Sexual Addiction
And the changes continued. Instead of defending, we were finding ways to soften the risk of martial vulnus…the way true martial intimacy left us open to be hurt. As we practiced this, we remembered one of our earliest guardrails—draining our relationship of shame.
We recommitted ourselves to our “no shame” rule. To reinforce that marital boundary, to this day we make a practice of gently calling each other out when we feel shamed, and explaining why. The other then reaches deep for humility to listen and try not to get defensive.
Has all this been easy? Of course not! At times, it has been some of the most difficult emotional work we’ve ever done. Yet, as we’ve persevered, defensiveness has lessened, shame has lessened, and vulnerability has become our greatest treasure.
What’s more, we both know that whatever new challenges arise, the work of boundaries will be there for us, offering guidance, help and hope for the continual restoration of our marriage.
Three Vulnerability Guardrails
Presence: Not abandoning the other in volatile moments or difficult discussions.
Humility: Owning how many times we “make up things” about each other.
Emotional Transparency: “Honey I am afraid to talk to you about this.”
How can boundaries heal your marriage? Here’s a complete list of the marriage boundaries from this 3-part series.
|Marriage boundaries of truth|
|Sexual history||Explore the roots of addiction going back to your childhood.||Builds empathy and sets the stage for healing.|
|Mutual confession||Confessing boundary breaks early. Receiving confessions without shaming.||Reduces hiding and increases confidence.|
|Lie Detector test||Done with a counselor in a healing setting.||Resets the truth and drains the fear of further trauma.|
|Marriage boundaries of expectation|
|Shame-proofing||“Do you think shame might be present?” Getting out of big bear or little bear.||Allows amplified feelings to be diffused before a conflict begins.|
|Oneness||We won’t initiate sexually or receive initiation if a boundary break hasn’t been confessed.||Reduces policing and reconnects intimacy with honesty.|
|The do-over||“Can we please try that again, now that I understand your hurt?”||Resets the memory, applies grace and lightens the heart.|
|Marriage boundaries of vulnerability|
|Presence||Not abandoning the other in volatile moments or difficult discussions.||Prevents further abandonment wounds.|
|Transparency||“Honey, I am afraid to talk to you about this.”||Helps your mate understand and protect your vulnerability.|
|Humility||“I make up that you think this…” or “I make up that you did this because…”||Owns that we are not the expert on them. Accepts their truth.|
Dave and Robin Weidner head up Purity Restored, a non-profit offering spiritual recovery and tools for sexual purity. Robin and Dave have authored healing resources including the book Grace Calls: Spiritual Recovery after Abandonment, Addiction or Abuse, the 2017 Gold Medal winner for Self-Help/Recovery in the Illumination Book Awards. Dave and Robin lead healing retreats and marriage seminars around the world. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.