Sorry I’m late with this blog. It’s been that kind of week. You know what I’m talking about. I got a new computer and I’m on a steep learning curve. Yes, I’ve finally converted to MAC. December is the month I’ve committed to learning this before I start traveling again in January. I’ve also been a little slow in responding to blog posts this week. Sorry. Continue to pray for me. I think a few of my balls are dropping.
Today’s Question: I am unsure how to set up boundaries and consequences with my alcoholic, pot-smoking husband. He thinks neither should be a concern of mine. He says it doesn’t affect me. When he has too much to drink, his verbal cocky language, insinuations, and controlling attitude are horrible.
He thinks nothing of drinking 6-10 beers at one time. He is bi-polar but doesn’t think it is an issue anymore. He was on lithium years ago for this. I am so tired of this relationship with him. I want to do what God wants me to do. I know that with God He can handle this marital issue. I just need to release it totally to Him.
Please give me guidance on setting up specific boundaries and consequences. I have read your book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, but I need more specific advice in my particular situation. Thank you.
Answer: In my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong I introduced the idea of the Gift of Consequences as a loving gesture to help wake a spouse up to behaviors or attitudes that were affecting (or destroying) the marriage. (This particular gift of love often does not feel loving to the one receiving it at the time)
In past blogs and in my other books on destructive relationships and marriage I give many more reasons and examples how not to enable destructive behavior to continue unchallenged by mitigating or removing negative consequences from the destructive person’s life.
Specifically in your situation you need to ask yourself the question how does his behaviors affect you? For starters you indicate that when he’s drunk or high, he treats you differently. He’s controlling, cocky and makes remarks that offend you and hurt your feelings. What would be a natural consequence for someone who treats you that way?
Most healthy people wouldn’t put up with it. They’d leave the room, leave the conversation, or exit the house for an hour or even for the night. In other words, one consequence is that your husband looses the pleasure of your presence or company when he’s drinking or high because you don’t like the way he treats you when he’s that way.
Now, the problem for you when you implement this consequence is that perhaps it has no impact on him. In fact, he may prefer you to leave him alone. This is where it gets tricky. The consequence we implement we want to also have impact.
So what other consequences might you implement that may get his attention?
Stop cleaning up his messes – cans, ashes, dirty glasses, vomit. (But you have to live there too so it impacts you too)
Separate your family money if he’s spending large quantities of money on his drinking and drugs and it’s affecting your ability to pay your bills.
Refuse to drive with him if he’s been drinking or smoking pot/ not allowing the children to drive with him
Refuse to lie to the children about his behaviors when they observe him drunk or high.
Refuse to bail him out of jail if he gets pulled over by the police.
Refuse to buy him alcohol or other supplies for his habit.
Refuse to lie or cover up for him to others (work, family, neighbors) for his foolish behavior while drunk or high.
Separate from him until he gets help and stops his abusive behavior.
Plan an intervention with family members to help him see how his problem impacts everyone (he says it doesn’t affect anyone).
Sometimes boundaries and consequences look rather similar. The boundary you may set ahead of time – such as I am no longer willing to drive with you because I’m afraid when you’re driving and drinking.
A consequences might be, last night you scared me to death the way you were weaving in and out of cars. We almost had an accident. From now on I refuse to drive with you when you’ve been drinking (or smoking).
But bottom line – what keeps you stuck in this relationship is something you can work on. You can’t change him but you can, with God’s help, change you. You say you want to do what God wants you to do but I do not believe God calls you to sacrifice yourself and your children so that your husband can stay steeped in his foolish behaviors. So if you lovingly implement consequences – not to scold, shame or punish, but to wake him up, it can be part of God’s plan for his life.
Doing what God wants you to do means that you will also do what you need to do to stay healthy and get wise. It may mean attending Al Anon or Celebrate Recovery or some other support group for people who live with addicts. It means that you will protect your children from his abusive behavior when he’s intoxicated and if it’s frequent, you may need to consider separating from him until he gets help for his problem.
I think we often think God wants us to always be nice and minimize the ugliness of sin. We’re not to judge sin because all of us are sinners – you are not less a sinner than your husband is, but when we cover it up or minimize it or think it makes no negative impact on other people, we are deceiving ourselves and not living in the truth.
Your words to your husband – or consequences and boundaries may be hard but need not be harsh. Do the work you need to so that when you take this step, you do it in love.
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Leslie, wow I love how well you defined that . Beautiful!!
I have been working on boundaries and consequences for almost a year now, and it definitely has changed the mood in our home. We all struggle with different abuse issues- but whether it be rage, alcohol, control, or drugs…..the solution seems similar. We begin to own ourselves, and take responsibility to stand up for what we believe is wrong, and damaging to our homes. It was difficult to move away from some of the church conditioning, thinking I was his helpmate and I needed to stay faithful to him.That is a true statement, but it has some thinking that needs to be reshaped. Leslie has described it well. Loving him to his highest good sometimes means action that will make things worse, but you are doing your part to stop the destructive relationship from wounding yourself and your children. If I have learned anything this year, its that I am responsible for what I choose, and what I tolerate. I love Leslie’s quote– WHEN YOU ALLOW ABUSE- IT IS AN ACT OF ABUSE. That quote stays in my heart everyday and helps me to become stronger. Its a process, but we need good support and information to help us grow into women who truly do what is the Highest Good for our families.
Since the subject we’re discussing is boundaries and consequences…… I am reminded, separation is a boundary. I moved out of my husbands bedrm, ten yrs ago when he expected me to sleep in his room without any heat, and wouldnt allow me to have a reading light in bed as I like to read before going to sleep. Nothing has changed in re to what he won’t allow, except now things have escalated more as he is a RIGID an OBSESSIVE controller and has litle to control anymore. My point in writing is to say, we are going to separate/ I must do so to take good care of myself, and my children. I am eager to start a new life without abuse. Sometimes you have to realize, you’ve paid enough to ABUSE and its time to make a more intense boundary/consequence. Am I open to reconciliation? Only after months and months and likely yrs—- of seeing Truth, and Reality lived out thru his decision to attend personal counseling and a mens grp. So if someone out there is tolerating abuse and doesn’t know what to do, please do yourself a favor, and find help thru a solid counselor who can lead you to healthy boundaries and consequences……..
Amen. Sooner is better than later.
I used to be in that same situation plus my spouse was self-employed (basically worked only when he felt like it).
Leslie has some great examples giving you an excellent place to get some starter ideas. It is such a new way of thinking for most of us that it takes a bit to think of appropriate consequences. Personally, I felt I was all over the map trying to figure that out. Fortunately, I had a good counselor that helped me identify some concrete consequences I knew I could carry out. We started out small and few to begin with and expanded on that as I learned this new behavior and felt more confident following through. That is the key — you must follow through or they will call your bluff every time after that!
As far as setting consequences on the alcohol, one that I employed was sleeping arrangements when he was drunk. I let him know he smelled awful when he drank and that he snored so loudly that I could not get any sleep. I let him know ahead of time that I would be sleeping in another room when he was in that condition. It worked fairly good for me to get some sleep, but it did not stop the drinking. And only one time did it escalate where he continued to follow me to the room where I planned to sleep.
And as far as the pot smoking, I let him know ahead of time that if I found any in the home that I would flush it down the toilet. After that, he always kept it either on his person or outside of the home.
As for not helping to pay bills (which you did not indicate but was an issue for us) I let him know I was no longer going to pay the electric bill knowing that he LOVED his TV and would do about anything to keep the electricity on so he could lay around and watch TV.
Find some support people who can help you come up with some appropriate consequences that you know you will carry out. They may have to hold you accountable to be courageous enough to implement the consequences. That can be very scary as it is a new learned behavior on your part, but will definitely be a skill worth learning for other areas of your life too!
Best wishes in changing yourself!
I can’t think of a thik to add to what Leslie has said. I didn’t have problems with X drinking or drugs. He didn’t need anything to make him blow up other than himself. I did see him drink at receptions and he was funny. I almost think I would have rather him drink, but was told that when he was younger he would drink daily and get into fights. So, so much for that thought. I pray that you will do what is good for your safety and sanity. I don’t know if there are children involved, but they definately don’t need this type of role model.
Consequences can be hard to dole out sometimes, and even impractical or unhelpful. Be sure you think it through well. My boundaries had to be revisited. I had asked for 3 things from my husband- counseling, accountability, and I handle all the finances. He came through on 2. but the accountability group (celebrate recovery)at our church did not have enough people to start a group, so he did nothing else as a back up plan. Back in August, I said that if all 3 were not met, he would have to leave our home. I did not specify the amount of time, and he agreed. Last week, we met with a crisis counselor because I felt that he was making progress but I did not want to go back on my word. The counselor asked me if I thought that kicking him out would help him move forward or not. I said it would not, knowing that he would be bound for his enabling sister’s house 500 miles away and have to start all over again with new doctors, meds, counselor… so I had to change my boundary a bit. I gave him a week to get accountability. He responded by meeting with the group’s leader one on one until there were enough people to start a group- hopefully in February. He is a video game/electronics addict. I have had to stick to another boundary. I will not be used for sex after being ignored all the rest of the time. He has asked twice now and I have had to tell him that no, I cannot do that when I do not have any attention from him otherwise. I hope he gets it soon. I feel guilty doing this, but I have allowed sex to be what keeps us together for far too long. biologically, it washes your brain in chemicals that help you bond to that person. but it’s only a chemical bond, and for me that is not enough. I have been untrue to myself for too long and this is a mockery of what God intended for sex.
You go girl!! You have nothing to feel guilty about. You are doing what is best for you, your husband and your marriage. There are far worse addictions, but that video game thing is just as emotionally disengaging. It keeps your partner from seeing you as a person with real feelings. Sex is not just a 10 minute act. It is engaging with your partner throughout the day, every day. Getting to know them. Showing them true affection. Without that, the physical portion can be a mental and emotional let down. X used to ask me if I wanted him to take a pill. If I said ok, he would then go play on the computer for a half hour, after he would finish with me he walked out on the porch for a cigarette. I laid there and cried. Celebacy is far more enjoyable.
Hello, I am just learning a bit about consequences and boundaries. I have a very calm, cool and collected partner whom my counselor has identified as NPD. I have no money but have to go as a child and beg for money when i need to care for my 5 kids. I am disciplined and punished in front of the kids if I get angry or frustrated. There is no emotional,relational or spiritul aspect of our relationship but to the outside world he is a sage and wonder of wonders with the kids. ALthough I accept he is our children’s best friend, I resent that he does not let me train them in any manner, take them to church, have consequences or set up chores. In fact since we have 5 kids, he accepts sleeping in another room ( which i have asked and he will never ask why) and spend all of his time with the kids. Disney Dad. Any suggestions?
If you are having to beg for money to take care of your kids this man is NOT their best friend or a good father. He is abusing them as well as you. Treating you as a child in their presence is not teaching them what they will need to know in life and likely distorting their thinking of relationships. Not allowing you to take them to church is stifling their spiritual growth.
Is he seeking counseling? If not, why not? Does your counselor given you options? I can’t tell you what to do and wouldn’t try, but if it were me, I would seek the advice of an attorney. Perhaps he should move out since he doesn’t care if you sleep in separate rooms, separate housing shouldn’t be a problem. He should not have the honor of your presence or the kids. He will be required to pay support while you are separated. Perhaps this might stir something in him. If not, maybe it will give you some healing time.
There are many good books about boundaries and setting them. All of Leslie’s books are top notch. Dr Henry Cloud has “Boundaries” and “Boundaries in Marriage” which are both good. I will pray for you as you make decisions and that God will make sure the kids are hearing his word.
I realize that each person has to do what works for their situation. I’m in one of those myself. We have to pray and get God’s plan. This list of enforcing boundaries and consequences just seems like more ways to control the other person. Strategy is the utmost but I’m not interested in mothering a grow man. The way I figure it, I give [him] the information. If he doesn’t change things and I end up leaving you can’t say you didn’t know. He can only say ‘he didn’t really believe me’ . . . Guess that’s too bad.
The way I figure it, I give [him] the information. If he doesn’t change things and I end up leaving you can’t say you didn’t know. He can only say ‘he didn’t really believe me’ . . . Guess that’s too bad.
What you just described is a boundary and consequence. You are letting him know what needs to change and if he doesn’t you may decide to leave. There is no difference.
I agree Brenda.
The way I see it, is not controlling the other. BUT keeps me from controlling him. If I set a solid boundary and follow thru I am neither having to mother him or take measures to control. That’s what I love about boundaries. They bring safety and sanity, where there is none.
Nancy you said: ” I have been untrue to myself for too long and this is a mockery of what God intended for sex.”
I am finally leaving a very unhappy marriage after 32 years married to a porn/sex addict and unfaithful spouse. I wish this advice had been clearly explained to me – perhaps it was to some degree but I didn’t understand. The shift in thinking that had to happen for me was not feeling guilty for what was not my choice. I cleaned up financial messes best I could (he had put us in debt, bankruptcy and debt again). I protected his reputation with the kids at the expense if my role. I tolerated abuse to the point that I lost my own heart.
I needed to take responsibility to protect myself better emotionally and financially and spiritually.
Boundaries and consequences will help preserve any hope for your spouse to grow up and learn to be a man.
Trust me- your marriage is not a marriage when you are married to an addict who does not commit to life long recovery and relationship counseling…And your kids will not learn healthy relationships either.
I say this as I plan to file for a divorce I should have filed for 15 years ago… At least my kids would have gotten court ordered counseling…
You can be bold and loving …
If not, you risk becoming very bitter…
Just as hard as any addiction to deal with…
Fortunately I do not have to deal with the alcohol or drugs. But what I do deal with is a man who ignores me as being his wife. I simply live in the same home with a man that I cannot have both emotionally (intimacy) and physically. My love language is physical touch which for me also requires the words of affirmation as well. I cannot understand why it is hard for my Husband who says that he loves me but has a hard time showing it. He acknowledges that he needs to kiss me more not just during out brief 10 min weekly/biweekly sexual encounter. A few years ago he did tell me that he had sexual fantasies about other women (that we know) but with the help of christian counseling says he has worked thru this issue now. However when he still pays no attention to me physically I have a hard time believing him and therefore still have found myself not trusting him. He loves the Lord and does his best (that I can tell at following Him) but does not reflect God’s love to me. This week we had an argument due to the fact that he wished one of these women he used to fantasize about a happy birthday and proceeded to give her a compliment thereafter. He asked me what was wrong and I hesitated to tell him because I knew it would get me nowhere but an argument resulting in him getting violently angry. After several times asking me what was wrong, I shared with him what I was upset about in which he blew up at me (as I feared) because I went on to say that he can compliment another woman but that very same day I was put down twice by his words and he did not contact me all day via text. He got very upset yelling, throwing things and punching things which is a very huge problem in our home when he gets upset. So, here we are days later, no apologies but I always seem to forgive the blow-ups regardless of him asking for forgiveness or not and we move on like nothing has happened and move on with no intimacy…no talking it out, nothing. I am so tired of hurting! I asked the Lord to please be my husband when I do not feel like I have one. I asked God to please hold me and love me the way a husband should love a wife. I have asked him to fulfill my need for intimacy. It is so hard to live in a house, share a bed and a home with someone who doesn’t love back. I am sorry if I got off topic but my computer is my cell phone and don’t see where else to leave a general question.
To add to the above: I want to set boundaries but do not know how. I do not know what to do to wake him up. We have gone thru a few counseling sessions so far but it doesn’t seem to help. We skipped a session in November and he has not expressed any desire to go back. It seems as though he was only going because I forced him to. I am at a loss as to where to go from here. We have been married for 14 years and I am so tired of the roller coaster that we ride in our marriage. This is my 2nd marriage and I am afraid of another marriage going awry.
Some comments and a some suggestions. Comments first.
I’ve been working in addiction treatment since 1978. You can see my professional experience on LinkedIn for “Charles Sigler.” The suggestions are not instead of those given already by Leslie, but to supplement them.
Psychiatric diagnoses, particularly bipolar disorder can be unreliable with individuals with substance use disorders. Many of the symptoms, especially for mood disorders are the same ones seen with the up-and-down moods of someone using and abusing drugs and alcohol. An alcohol and marijuana user is riding that chemical rollercoaster. He needs to be abstinent for awhile before an accurate diagnosis can be given.
Formal interventions can be hit or miss in my experience. You have to have someone who really knows what they are doing, it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to set up, and it still may not work.
Your husband is harming other people: your marriage, the example he sets for your children, the relationships with family and friends, etc. He is also doing physical damage to himself when drinking and smoking marijuana. You have a right, a biblical right to expect him to stop his substance abuse and get some help doing so. He’s not fulfilling his calling as a father from a secular or biblical perspective by his drug and alcohol abuse.
I’d suggest that you prepare the following before giving the ultimatum to get help or separate from you. Do some research and find a reputable drug and alcohol treatment center in your area. If you live near a city, there should be more than one. In Pennsylvania there are several treatment centers with multiple levels of care depending on the seriousness of the substance use disorder, such as: short term inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient.
Short term inpatient treatment needs some follow up outpatient treatment (partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient). In many agencies there is not a charge for the evaluation; you can ask about that upfront.
Get support from family and friends for your husband to go to one of these for an evaluation of his substance use. The mantra from everyone should be for him to get an evaluation and follow the given recommendations, with an expectation of him successfully completing treatment—at all the recommended levels of care. AND for him to follow the aftercare recommendations after he successfully completes treatment. Select a treatment center that actively uses 12 Step recovery in their program.
You should go with him to the evaluation AND talk with the evaluator to be sure your husband honestly describes his drinking and drug use as well as the problems resulting from his use. Be sure he signs a consent to allow you to talk with the evaluator (in case the treatment recommendation isn’t given at the time of the evaluation) and any of the following treatment professionals or levels of care that were recommended. Participation of family members is typically welcomed by most credible treatment centers.
His participation in treatment could mean some financial hardship because of time off from work, insurance co pays, etc. If you need help here, see if family can help. The treatment costs should be part of what gets ironed out at the evaluation. There should be treatment money available for the treatment center to tap into if you don’t have insurance coverage. This might exclude you from some treatment centers that don’t utilize county or state funds for treatment.
I’d be surprised if a treatment center did not recommend some level of care for your husband after an evaluation. If for some reason professional treatment wasn’t recommended, you could still say you want him to get help individual counseling, go to self help meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery) AND stop his substance use.
Thanks Chuck for your additional help.
I am learning a new way of thinking with boundaries and strength. It is tricky to learn what could actually fit situations. I am building new concepts which takes time in order to feel that understanding of new steps; and that is ok.
Best fit: I told my husband I would no longer listen to him put down my son as he had for twenty some years. If he chose to do that, I would walk out of the room, quietly and calmly and return the same way. It was such a relief to realize I didn’t have to listen, I had a choice, and sobering to realize my faithful defenses of my son all those years had accomplished nothing. My husband is doing much better; he still has times. My ears and heart feel so much better! 🙂
Learning experiences: I tried to leave for a short time period after speaking some truth about a year ago; it was messy. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any good in it but the complications weren’t worth it. I learned a more careful quiet humility and thought; which is normally me; I need to carry that into these new steps. Like a young child, I toddled and plunked down on my behind in a new step. Then recently, I asked for action of doing an anger course; this followed yet another difficult situation in our family. I realized that my husband has a pool of shame/narcissism that may indicate that working in smaller steps appears more productive. Asking for a major action closed him down; dealing with small steps keeps him open and responsive. He did agree to do the course; I am cautiously watching if he can proceed because I now see deeper how he reacts to that deep core.
I know that seeking the Lord is vital; He arranged an interesting meeting for my husband this week.
I appreciate the outside support I am developing.
I know I need God’s strength to persevere and walk in trust that He saves.
I know that simply gaining strength in the Lord in practical ways to be healthier is best…though sometimes I still long for solutions and comfortable situations.
My therapist and I spoke about boundaries yesterday. Although I finally started establishing boundaries, I never gave firm consequences. He moved out yesterday since I will never change, but, I wonder if things would have been different if I implemented both parts of the equation.
Faith, Don’t second guess yourself. It probably wouldn’t matter what you did if he wants you to change. I would have liked to have the concept of boundaries and consequences implanted in my brain years ago, but that is not the way it was. We can’t change the past. All we can do is work on the future and only God knows what it holds. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to think about these things in our marriages.
It is hard to look back and wonder….. but what I would suggest is that you learn more about consequences from Leslie’s bks.
Chances are you will need them in your future, with either your husband if he decides to come home, or another relationship. I can personally say consequences have changed my life and me. They have filled me with boldness and confidence, because I don’t tolerate his sins against me as I used too. Consequences did stop sin in our home, but because he is not willing to go towards truth- he hasn’t changed a whole lot. My next consequence is separation, to protect myself and my family from his destructive behaviors he is unwilling to see. Leslie does an amazing job talking about consequences in both bks on destructive relationships and marriages. I learned so much from them !!!!
This is exactly what I am going through with my marriage right now. We’ve been married for 10 years, we have 3 beautiful kids, I asked my husband to move out a month ago because of his behaviour. I told him I don’t want to live this way anymore.
I found out that he secretly started to smoke pot and drink after our 2nd year anniversary. Since then this has been a big issue for our marriage. I told him that his smoking and drinking bother me, then he called me a nagging wife. We started to argue then he calls me “unfaithful, unwise, evil wife, you are supposed to submit to your husband”
I didn’t want to be called a nagging wife so I let down my boundaries and let him smoke/drink anytime he wants.
Now he acts like a toddler who can’t control his own temper. He gets angry for a very little thing, he screams and yells, punch walls, break things, he walks out the door and has a puff and comes back and tells me that he is sorry, he didn’t not mean anything he said. He just wanted to hurt me and he acted like that because I made him mad.
I realized now that we have a very destructive relationship (thanks to your book “Emotionally Destructive Relationship”) and I made an arrangement for a couple counseling but my husband told me that we don’t need a counselor, “All we have to do is for you to be nice and kind to me then everything will be okay” This is the exact words that my husband to me. So, I decided to see a counselor for myself, because I know I needed it one.
He is playing a victim that I am such an evil wife that won’t let him back to his home where he belongs.
I am not going to let him dictate me anymore!!
I will not let my husband come back home until he seeks professional help for his addiction and his behaviour.
Since he moved out, it is very peaceful in my house. Kids seems happier and I can relax and enjoy being home.
For now, I am focusing on myself and my kids well-being. Like I read on “Emotionally Destructive Relationship” I can not change him, but I can change myself with God’s help.
Alcohol will undermine any chance of good health in your path. If you dont find your way back to sobriety you will loose in the bigger picture.
Tonight is the night before my finals and last class this semester. My Husbands decided tonight that I need to show him that I love him and prove that Im not cheater and a lier (Im not, I love this man and haven’t even thought of another man since before we married). He thinks cause it takes me so long to come home from school that im cheating, Its actually traffic and sometimes I stop for a quick solo hike, mushroom hunting for lions man etc) I am in school full time for an intensive nutrition program, and its crazy intense and he has casued me so much extra anxioty tonight at one point I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Managed to breath my way out of that. But his increasingly abusive words and action (physical) and his whole lifestuyle are against everything Im going to school for and we were doing before, he started smoking cig weed, something else…and drinking, and living off nicotine, alcohol, sugar. Ive tried the the boundaries thing, and if he wouldtalk to me in a negative way or smoked in our room, I was moving into my parents house (same property, college student and he lost his job). That happened so I left, and he destroyed our room….for the second time . The first time was the Sunday before school started….so stressful. The first time and the smaller moments until a few months ago it had been all my stuff that wasy destroyed, then the last few months its been his stuff….yester started back to mine. (sorry for the poor sentence structuire and spelling….I have a huge project due and my computer is acting funny!!!) Tonight he has “vowed” to UN-DO everything he has ever done for me because I won’t idk show him how much I love him tonight. My phone is off but my school is suffering, my health is suffering, this isn’t normal right? According to him, Im a horrible personand IVe heard it so much …that sometimes I wonder. I try to do what I can to show him love , I bring him meals but the energy is so bad. and cigerattes make me sick…..he stinks of them and knows i can’t be around himk be around him or In the room , but its my fault. We havent been to church in 2 years now, and Im so lost.