Boundaries exist to help people set healthy limits on what is acceptable in relationships. Healthy boundaries with a person who struggles with addiction can be a challenge. As the addiction worsens, the ability to set healthy boundaries may fail time and again, in a gradual degradation process which can leave others feeling powerless. Codependency may develop as a result. Learn how to set healthy boundaries with a loved one who has addiction and what to do if it becomes unmanageable.
A boundary is set at one’s own limit-an invisible line which others are not allowed to cross. When crossed, action is taken to protect the boundary. For instance, an individual in a relationship may not allow others to give put downs. If a person crosses the line, the individual with the boundary will respond by letting the person know that behavior is not tolerated. It takes courage to stand by one’s own words and continue to feel respected in a relationship, particularly with a person who struggles with addiction.
Four key elements exist which can help an individual maintain healthy boundaries while in a relationship with a person who has addiction.
- Respect own boundaries. People are less likely to take advantage of a person who respects personal boundaries. Follow through happens by teaching the other person what consequences will come from disrespecting another person’s boundaries. When the person themselves does not respect, and protect, personal boundaries, it is unlikely others will follow suit.
- Don’t make veiled threats. Often the spouse or partner with addiction will be threatened with calls to police, to leave, divorce or find a way out but the partner fails to follow through. It is not enough to scare the person with addiction into believing it will happen, only swift action will. Be prepared to keep promises made to show the seriousness of the situation.
- Build up self-esteem. It takes courage to protect personal boundaries but building self-esteem can be a challenge in a relationship with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Try to make time for exercise, journal writing, meditation and visualization. Eventually the other person will learn to stop disrespecting boundaries once set in stone.
- Reach out for help. Turn to people who care in a close circle of family, friends and loved ones. It is not possible to conquer addiction on one’s own. Pick up the phone, reach out, join a family recover group or find a sponsor to help find courage and strength to set boundaries and make healthy decisions.
Learning to set, and follow, healthy boundaries can bring positive change to a marriage or partnership. Eventually the individual may see the need for treatment and seek help. Boundaries are as important in recovery as any other time before. Be prepared to do some personal work alongside the individual with addiction and find hope, and healing, in the process.
Setting healthy boundaries can pave the way to a stronger relationship down the road. If your spouse is struggling with addiction or you need support, call Hired Power. Let us help guide you on the path to recovery.