After discovering infidelity, one of the most important skills you need as a betrayed partner is the ability to set and maintain effective boundaries. This skill will help you navigate the rapidly changing thoughts and emotions you are experiencing, and it will help you create an oasis of safety and stability for yourself.
There are five types of boundaries that betrayed partners need to set:
- Physical and sexual boundaries
- Emotional boundaries
- Financial boundaries
- Communication boundaries
- Boundaries around people, places, and things
In last week’s blog Creating And Maintaining Effective Boundaries, Part 1 we looked at physical and sexual boundaries, and emotional boundaries. This week we are going to explore financial boundaries, communication boundaries, and boundaries around people, places, and things.
For many couples dealing with betrayal, the cheating partner’s extracurricular sexual behaviors have impacted family finances. This can range from money being spent directly on sexual behaviors (like purchasing a prostitute or paying for a hotel room to meet an affair partner), to establishing and maintaining secret bank accounts or credit cards, to secretly taking money from family accounts, to a loss of income caused by the cheating partner’s avoidance of work while engaging in the infidelity.
For you as the betrayed partner, placing boundaries around your personal and family finances is an important part of self-care and ongoing protection. If you have not previously been in on the management of your family’s finances, this means getting proactive and becoming more aware of and involved in the financial details. It might also mean taking steps to become more financially independent (i.e., opening an individual credit card to establish a line of credit) so that if you eventually need to leave the relationship, you can. The financial boundaries you need will be unique to you and your situation.
Communication boundaries typically focus on two things: 1) What you feel safe to talk about with your partner without the help of a third party (such as a therapist); and 2) Who you will tell about the betrayal, and what you will tell them.
Talking about the betrayal with your unfaithful partner can be fraught with conflict and pain, and can create the sense that the damage to your relationship is increasing rather than decreasing. Because your emotions are running high and your sense of safety in your relationship has been severely diminished, you will likely have a very difficult time talking about it with your partner, especially at the beginning. To avoid further damage and pain, you can place boundaries around what and how you are willing to communicate with your unfaithful partner. A few examples of this type of boundary are:
- When I am talking to my partner about difficult topics and I feel my emotional energy move above a four on a scale of one to ten, I will take a timeout to calm down.
- I will not talk with my partner about difficult topics after 8:00 p.m. I will only talk about difficult topics when I am rested and able to do it well.
You will also need to set boundaries around talking to other people about what has happened, including supportive friends, your children, and other family members. Finding safe friends with whom you can share your story of betrayal is a vital part of healing. However, it is important that you rely on individuals who can hear your story without gossiping or judging. A few examples of this type of boundary are:
- I will identify a few safe people who will be part of my support system, and I will share my story with them. I will let my partner know who I have told and what I have told them.
- I will agree with my partner about when, what, and how to tell our children about the betrayal, and we will tell them together.
People, Places, and Things
These boundaries focus on people, places, and things involved in or tainted by your cheating partner’s behaviors. These boundaries can cover a wide range of issues, and they are specific to each person’s unique situation. If your unfaithful partner used your vacation home as a place to meet his affair partner, you might decide you need to sell that home. If your unfaithful partner had sexual liaisons in your bed, you might want to purchase new bedding or rearrange the bedroom furniture to clear the space of reminders of the betrayal.
As you made your way through this blog post, I hope that it sparked your awareness of the need for boundaries and helped you understand the ways in which they can help you create the safety and space you need to heal, to manage and reduce trauma triggers, and to re-establish some stability. I also hope that as you read the explanations of the different types of boundaries that you noticed that boundaries always focus on the things you have some control over, rather than on trying to manage another person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. This principle, that boundaries are about your sense of personal power over the things you can control, is one of the most important principles for healing from betrayal trauma.