One of the most important and life-changing things that betrayed partners learn in the healing process is how to set boundaries. Many partners are actually surprised to find out they are allowed to set boundaries. In the process of being robbed of their voice and sense of power through the experience of betrayal trauma, they seem to forget that they do indeed have a voice, they do indeed have power, and they are allowed to use both in their relationship.
This new sense of permission can feel decadent. This luscious freedom to speak and act on one’s own behalf leaves many partners asking, “Isn’t that selfish?” When I hear partners ask this question, I always feel a combination of sadness mixed with anticipatory joy.
I feel sadness because somehow along the way of their life’s path they have been taught by a parent, a teacher, a husband, a pastor, or sometimes all of the above that having a self is selfish. They have been told that to act in one’s own self-interest in a relationship is bad, wrong, self-seeking, and self-centered. They have been taught that ‘de-selfing’ is a form of love, and this type of submission is what is right and proper in relationships. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing squelches the human spirit more than this misguided and harmful message. So I feel sad when I hear the question, “Doesn’t that make me selfish?”
At the same time, though, I feel anticipation and joy because I know that freedom lies just around the corner. I know that as partners reclaim their right to a self – to their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, needs, and wants – their internal world opens up, stretches out, and comes alive in new ways. I know that as they learn to use their voice in their relationships that everyone around them benefits and gains from it. I know that their relationships will not be diminished by their showing up, that instead they will be enhanced, built up, and strengthened. So, I feel joy as I anticipate the changes that are about to happen and how much better they are going to feel.
For betrayed partners, reclaiming the self begins with the process of identifying what boundaries are needed (this is different for each person) and then setting and maintaining those boundaries effectively. One thing to keep in mind is that this is not a one-time only exercise. All through the process of recovery and for the rest of your life you are going to need boundaries. As you and your significant other reach different stages, you will need to adjust your boundaries to fit the changes that have taken place in your relationship. You may need to bump your boundaries out or you may need to draw your boundaries in. You may need to create a boundary around something that in the past wasn’t needed. Flexibility is the name of the game with boundaries, so remember that this is an ongoing exercise.