Boundaries With My Husband


I read your BYU-I devotional on the 3 realms. I am dealing with a husband, “John,” with a pornography addiction. I turned completely to the Lord and He has taken me on a journey that has included a 13 month separation, 6 months together, then I left (I thought for good). The Lord sent me back home 4 months ago, but we’re still separated. (I don’t believe in divorce or separation -unless the Lord says to.)
We have gone to LDS Family Services. We finally got him to commit to individual counseling but we still cannot talk without him blaming me for problems. Counselors say they have to be careful because John can’t handle confrontation. The Lord has blessed me to not be reactive anymore. My husband thinks he is totally acceptable to the Lord, even with how he treats me. He has never quit going to church, praying, reading scriptures, going to temple.

Some specific issues:

1 – John is constantly aligning the kids against me. (He buys them things and indulges them and when I try to draw lines—like requiring a daughter to be responsible for wrecking her car, or setting rules for a teenage son’s driving—John makes it clear he doesn’t agree and I’m the “bad guy.”

2 – He has never put me on his insurance (he and the kids are covered).

3 – We get along fine if we don’t talk about his problems, disciplining, money, or anything of importance.

4 – The kids don’t listen to me because they see John will not listen to me.
5 – John says the Lord has told him it’s time to come home now. I don’t feel that and when I told him, he tried using threats and force.

Any Terrestrial Boundaries I can set? Or any other suggestions? Thanks.


Chris: If in fact you are truly non-reactive, you have reached a significant milestone in this relationship.  However, I think it must be extremely difficult to not react to his behavior, particularly behaviors that have been talked about, with commitments made, and then those commitments are not honored. He says it’s time to come back home in spite of his not keeping his promises—his behavior at night, his refusing to negotiate on what he does with the children, and not having you on his insurance, to list just a few.

Two things come to mind.  First, I would make and prioritize a list of things that are totally within his power to do, and wait until he does it before letting him come back home. Putting you on his insurance, for me, would be at the top of the list.  If there are other things that can go on that list, put them on, then wait until he comes through.  If you are non-reactive, you’ll be able to wait while he works through some of these issues, but you won’t have to feel bad that you don’t agree to let him come home.  Second, on some of the children issues, use of cars, etc, perhaps an agreed upon third party counselor/bishop/whomever, could create a “binding arbitration” situation where you both agreed to the decision.  There seems to be so much disagreement between the two of you on many of these things, that I’m not sure the relationship is able to work many of these issues out.

One note of caution, if you really are serious about getting this relationship back on stable ground, you had better find things that are positive that you can comment on and build upon.  It is so easy to stay in a negative mode, that positive behavior can go unnoticed, missing an opportunity to build the relationship.

It’s important also that you find a supportive person through this process.  You need a place that you can talk and feel that you are heard.  A trusted friend or church leader can often help in this.

May the Lord bless you in your trials and efforts.

Lili: I agree with Chris on all the above. The things you are asking him to do are appropriate terrestrial boundaries—addressing (and giving up) his pornography addiction, honoring his obligation to provide, including putting you on his insurance, supporting you as a parent, etc. Often, the trick is enforcing those boundaries but, given the long-term nature and the severity of the issues, it is not inappropriate to continue the separation until you see concrete changes and they are sustained over time.

About the kids—it is natural for children to side with the more indulgent, less demanding parent. However, your kids are old enough now that you can sit down with them singly or together (and this will undoubtedly have to happen numerous times) to talk with them about what you are trying to help them learn and why it will be worth it to them to learn it. Make sure these aren’t lectures or fights but create a positive moment and share your desires for them to learn personal self-control and delayed gratification so they can have, at least, a good terrestrial life, with the option to go further. Point out that where you differ with their father, it is all about helping them to learn and live those principles so they can have successful lives. Point out the benefits of those patterns and point out examples of what happens when people fail to develop those consistent patterns. You don’t have to bash anyone—and shouldn’t—but you can point out which behaviors work and which don’t. There are always plenty of examples around us. And remember, we can’t influence our children unless we have a strong, positive relationship with them. If the relationships have become strained, spend time and energy to build them up again. It may take some time, maybe a long time, but in the long run, it’s always worth it.

Very best wishes.