I want to address an issue I see a lot in my coaching practice, and have experienced in my own life. It’s this idea that a wife, or partner, is somehow responsible to be the policewoman or babysitter over their spouse’s addiction or sexually deviant behavior. If you have been told that you need to keep the passwords to electronics, babysit your partner while they are online, or take any actions to help prevent their relapse or another affair, you are not alone! I too have been given this bad advice, and want to help bust the myth that being a policewoman or watchdog is in any way helpful. Because it’s NOT!
Here is a question I recently got from a woman. “Dear Kendra, recently I was told by both my husband’s therapist, and my church pastor, that I need to “help” my husband manage his addiction to pornography by being the only one to know the passwords to our home computer, the WiFi, and his tablet, and that if he’s up late working I need to be awake with him so he doesn’t act out. I’m so tired and I don’t want to stay awake with him. But recently when I didn’t stay awake with him, he acted out and looked at porn for hours and spent about $100 on OnlyFans. What should I do? I have a boundary that he can’t look at porn, but I am getting blamed for his behavior if it happens “when I should have been watching him.” I want a husband and partner, not someone to babysit. What should I do?”
Here is my response to her, and I would freely give the same advice to all of you!
“Dear (woman), I can relate to so much of what you wrote. In the early days after discovery, my ex and I met with church leaders to address his addiction to porn. I was told that, as the loving wife, the best thing I could do to support my husband with love, was to (insert all police officer duties, such as keep passwords to the computer and his tablet, check his phone, track his location, basically babysit him.) We were in college and I was a mom with a medically fragile newborn. So I couldn’t always physically stay awake long enough for him to finish writing his college papers on the computer and then he would act out. I was always told it was “my fault” because when I was there he wouldn’t do it, so clearly I needed to make a bigger sacrifice for our relationship. This went on for YEARS! I DETESTED my duties as a policewoman, and he resented me for being “a nag”, and it seriously damaged our relationship. I hated when he would come to me for “permission” to use electronics.
Let me tell you, the best day of my life was when I went to my first wives of addicts meeting (almost 8 years after our first church leader told me to police him, and after EVERY SINGLE bishop since had told me the same thing) and learned I didn’t have to be the policewoman. I went home from that meeting and immediately gave him all his passwords and told him he is now accountable for his addiction, not me! Soon after, I moved out, and we later divorced. I believe that asking a spouse to be the password keeper and policewoman is in opposition to true recovery and takes away responsibility from the addict and places the burden of recovery on the spouse, who does not have any power whatsoever over their partner to recover or not. Trust me, if my will alone could have had any power for him to recover he’d be squeaky clean. But the truth is I have ZERO power over his recovery, and I believe that when therapists and church leaders ask spouses to keep passwords it is actually taking accountability away from the addict. Instead, the addict needs to understand they have FULL power over their life and can make the changes they need to if they are willing to put in the work.
Only you will know what is best for you. For me, I was so glad when I was finally done being the policewoman! With love, Kendra”
Here’s the thing, other adult humans get to do whatever they want. The only power we have is in our own thoughts about their behavior. We have power over our thoughts, and our thoughts are always optional, so we can choose what to think about others’ choices, but we can’t change their choice.
I had been made to believe that I had power to help my ex overcome his addiction. In turn, he also thought I had some power, and therefore released his power over it, and felt like if I could monitor him well enough he’d stop looking at porn. But it really just made him better at hiding his behavior, and then I’d still get blamed for it. I wish I had known back then that I needed to be spending all my energy taking care of myself, loving myself, and holding firm boundaries for my own safety. I didn’t know that then, but now that I know better, I do better.
I want to take a moment to plead with anyone who is in an eccesioastical leadership position in their church, and anyone trying to help individuals overcome addiction, to please hear me. DO NOT tell the spouse or romantic partner that they need to be responsible for the passwords, or any other babysitting duties to the addict. This will only damage the relationship between the addict and their partner, and does not help with true recovery.
In some situations, WHEN the partner is WILLING, it can be helpful to have an accountability partner for the addict. But I personally always recommend that it be someone else, not the spouse, who is neutral to the relationship, and willing to hold the addict accountable. And if the couple decides it will be the spouse that is this accountability partner, the addict needs to be forthcoming and share everything willingly. This is still not a time that the spouse needs to be looking for evidence that the partner is hiding addiction behaviors, they need to be a PARTNER of accountability. And the spouse needs to have really clear boundaries in place in the event of a relapse.
I’ll write more next week about BOUNDARIES, but let me say this now; Boundaries are to keep YOU safe, they are NOT TO CONTROL THE OTHER PERSON! Let me say that again. Boundaries are not to try to change the other person’s behavior. Put simply, boundaries are an “IF/THEN statement.” “If you (action), then I will (response that keeps you safe.)” For example, “If you have sex with someone outside our marriage, then I will leave you and divorce.” It is taking into account that the other person still gets to choose to do whatever they want. However, if they do certain things, then you will do other things in response. Because they also can’t choose what you will do, in response to what they have done.
I’m often asked if my client needs to tell their spouse all of their boundaries ahead of time. My answer is honestly, no. Here’s the thing, I have a boundary that other people can’t hit me, and if they did, I would call the police. But I don’t walk around the grocery store loudly announcing, “just so everyone knows, if you hit me, I will call the police.” It sounds silly doesn’t it? It’s totally unnecessary, because I’m not trying to control anyone else. I HOPE they don’t hit me, but if they did, I already know what I will do in response to it. The boundary is for ME!!! The same is true in marriage relationships. You can have a boundary around honesty. If the other person lies to you, you will end the conversation and walk away. If your partner yells at you and you feel scared, you can tell them to leave. If they won’t leave, you can call the police. Whatever your boundaries are that YOU need to keep YOU SAFE, are totally fine. Your boundaries will look differently than mine, and someone else’s, and that is totally ok. If it feels right to YOU, then you don’t need anyone else to agree with you.
So in going back to our previous letter I got from the woman, she can set boundaries for herself for her own emotional and physical safety. Some examples of boundaries for her, if she no longer wants to be the policewoman, could be, “If you look at porn, I will not share my bed with you. If you spend money on OnlyFans, I will remove you from our joint accounts. If you continue to lie to me, and I don’t trust you, I will take whatever actions I need to at the time to keep myself safe.”
Again, no one else can tell you if your boundary is good or not besides YOU! You are the expert of you! Others may not understand everything you have gone through. So trust your gut and set whatever boundaries you need for your own safety.
If you are in a place where you still feel like you need someone’s “permission” to set a firm boundary, or follow through with a consequence, then consider me now giving you permission. YOU, DEAR READER, HAVE PERMISSION TO CARE FOR YOURSELF EXACTLY AS YOU SEE FIT! Full stop. You are worthy of and capable of setting your boundaries, exactly as you are right now.
If you are currently in this space of navigating your own recovery after discovering your spouse’s addiction or betrayal, there is hope, and there is help. I’ve been there! I “get it” on a deep level. I have dedicated my life coaching practice to helping betrayed partners because I recognize the gap in help that there is for you. I can help you learn to set boundaries for yourself, how to make decisions you are confident in, and how to stay in your own power. You can love someone and tell them “no” when you are asked to be their babysitter. You can love someone, want them to do well in their own recovery AND set boundaries that will keep you safe. I would love to give you some tools to help you navigate this new, often confusing world you found yourself in. Schedule a FREE consultation call HERE. At the end of this free call you will have new tools that you can put to use right away, and will know if you want to add coaching with me to your life. I look forward to meeting you soon, and helping you on your journey.
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