To recap, once you know you’re in a relationship with an abuser and you’ve realized you need to hold them accountable, the next step is developing some healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are healthy and keep us physically and emotionally safe.
It’s so important to teach children about boundaries from a very young age. They don’t have a ton of property they own but they absolutely own their own bodies and have a right to decide how to use them. Don’t force a child to be affectionate with someone if they don’t want to be. Once your children are old enough to be independent in the bathroom they absolutely have a right to privacy! I’ve heard stories about dads who remove locks from bathroom doors because he doesn’t want to allow his children any privacy! Remember, abuse is all about power and control.
Abusers hate boundaries!
To protect yourself from an abuser you MUST enforce boundaries. They will do everything they can to convince you that you shouldn’t have boundaries or that your boundaries are unfair. This is further proof that you are dealing with an abuser.
I was watching re-runs of the Office last night and in the episode Jim was in Florida for work with some co-workers and his wife Pam was back at home. He befriended a woman but one night she came to his hotel room in a t-shirt and shorts with a story that they were fixing the heat in her room. She wanted to hang out in his room while she waited. Jim said yes, but his guard went up immediately when she hopped right onto his bed. She continued to test his boundaries by taking a shower in his room, coming out in a robe and then snuggling up close to him under the sheets. That was the last straw and he finally jumped up and told her he was married and that her behavior was unacceptable. Before he finally confronted her we could see him growing increasingly uncomfortable and this is how we know someone is violating our boundaries. We can feel it!
Other examples of boundary violations include financial “gifts” that people give expecting control in return. It is not a boundary violation for a parent to threaten not to pay college tuition if a kid can’t get his grades up, but it IS a boundary violation to only pay a kids college tuition if they go into the program of the parent’s choosing.
If a kid wants to be a teacher and the parents only will pay for med school, the kid has to decline the money and pay his own way or take out loans to get out from under the abuse.
As an adult, we leave our father and mother and become one with our spouse, therefore starting our own family unit. Your parents do not have a right to make demands of you and your new family that do not align with your values on your time, money or children. You have to say no to financial gifts that come with strings attached.
Back to my story with my abuser; one day he lost his job and arrived home drunk and he and his wife got into an argument and he took off on foot. Once again, many people were very worried about him and tried calling to check on him and he waited until the wee hours of the night before letting anyone know he was ok. I was finally at the point that I could no longer just accept his apology and pretend everything was fine.
I made it clear that I believed he needed to go through an intense, in-house rehab. Of course he had all these excuses for why he couldn’t go. The truth of it was that he didn’t want to go. He wanted to apologize for getting caught again and then go back to hiding and lying.
When abusers are caught or know they went too far they often go through “compliance” for a bit to try to win you back. In their heart, they KNOW they have no real intention of changing but they know they need to be on their best behavior just long enough to get you to let down your guard again.
My abuser said he was sorry and started going to AA meetings and to a religious counselor with his wife. This is the same old song and dance he had been doing for years and I didn’t believe him. I had no reason to! If someone is a repeat offender, they absolutely should understand that they have to EARN your trust back. If they demand you to move on right away, that is PROOF that they are not changing at all.
So I stuck to my boundary. I told him he was not welcome at my house anymore unless he went to rehab or I saw some real changes in his behavior.
So a couple months passed and not spending time with him proved to be very good for me! I was less anxious, sleeping better and felt I was a better mom and wife without him in my space. He texted me one day and immediately my mood darkened. He said he had been sober for 8 weeks now and he was going to counseling and AA meetings, so couldn’t he come visit? That wasn’t my deal. He was trying to get me to break my boundary. I held firm.
So how do you know when someone is really changing? How does the church sometimes hurt instead of help when dealing with abusers? I’ll cover that next.