For every one of the six long years since PTSD became a part of our lives, I truly believed I was helping my husband. I thought that, with every suggestion I made to him and every frustration I withheld from him, I was being a supportive wife and a compassionate partner.
But when I finally acknowledged that his recovery had stagnated and that I was honestly petrified of him falling any further than he already had, I came to recognise how much enabling looks very much like love.
Enabling my husband was neither a sustainable option, nor was it a way forward. I had to make a change. And this time it would be about me, and for me.
It was not going to be a quick process; we had both developed damaging patterns over the years and I had to try and untangle the mess I was now facing without creating any new knots.
The first important step I took in moving towards a position of support was to identify all of my actions that had been enabling him. Once I could clearly see how my behaviour was affecting his choices, I then had to challenge my normal reactions and instead find sustainable ways to stop being an enabler.
I coudn’t control a single part his recovery, but I could control my own actions and behaviour. And I needed to focus my efforts on taking care of me rather than him by concentrating on the values that are important in my life, and finally being honest about the behaviour I could no longer tolerate.
When I became certain that PTSD should never be an excuse for bad behaviour, I had to gradually and gently push the responsibility and accountability back into my husband’s court. The best way to do this, I decided, was to create clear boundaries for his destructive and hurtful behaviour, and develop ways to hold him accountable each time they’re crossed.
1. something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent
2. the greatest possible degree of something
3. a line determining the limits of an area
But what boundaries did I really need? And what would these boundaries look like in real life. How would I go about setting these boundaries?
As it turned out, the answers were all around me.
Our home is the one place where I need to always feel safe and secure. Home is where I should feel happy and relaxed. But looking back over our journey with PTSD, home has often been a scary place, a hurtful place, a place of high anxiety, dark moods and far too many tears.
I already felt I had lost myself, and now I was losing my safety and security too.
A boundary needs to be realistic
As a member of our family, my husband needs to contribute in positive ways however he can. Household chores and garden maintenance. Taking on the responsibilities of the children on his good days. And working in new jobs, when he is able.
I can hope for only good days, but I know his PTSD too well by now. I have to be prepared for the inevitable bad days, and acknowledge that on those days everything will be on my shoulders. It’s a part of supporting his PTSD I have to accept. But supporting him also means handing back all that responsibility as soon as his mood lifts.
A boundary needs to be clearly defined
I will not condone my husband shouting at or intimidating our children, or treating them as his scapegoat when he is triggered by or struggling with his PTSD.
There cannot be a possibility of misunderstanding with my boundaries unless I want the uncertainty and confusion to lead me back into the trap of enabling my husband.
A boundary needs to reflect my need for safety and security
I will not tolerate my husband drinking alcohol in our home or returning home after drinking. Not even a social drink. And not even just one drink.
PTSD has ruined my husband’s relationship with alcohol and I can no longer feel safe and secure in our home when he drinks. Because even one drink ends up leading to an uncontrolled and destructive binge – if not that day, then in a day, a week, a month. It’s a bitter pill for each of us to swallow, but even a marriage overshadowed by PTSD still needs to offer safety and security.
A boundary needs to be about me
I feel worthless and resentful when my husband chooses to lie or deceive, and I have every right to expect honesty and respect in my relationship.
Each of my boundaries needs to be focused on my needs and seen through my eyes, as opposed to being an attempt at controlling or changing my husband’s hurtful behaviour. In this case, “I need to feel respected in my marriage” instead of “My husband needs to stop lying and deceiving.”
Boundaries are not rules, and neither are they ultimatums. My husband has always had the right to make his own choices, and I have the obligation to let him do so.
I could hope that he would do whatever it takes to change his behaviour and learn to heed my boundaries, out of respect for our family and for our marriage. But hope is simply not enough. I also needed to learn to love and respect myself enough to enforce the boundaries I create.
So how should I decide what limits are needed that will actually support me as well as help my husband? And, more importantly, how would I hold my husband accountable to these boundaries? How on earth could I enforce them?
A boundary needs to be firmly and consistently applied
I will no longer come to my husband’s rescue every time something becomes a bit difficult, or something happens that he cannot be bothered trying to sort out himself.
When the children fight, I no longer step in and hush them up. When phone calls and visitors become difficult, I no longer take over. When he runs low on his medication, I am not there to organise the refills. When he says our plans would be easier to cancel, I make sure we stand by them. He can no longer use his PTSD as an excuse in life. He needs me to step back, allowing the natural consequences which will reveal that maybe he could find better ways to manage.
A boundary needs to have a practical and feasible action if crossed
Every time my husband chooses to drink in our home or return home drunk, instead of standing by in anger and fear, I will take the children and stay with my nearby family.
A boundary is not the same as a rule. A boundary is clearly defining the limit of any destructive behaviour that I will no longer tolerate. Just as my husband can choose to cross my limit at any time, I can choose to be prepared with a feasible reaction that preserves my safety and security. Simply hoping that a boundary will never be crossed is never an option. After years of relying on hope alone, I now know this.
A boundary needs to be a decision that is made each and every day
Each day, I will choose to look after my own needs. And each day I will make the commitment of standing by my boundaries for my own self worth and preservation.
For too long I bore the responsibility of his schedule. And my husband, taking it for granted, used to blame me if he got up too late and missed an appointment. So just as I now expect him to take back the full responsibility of managing his own recovery and his own life, each and every day, I too will take the responsibility for standing by my own boundaries, each and every day.
A boundary needs to have a consequence that is sustainable
When he yells or intimidates or threatens or belittles, even when I know he is triggered by his PTSD or frustrated by his increasing anxiety, I will tell him it’s not acceptable and then remove myself.
There is not one part of me that wants to tolerate this treatment from my husband, PTSD or not. And there is not one part of me that should. PTSD is not an excuse to treat anyone this way. I will leave the room, I will leave the house, I will leave the shop, I will put down the phone, and I will get out of the car. The actual distance I put between us is irrelevant because it’s an action that speaks more than my words ever will. And it’s an action that I can repeat indefinitely.
This post follows on directly from my earlier post – “How I Stopped Enabling My Husband with PTSD, and Started Supporting Him”
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