Boundary Setting

When I first left Bubba, I set a boundary that I would only communicate with him via email and only about the children.  I explained to him that I needed time to think.  At that point he was admitting to the abuse, he said he was going to change, and he was talking about finding an Abuser Intervention Program.

After about two weeks, Bubba started balking against the boundary I’d put on our communication.  How could we work things out if I wouldn’t talk to him?  How would we ever fix our relationship if I would only email him about the children?  We needed to work through our problems and not ignore them.  When I maintained my boundary, he started getting more insistent.  He started really pushing against the boundary and showing me that he didn’t respect me or my boundary at all.

When my FOO chose Bubba, they fell right in line with him.  Celia told me it was actually ME who was being controlling by having these “boundaries.”  You see, my FOO is the least boundaried group of people I’ve ever met.  They truly don’t know what boundaries are and saw my attempts to protect myself as efforts to control Bubba.

My FOO missed one very important distinction.  Control is about making someone else do or not do something.  Boundaries are about what you will or won’t do.  I know, 100%, that I can’t control anyone but me.  But I can say, 100%, what I will or won’t do in response to what someone else does.  I set the boundary that I would only communicate with Bubba via email and only about the children.  Could I stop him from calling me?  No.  But when he did call, I would not take the phone.  Could I stop him from emailing me all kinds of abusive things?  No.  But when he did email abusive things, I didn’t respond to them.

On the flip side, Bubba was telling me that I had to communicate with him on the phone because that was how we were going to fix our marriage – he was trying to control me.  He was telling me that I had to talk to him about whatever he wanted to talk about.  Back then, I was not good at defending my boundaries because I was still so afraid of him.  During that summer, while I was with my parents, I ended up speaking to him on the phone.  The first time he spent about 45 minutes berating me for trying to limit how he communicates with me.  I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t trying to control him, I was simply telling him what I needed to feel safe.  I got off the phone that day feeling completely beaten.  I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.  I was exhausted and disheartened.  I’d reluctantly agreed to speak to him on the phone once a week simply to shut him up.  I just wanted the badgering to end so I gave in.

The next week, he called around lunch time.  After we’d been talking for about 10 minutes, Shane came over and told me he was hungry.  I told Bubba that Shane was hungry and that I needed to go get him his lunch.  Bubba continued on, talking about himself.  Ten minutes later, I again told Bubba that I needed to go feed Shane.  He continued talking about himself and what great changes he was making in his life.  I let another ten minutes pass and tried again.  He again continued talking about himself.

Finally, it was thirty minutes past the first time I told him I had to get off the phone to feed his child and I said, “Do you realize that I’ve told you three times that I have to go feed Shane his lunch and three times you’ve ignored me and continued talking about yourself.  I have to go now.”  I hung up the phone.  I felt exhilarated and ready to puke all at the same time.  I’d actually hung up on Bubba.  He, of course, called right back.  I ignored the call.  I got Shane his lunch and knew that Bubba was seething.  I look back now and think that that was the first time that I’d let myself put someone else’s needs before Bubba’s.  I was finally calling out my inner Mama Bear.  I was taking care of my child and letting my husband have his big feelings about that.  Even as it made me sick to my stomach because I knew the punishment would be horrible, I did it!

I also talked to my counselor about it.  She recommended sticking to my original boundary and not speaking to Bubba on the phone.  I asked her how I was supposed to do that when I’d agreed that I’d speak to him once a week on the phone.  She told me that if he was truly changing, he would understand.  If he didn’t understand, it was another sign that he really wasn’t changing.  It was a test of sorts.  If I told Bubba I changed my mind and didn’t want to speak to him once a week, how would he react?  Well, to say he had big feelings about it would be an understatement.

He was very angry about it but I stuck to my guns.  I just knew that I didn’t have the strength to deal with another phone call.  They were exhausting and draining.  I will still a thousand miles away and it was so much easier to deal with his anger when I wasn’t talking to him.  I knew I was hiding my head in the sand because I would pay later, but I also knew I couldn’t speak to him on the phone again.

Since I left, the only two men I’ve really had any type of relationships with were Luke and Sean.  Both men have taught me what it means to have a boundary respected.  Every time I set a boundary with Luke, he immediately respected it.  He still does.  It was an amazing introduction to Boundary Respecting 101.  All of our communication before the divorce was via text so I never had to set a boundary with him with anything more personal than a text.  That was stressful as it was.  I couldn’t imagine having to try to learn to do this in person.

Then Sean came along.  It was time to start some serious boundary setting because he lives across the street and he’s a rather touchy-feely type person.  When I met him, I had to tell him pretty quickly that I needed him to ask permission before he touched me.  Setting that boundary was even scarier than setting any with Luke because I was doing it in person.  Sean surprised me and respected the boundary.  I don’t think he understood it, but he abided by it.

Setting boundaries was absolutely terrifying to me when I first started doing it.  Thankfully, I had respectful men in my life who proved to me that not all men were like Bubba.  There were actually men out there who respected boundaries.

It opened up a whole new world for me.

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3 Comments

  1. Setting limits can be difficult, but it is so needed. I wasn’t so good at it and probably still need lots of work, but it’s gotten easier with time. When mine was being verbally belligerent and angry, I finally got to the point I refused to try to say anything back and I would leave. I didn’t have to stand for being treated that way.

    • Setting boundaries was terrifying at first because I’d never been allowed to have them. I love my boundaries now and I understand that people may have big feelings about boundaries that I set. I am not responsible for their big feelings. I’m only responsible for me.

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