Note: This blog post is part 2 of 2 about boundaries and loved ones struggling with addiction. The first post is about how to set loving boundaries.
You’ve decided that it’s time to set some loving and healthy boundaries with someone you care about who is struggling with addiction. This person may be a family member, close friend, or partner. Regardless of who they are, you know that loving boundaries are critical for loving relationships, and weak boundaries almost always lead to pain.
But what boundaries are healthy and when are they going overboard? What boundaries are too harsh, and what boundaries are loving? The answers to these questions can only be answered by you and your relationship with the Holy Spirit.
There are no one-size-fits-all boundaries. Every relationship is different, so boundary should reinstate what is important to you.
To help you get started, here are some specific boundaries that you and your family might find helpful when dealing with a loved one struggling with addiction…
BOUNDARIES AROUND YOUR HOME
“No substances are allowed in the house.”
Be clear about what is and is not allowed in your home. If you don’t want anything illegal in your house, say it out loud to him. If drinking when the kids are home is disallowed, let her know.
As you reclaim control over what happens in your house or on your property, let your loved one know the consequences if she or he violates this boundary. Will you force her to find a new place to live? Will he be prevented from coming over again? Will you notify the police if you find something illegal?
“I don’t want any drug-using friends here.”
Your loved one might be able to respect your personal boundaries, and his or her friends need to do it as well. If you don’t want anyone high or drunk under your roof, then you don’t have to allow that. Proverbs 13:20 says, “A companion of fools suffers harm.” A boundary like this one is a good extension of the protection you want for yourself and your family.
BOUNDARIES AROUND YOUR EMOTIONS
“I’m no longer tolerating abusive language, and I’m committing to not criticizing you.”
You have a right to be treated with dignity and respect, and that extends to language. It’s common for addicts to say hurtful things to get what they want, and it’s just as common for their loved ones to be constantly ridiculing them. You protect your sense of self-worth by setting a boundary around what can and can’t be said to you. When you make this a two-way street, you establish that you value what is said about your loved one, despite his addiction.
“I will not be suspicious or worried about you.”
The secretive nature of addiction can catapult family and friends into lives run by suspicion and worry. The sinking feeling in your stomach that your loved one is up to no good and the dread that he or she is sneaking around behind your back feel awful. Add to that the danger often mixed up in substance abuse, and it’s all too much to handle.
Setting this boundary requires letting go of the illusion of control, but it will protect your peace of mind. It will let your loved one know that she is neither responsible for your emotions, nor has control over them.
BOUNDARIES AROUND YOUR FINANCES
“If you get arrested, I will not pay for bail or an attorney.”
The safety net found in families is most often a wonderful gift, but this boundary lets your loved one know there is a limit. You want him to know that, as an adult, he needs to take responsibility for himself. You also absolve yourself from a perceived obligation to pay for the consequences of his choices.
“I’m no longer giving you any money, regardless of its intended use.”
Financially supporting your loved one can turn you into a caretaker, a pushover, or worse, an enabler. Money issues in relationships create all sorts of resentments, shame, and manipulation. Setting this boundary will protect your own well-being in addition to your finances.
BOUNDARIES AROUND YOUR ETHICS
“Asking me to lie or cover for you is off-limits.”
The disease of addiction often thrives in a world of lies and half-truths. The manipulation of your loved one asking for you to cover for her hurts, and the guilt of compromising your morals in order to “protect” your loved one will wear on you. Remove yourself from her web of mayhem and insist that she act more responsibly by setting this boundary.
“I feel that ______ supports your substance use, so I won’t do that anymore until you choose to enter treatment.”
You’re allowed to stop doing anything you feel supports your loved one’s addiction. Whether that’s spending time with him, letting her use your car, keeping his secrets, etc., you don’t have to keep saying yes to something you used to allow. Let your loved one know you will support her choice to enter recovery, but you can’t support her in addiction.
Boundaries won’t cure your loved one of addiction. But they protect you and they can encourage her or him to seek treatment. If your loved one is ready to begin recovery, encourage him or her to learn about Big Fish Ministries and see if it’s a good fit.