Note: This blog post is part 1 of 2 about boundaries and loved ones struggling with addiction.

If you’ve been close to or lived with someone struggling with addiction for very long, you probably know what it’s like to be mistreated. Conversely, you might also know what it’s like for addiction-related issues to cause you to mistreat your struggling loved one.

In other words, you know what it feels like when boundaries are crossed.

Loving boundaries are critical for loving relationships.

Especially when one side of that equation is living unhealthy, good boundaries can help you stay healthy.

Think about it: How often do you bring up your loved one’s mistakes? How often is he or she guilting you? Are you constantly criticizing or giving solutions when you weren’t asked? Has your loved one in addiction stolen from you or taken advantage of you? Do you cover for her or him? Do you walk on eggshells to avoid conflict?

These are not symptoms of a healthy relationship or good boundaries.

Weak boundaries will almost always lead to pain, but strong and loving boundaries will increase the chance that your addicted love one will seek help.

To set firm, loving boundaries with your loved one, consider these four keys:

Decide you need boundaries and include the family.

Coming to an understanding of the necessity of boundaries can be difficult. Too many of us, in the name of love for an addict, are actually enabling him or her and sacrificing our own personal well-being. Almost every addict has someone allowing his or her self-defeating behavior to continue.

Admitting this may take some emotional work, and it may include multiple people. If you include family members, roommates or close friends in the boundaries discussion, you present a united front on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Agreement with others who care about the addict will also encourage you in the fact that you’re not alone.

Choose the right time.

For the success of your boundaries conversation, it’s critical that you choose an appropriate time. As Proverbs tells us…

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.” — Proverbs 25:11

First and foremost, your loved one should be sober for this conversation. He or she needs to be truly able to hear your heart, love and intentions.

Secondly, make sure that you are prepared for emotions to be running high, including your own. You’ll want to prepare yourself to be as calm and vulnerable as possible, despite the high emotional stakes.

Start with love.

Don’t jump right into criticizing, blaming or condemning. This conversation could be long overdue and you could be understandably completely fed up. But save “you’ve hurt me” for after you convey your love.

The foundation of love for an addicted person is the only way to build toward wholeness. It’s important to believe and express that.

Remind yourself that you’re setting boundaries for the good of the addict; remind the addict that you only want him or her to be happy and healthy.

Clearly state your boundaries.

You can’t hold an addict to an expected set of behaviors if the boundaries are fuzzy or not clearly defined. Plus, when you state your expectations out loud, in a future moment of personal weakness, it will help you remember how you want to be treated.

When stating your boundaries, include the ramifications of the violation of those boundaries.

Expect your boundaries to be pushed, but don’t bend or compromise. Instead follow through with the consequences.

It may be important to tell your loved one how you came to decide on the boundaries needed, and explain that you believe she or he needs to seek help. Addicts will likely refuse help or deny their negative behavior, so be ready for this outcome. However, if your loved one is ready to seek treatment, encourage him or her to learn about Big Fish Ministries and see if it’s a good fit.

In our next blog, we’ll outline specific boundaries that you and your family might find helpful or healthy when dealing with a loved one struggling with addiction….

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