COVID-19 has forced us all to adjust to life in new ways. That means that many are “sheltering in place” rather than going to the office or engaging in typical routines. It also means that so many people are relying heavily on technology to stay employed, connected, and informed. Yet what do you do when the very technology that you’re using to stay connected and employed is the very thing that had increased an active sex addiction and created betrayal trauma in your relationship?
We need to explore what RELATIONAL recovery looks like during this time. Relational recovery is more than sobriety. Relational recovery involves keeping our relationship safe. And one critical way we can build relational safety is through boundaries.
So how do we approach boundaries during this COVID-19 time when boundaries from the past may not be realistic to uphold right now? For example, what do you do with a boundary of not using technology devices behind closed doors when you’re sitting in meetings all day for work, and you need a private space with a family full of kids and chaos? COVID-19 has forced us to adjust in new ways, so let’s explore these 5 ideas for how to build new boundaries during this unprecedented time:
1. Think of COVID-19 Boundaries like “traffic cones” rather than “guard rails”
Have you ever driven on a mountain pass? If you have, you’ve most likely seen guard rails. These barriers keep you safe from plummeting off the cliff. And that’s what boundaries are: Guard rails to keep you and your relationship safe. Yet, some traffic situations are more temporary as when there’s road construction. And in these settings, traffic cones are placed for temporary safety. These cones are placed to protect us from some immanent danger in front of us.
So, in the time of COVID-19, think of boundaries more like traffic cones than guard rails. The boundaries you may have been using until this time may need to be adjusted for the time being. Just like traffic cones set up to protect drivers from some imminent danger, COVID-19 boundaries may need to be set up or altered for this particular crisis.
2. For the person with the addiction: Don’t make any changes to previously agreed-upon boundaries unless discussing them with your partner first
This may seem like an obvious point, but just because a boundary that you have agreed upon may not apply during this COVID-19 time, this does not mean that you shouldn’t discuss these boundaries with your partner before deciding how you will respond to them. For example, if you had agreed to boundaries related to screen time behind closed doors, but now you need to use a device securely for work purposes from home, you need to discuss how to preserve safety for your partner with this new dilemma.
Please remember that the worst thing you can do is to simply discard boundaries and wait for your partner to call you on it because, “I didn’t think that applied anymore.” Trust me on this one!
If you do think boundaries need to be modified, take the following step to be proactive:
3. For the person with the addiction: If you need adjust any boundaries, consider creating relational safety in other ways
If you believe that boundaries need to be modified right now, take initiative to come up with a new solution that can provide safety for yourself and your partner rather than waiting for your partner to do this. For any boundary that needs to be taken away, reduced, or modified, consider another area where you can provide safety for your partner. For example, if you need to adjust boundaries related to screen time right now, you can provide further safety to your partner by increasing transparency. One way this might look is to freely offer your partner the option to view your phone or device at any time they choose. You may also set up further boundaries around never having incognito browsers running, accountability software installed on devices, increasing the frequency of recovery check-ins, etc. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
If you are proactive with any boundary changes you will show your partner that her/his needs for safety is important to you. This will give your relationship better chances of continuing to move forward rather than backward during this crisis time. Share these proposed boundary modifications with your partner with an open heart. Remember that crisis times can be really triggering times. Your partner may have thoughts or feedback on these boundaries. So, implement any changes with an open mind.
4. For partners: After you have heard your addicted partner’s proposed boundary changes, make any modifications to the boundaries as needed.
Your spouse should have proactively brought you any boundaries that may need to be modified at this time and his/her new ideas to maintain safety. Are there any additions or modifications that you would want to make to this list? Do you have questions or clarifications to any of those boundaries? Are there other boundaries you would like to add to this list right now? Are there any other boundaries that you would like to revisit or bring back during this time? Periods of crisis can be triggering, so you may have more needs for safety during this COVID-19 time. So just know that it’s normal to may need more reassurance and safety right now.
Review any changes to your boundaries and create a temporary “traffic cone” boundary list for this time period. I strongly encourage these boundaries to be written down, and even signed by both parties if necessary.
5. For you as a couple: Set up a time to review the boundaries
Because these boundaries are temporary, it’s important to create a time when you’ll revisit them as a couple. For example, consider reviewing the boundaries in a week to see how they are working, and then perhaps in a few weeks or a month. Make any changes as needed.
Boundaries can live and breathe, and the whole point of them is to provide safety for your relationship. So, placing these safety cones for your relationship right now will pay dividends in helping your relationship continue to move forward in healing.
We wish you health and safety during this time. We hope this guide will help your relationship thrive during this stressful time.
To learn more about boundaries, check out these other resources:
5 Tips for Maintaining Recovery During Covid-19
Boundaries after Sexual Addiction Betrayal for Addicts
If you are a partner of a sex addict, we’ve also written blogs about boundaries here:
We also compiled a collection of writings into a book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1710618345
I’m grateful for the contribution of my friend and colleague, Janice Caudill for this analogy of traffic cones for temporary boundaries