A Boundary Without an Agreement is Not a Boundary

Over the years, I’ve heard so many stories of betrayed partners who were told that the way to create boundaries was to sit down and make a list of boundaries to present to their unfaithful spouse.

Believing that this was the way to create boundaries, she (or he) did what she was told, only to later experience what seemed like boundary violations or unfulfilled expectations.

A person who’s on the receiving end of a list of boundaries that require them to act — or stop acting — in a certain way, isn’t required to comply with the list. Why? Because adults can’t tell (or demand) other adults to do or not do anything.

This fundamental misunderstanding of boundaries is one of the reasons why it can temporarily feel more empowering to tell your unfaithful spouse what he will (or won’t) do, than to make a request and risk receiving No for an answer.

You can create boundaries around your own actions — what you will or won’t do — but you can’t create boundaries around another person’s actions.

The only way to create a boundary with another person is by creating an agreement.

And in most cases, you will need to make a request in order to create an agreement. Telling another person what they will or won’t do can’t create a boundary. Telling others what to do isn’t a relational way to get your wants and needs met in relationships.

When is the last time you made a request of your unfaithful spouse? Betrayed partners often don’t know what kinds of requests to make, or they hesitate to make the requests they want to make.

Asking for what you want can be equal parts terrifying, clarifying, and empowering. Requests are the quickest and most efficient way to either get what you need and want, or to find out whether or not your spouse is willing to show up and engage in the trust-building and relationship-restoring actions necessary to heal chronic betrayal.

To learn more about the request-making process, read my article, Turning Complaints into Requests here or check out my book, Personal Boundaries For Dummies


©️ Victoria Priya, LCSW [formerly Vicki Tidwell Palmer] (2019)

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10 Comments

  1. Elizabeth on February 8, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    This blog was so helpful for me! After discovering my husband was unfaithful and a sex addict, I tried to restore order to my life and faithfulness to my marriage by controlling him. My “boundaries” were orders, leaving him feeling like a child and me like a parent who had to constantly patrol him. It is actually empowering for me as I’m learning that a real marriage involves choice on both sides; I may choose not to remain with him if his choices don’t show real recovery, but I can’t control him. I can only make requests and make my own decisions from there. This authentic personal power that you’ve taught me so much about feels really liberating! I’ve learned to know and express what I actually want in a way I never could before. Thank you so much for your book, podcast, and blog. It’s been life-changing for me.

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on February 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks Elizabeth, I’m so glad the info was helpful for you!

  2. Stacey on February 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    How do you make requests that your partner agrees to with no intention of honoring? This is a trap I am experiencing with my partner who will agree to my requests but then just goes behind my back to do whatever he wants. It feels like failure that no matter what I request, no matter how it’s phrased, I can never get a sense of his true intentions in honoring them. It makes me crazy and frustrated.

  3. Stacey on February 8, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    How do you make requests that your partner agrees to with no intention of honoring? This is a trap I am experiencing with my partner who will agree to my requests but then just goes behind my back to do whatever he wants. It feels like failure that no matter what I request, no matter how it’s phrased, I can never get a sense of his true intentions in honoring them. It makes me crazy and frustrated.

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on February 11, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Stacey, this is a frustrating and difficult situation that is too complex and important to answer on the blog. My recommendation is to use a 5-Step Boundary Solution Clarifier with “He ‘goes behind my back to do whatever he wants’ after making an agreement with me” as the data for Step 1 and work the remaining steps after that. You can get a copy of the Clarifier here.

      If you’d like more personalized feedback about your situation, I answer these types of questions regularly for members of my online community. You can find all the details and sign up online here.

      Take good care.

  4. Vicki Tidwell Palmer on February 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth, I’m so glad the info was helpful for you!

  5. TL on February 25, 2019 at 1:46 am

    Can you recommend any guidelines or samples of impact letters?
    If you have additional thoughts on them that would be appreciated as well.

  6. TL on February 25, 2019 at 1:46 am

    Can you recommend any guidelines or samples of impact letters?
    If you have additional thoughts on them that would be appreciated as well.

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