Once you saw yourself as his passionate lover, but now you just feel obsessed, and unfortunately it isn’t about him, but his addiction.

You look in the mirror and see a self-proclaimed babysitter- for a grown man.  And as tired as you are of that role?  You still do not see any way out other than separation.  You are hurt and angry.  You didn’t ask for this role, yet somehow it has tainted your part in the relationship.

But there is another option you should definitely try first!  Especially if you want a chance to salvage your relationship AND feel safer and saner at the same time.

So what is the better alternative to babysitting?

Boundaries

I know it is such an overused word, and that’s why I just want to clarify what I mean by boundaries.

  1. Boundaries are focused on our personal needs and wants, and help us ensure our voice is heard in the relationship.
  2. Boundaries are not punishment intended for other people, but personal guidelines for yourself.
  3. Boundaries help you regain your identity, energy and time.
  4. Boundaries are choices made mindfully and intentionally to assert your needs or protect yourself, or move towards the life you truly want.
  5. Boundaries seek your health and wholeness, and have best intentions in mind for the relationship at stake, whether that means healing or separation.

What’s the difference?

Babysitting:

  1. Babysitting is focused on the other person’s actions and attitiudes and how they impact you, typically on their negative actions and the consequences stemming from those.
  2. Babysitting often involves you imposing limits on your partner and threatening “consequences” by way of punishment to get your partner to overcome his addiction or finally listen and do what you ask.
  3. Babysitting is time consuming, stealing your energy, time and identity.  Your life becomes all about the relationship and his addiction.
  4. Babysitting typically grows out of strong emotions and knee jerk reactions, out of deep personal pain.
  5. Babysitting seeks to retaliate for hurts of the past and present as a way to avoid further rejection and betrayal.

Do you catch yourself stewing over every little detail of your partner’s addictive behaviors- past and present?  Are you finding yourself engaging with your partner in a “motherly” fashion, giving him commands and enacting consequences for his behavior?  Do you yell at him from the other room, criticize him in front of others, or spend all of your time checking up on him?  Do you dwell for hours on the anger and the hurt he brought about in your life?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are possibly playing into the role of babysitter in his life.

When we enact healthy boundaries, we openly and calmly share our feelings, our needs and our desires.  It isn’t easy, granted, when dealing with addiction.  But we can learn to do so, first and foremost for our own healing and growth.  More anger and tumultuous emotions do not beget peace and healing.

Boundaries lead us to a place where we decide to strive to not criticize or demean.  We challenge our expectation that the other person will initiate the process of developing healthy boundaries. We accept the responsibility for ourselves by setting healthy boundaries first, without his support.  We begin with the recognition of the need for us to establish our own boundaries within the context of the relationship.

Healthy boundaries lead to statements such as “I do not feel supported when you watch TV all evening and the kids and I are left to interact alone.  I would like you to spend time with us during dinner with the TV off. Would you do that for me?  That would mean so much to me to spend time with you and the children without the distraction of the TV.”

Babysiting mode, on the contrary, leads to statements such as “I cannot believe you are watching TV again!  Can we have one night of the TV off?  You would think you were married to it instead of me!  If you cannot stop watching TV every evening, the kids and I are going out to dinner and leaving you here alone!”

Granted, going out to dinner may be part of a healthy boundary for you, but it will not be used as a weapon against the partner.  It would be a way of acknowledging your need for adult interaction, and that it may have to be met outside of your relationship with your partner until he can work on his ability to connect.

So a part of your healthy boundary may be leaving the house once a week to eat at a friends house or a café and get that interaction, without using it as a consequence, or an action born out of retaliation, tempting as that may be.  I acknowledge, sisters, boundaries are not easy!  And having to think about our responses when his are obviously dysfunctional at best doesn’t seem fair AT ALL!  But like Mom always said (and I now say to my kids) “Life isn’t fair!”  So we move forward, we learn to set healthy boundaries an act of SELF LOVE.

It is our way of saying “I care about myself enough to disconnect from this crazy style of communicating that says I have to yell and scream to be heard, that I have to sit in the corner and cry and wait for you to honor my needs.  I love you, I want this to work, but I cannot choose for you.  So, I must choose to get my needs met for me, and when you are ready to engage in healthy interaction, let me know.  When you are ready to recognize my worth, by all means communicate that through your actions, until then?  I will be valuing my own voice in a calm way.  I choose peace in my life despite your actions.”.

Babysitting leads to brawls and more conflict.  Boundaries lead to conversation and a more peaceful life.

The differences are subtle. The outcome is often drastically different.  I love to explore these differences with partners I coach.  Sometimes it can lead to a path of restoration of the relationship.  And even if it does not, the partner always benefits from maintaining a healthy boundary more than she does from obsessively babysitting.

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