“Be Firm and Steadfast,” Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery (2014).
“Be Firm and Steadfast,” Support Guide: Help for Spouses and Family of Those in Recovery.
We often feel torn between supporting our loved ones and trying to meet our own needs for well-being and safety, especially when our loved ones continue to struggle with destructive behaviors. We want to show our love for them while at the same time protecting ourselves and others. Learning how to love and protect ourselves will not only be vital to preserving our understanding of our own individual worth but will also be a blessing to our loved ones.
Setting boundaries means that we indicate a border or a limit around certain actions or individuals that we then do not allow others to cross. Understanding this concept and being able to set boundaries helps us avoid feeling like we are victims.
The boundaries we set will help us meet our spiritual, emotional, and physical needs and ultimately help us feel safe and at peace. We need to feel safe and well in order to fully love and serve others. However, when our needs are not adequately met, we have a responsibility to speak with our loved ones in a way that allows them the agency to decide whether they will help us or not.
How do your boundaries help you to feel safe and well? How do they help you show love to yourself and others?
Being open and honest with our loved ones about our pain and how we need their help can be difficult. However, our vulnerability helps us be more authentic and helps our loved ones relate to us better. If our loved ones continue to cross our boundaries by being unkind or unloving as a result of their choices, then enforcing consequences becomes our best next course of action. President Russell M. Nelson taught that “real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructing behavior” (“Teach Us Tolerance and Love,” Ensign, May 1994, 71).
We have a responsibility to set and clearly communicate boundaries, make rules, and hold family members accountable for their choices. This is not done to control others but rather to minimize their negative impact and to help our families stay safe and well. Setting boundaries also helps us to remember our worth as children of God and know that we are worthy of love and kindness in our lives. Many spouses and family members find that when they communicate openly about their feelings and experiences and then set firm boundaries and consequences, their loved ones understand more fully the damaging effects of their choices and actions. Experiencing consequences can provide our loved ones with the very motivation they need to find healing and recovery. Setting limits can also help invite the Spirit into our homes and into the lives of our family members because it will help us be open, honest, humble, and assertive and it allows our loved ones to better exercise their own agency.
How has being honest and open in your relationship with your loved one blessed your life?
If you have not felt able to be as open or honest with your loved one as you would like, what can you do to be able to communicate more candidly?
If our loved ones continue to disrespect our boundaries, we need to provide consequences. As we do so, we should seek the Lord’s guidance. The Spirit can help us know what is best for our loved ones and for us. There is not one approach that is right for everyone.
There are, however, certain principles that can guide us in setting boundaries and consequences for our family members. For example, our boundaries and consequences should be based on the principle of agency—they must be centered on what we can and will do rather than on what we want or expect someone else to do. Boundaries and consequences should be clear and concrete. They should be inspired by and communicated with love, not with anger or as punishment. They may involve a natural result of actions taken. We can start with simple and specific limits we can carry out. For example, an appropriate boundary to begin with is to insist that our homes be free from pornography, harmful substances, or related negative influences. If our loved ones cross one of these boundaries, then we enforce the related consequences. This lets our loved ones know that we have limits and that we will not allow inappropriate behavior.
The gospel teaches us a pattern of our Father providing commandments and then allowing consequences for disobedience. For example, the scriptures teach us that if we disobey the commandments, we cannot have the Spirit as our constant companion (see Mosiah 2:36). In our lives, setting limits on our loved ones’ bad behavior reminds us that we are worth being loved and respected. Our loved ones need to understand that our boundaries are about our obligation to keep the second great commandment of loving ourselves as well as loving our neighbors (see Matthew 22:39).
We should anticipate that our boundaries will be challenged and that consequences will need to be enforced. But we can also keep in mind that mistakes are learning opportunities. When we establish a consequence for some action, it must be something we are willing and able to carry out in the spirit of love and learning. The boundaries and consequences we establish should be set in wisdom, in harmony with the gospel, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can also seek help by consulting with a trusted support person, ecclesiastical leader, or professional counselor. This helps us to evaluate our thinking and to be alert to any boundary or consequence that is not motivated by true and loving principles.
The Lord will help us and sustain us as we set limits and carry out consequences for the safety and well-being of our families. As we do so, His influence will bring increased peace into our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
How can boundaries and consequences help both you and your loved one find recovery and healing?
What are some consequences that can be enforced if your loved one crosses a boundary?
How can you appropriately respond to a loved one who repeatedly fails to respect boundaries you set?
The pain we feel as a result of our loved ones’ choices may seem unbearable. We may find ourselves wondering, “How long can I keep on enduring this?” At times, the only option for relief may seem to be to separate ourselves from our loved ones or even end our relationships with them. On the other hand, we should make every reasonable effort to preserve our family relationships.
The sanctity of marriage and families has been taught repeatedly by ancient and modern prophets and apostles. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught:
“I call upon members of the Church and on committed parents, grandparents, and extended family members everywhere to hold fast to [the family] proclamation, to make it a banner not unlike General Moroni’s ‘title of liberty,’ and to commit ourselves to live by its precepts. …
“In today’s world, where Satan’s aggression against the family is so prevalent, parents must do all they can to fortify and defend their families” (“What Matters Most Is What Lasts Longest,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 42, 43).
We should seek the Lord’s direction and strength to sustain us while we strive to know His will regarding our family relationships.
What can you do to show commitment to your relationship by maintaining clear limits?
How does maintaining boundaries help preserve your self-worth?
Any abuse we experience at the hands of our loved ones is unacceptable. “Abuse is the physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual mistreatment of others. It may not only harm the body, but it can deeply affect the mind and spirit, destroying faith and causing confusion, doubt, mistrust, guilt, and fear” (Responding to Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders , 1). Those who suffer from compulsive behaviors sometimes participate in abusive behavior. While we pray that our hearts will be filled with “tolerance and love” (“In Humility, Our Savior,” Hymns, no. 172), we know the Lord does not expect or want us to endure abuse. It is important for us to take necessary steps to preserve our well-being, remain safe, and stop the abuse. We may need to seek help from Heavenly Father, Church leaders, or other trusted individuals about how to protect ourselves.
In some instances separation or divorce may be justified. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said:
“We know that many of you are innocent victims—members whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period. Members who have experienced such abuse have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce.
“When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it” (“Divorce,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 70–71).
When contemplating separation or divorce, it is often helpful to seek counsel from Church leaders and others. However, this is a personal decision we make with the Lord’s guidance.
How can you appropriately respond to a loved one who is abusive?