Here’s how to ensure that your boundaries with a loved one in recovery are supporting them, not triggering them.


Here’s how to ensure that your boundaries with a loved one in recovery are supporting them, not triggering them.

For the family’s and partner’s that we work with, perhaps one of the most difficult challenges is to create and maintain boundaries with a loved one in recovery. So, how do you create and maintain boundaries with a loved one in recovery to ensure that the relationship is strengthened, not fractured further?

All too often boundaries are used as a form of punishment rather than as a communication tool or as a way to establish guidelines of acceptable behaviours. This can be because you feel that you are being forced into putting down boundaries that you’re not necessarily aligned with.  Maybe it’s also created in retaliation to something that has occurred that you don’t want to happen again. Therefore, boundaries can come from a place of resentment and anger, rather than from a place of love and encouraging healthy behaviours.

Firstly, what are boundaries?

I like to think about it as my non-negotiables about behaviours that are acceptable to me.  Boundaries are the things that I will not compromise on. I am able to hold them when they are challenged because it’s pretty much what I stand for.   Boundaries are a reflection of our values and principles.  

You can always tell if your boundaries with a loved one in recovery are working or not by one simple question. Do they treat you in a way that’s acceptable to you or not?  For the families or partners that we work with, the answer used to be no!

Most importantly for boundaries with a loved one in recovery to work, it’s important that they are communicated assertively in advance with the other party.

I like to use Byron Katie’s formula for creating boundaries. A good way to think about boundaries is to recognise ‘what is my business’; ‘what is their business’, and what I like to call ‘God’s business’. So, let’s run through these first:

  • My business – is my feelings, my thoughts, my decisions, my actions, in other words, my life.
  • Their business – is their feelings, their thoughts, their decisions, their actions and in other words, their life.
  • God’s business – is what I often refer to as everything else – such as world peace – that are completely outside your control.

You will notice that ‘my business’ does not include what other people – such as my partner or family member – are doing. That is their business! It’s focused on what I’m doing, how I’m thinking, how I’m feeling and what my decisions are. This is a clear distinction in boundary setting – because you can’t tell others what to do, you can only tell them what you will do in response to their behaviours.

This formula is one of the most powerful ways to look at boundaries with a loved one in recovery. But, it can also be the most difficult. Families and loved ones are often so enmeshed in the dysfunction of an addict, that they are unable to clearly define what is their own business and what is that of the addict.

To move away from boundaries that punish, I like to introduce another question to ponder:

What is the most loving thing to do?
a. For them?
b. For me?
c. For my family?

This question gets us thinking about the most loving and powerful choices we have available to us.

And then choosing the one that works for all parties. Boundaries will only work when they are win-win.

We can’t have win-lose, which is often what happens when we create them from a place of anger.

When creating boundaries, we need to be clear on what is our business; and then start from there. We can look at several different types of boundaries including:

– Emotional boundaries
– Ethical boundaries
– Physical boundaries
– Sexual boundaries
– Material boundaries
– Time boundaries

Developing Boundaries – The Formula

If you don’t know where to start, think about what angers you the most. That will usually be a sign that you have a boundary that you feel has been violated.

One of the most common questions about boundaries with a loved one in recovery is, “what if my son/daughter/partner/mother/father brings drugs into the house?” My response always is, “is it ok with you, or not?” If it’s not, then that’s your ethical boundary: there is to be no drugs in the house.

Then you get to choose your response to what will happen if they do bring drugs into the house. Will you report it to the police, will you flush it down the toilet, …what will happen?

Then you communicate that to your loved one in advance of it happening. And this is one of the most important parts of creating boundaries with a loved one in recovery. You need to communicate your boundary before it happens – not in the heat of the moment. Ideally, when that person is healthy and straight – not when they are clearly in distress or in a place of anger.

For example, if you advise your loved one that drugs in the house in not acceptable and that if you find them you will hand them into the police, then that’s what you do.

Now, notice your fear around this choice. What comes up for you? What arguments do you come up with in your head about how this is not the right thing to do. So, put it through the filter of “what is the most loving thing to do” – for them, for me and for my family.

Most people undermine themselves when it comes to boundaries with a loved one in recovery because they feel guilty about their choices. For example, if you hand drugs into the police, won’t they be arrested? Possibly, but that’s what they have chosen, and that’s the natural consequence of their choice.

To learn more about our family and partner programs, please email info@whitehavenclinic.com.au or
see our website at Our Services (https://www.whitehavenclinic.com.au/services-2/#fp) .

I trust these tips will assist you in maintaining focus on living a joyful, healthy, and enjoyable life this festive season!