Control, Privacy and Healthy Boundaries

If you haven’t yet been introduced to the concept of healthy boundaries within the context of your relationship, these refer to limits and guidelines you decide to set for your partner’s conduct, and consequences for acting outside these guidelines. 

Couples can come up with these in the session, or bring pre-thought-out ideas around boundaries, to the session. We can discuss them.

I’m speaking from the default of the husband straying from the relationship, and bringing the ‘betrayal trauma’ into the relationship. However, it is also often that it is the wife who cheats and breaks the trust in the relationship. So I’m asking for your permission to be clumsy with my use of pronouns.

Rules vs. Boundaries?

Some people refer to boundaries as personal or house “rules” — though these people then risk being berated by some. So we can watch out for that – during the session.

Some individuals prefer to use the word ‘boundaries’ rather than ‘rules’. I think it’s up to you both, and what you each feel comfortable saying, and hearing.

The reason for the quibbling over semantics (boundaries vs. rules) is simply that the  term “rules,” implies something that is imposed on others. 

It seems to some to more reflect a “wrong” motivation, such as control, punishment or revenge. Punishment and revenge – as tempting as they may be with a destructive person in the family – just don’t tend to call great results in the natural or the spiritual. But what about control?

Post-discovery Control

Unfortunately, it seems partners are often accused of being controlling when they implement new rules (or, boundaries, etc.) post-discovery or disclosure.

It is a legitimate view that could be an element of control in most boundaries: “I want to stop your hurtful acting out behaviours so that I’m not devastated by your betrayals again.” The first part of this statement speaks of control, the second, though, demonstrates a desire for protection. 

The need for protection

Let’s not get too hung up on “are they being controlling” or “are they trying to protect themselves”. Above this view around control and breach of privacy, partners who have been betrayed can be seen to be seeking safety.

Seeking safety for themselves. And often seeking safety for the relationship moving forward in time. 

When people focus on the “controlling” aspect of the safety-seeking they are more likely to disempower the victim of betrayal trauma, and encourage self-centred, distorted thinking in the person who strayed from the relationship. This doesn’t help either of you. And perhaps it will not help you both in moving forward in the relationship, either.

As one survey respondent said: “[I] felt an intense need to create safety for myself. I needed as much information as possible about his acting out so I could be on guard of anything that might lead to more acting out so I wouldn’t be blindsided by the devastation the pain of it caused.  Everything considered co-dependent was NOT. It was, and is, me needing to protect myself by being prepared as much as possible as well as being able to get what I needed to heal.”

Another survey respondent stated: “I couldn’t communicate to counsellors/therapists the depth of these emotions and they continued to address my symptoms as co-dependent and I never got better. The SA/SAA world put my husband on an opposite team as me… Their demand for “privacy” was, for me, another version of secrecy — e.g. sending pictures outside the SAA meeting place to prove he was there was, per the SAA group, “relapse behavior.”  For me it was knowing that he wasn’t lying about going since this was what had happened before.”

Reframing The Controlling

If our betraying partner, or certain therapists, want to discourage us from “controlling”  (I’m not talking about revenge here, just boundaries), they could consider talking to our partner about how they’re recovering.

It seems that most betraying-husband’s recovery journeys are “wife-driven” initially. And vise-versa. Often, once a man settles into the journey though, something shifts and he becomes internally motivated. 

Get clear about the difference between being in recovery and doing recovery.

Once our partner begins to take full responsibility for a solid trusted journey, and relational recovery process, trust will get rebuilt and “control” will tend to naturally fall away. After all, when we feel safe with someone, the boundaries tend to be mutually agreed upon and more or less equal for both parties. 

In the words of the well-known therapist, Jake Porter, we can call this, both parties being “on the coaster.”  If trust has not yet been restored, however, boundaries and consequences provide protection for the more vulnerable party and a helpful means by which trust can be rebuilt by the offending party. When applied consistently, boundaries invariably succeed, even if the marriage ends.

Get a Higher Opinion

Thus, if you’re looking for safety with a partner who is not yet doing good self-motivated recovery, don’t let anyone shame you into giving up boundaries.

If your situation is more complex and you do wonder if you are being controlling, that’s a good question to put to God, or a higher power, or perhaps your wise support people. Either way, you probably intuitively know that God and your wise people want you and your relationship (and children) safe, whether or not your partner chooses to heal. And if they are choosing to heal, your boundaries will probably help them on that journey.

Discuss Your Boundaries

For help learning how to externalize and to become more fluent, book a Couple Session with me in Frankton. You can book online here to meet me in my Frankton, Hamilton practice.

should i save my marriage or move on
Henk Ensing
  • Works with Couples & Relationships


(1) Taylor, Lisa. Boundaries or Control, Beyond Betrayal Community, 2021.