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Setting boundaries: Your husband and other women

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Expect respect!

No one wants to feel like a nag. But if you feel that your husband's interactions with other women are crossing the line, it's important that you speak with him about respecting your boundaries.

Woman watching boyfriend talking to female friend

Discomfort with other women

Disclaimer: Your discomfort with other women doesn't necessarily mean that your husband is behaving inappropriately. If you feel plagued by jealousy regardless of the relationship, or if trusted friends are telling you that you're overreacting, you may need to do some soul-searching to understand the source of your discomfort.

Maybe you're uncomfortable because your husband is texting with his work wife a little too often. Maybe he brings pornography into the home, even though you've requested that he not. Or maybe he inappropriately flirts with waitresses or friends, and then calls you a nag for trying to address your concern. Your concerns, no matter what he says, are valid: Emotional affairs are on the rise for both men and women, flirting excessively can deplete the emotional reserves of a marriage, and men's pornography use is tied to lowered self-esteem in women.

If you've tried to talk with your husband about your concerns with other women and he's blown you off, it's time to set some boundaries on his behavior.

What it means to set boundaries

We hear the term "setting boundaries" thrown around a lot in pop psychology and self-help books. Personal boundaries are the limits that a person establishes to identify the words and behaviors that are acceptable in his or her presence, and the consequences that follow when those limits are broken.

Unfortunately, we cannot set boundaries for other people. We can only tell other people what our boundaries are, so they will know what will happen when those boundaries are crossed. According to Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Boundaries, "We can set limits on our exposure to people who are behaving poorly; we can't change them or make them behave right."

If your husband or boyfriend continues to hurt you or make you feel uncomfortable through his inappropriate relationships with other women, you should set boundaries. But remember that setting boundaries doesn't mean taking away his flirtation, his relationships or his pornography. It means that you need to clearly define for yourself which behaviors are hurtful, and then think through the natural consequences that will follow if he continues to perpetuate those hurtful behaviors. What you're doing is identifying boundaries for yourself so he can't continue to harm you.

How to set a personal boundary

Only you know the ins and outs of your relationship, and which of your partner's behaviors are no longer acceptable. Here are a few steps to begin building and communicating your boundaries. These steps hold true for your discomfort with other women, as well as many other areas of life:

  1. Understand your feelings. Internally identify the feelings that occur following one of your partner's behaviors. Name the feeling, and decide whether or not you want to continue feeling that way. If you feel bad about your body and betrayed when your husband watches porn, confess this feeling to yourself.
  2. Identify natural consequences. If you've decided, using the porn example once again, that you no longer want to feel betrayed or bad about your body, you'll need to think through natural consequences for his behavior. What's an appropriate response when a person feels betrayed? Is it to walk out of the room? End the relationship? Only you get to decide how to let the natural consequences unfold.
  3. Learn the language. Once you've decided how to respond to his problematic behavior, learn to communicate directly and calmly about the situation. Name the problem behavior, confess the way you feel, and succinctly explain the natural consequences. For instance, you could say, "When you watch porn in my home, I feel unvalued. I'm going to stay with my friend until you decide how you want to proceed with this relationship, because I'm not OK with feeling this way anymore."
  4. Follow through. The last step is the most challenging. Once you've communicated the natural consequences to his problem behavior, it's important that you follow through.

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