Iron Sharpens Iron: How to Draw Firm Boundaries in Marriage with a Spouse’s Bad Behaviour

by | Jan 27, 2020 | Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 57 comments

Merchandise is Here!

What do you do if you’ve tried confronting your spouse on bad habits that they have, but nothing is changing, and it’s damaging the marriage?

Let’s look today at how to draw boundaries and actually see progress in messy areas of marriage.

We’re in the middle of our iron sharpens iron series on the blog, where I’m talking all month about how marriage is supposed to make us better people. I’m afraid that, too often in marriage, we tolerate small things early in the relationship that then become engrained habits that get worse and worse and worse. By speaking up and doing something about behaviour that is damaging to your spouse, to you, and to the relationship you can help create the kind of marriage you actually want.

Again, this is assuming that there is some goodwill on the part of your spouse. If you are married to someone with genuinely bad character who honestly does not care about you, these things may not work. However, most people in difficult marriages are not married to genuinely bad people; it’s just that they’ve fostered a marriage dynamic which is toxic, and by changing that dynamic, hopefully we can change the marriage!

Last week we looked at how to confront your spouse about something that you’re not happy about.

But what if you’ve done that, and you’ve talked, and you’ve tried to find solutions, but your spouse isn’t buying in? Then what do you do? That’s what I want to continue today.

I am not talking in this post about affairs, or about abuse. Those are really separate issues, although a lot of the principles about what you’ll accept and what you won’t also apply. But today I want to talk about how to address bad and even destructive habits in your spouse.

Some principles for working towards real change in marriage:

People don’t change until the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of changing.

Until there is a repercussion for continuing to do what they are doing, they are likely to continue the behaviour. Not just that, but the behaviour is likely to accelerate and become worse, because we tend to travel in the direction of least resistance. If someone enjoys the habit, and if the habit becomes even more of a habit, and if there is nothing promoting change, then the habit will likely grow worse.

You cannot expect a person to change a huge habit in a vacuum.

Everything in your marriage and your family life right now is supporting their bad habit–or else they wouldn’t be doing it! If they’re going to change that habit, then the underlying things that are supporting that habit also have to change. If this is important to you, then don’t expect your spouse to make all the changes alone. Be part of the process.

You need to stop bearing the consequences of their bad behaviour

Often when a spouse does something that hurts the marriage, the other spouse ends up being the one to bear that bad behaviour. For instance, if one spouse makes a real mess, it’s often the other spouse who cleans everything up.

However, a principle that God put in place when He created us was quite simple: “A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7). You’re supposed to bear the consequences of your actions. Part of drawing boundaries is simply transferring the repercussions of someone’s actions from yourself to the person causing the problem.

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

Okay, like last week’s post, I’m going to mention specific scenarios and see how they can be addressed.

Your spouse has become very obese and does nothing to improve his or her health

Talk to your spouse about this–in terms of, “I love you, and I don’t want to watch you do this to yourself. It’s not healthy for you. You’re likely to have a lot more health conditions that will severely restrict your quality of life, especially as you age. You could be taken from us earlier than we would want. You’re not setting a good example for our kids. I know that you don’t want this for yourself, either. And, quite frankly, it is impeding our sex life. So I want to help you get on a healthy course, and here’s what I’m going to do to change.”

And here are just a few suggestions of how you can follow that up:

  • Start doing the meal planning and grocery shopping for the family
  • Get rid of unhealthy/processed foods from your kitchen cupboards
  • Adopt the kind of diet that you want your spouse to follow–and have the kids follow it, too.
  • Stop going out to restaurants.
  • Go for a walk as a family every night after dinner
  • Start a more active hobby–even if it’s just ballroom dancing in your living room at night!

You may look at that list and think, “but that’s ME making all the changes!” And you’re right. It is. Is that fair? If your spouse has to lose weight, why should everyone else have to change their diet? But that’s just the way it is.

My husband Keith does a lot of work with pediatric diabetes, and the families where the kids’ blood sugars are controlled the best are the families where everybody follows a diabetic diet at home (which is basically just a healthy diet). You can’t expect someone to lose weight and stop eating chips if there are chips in the house for everyone else. And it will not kill your kids to not have chips in the house. You are actually doing your kids a favour by teaching them to eat healthy.

Yes, your spouse may still buy terrible food when he or she is out, and there really is nothing you can do about that (save having a good budget that you all agree to). Yes, your spouse may still bring bad food into the home. But if you take on the main load of the food for the family, you can at least help point the way. And by you and your kids getting involved as well, and living the same lifestyle that all of you should live, you’re no longer hovering over your spouse saying, “we can do whatever we want, but you need to do X or you’re a bad person.” No, you’re all just doing the same thing, and you’re on the same team.

Your spouse spends too much time on video games/internet, ignoring other responsibilities, and ignoring the marriage

Does your husband game into all hours of the night? Have you left the kids with your husband on a Saturday, only to return home to find that they’ve run wild all day and the house is a mess because your husband has been gaming? Does your wife spend all of her time on her phone, and never comes to bed at a decent hour?

It’s okay to want couple time and family time, but that means that you have to create new expectations, and create new habits in the home so that gaming or internet use isn’t the go-to activity. If you want a spouse to quit gaming or being on the internet so much, you have to replace it with something. Go for walks. Volunteer. Head to a board game cafe once a week as a family (or as a couple). Assign certain chores to your spouse that they should take ownership of–like the kids’ bath time, or doing the dishes after dinner. Create that expectation that the chores have to be done first.

But what if that doesn’t work? Then here’s something big you can do: Turn off the WiFi every night at 10 pm (or 9 pm, or whenever). Charge all phones (including the kids’ devices) in the kitchen overnight, away from the bedrooms. If a day is supposed to be family time or chore day, just unplug the WiFi. If you want to watch a movie together after the kids go to bed, just download the movie earlier in the day.

If video games are a problem, then pack up the video game console and have your brother (or his brother or someone) store it for a while so that you can deal with this. If this is serious enough that your husband is not parenting the kids because of games, or is not working because of games, then it is not a safe situation for him to have games.

If you love someone, you want the best for them. Spending their life gaming is not the best for them, and is actually destructive. So throw out the gaming!

Your spouse’s lifestyle is putting you in debt

Maybe your spouse spends money and wracks up debt. Maybe your spouse refuses to get a job that will earn some money, meaning that you need to work to support the family. I’ve even known families where she works and then puts the kids in day care because he can’t be trusted to care for the kids all day. That’s not an acceptable situation.

I’m a firm believer that, in general, the couple should share finances. I believe that couples should have a budget, and then you should give each other money each month that you can spend however you want. And that amount of money should be equal, too. If your spouse is spending you into debt, going to a cash budget and cutting up the credit cards, or putting them in ice in the freezer (seriously, that works! they’re still there if you need them, but they’re hard to access) can help.

But what if that doesn’t solve the problem? Or what if the problem is more that your spouse won’t work (a stay at home parent is still working, by the way)? Then it may be time to separate your finances. I don’t recommend that lightly, but again, your spouse needs to bear the consequences of their actions. If they’re going into debt, then you can still control your income and save for the future. If they won’t work, and also don’t contribute to the family (if your spouse stays at home and cares for the kids and organizes the home, that is work), then they don’t get access to money. If your spouse is the one who earns the paycheque, but they also spend you into debt, then you may need a mentor couple to help step in and get you set up so that your spouse loses access to the bank accounts and has to live only with an allowance until he or she sorts out the spending problem.

But before you do take more drastic action, if you are frustrated because your spouse won’t work and your spouse says, “Well we can live on your paycheck and I want to stay home with the kids,” seriously ask yourself if you are simply chasing a higher standard of living than you need and you want your spouse to pay for it. If you’re not going into debt but are just frustrated that things are always on a strict budget and your spouse is choosing to stay home with the kids instead of working, they may not be in the wrong. If, however, this is an issue of irresponsibility, laziness, or entitlement that is harming the family then it may be time for the actions listed above.

Other posts that may interest you:


People don’t change until the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of changing.

Your spouse is making a mess and you can’t live with it

Maybe your spouse makes such a mess, leaving dirty dishes everywhere, laundry everywhere, and a mess in their wake, and you just can’t live with it anymore.

Now, I do believe this must be within reason. It can’t be that one spouse has too high a standard for cleanliness. If you’re upset that there are toys out, that’s different from not being able to sit down on a couch because there’s stuff everywhere. And there’s a difference between (1) a woman who is at home all day with four kids under 5, one of whom in special needs, and the husband doesn’t help with the kids when he’s home, (b) a situation where the kids are mostly at school, and her primary job is cleaning, and food is left out on the counter and the home is not healthy for anyone, or (c) where you both work, and only one of you does the cleaning at night.

What do you do? Create an expectation that certain things need to be done every night before you go to bed–and take the lead on this. If you want the dishes done, say to your spouse, “Come on, we’re going to clean up the kitchen before we turn in.” Or, “I’ll fold the laundry while you do the dishes.” Create a chore system for the kids and for both of you, and set the expectation that certain things can’t happen until those chores are done by everyone (including you). Organize a cleaning hour where EVERYBODY works after dinner to get their chores done before having fun in the evening. If it matters to you, you’ll likely have to take the lead.

If your spouse still creates a huge mess of their own stuff, consider creating an area of the house where they can be as messy as they want–but everything else has to be tidy. So if she has 14 craft projects on the go, they have to be kept in this one room. If he has laundry everywhere, and stuff everywhere, it can all be dumped in his man cave until he sorts it out.

Finally, consider getting help. Hire a cleaner if you can. If it fixes the problem and ends the conflict, it’s more than worth it!

Your spouse is sleeping with the kids instead of with you

A common scenario many men write in to me about (and it is primarily men) is that the wife is choosing to sleep with the toddler, or even sleep with an older child or children, instead of the husband. Often the husband ends up turning to the couch or guest room because he’s squeezed out of his own bed.

Now, I don’t believe sleeping with the kids instead of your spouse is healthy for a marriage, and I also don’t believe that sleeping as a family in a bed is healthy for your marriage (I understand it may be different with breastfeeding infants, although the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that infants be placed in bassinets in the same room, not in the bed).

But developing a sleep routine where children go to sleep on their own can take a lot of work, and many parents find it a daunting task, and so they just settle for what’s easy. If you want to reclaim your bed, you’ll have to take the lead on this one and create the bedtime routine.

Do research on how to help kids sleep. Be responsible for the bath/bedtime routine, and put the kids to sleep. Even send your wife away for a week on vacation and do it while she’s not there, if she can’t stand to see the kids upset. It will take some work, but it can be done. It’s not all about letting kids cry it out, either. It’s about helping your children develop new sleep associations; helping them calm down and quieten down over the course of the day; and helping relieve anxiety.

If your spouse won’t agree, or undermines you, then you can still reclaim your bedroom and insist that your spouse sleep somewhere else, and you can still do the bedtime routine with your children. You do not have to be the one to leave the bedroom, but you also can move your children out of your bed. Then, if your spouse wants to sleep with the kids, it will have to be done elsewhere.

I can think of all kinds of different marriage scenarios that need to be addressed, but that’s a start.

On the Start Your Engines podcast this week, Keith and I will talk about what to do if your spouse refuses to have sex for prolonged periods of time, too.

But you get the point, I hope. If it’s a big issue:

  1. Make the changes to your own behaviour that are required to make it easier for your spouse to change the habit
  2. Stop being the one to reap the consequences for your spouse’s bad behaviour (ie going into debt because of their spending; sleeping on the couch because your spouse brings the child into your bed). Allow them to reap the consequences of their own actions.
  3. Take drastic action to stop very destructive behaviour. (For the sake of your marriage, though, make sure this is motivated by love, and not just anger.)

What do you think? Do you have any other examples of big changes that had to be made? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Mhmc

    I just have to point out- that if some of these actions are taken without a discussion with your spouse to agree to them, then these arent really boundaries, it’s just you trying to control your spouse. A true boundary is something YOU will or won’t do. You cant MAKE your spouse change. And your spouse can refuse to change. You making changes for yourself that affect your spouse can become manipulative if not done with the right motives. Make sure youre praying about how you set boundaries, and ask God to reveal any sinful patterns on your part. Boundaries work. (Even when the outcome is not what you hoped for). Control and manipulation do not.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know what you’re saying, Mhmc, but there’s also a point where sometimes you need to take drastic action even if they don’t agree. If your spouse is spending you into debt so that the bank is going to foreclose on you or you can’t save for your kids’ education or the lights may get turned off, even if your spouse doesn’t agree, you may have to take drastic action. If your spouse has diabetes but is still drinking 2 litre bottles of pop everyday, and is threatening their own life, you may have to take over the cooking, even if they don’t agree. Sometimes spouses are doing things that are so bad that are actually endangering you, them, or the kids, or the family’s security. And in those cases, it isn’t always about getting the spouse to agree. It’s about doing drastic action. Then, if the spouse continues in the terrible behaviour, you may need to re-evaluate more.
      You are right–these things are drastic. But this is also coming after the rest of the series, where you raise the issues first; you support them in their changes; you talk about things; etc. This is really for the last chance when your best efforts haven’t worked.
      Sometimes drawing clear boundaries so that someone is able to actually do what they want to do, but they haven’t seemed to be able to do yet, is actually loving towards you and your spouse and your kids. I would advise that this should be done with a counselor as well, or at least a mentor couple, but it’s okay to say, “I don’t want certain stuff in my house.” It really is.

      • Amanda

        I have a quibble with one point. You are equating healthy habits with weight, and the research does not support that. 95% of people who lose weight gain it back in the first 5 years, often more than they lost, and it’s not because they lost positive habits. Please don’t encourage people to harass their spouse about an issue they truly can’t effort their way out of. I recommend links this blogger shares for better understanding.

        • Ruru

          I’m sorry but I have to disagree with your linked article. While I think BMI charts are a poor measure of health due to healthy, muscular people being considered overweight, research does show that excess body weight has a negative affect on our bodies, especially on joints and bones. As someone who has had weight problems I can say the main reason people fail in most weight loss programs is they fail to address the emotional, social, psychological, physical, hormonal and spiritual causes. Each person’s weight issues are some combination of all of those. Excess fat can indicate overfeeding as result of addiction or a failure of metabolic processes necessary to digesting/storing fat (thyroid issues, PCOS, etc.) The bottom line is weight is an indicator or symptom that something is wrong. We shouldn’t stop or allow our doctors to stop at thetypes and quantities of food being the cause. We also need to be honest about what we eat and how much we eat. Keeping a food diary is an eye opener especially when one realizes how much they eat.

    • Sara

      I agree; this time, a number of Sheila’s ‘boundary’ suggestions assume that the husband is on board with developing these new habits. That has to be true to keep it from devolving into a power struggle that just frustrates one party more. For instance, she suggest that “you can still reclaim your bedroom and insist that your spouse sleep somewhere else”, but what if the spouse says ‘if you don’t like it, YOU sleep on the couch’? What if you “say to your spouse, “Come on, we’re going to clean up the kitchen before we turn in.”” but the spouse says ‘I’m tired, I don’t feel like cleaning now, I’m going to watch this show’ or only makes a perfunctory effort and then wanders off? I think most of these are helpful if the spouse has acknowledged the problem and just needs help developing a habit; less so if they don’t admit their behavior is problematic and agree to attempt to form new habits.

      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        Yes, that’s exactly it Sara. A lot of times when we have these conversations nothing changes and so a firm boundary must be put in place. E.g., with the kids in the bed example he may say “I’m sleeping in my bed and if any kids come into the bedroom I will be picking them up and putting them back in their rooms. If you want to sleep with them you can go to their room” but then she starts screaming at him and crying if he does so, this boundary doesn’t work anymore. But the fact that he is being firm and saying “This is the only acceptable option to me and I’m willing to be firm to make sure that this stops happening because it’s ruining our marriage” can often be enough to make the spouse realize this is a real issue that is catapulting them towards divorce.
        If a spouse continues the bad behaviour, I think you’d have to bring in outside people. Talk to a licensed counsellor, then family, then friends, etc. Make a stink. Frankly, raise a stink within your community if needed because your spouse is completely unwilling to change when it’s just you saying “This isn’t OK.” Plus, then if you are being controlling and unreasonable people have a chance to call you out on it and your spouse also gets to say their piece (I actually called out one couple I know where he was being unreasonable of demands he was making on her as a stay-at-home-mom. He needed to hear from someone else he respected that what he was asking was simply not realistic, because both he and his wife were so emotionally entangled up in the fight it was difficult to separate out emotions from logic at that point.). But I think that airing issues in public should be the last resort (not including licensed counselling, any time is good for counselling), which is why this post is needed–to show how to be firm and make it very clear what is and isn’t acceptable. If your spouse still doesn’t listen or agree that there needs to be a change, then getting other people involved is often necessary and helpful.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Just on vacation now so haven’t been weighing in on the comments much–but I wanted to offer an absolute support for what Rebecca’s saying here. Sometimes when we bring in other people, we find out WE’RE the one who is being unreasonable, and that, in and of itself, is a gift because we’ve now got a solution in sight. It isn’t always about getting others on our side. It’s just getting help, and that’s why community matters.

  2. libl

    Ugh, video games. They turn my husband into a rage-aholic. Even if he watches the kids play, he’ll begin yelling, swearing, calling them names, flailing about, even punishing them for not winning (he’ll say it is because they disobeyed his order to do something in a game).
    He brutally verbally abused me after losing a video game. I was in the other room breastfeeding the baby. He angrily turned off the game, came in the room and unleashed on me. When I stood up for myself, he told me to go f myself, and shut me out of the bedroom. He never apologised but very rarely played a video game after that.
    My boundary is that when voices start to raise, when emotions start to bubble, the games turn off.
    I will go as far as shutting off the power and removing the systems. I remind them, “it is a game. Games are supposed to be enjoyable. Life is stressful enough. Why do you want to blow an artery playing a stupid game?”
    I don’t want to mommy my husband, but when it reaches destructive levels, it is gone. It’s one thing if you butt heads over something. It’s another thing when they proverbially set fire to the house.
    He’ll get mad and berate me a bit and feel disrespected or mommied, but I see the bigger picture, and he is stuck in strong, dark emotions.
    We all have trouble with our phones and tablets, though, and it has been laziness and sloth, and a desire to just be entertained rather than do anything. I am working to change that.

    • Blessed Wife

      That’s kinda scary. I hope you have support and protection,
      I agree with Nathan. There’s more going on here than video games, and I think it’s important to get at the deeper issue, because even getting rid of the games completely would likely just transfer the same behavior pattern to whatever he takes up in it’s place.
      On a tangent, what is with people who insist on “respect” when they aren’t being respectable or respectful themselves? Emotional honesty is key to intimacy. Respect doesn’t strike me as an honest emotional reaction to someone who is acting like a spotted-butt ape! Good for you for drawing the line on it!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Totally agree, Blessed Wife!

        • Nathan

          > > On a tangent, what is with people who insist on “respect” when they aren’t being respectable or respectful themselves?
          My guess is that is closely linked to the fact that many people see the faults of others better than their own.
          Or like the stereotypical loud, obnoxious uncle. Nobody says anything for fear of hurting his feelings, even though he himself doesn’t seem to care about the feelings others.

      • Recovering from abuse

        I agree with Blessed Wife- It sounds scary. And it sounds like abuse. It’s at least verbal abuse and possibly emotional/psychological abuse as well.
        I’m finding it’s important to name things correctly when addressing them.
        So great to have compassion on the emotions fueling the abuse- but the abuse shouldn’t be tolerated just because there is a reason. There is always a reason but that doesn’t change that it’s wrong. Compassion for the person- absolutely. Tolerance of harm- no thank you.
        I hope you have support and a safety plan for you and your kids.

      • Annette

        Any advice for a husband who when stressed or annoyed or tired immediately loses his temper and starts cursing and does so in front of our children. Been a problem for as long as I have know him but the cursing and bad language has got so much lately. He is a Christian but has been struggling spiritually for a long time and he knows that’s a major part of the problem but seems to be stuck and cant get out of it. I fear that he has just accepted it as normal now and wont try to change. He has reached out to people over the years for help but it’s always short lived and we’re back to the start now worse than ever. Our beautiful little daughter quoted every word from his last meltdown, including the bad words! My heart could not have hurt more. Our home should be a safe and loving and joyful place, Dont know what to do.

    • Lea

      I have read so many bad reports from people about video games that I would be inclined not to date anyone who was devoting any serious amount of time to them!
      That said, all of this sounds really scary and out of the norm and I hope you are keeping an eye on it, or getting counseling.

      • Abby

        Hi Lea,
        I will comment on the video game front, since when I was dating my husband I was very concerned about the fact that he played video games (having heard many stories like above). But I’ve since realized that video games are for him a way to relax and catch up with friends (his best friends live out of state but talk while gaming together). He’s very understanding of my needs and always checks in with me to see if him playing would fit into our evening or weekend. I love giving him time to play video games because he works so hard for our family and it’s a way for him to relax.
        That’s not to discount any of the very real problems out there with guys and video game addiction/overuse – I would just encourage you to not write someone off because they do play video games sometimes.

        • Lea

          “I would just encourage you to not write someone off because they do play video games sometimes.”
          I mean…it would have to be very occasional I think. It sounds like your husband is respectful of your time together and does stuff around the house as he should though so that’s good? I don’t really make hard and fast rules, but I think people’s lifestyle should fit together in some way, with time to yourselves as well. I have just seen SO many complaints in this area I would be leery…
          But i’m in an age cohort where it shouldn’t be a huge problem. I have filtered people out on dating sites who mentioned gaming in their profiles though.

    • Jordan

      Just weighing in from personal experience… my husband is addicted to video games as well. Goes to work and church, but all free time (around 6hrs a day according to his phone’s screen time report [we don’t keep our phone private from each other]) is spent gaming. He gets extremely mad if he loses a game. Curses, throws his phone etc. I hate the example he’s setting for our sons, and I’ve made it extremely clear that I do not approve of video games in general, the amount of time he spends on them or the way he acts playing. He has made it clear that he will not stop no matter what. these blog suggestions are great, but only work if your partner will compromise and respect your request.

  3. Nathan

    libl, I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.
    > > I see the bigger picture, and he is stuck in strong, dark emotions.
    I think you’re right, in that the video games aren’t the real, unerlying issue. Something else is there, and he’s just using the game as a vehicle to blow up and get enraged.
    In the pre video game era, I used to hear about husbands abusing wives if their team lost a sports game on TV.
    I hope and pray that he can figure out what the root issue is and work through it.

    • libl

      @Nathan, thank you for your concern. He has a temper control issue, but largely has control of it. But, video games brings out the worst of it. I have a family member who,is an upstanding Christian man, hard worker, loving father and husband, great sense of humor, healthy, happy, but will lose is mind over video games, so he avoids them.

      • Nathan

        An old buddy of mine had an interesting reaction to video games. He himself would never get angry when he played them himself or when he watched others play.
        But, when he would play against other people, he would often get angry when other people would lose to him, and he’d accuse them of losing on purpose or not really trying. He was very good at them and I guess he just assumed that others were equally good.

      • MidwestWife

        That’s definitely an individual issue as my husband is a gamer and he manages to control his anger. In fact other things make him angry but not his video games. I’d say traffic makes him more angry than most anything. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what makes him angry because as I’ve said 64894 times “YOU are in control of how you handle your anger and it is your responsibility to manage it appropriately”. It’s actually been effective for us.

      • MidwestWife

        Yikes I can’t believe some people live with the aforementioned in their marriages. I’m not saying mine is perfect but boundaries are huge. Enabling crappy behavior is the antithesis of love for oneself and for the marriage. I think I tend to err more on the over-vocalization side (it’s something I’m working at being more graceful with) which can cause resistance at first but generally helps. In my opinion it’s all about delivery – the times I think before I speak and pray over the words I deliver and that my intentions are pure, are the times change actually happens. The same can be said when my husband approaches me. If he attacks me about an issue – I will automatically (per human response) shut down. It’s a psychological issue more than anything.

        • libl

          I did say I have boundaries and rules concerning video games. I did say any issues means it is turned off.

          • Lea

            “I have a family member who,is an upstanding Christian man, hard worker, loving father and husband, great sense of humor, healthy, happy, but will lose is mind over video games, so he avoids them.”
            I think this is a way healthy adults can handle problem areas and your husband needs to seriously consider avoiding them. It’s probably not the source of the problem though.
            I remember talking to an ex about how people are still the same person drunk or sober, and any bad stuff that comes out drunk was there sober. I think this is the same thing.
            I can count on one hand the number of times someone screamed at me, and if a bf did it I would be out the door. He is screaming at you and the kids??? That is really bad. Please consider taking some time away.

  4. Christy

    I see what you’re saying. I have said all those things about: turning off wifi, you do this while I do that, bedtime routines, plan a family day…but he doesn’t engage with us…He doesn’t come to the dinner table until we’re almost finished eating, he sits with his phone in his face when home, even if doing something else. Does not participate with the family really. When he does, it is halfway. He avoids and ignores. It’s been 13 years. I’m tired. Any thing he starts does not get completed. EVER. We are living in a state of disrepair all around to the point where I don’t even have a vehicle anymore. What then? When he literally does the barest minimum. And I do everything 😕 nothing causes him discomfort, none of the consequences bother him…

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Christy. That must be so lonely and exhausting. I’d really recommend that you get a licensed counselor to talk to, and try to go to marriage counseling. And I’d also recommend telling your family that you’re in crisis and that you may need them to intervene. If you need help and you’re at the end of the rope, your support system does need to know this. Again, I’m sorry.

      • Recovering from abuse

        Just a tweak to the counseling suggestion- marriage counseling can often be harmful to a spouse when dealing with abusive or controlling people (which this may or may not be). It may be helpful to start with an individual counselor than can help you assess what you are dealing with and provide support for you before seeking help for the marriage. Kind of an “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” approach. There doesn’t sound like there is a lot of good will here that Sheila was discussing in the post. Where there is a good reserve of good will- marriage counseling can be a wonderful tool. Where there is a lack of good will, marriage counseling can be wielded as a weapon unfortunately.

      • Faith

        Rebecca made a good comment about the difference between manipulation and boundary setting. I’m in a situation where my husband has a lot of behavior issues.
        Most of our marriage I’ve been the breadwinner with him having jobs here and there and then either getting fired or just quitting, largely because of a video game habit in which he would play for hours and stay up all night not allowing for enough sleep for work. There has also been issues with alcohol and drug abuse. Now he has decreased drinking and has stopped cocaine, but he continues to neglect the family. We have 6 kids, and it is not fair for me to handle providing for the family full time, maintain all the house chores, bills and the yardwork. Not to mention I’m only 37 and I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months after our son was born last year. So now I’m getting weekly chemo. He gave me this big spill about how he’s sorry about everything , worried because I have cancer, and that he loves me, but he does nothing to change. At one point he mentioned he thought he had Aspergers like our son but then refused to get professional help.
        He continues to game or watch youtube in our room, sitting in a recliner for most of the day. He takes out the trash and occasionally cooks or starts the dishwasher. I asked him to clean more, and he yelled that he wasn’t going to be a slave. He also says he kids are the ones making a mess, so he shouldn’t have to do anything. Other than that he stays in the room and yells at us to leave him alone and keep the door shut. He curses a lot at his games around the kids and also curses when reprimanding the kids. My 3 yr old daughter has repeated the F word because of this. He’s recently been sued for a credit card bill , but says he doesn’t care and refuses to talk with me anymore about it or deal with it.
        I stopped having sex with him because I feel like we don’t have a marriage. My problem is I haven’t been able to discuss why because of his propensity to start yelling over me whenever I try to address certain issues. He refuses to handle or discuss anything responsibly if it’s serious problem. I don’t feel like a wife , I feel like a mom with a spoiled kid half the time. I feel like I’m at an impasse.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Faith, this does not sound healthy. He is setting a horrible example for the kids, and likely causing so much stress and trauma in you. And he will not get a job until he has to. He is living off of you.
          I really suggest you join Leslie Vernick or Natalie Hoffman’s Flying Free on Facebook and just start listening to them. You do not have to enable sinful behaviour. You do not have to have your kids subjected to this. This isn’t good or right and this does not glorify God.
          Check out Natalie and Leslie (or Sarah McDugal for that matter) and see if those communities help. You need to take care of yourself right now with the cancer, and the stress that he is putting you under is not good. It really isn’t. I’m so sorry.
          I’d also say: Let your families in on how bad this is. You don’t need to cover for him. It’s okay for your friends to know what he does. Shine the light in, and you may find that some people are there to support you.

    • libl

      He ought to get checked for depression and ADHD.

    • Blessed Wife

      That’s so hard, and so sad for you and the kids! What you’re describing sounds like a de facto in-house separation. Have you checked into what (or whom) he’s engaged in so much on his phone?
      Could be a screen addiction, but the level of family disengagement you’re describing also tends to show up when a person is having an affair. The consequences don’t “hurt” them because they’ve already closed their hearts to the family and invested their emotional capital in someone else. In the cases where I’ve seen this happen, it takes actually kicking them out of the house to break the cycle. Hopefully your situation can be saved short of that! Prayers.

  5. Anna

    What are some acceptable boundaries for a husband with an alcohol problem?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think joining an Al-Anon group (for families of alcoholics) can be very useful, because there’s a wealth of information there. I do think that telling someone they cannot come home drunk, and that they cannot drink at home if they can’t control it, is acceptable, because it’s your home, too, and you’re allowed to not have things in your home that are dangerous to you in some way. Also, taking away the keys of an alcoholic if they drive drunk (and reporting them to police) is very, very important. You don’t ever want them to hurt someone else. But I would try a licensed counselor and an Al-Anon group to find some help and support. I’ll be writing more about alcohol abuse in the next little while, because I haven’t dealt with it a lot and it is something that so many struggle with.

      • Anonymous

        Sheila, I would add this, as the wife of an alcoholic: “You may not do _____” is not a helpful model. It doesn’t work. What worked for me was to say, “If you are drunk, the kids and I will leave.” And, “If there is alcohol at a social event, the kids and I will leave. You may either come with us or find your own ride home.” That way I wasn’t dictating his choices, but setting the scene for taking care of myself and our kids well.
        It took me attending Al-Anon and seeing an excellent therapist to be able to figure out what healthy boundaries were. Most of us who have lived with addiction for years have lost ourselves (and ignored our own healthy boundaries) in trying to save our addicted spouse.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Very good! Love that. And I’m glad that Al-Anon helped. I do think that if you’re in the midst of handling a difficult addiction like this, getting those around you who have also gone through it is so important.

        • Lea

          Anonymous that sounds like a great way to handle it! Here is what i’m doing, get on board or don’t, it’s your decision. there may be consequences to any decision made.
          Sidenote: I think it’s interesting that as people have sort of learned the language of counseling and therapists and abuse, some start labeling things like this as manipulative or controlling and it’s complicated because there is a line and it’s sometimes hard to articulate in broad strokes? I would love to see a good definition of the difference because I’m tired of that argument in response to reasonable boundary setting and of hearing the reverse (this is just my ‘boundary’) in response to clearly unreasonable controlling behavior.

          • Maria

            That sounds great. Where is the line between a boundary and a manipulation tactic? Because the two are not the same, but it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            The difference is that boundaries are very clear cut and are discussed. Manipulation uses very subversive tactics that beat down and wear down the other person until they succumb to your will–it’s very different.
            Boundaries are there to protect something good by saying, “I will not tolerate X, if X happens then Y will happen as a result” or “We can only have X if Y is taken care of”
            E.g., saying “we can only have sex if you stop watching pornography, get filters, and show me that you are serious about quitting by doing X, Y, and Z” is a boundary, not manipulation. The terms are clear, there is a solution presented, and the cards are clearly on the table. The conversation then becomes if the boundary is an appropriate one or not, because you both know what you are dealing with.
            In the same situation, refusing to have sex without explaining why you don’t want to have it, giving him the silent treatment, or using lack of sex as a punishment when he does anything bad because of your anger about the pornography is manipulative, even if you have discussed it in the past, because you’re trying to get him to change behaviour using subversive methods without actually addressing it head-on in clear, actionable ways.
            Your spouse may draw a boundary you don’t agree with. And you can discuss that (E.g., boundaries around talking to family can be healthy or controlling). But the difference is that you are on the same page and you are putting the boundary in place to protect something good and to build up the marriage. I hope that makes sense.

  6. Nathan

    Anna, that’s a really tough question. Depending on the level of his addiction, it could be anything from saying “only a few drinks every week” to complete cold turkey. Also limits on going out alone, going out with friends, etc. Professional counselling would be your best bet to see where your path forward goes.

    • RN

      You have to be careful with cold turkey for alcoholism… it can be dangerous in heavy chronic drinkers. Get medical help.

      • MidwestWife

        Yes I echo this – seek medical treatment (if in the US it is a federal law that substance abuse be covered to some degree). It will never work to go cold turkey with alcohol if he is physically dependent on it (very dangerous). One drink here or there will never work for an alcoholic.

    • Anna

      I was actually in the I’m-to-angry-I-can’t-sleep phase of dealing with this problem when I read the blog and commented. I should have added more details. We’re not in the US, so Al Anon isn’t really available as well as qualified counselors.
      He doesn’t drink every day, but when he drinks it’s too much. I tried to apply some of the things mentioned here today. He seemed to get it, said he won’t drink anymore, blah blah blah, but I’m not all that hopeful.
      Thanks for taking time to respond.

      • Anonymous

        I’m so sorry, Anna. I understand the promises. We went through years of his promises of drinking less, not drinking alone, only drinking on certain days, only drinking at certain times, etc. His promises were never worth the breath he spoke them with. When there’s addiction, promises don’t matter. It sounds like your local resources are pretty slim, but could you order some helpful reading material? Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage and The Alcoholic Husband Primer were both helpful to me.
        Something else you might eventually look into is online counseling. Many therapists will offer counseling via Skype. It’s not a perfect solution, but might be helpful.
        I will pray for you. It’s a hard road and we never know where it will lead.

        • Anna

          Thank you so much! I’ll check those out!

  7. Natalie

    A comment from someone whose husband’s weight has been an increasing issue as our marriage progressed:
    Oftentimes, obesity is linked to abuse or trauma from childhood. Comfort/binge eating, in my opinion, is a FAR more real eating disorder in the West than the often discussed anorexia and bulimia. Many spouses dealing with this desperately want to change and feel like them not changing is damaging their marriage (which it is), which leads them to eat their feelings more and make the problem worse. In my experience, this is where the only thing that will help is some serious therapy on the obese partner’s part. The non-obese spouse saying and doing all the things above and praying every single day multiple times a day will do nothing and only lead to them becoming extremely discouraged and wondering how God will ever make anything good out of this situation. Not expecting a miracle and instead saying “go see a therapist or a divorce lawyer. Those are your choices” is often the uncomfortable position that that obese spouse needs to be put into in order to change.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Natalie. That’s a great point about trauma. I also want to say, and I don’t think I was clear enough in the post, that if things have gotten this bad in any of these situations, and if you’ve tried all the things I’ve said last week and you aren’t getting anywhere, you may have to do the things in this post, but you’ll likely need support around you to do so. So go see a counselor for help. Even if it’s your spouse that really needs the counseling, you talking to someone and having them help you raise the issue can be a godsend.

  8. In Debt

    I wrote on another post some week ago about my wife putting us in debt. We had to take a second loan to start paying the new debts she collected. That sucks. She is looking at houses but at this point we won’t be able to buy one. It will take 6 years to pay of this debt.
    We have talked and I am working on being better to say no when she wants to buy things. I have also said that we need to have financial meetings every week to look at our budget. I hope she is sticking to our plan now because I can’t take another big debt again.
    Please pray for us and my wife to really get it this time. I am worried at times because she claims that she will stop buying for us but continue to buy for the kids. I don’t think it’s necessary all the time. Today when I came home she had bought some things for the kids that they already have. I hate having to be strict.
    The kids sleeping in the bed thing is tough. I don’t know how to fix it. The kids don’t sleep without her and even if I try they want to go and she wants them to. I can’t do it without her altough your suggestions are good. My wife would never leave the kids. We can not even have alone time because she refuses to leave the kids with relatives unless it is because of work or studies. To ask her to leave the kids so we can be alone would be impossible for her. So leave the kids during a weekend would only make her anxious. So there isn’t much I can do. I have started to sleep in the bed because she says she feels that we are close even if we don’t sleep beside each other but the couch is looking real tempting lately. 4 people in a bed for 2 isnt comfortable.

    • Catherine

      InDebt – This is my two cents worth as a mom who also LOVES her children ……your wife’s attachment to them is not healthy and/or she is using your children as an excuse to avoid dealing with other issues (“that she needs to deal with (whether in your marriage or in her own personal life etc). If the tables were flipped, I would sit down for a heart to heart and this is what i would say, “I love you and I want this marriage to work. Not just work, but to thrive. I want to be teammates with you and look forward to a lifetime of partnership. Right now, I feel like we are playing on opposite teams. When you choose to prioritize the kids, it feels like you’ve made the decision to be married to them rather than me, which isn’t healthy and it’s also makes for a poor partnership. So this is what I propose…..”. And then draw your boundaries.

      • In Debt

        Thank you for your advice. I think my wife and I really need to sit down and talk. Its been difficult for me to do that. Im a people pleaser and doing something that can make her sad or angry makes me anxious.
        I guess she doesnt see that it affects our marriage because I feel I dont have a right to show when something isnt working for me. The message I hear from most men is that I should just serve and love her. It seems to be the answer to everything. I for example struggle with our sexual frequency and lack of her speaking my love language(physical touch). Some days I feel so emotionally empty and low that I dont know what to do but its like because I am a man I dont have a right to get those needs met. And the answer everytime I ask others about this is: “Serve and love her”. But nothing really changes and I guess thats because I work hard to meet her needs and do as much as possible so she doesnt even have to think about my needs. Everything is ok for her but I am getting hurt and angry and tired of her not getting that I need more.
        Laying on the side of the bed doesnt do it for me but it does for her and as long as may main focus is to “serve and love” nothing changes. But I dont want to manipulative. We have talked about some things before but it usually goes back to the same thing and I cant do more than “serve and love” and just accept it. Which can be frustrating.

        • Deb B

          I’m at a point of frustration right now regarding this issue. What do you do when your spouse agrees the habit is bad and volunteers to stop, but one week or one month later they are right back in it? We’ve been married for 33 years. He is a bi-vocational pastor. We have a good marriage, but these two habits are harmful to him and to our family over the long term- one is a health issue and one is a gaming/internet issue. They both stem from self control difficulties. It’s become a cyclical problem and I’ve grown weary of being the voice of alarm. I am not a nagging wife, and I refuse to behave as his mother. That has never been my role in our relationship. I am now at a loss for what to do next. We agree on a boundary, then he continues to move the boundary until he’s right back where we started. How do we break this cycle?

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            If he also sees this as an issue I would work with him to take more drastic action. If he has a gaming issue, have a friend store the console for 3 months or however long you think is appropriate. When Connor and I got married there was a period we did something like this while we sorted out what we wanted our “normal” to be.
            When self-control is the problem you need to make it as easy as possible to engage in self-control. Having temptations in the house like gaming consoles or internet on all hours of the day make it more difficult (like if you start working out with 50lb dumbbells instead of 5 pounds). If he’s truly on board but simply doesn’t have the self-control stamina, tell him “we have to be more drastic until you’re self-control is strong enough to be able to have these vices in the house again.”
            You do not need to feel like a nag–if your husband agrees this is an issue, it is incumbent on him to help work towards a solution. If you are continuously having to nag it’s likely because there isn’t a big enough change that there is any real difference being made. So I would troubleshoot to figure out what big change needs to happen (even if it seems ridiculous, like unplugging the modem and locking it up at 7:00 PM every night) to help him develop the character traits he needs to stand up under the temptation later.
            You can also bring in friends and family to keep him accountable–you should not have to be the only person your husband is talking to about this since he also thinks it’s an issue. Are there friends who can keep him accountable to exercise or eating well (e.g., if he eats lunch with the rest of the church staff get them involved in his healthy eating plans so that he can’t get away with getting a drive-through burger as easily)? Are there friends who he plays online with who can know “If I see him online past 8 PM we have a problem and I”m going to message him saying “dude get offline and go spend time with your wife”?
            Those things can be incredibly helpful. I personally did the one for eating healthy when I was in my last year of university with my lab mates (they knew I was eating out too much and so they kept me accountable to eating what I brought with me instead of snacking on something I bought), and it worked very well in my case. I hope some of this helps at least a little bit!!

  9. Mrs. B.

    I am curious if anyone has any ideas as to what to do about a husband who has been telling me for 23 years that he is definitely going to quit smoking *soon*, but who as of yet hasn’t even manged to cut back. And in other ways he treats his body like trash – eats candy by the bag, drinks pop instead of water, eats Doritos instead of real food for lunch, stays up way too late playing games on his phone and so is chronically sleep deprived, refuses to exercise even a little bit…he is in his 40s now, and it drives me insane that he doesn’t seem to care AT ALL about his health. I have confronted him about these issues many times, he knows I am frustrated with him but he doesn’t care, he doesn’t seem to care about anything except what is most pleasant for him in a given moment. (He smokes weed daily too, as if his lungs needed more abuse.)
    I refuse to buy junk food or cigarettes for him and I try to provide healthier options for snacks, but this has zero effect because he just brings home bags of junk food himself. He literally laughs at me when I try to offer him healthy snacks. I am at a loss as to what I can do, and I feel despair to know that my husband and the father of my children is very likely going to die sooner rather than later and there is nothing I can do about it. He just doesn’t care and I don’t get it because he seems to love us, but how can he love us and then purposely trash his physical body?

    • Mhmc

      You can’t control his choices. I suggest taking out a good life insurance policy on him and let him know youre at least going to protect yourself financially if hes going to kill himself prematurely. The money he will have tonsee going into that policy may make him think twice about the money he spends on destroying his health. Or it may not. You cant be both his mother and his wife. Be his wife, and invest in your future, even if it may be without him.

  10. Jane Eyre

    “(I understand it may be different with breastfeeding infants, although the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that infants be placed in bassinets in the same room, not in the bed).”
    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told to not co-sleep with our newborn. You risk smothering them with the comforters and blankets, rolling over onto them, dropping them if you hold them when asleep, etc.
    Some of the baby recommendations are kind of crazy – one person said that we should have the baby in a bassinet in our room for at least a year – but the idea of a baby in their own bed, swaddled, and away from anything that could harm them just makes sense.

  11. H.

    So, I’d like to weigh in about the weight discussion. Spouses need to recognize a full spectrum of things before they gleefully demand that their spouse becomes a svelte fantasy.
    This is coming from someone with multiple chronic (hereditary) illnesses, on half a dozen medications, who is an eating disorder survivor.
    I used the word survivor.
    Did you know that eating disorders are the leading cause of death in teenage girls?
    This article contains more scientific study references on the topic:
    Another interesting factoid that is successfully hidden from most of us is that diets (and there are dozens & dozens of studies that confirm this, you don’t have to take my word for it!) have a 95>% failure rate when considered over a 5 year period. 95%. Most of the studies that celebrate diets as wildly successful are doing 6 month and one year studies, paid for, interestingly enough, by diet companies, bariatric surgeons (who, also interestingly, are some of the highest paid surgeons), and other questionable sources. The diet industry is a $72 BILLION industry. They don’t care about us. They just want our money.
    Diets don’t work.
    This is *not* a drag on eating healthy.
    Eating balanced is great!! Taking care of ourselves is great! But. Your. Mental. Health. Matters. Just. As. Much. 💙 Have carbs, protein, and fat with every meal – your pancreas will thank you. But. Folks with bulimia and binge eating disorders – well, the way we think about eating disorders is kind of…polarized. It’s all actually a big circle. A toxic cycle.
    Restriction leads to binging, which leads to more restriction and then eventually your body is so hungry you binge again. It’s a cycle that God created to keep us from starving.
    Our body systems aren’t sentient though – they don’t know the difference between a diet and ‘oh wow, there’s not enough resources to run our organs!’ – aka famine.
    I would highly recommend reading the book Health At Every size by Linda Bacon, who has multiple medical degrees in this area and has conducted a lot of very enlightening research. Reading about the Minnesota Starvation Study is also extremely educational in regards to modern calorie recommendations.
    Eating disorders are devastating, and they are a very real mental illness that can affect ANYONE of ANY SIZE. It’s a mental illness with a physical side effect, not the other way around.

    • H.

      So please. Be compassionate with your spouse. Weight loss isn’t sustainable for the majority of people. Many of the health issues we associate with higher weight can, and often are, caused BY chronic yo-yo dieting. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But folks, these conditions can also be hereditary. The CDC itself estimates that we can only control about 25% of our overall health with food/exercise. The other 75% are factors outside our control. So if you’re healthy: don’t be pretentious about it, just. be. thankful. Nobody is healthy forever. Enjoy it for those of us who don’t remember what it’s like to be healthy anymore!😅👍🏽
      Dieting grinds you metabolism to a halt, especially if you put yourself in a calorie deficit.
      The best way to take care of yourself is to find movement you enjoy that’s sustainable for you to do regularly, eat enough food and balanced with lots of good nutrients but also yummy stuff because if actually won’t kill you, i promise😉 Healthy behaviors (including taking care of your mental health which is JUST AS IMPORTANT!) are the most impactful thing over time, which is shown by multiple studies.
      To everyone who read this article and felt a sinking pit of shame, yet again, because despite your best efforts a combo of health issues, meds, mental illnesses or trauma has impacted your size – or God just made you cozy💕 – you are worthy of love. You don’t have to change to be a good partner.
      Health is not a blessing granted to all in this life, by no fault of most. So please PLEASE be compassionate to your spouses, friends, and family members. You have no idea what they may be going through behind closed doors.
      We are intrinsically valuable whether we are healthy or not.
      We can take care of ourselves without trying to manipulate our body size. This information is not popular, but it is important. Please consider and do research before leaving harsh responses😊✌🏽 AND – if you are a statistical unicorn (YES that IS actually what truly neutral weight/health researchers often call the folks who are the 5% that can lose and keep weight off….please remember that your experience is atypical and be kind still please💕😊✌🏽)
      Also, as a final aside…BMI was created by a mathematician, Adolphe Quetelet, in the early 1800’s, who was NOT a physician, by measuring ONLY WHITE MEN. So, y’know, the rest of us are never gonna fit into this system anyways. And, it was never meant, as he specifically stressed, as an individual measuring tool, but more as a general assessing tool for the government.
      It has literally no scientific relevance and dr’s in the US (and perhaps elsewhere, I’m not sure) are basically, no offense, too lazy to come up with a useful system that considers all the aspects of the individual.
      So. There’s a lot of interesting info, but basically health isn’t as simple as we think, and that’s okay. These bodies were never meant to live forever. Take care of your soul first, because that will😊

  12. DM

    What if the issue is lust/inappropriate behaviours/infidelity? How could #1 possibly apply for me?

    We just started counselling and I’m wondering if I should be setting personal boundaries while we do this? Should we stop having sex etc?


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