Setting Boundaries 

May 30 2021 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I separated from my husband because of his continuous infidelities and alcoholic behavior. I have been so hurt by all this that I absolutely do not want him home anymore. The problem is that our 8-year-old son is always praying for him to return home. I explained to him that he is not a good dad, but he says that he is praying to Jesus to make him good and for me to accept him home again.


I would like to first acknowledge the courage it took for you to take this step and create the space needed for healing. This is certainly a difficult situation to be in, and it can be even more difficult for a young child to understand. To start I would encourage you to recognize both for yourself and your son that your husband is sick, i.e. he is making choices that do not encourage healthy relationships, healthy love, or a healthy family life. Framing your circumstances in this way will help you set effective boundaries with your husband rather than creating animosity or resentment. Likewise, putting it in these terms will help your son understand the circumstances more clearly, without disrupting or hurting your relationship with him. You can do this by praying with your son, asking God to “help dad learn healthy ways to love,” or to “find healing for himself so that he can be in a healthy relationship with your family.” Using this type of wording will also help your son develop a better understanding of what healthy relationships are, and teach him to know that it’s okay to set boundaries with others when they are not treating him or their relationship with him with respect.

Setting effective boundaries can be a difficult task, however, Jesus reminds us of the importance of boundaries in Matthew 5:37, which states, “Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Jesus, himself, set boundaries in order to cultivate healing and meet his needs as well as the needs of those around him.

What would you need to see from your husband in order for you to feel comfortable with him being in your son’s life? Is it receiving counseling? Attending AA meetings? What changes do you need to observe from him to be able to begin to trust him as a presence in your son’s life? This is not about dictating your husband’s behavior, it is about working for the good of your son, yourself, and your husband by not enabling his hurtful choices.

As Jesus reminds us in the statement above, the boundaries that we set are up to us to maintain. This means that if your husband is respecting the boundaries that you set, you two can work together and he can be present for you and your son to the extent that is healthy for each of you. However, if he is not respectful of your boundaries, then it will be up to you to maintain your boundaries. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Love is a choice, being in relationship is a choice. Right now your husband is not making choices that cultivate love or relationship – he is not working for the good of himself, you, or your son. Boundaries allow us to teach others how to be in relationship with us. Set boundaries that will teach your husband how to be in relationship with you and your son, and will teach your son what it means to be in a healthy relationship with others.

Updated on May 30 2021