How Do I Set Boundaries with My Addicted Loved One?

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Dug and Heidi McGuirk Answer “How Do I Set Boundaries?”

A few weeks ago, we covered the dangers of enabling discussed in the Revolutionary Growth video, “How do I know I’m Enabling?” Dug and Heidi McGuirk explained enabling and how to stop doing it. The best way to stop enabling is through setting boundaries with your addicted loved one.

Furthermore, in the next video, Dug and Heidi McGuirk, who run the Revolutionary Family program for Palm Healthcare,  answer:

How Do I Set A Boundary?

After you have made the decision NOT to enable your addicted loved one, the next step is to set clear boundaries.  At this point, you have decided to no longer support their addiction.  Instead, you are determined to support their recovery and beyond.

To do this, you must set healthy boundaries, but how exactly does one set healthy boundaries?

First, it is important to remember you are setting boundaries, not ultimatums.

“It’s all about you. You can’t set a boundary to manipulate another person. That’s called an ultimatum. We aren’t doing an ultimatum. Those don’t work,” Heidi McGuirk says.

“We are doing a boundary which is people are going to do what they’re going to do, and you need to decide how you are going to experience what they’re going to do, and that’s it.”

It is crucial to take steps to ensure your addicted loved one knows where you stand. Do not become upset and argue with them if they do not abide. Do not tell them to simply stop their behavior. Instead, commit to your boundaries.

Dug and Heidi McGuirk’s steps to creating clear boundaries:

  1. Be Clear:
    Let your addicted loved one know what it is that you won’t tolerate and what your plan is if they do not abide.
  2. Use Direct Assertive Language:
    No “wishy-washy” behavior. Use very few words and let them know the consequences.
  3. Make Consequences You Will Follow Through On:
    Try not to make consequences that are unmanageable. Make consequences that you can commit and follow through on consistently.
  4. Check for Understanding:
    Make sure that they have heard you. If needed, have a cheat sheet to communicate more effectively.

How to Create a Boundary “Cheat Sheet”

If you struggle with communicating boundaries and consequences, Heidi and Dug McGuirk recommend carrying a cheat sheet that will help guide you through the process.

Cheat Sheet Example:

 “When you ___, I feel ___; I want___ If you___, I will___.”

Here is how the cheat sheet can be applied when communicating boundaries:

Cheat Sheet Applied for Drunken Behavior:

  • When you come home drunk, I feel nervous, scared and violated. I want to have a sober, healthy and safe home to live in. If you come home drunk again, I will leave for the night; lock the doors, ask you to get treatment, etc…”

Cheat Sheet Applied for Verbal Aggression:

  • When you speak to me that way, I feel assaulted, attacked, upset, frustrated, scared, and violated. I want to be able to have a rational discussion with you. I want to feel safe in our conversations together. I want to not be around that anymore. If you continue to speak to me that way, I will walk away, leave, hang up the phone, etc…”

The key is to follow through with the boundaries you set:

“You might have to leave, walk away, hang up the phone 25 times, but the key to this is to follow through because that’s really how you teach people how to treat you so make sure you’re prepared to do what you say you are going to do,” Heidi McGuirk says.

After some consistency, your loved one will know what you are going to do and when you are going to do it whenever they mess up. Eventually, all you will have to do is give them “the look, ” and they will know exactly where you stand.

If you want to read more about boundaries, download our free E-book “What is the Difference between Helping and Hurting?”

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The Importance of Commitment

Dug McGuirk explains this concept of “the look” using their toddler, Ellie, as an example. Often, toddlers know exactly what you are going to do because the boundaries were followed through with many times in the past.

“There’s sometimes the look or the countdown or the whatever. You do that a few times, and they know what’s going to happen because it’s been implemented,” Dug McGuirk says.

However, this awareness will only happen if you follow through with the consequences consistently.  Do not become lax with your boundaries. It is important it is to commit to boundaries even in weaker moments.

Heidi McGuirk describes how their toddler Ellie would receive a time-out every time she smacked her.  It was important Ellie knew this behavior was inappropriate. One night, right before bed, Ellie decided to smack her again.

Heidi McGuirk knew she was tired, in bed, and knew giving their daughter a time-out would be a major inconvenience. However, she realized this is exactly why enabling behaviors happens.

Often, the loved ones of addicts do not follow through with their boundaries because they are constantly tested during these inconvenient moments. It is important to follow through when tested during weaker moments so that your addicted loved ones knows you are serious.

“What I’m saying is the more that you practice your chops at holding your line, the less testing they’ll be” Heidi McGuirk states.

“Patience and Discipline are the parents of execution,” Dug McGuirk affirms.


 Overall, setting boundaries is a matter of knowing what you need and knowing how you want to experience your loved one’s addiction. The next part is committing to the boundaries you set. We know it is not easy. Therefore, if you have a loved one struggling with addiction, of if you are having trouble dealing with your loved one’s addiction, please reach out to us. We want to help. Do not wait.  Call now. 

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Author: Shernide Delva