Help! How can I navigate boundaries with a flip-flopping situation?


I’m kind of in a situation and I need some advice. My S/O has been in a pretty big relapse since October. He’s tried to pull himself out several times but is really struggling to stay sober. Pretty much since October it’s been a pattern of several slips, sober for a few days, major relapse, pull himself out, detox, sober again for few days, repeat. It’s getting exhausting. I never know what I’m going to get day to day.

Him and I are huge music fans and he bought us a series of live concerts of our favorite band we can watch from home. One thing we did this year when he was in recovery was we went to concerts sober together. After that, I started to set boundaries where I’d only do enjoyable things with him when we were both sober. My general rule these days is that to have me in his life doing things and hanging out, he must be sober. This has definitely pushed him to stay sober more this year than in any year.

One of our concerts is tomorrow… After pleading with him last week to get sober so we can enjoy the concert together, he did for about 4 days. Tonight he’s drunk again. I told him I would not watch a concert with him if he’s drunk tomorrow.

I’m so pissed. I feel like he’s putting me in a tough position. I know if I don’t watch this concert with him, he’ll be very upset with me. However, I told him I’d only watch it sober with him. Now I feel like I have to make a decision between sticking to my guns and keeping my boundaries I’ve put in place or just saying fuck it and attend this concert with a drunk guy who won’t be on the same level as me at all.

I know that sounds harsh, but for once, I’m pissed. And what will happen is I’ll be the bad guy. He actually told me when he was drunk last week that we’ll be through if I miss this performance. I know that’s just the booze talking, but to be honest, it’s going to crush him. It’s our favorite band and I know it means a lot to him. In some respects, it wouldn’t be the first time in our 13 years that I watch a concert with him while he’s drunk. But we’ve come so far and I try not to be in the habit of sending mixed messages. I don’t want me attending with him to send the message that I’m ok with hanging out with a blacked out drunk guy. I can no longer send the message that I’ll just settle for that. This is part of my recovery. I also don’t want to make empty threats. I already told him I would not be there if he’s drunk.

So what’s a girl to do? Is it just one concert, so who cares? Or is this an important message to send about what’s acceptable and not acceptable?


Hi @jess - I wrote out a response and then realized the concert already happened. How are you? What did you end up deciding?

Boundaries are so hard and honestly I didn’t know how to answer you except to trust your gut and forgive yourself no matter what. Sending love.


I went to his house to watch it. It was a bit of a shit show with some good music in between. In hindsight I need to get better with keeping to my bottom lines. We have talked, and we both learned something from it. It’s truly been an up and down year between him having some significant sober time along with some pretty tough relapses.

I’m a bit mad at myself because I told my therapist what I had planned. But I get lonely too. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to watch our favorite band. But unfortunately with the nature of his disease, a fun time can turn sour fast. Plus, let’s face it, I was in no place to handle the choices he was making. I was very emotional. I had a certain idea of how I wanted the night to go. And when it didn’t, I felt very betrayed and devastated. So it was all a bad combo. But these little falls keep me getting stronger. It reminds me of what I’m working towards for myself. I know what I want. Wednesday was not it. I left and haven’t seen him since. We’ve talked, but my current bottom line is: I’ll see him when he is sober and/or ready to get help again.

I think it was @Tlee22 who once told me: “expectations are premeditated resentments.” Boy has this stuck with me. It’s so, so very true. I expected too much out of him. He’s been relapsing since October. To ask him to stay sober was a bit far fetched. Not saying I don’t deserve that. Not saying he shouldn’t be held to certain standards. But to expect it, only let me down. I ended up mad, sad, and feeling hopeless.

I learned a lot regardless of the outcome or whether the choices were wrong or right. That’s what matters I think.


Every meeting I go to lately I hear Be gentle with yourself
The earliest meetings I went to I heard progress, not perfection
I print up stuff that helps and put it on the wall.
And I learned that when making boundaries, I am making them for me not them. If I refused to do something pleasurable to me to help him stop, I WILL feel resentful, I will feel pulled in two by the decision, no matter how I choose.
Boundaries were and are trickier than I thought. I listen at meeting to how others do it. I take notes. I read, in my case, Al-Anon and other 12 step program kinds of literature such as daily readers. You might want to get recommendations from people or go to a library or bookstore to help.
This just my experience navigating my little boat. Go slow, be gentle with Jess, Jess is doing her best.



I thought about you this week, @Jess, wondering how you’ve been doing. This is such a tough spot to be in, I’ve had so many times when I wasn’t firm because with my boundaries for many reasons. I think that’s probably not uncommon here, but I love that you feel like you learned from it. I tend to agree that these situations are given to us to learn from and being able to do that is so valuable.

Sending hugs!


I love how you’ve all responded so far - amazing you all <3

To chime in here from the behavioral shaping perspective - we want them to understand that their non-sobriety has consequences, so a consequence or withholding of a reward for use allows them to experience the negative outcome of using. It may cause friction in the moment, but over time it can add up to shaping the behaviors we want to see more of: sobriety. Ideally we’re talking about this well ahead of time and in sober moments (as you did!) then it shouldn’t be a surprise and it doesn’t have to be emotionally charged it can just be a fact.

I know all of this is easier said than done. But I want to give you the behavioral perspective that’s part of our curriculum, clinically proven effective.

Additionally, and I know it’s a small nuance, but I like to reframe boundaries to limits. Limits are what I can tolerate or put up with. To locate our limits we can ask ourselves:

  • When have you said or done things in the moment you’ve later regretted?
  • When have you acted in a way that doesn’t line up with how you see yourself?
  • What times do you feel tense or frustrated when dealing with your loved one?
  • When have you felt mentally or physically not feel ok?

These are indications of times that your living outside of your limits, and you could take any one instance and step through the scenario to discover the moment you could put your foot on the brakes to avoid a ‘break down’ moment. This is then, how we set out limits. And we can communicate them to others, from the I perspective - to take care of me!

So then a limit is for me.

A limit is set to take care of ourselves. Separately behavioral shaping through rewarding sober behavior or withholding rewards when they’re not sober, and allowing natural consequences to occur (as long as their safe) are actions we can take to influence our loved one’s behavior over time.

Do you see the nuance? I find it much more empowering to think about what we can do, and separate the actions surrounding taking care of myself, from the interaction with them and their using behavior.

I found boundaries to be confusing because to me it doesn’t seem defined clearly enough and it seems to blend what’s right for me and our interaction with them. And so I like to define it in the above constructs.

These are the types of skills we teach in the course, I’ve tried to explain the essence here. Let me know what you think!


Can’t wait to take the course. Hoping to after the holidays! Thank you @Jane!


Yes this helps a lot. Using the concert as an example:

When have you said or done things in the moment you later regretted? begging him to say sober for the concert, crying and pleading, saying I wasn’t going, then going, then not going, then going, then getting into verbal argument at the end of the night because we were both disappointed in the outcome.

When have you acted in a way that doesn’t live up with seeing yourself? I decided almost a year ago that the only way I want to see concerts with him from now on is sober. I want a sober and safe environment. This wasn’t that.

What times do you feel tense or frustrated when dealing with your loved one? The whole week leaving up to this concert I felt tense because I knew he was still in full blown relapse. I knew this was already not working and it just frustrated me so much because what I wanted the outcome to be wasn’t going to happen. In fact, it was almost certain it wouldn’t.

When did I feel mentally or physically not ok? It started way before the concert. When he was relapsing and I just knew it wasn’t going to be good. But by the night of the concert, I was an emotional wreck and he ended up getting verbal with me. So all in all it was an unhealthy situation.

Wow…In hindsight, it is very clear that the scenario was already unraveling well before the actual event. My limits were already at their max. I just didn’t recognize it. I’m definitely seeing it. This exercise helped a lot. I just want to be able to recognize and address it sooner so I don’t end up in a situation that is not healthy.


Wow Jess! Look at you go! You unraveled all of that. Good for you. It’s one thing to read Jane’s advice and it’s something else to take it and break it down and apply it to your situation, and another thing to WRITE IT OUT and POST IT. Good on ya. That’s real evidence that you’re consolidating the learning and can apply it to another situation. You’re going to get this sorted out for your best outcome. Best wishes and good intentions. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


That’s exactly the next step :slight_smile: so now you’d look for points where you might have / or you might in the future ‘put your foot on the brake.’ And of course it’s easier said than done, but the first step is recognizing it and bringing it into awareness, then brainstorming some options for how you might ‘brake’ and then also considering what obstacles might come up and how you’d overcome them <3


Thank you everyone for responding. He is heading to inpatient for about 10-14 days tomorrow. Wish it was longer but he’s used up his county funding for the year. This will be the third time this year, but he’s not giving up. I think that’s what’s important. After a very tough detox last week, We had a very nice sober weekend together. Watched movies, ate food, laughed, talked, and got him ready for tomorrow. He even helped me around my house hanging art work and did some stuff to my car. He’s such an amazing person sober. So loving, kind, and giving. Hoping he goes tomorrow and gets back into recovery again. I want us to enjoy each other. Unfortunately, if he keeps drinking, I won’t have my best friend much longer. Each time is getting worse. He feels it and knows it too. I think that’s why I’ve been getting so desperate lately. Time is running out. His body and mind won’t handle much more. Thanks again for everyone’s support. This group has been life changing for me. I can’t wait to join the course in the coming months.