The intimacy found in a romantic relationship takes time to nurture, and it draws the couple together. While it takes time to build and is necessary for a functional relationship, it can also be fragile. Intimacy is founded on trust, and when that trust is broken, it damages the relationship, sometimes irreparably.

Clear boundaries are important for any healthy relationship, and they matter in an intimate relationship such as a marriage. Setting boundaries early in the relationship can help protect the relationship as it matures.

If there is infidelity in a relationship, having clear boundaries will also help the relationship by allowing trust to be rebuilt. This article will explore what it looks like to set clear boundaries both before and after infidelity occurs.

The different forms of infidelity and affairs

Infidelity and affairs can come in different guises. For most people, an affair is when a person has a physical or sexual relationship with someone who is not their spouse or partner. It doesn’t matter the duration of the relationship or encounter, or the circumstances under which it came about. What matters is that someone other than a legitimate partner has violated the relationship by enjoying something intended to be exclusive.

Infidelity can include more than a sexual relationship. There is financial infidelity, where one spouse spends money, hides money, or accrues debts without the knowledge of the other spouse. There is also emotional infidelity, where a person forms an emotional connection with another person. They may hide that relationship from their spouse and other people. That connection also need not be mutual for it to violate the primary relationship.

For others, social media creates an opportunity for infidelity. What happens there can signal a form of betrayal. Who you follow on social media, the kinds of posts you like, the comments you make on others’ posts, and what you say about your relationship can all factor into what the couple understands as faithful or unfaithful behavior.

Infidelity is thus more complex than a physical or sexual relationship with another person. In addition to the above, pornography or going to a strip club can also be infidelity. Spending money that is meant to be saved can also be infidelity. Secretly yearning for connection and emotional intimacy with someone other than your partner can be a break in faithfulness and exclusivity. The boundaries the couple has set for their relationship are key.

Setting clear boundaries before an affair

Even the most stable marriage can be rocked by infidelity. While it’s impossible to predict with certainty whether one marriage or the other will be affected, there are ways to help protect your relationship. A couple needs to maintain honest and open conversations to form meaningful boundaries and have accountability. An intimate relationship between two people requires deep trust, and that trust can be vulnerable.

Perhaps one way to think of an intimate relationship is as a finely tooled and machined precision instrument, like a fine watch or a calibrated microscope. They work well under the best conditions, but a small piece of grit can throw everything out of alignment. The same occurs in an intimate relationship when infidelity occurs. Though it can’t be equated with a small piece of grit in a delicate mechanism, the effect on the relationship is the same.

It’s important to set clear boundaries in a relationship for several reasons. For one thing, people don’t all operate the same, and so what you assume is appropriate behavior may be considered restrictive or retrogressive by another person. Boundaries help you and your partner be and remain on the same page, because they help you outline what you both think is okay and out of bounds.

Each couple will have to discuss their boundaries and then agree on how to move forward. This is one reason why premarital counseling can be so vital. Before taking that next step toward marriage, it’s important to understand how you and your partner define marriage, and what you consider infidelity. If the conversation didn’t come up before the relationship became serious, you can have it now and define things.

Some examples of boundaries are listed below:

Who you can talk with about the ins and outs of the relationship

Some couples try to protect their relationship by ensuring that they don’t talk about their relationship with a colleague or friend of the opposite sex, as that could form an emotional bond with the person you share with. Instead, they may opt for talking with a professional such as a therapist.

Not sending texts or messages at certain times

Another boundary a couple may have is to agree that they won’t send messages to others beyond a certain time, say 9 pm. This allows for communication to hopefully remain above board because messages aren’t being sent in the dead of night, which creates its form of intimacy.

Having easily accessible devices and social media accounts

We spend most of our time online and on our various devices. Some couples set a boundary where they each have access to one another’s devices, for accountability. Access may also extend to bank accounts so that there is also financial accountability.

Avoiding certain connections

Some couples also set the boundary that they aren’t to connect on social media with exes or with people of the opposite sex if they aren’t both friends with the individual. Others will also want clarity about following people on social media and liking certain of their posts.

There are many other kinds of boundaries that a couple can establish for themselves. These help the couple to understand clearly from the outset what sorts of behavior are acceptable, and what crosses the line. Boundaries can change, and a couple can find that as they experience life together, they set new and different boundaries, while reinforcing or redrawing old boundaries.

Setting boundaries after infidelity

It’s one thing to set a boundary before an affair happens, and quite another to try and set one after the fact. When an affair occurs, it damages trust and leaves heartbreak in its wake. One aspect of addressing that hurt is through reiterating and even establishing new boundaries to promote the health of the relationship.

Boundaries after infidelity occurs may be set to help restore trust. They aren’t meant to be punitive, but restorative in nature. Setting new boundaries helps to secure the relationship going forward, creating an environment that will allow love and affection to flourish once again. Some of the boundaries that couples can set after infidelity has occurred include the following:

No contact with the other person

The partner who cheated is to not have any contact with the person they cheated with. If they work with that person, this might mean leaving that company altogether or being reassigned to another branch. No contact would include text messages, phone calls, chats, exchanges on social media, and whatever other means of communication there is.

Openly expressing emotions

When trust is broken, one way to restore it is to be open with one’s thoughts and feelings. Openness would include being truthful about the affair, including when and why it started, how one feels about the other person, whether plans were made for a life together, and how emotionally involved it became.

Openness also includes avoiding expressing anger through passive-aggressive behaviors like making snarky comments about the cheating or the person the spouse cheated with. Rather, hard though it might be, anger and a sense of betrayal should be expressed in constructive ways, otherwise it undermines any efforts made to heal.

Limit who knows the details

It may be tempting to share everything that happened with close confidants or one’s wider social circle, but that may undermine the relationship further. Telling one close friend or working with a counselor may be a better route to take, as it can help you avoid creating further rifts or multiple confrontations between the spouse who cheated and the people who support the betrayed spouse.

Complete transparency

This may include all passwords being shared, as well as having access to electronic devices and even location information.

Seek help

Infidelity occurs for many reasons, but whatever the reasons, it means that there is work to be done in the marriage. The spouse who cheated needs to work through their reasons for that behavior, while the spouse who was cheated on needs help with processing what happened, and the hurt caused.

With help from a counselor, a couple can set up healthy boundaries to reestablish a strong foundation for their relationship. A counselor can help the couple process the feelings of guilt, worthlessness, fear, and anger that follow infidelity. Through couples or individual counseling, it’s possible to work at restoring one’s sense of well-being and the relationship itself.

Reaching out

If you feel your relationship needs boundaries or you have experienced infidelity, please reach out to our offices today. We will arrange for you to meet with one of many qualified Christian counselors from our directory. They will walk with you on this journey of protection and restoration.

“Wedding Bands”, Courtesy of Sandy Millar,, CC0 License; “Disagreement”, Courtesy of Getty Images,, Unsplash+ License; “Caught”, Courtesy of Tumisu,, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Ryan Franco,, CC0 License


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