Recovery and Relationships
Many relationships break up when one member of the couple goes into recovery. This can be for a number of reasons. Problems which were basic to the relationship, may have been previously medicated away through the use of chemicals, overwork, or food. Without this addictive medication problems can erupt. Since the couple has not had experience handling problems before, these differences seem insurmountable, and perhaps they are.
Another reason why couples go into crisis during recovery is that, as long as there was an addiction, everyone knew their role. One person was the addicted, acting out, contrite, messed up one. The other person was the responsible, in control, judgmental, long suffering martyr.
When one person stops becoming the problem, the reason for everyone's unhappiness, then everyone has to adjust. Unfortunately, often what happens is that the responsible, non-addicted one begins to hope that finally she or he will get their needs met. They will finally get the reward they have waited for so long. Their expectations soar.
The person newly in recovery can barely get dressed in the morning, let alone meet anyone else's needs. Long buried rage from the long suffering one, and confused rage from the recovering one ignite into arguments, and often separation.
But there is hope. Here are ten rules for living together in recovery. They are not guarantees, but they can help both of you find out if you do have a viable relationship, and prevent you from killing each other during that discovery process.
1- You cannot change anyone else. Give up thinking if only she or he stopped doing this or that, then you would be happy. It is not true. You can do nothing to control, manipulate or coerce another person to acting in a way you think should make you happy. Simply give it up. No blaming.
2- You can change your behavior. Your emotions, reactions, thoughts, feelings, all are not really under your control. But your behavior is, and your behavior is all you are really responsible for. Change yourself.
3- Changing your behavior may, over time, lead to a change in attitude. It is strange how that happens, but some things you thought you could never stand, seem to lose their importance if you stop feeding them by acting on them. Keep hope.
4- Both of you must go into recovery. You are not responsible for anyone else's addiction, but if you want this relationship to have a ghost of a chance you will have to get specific support. That may mean therapy (couples and individual) and/or support groups. The two of you are going to have to learn new ways to communicate, argue, and problem solve together, and that means you can't do it on your own. Get help.
5- Your childhood wasn't as rosy as you fool yourself into thinking it was. Everyone learned some dysfunctional ways of relating from their parents. These old beliefs are entrenched and very hard to change. That is why you need feedback from people other than your partner, or your family. Too often you are reacting just the way your mother or father taught you to react. Learn the truth.
6- You need to learn how to stand up for your truth in a way which will not degrade, humiliate, put down, or attack another person. You do this by owning all your thoughts, feelings, and reactions as your own, not as something caused by someone else. Don't shame others.
7- Count to twenty before you explode. Then, just before you let fire, ask yourself if you might not get further with this issue if you didn't first talk it out with a third party, before destroying the planet of your partner. Hold back.
8- Try using the phrase " I interpret what you are doing as..." rather than the old stand by, " You make me feel...." So, "You made me so mad when you slammed the door!", becomes "I got so mad when you slammed the door because I interpreted that to mean that you were pissed off at me!". Your partner can respond, " Yes I was mad at you!", or can respond, " Hey, the wind blew the door closed!" Own your feelings.
9- You have very strong emotions in two circumstances. Either you are being truly, strongly abused by someone else, or you are painting the face of a previous abuser onto the face of the person you are with. This is called projection and it is the primary cause of divorce. If you are in clear danger, either get away, or at the very least get some professional counseling. But if you are not in real danger, but keep getting furious at every little thing she or he does, entertain the possibility that you are projecting the face of a parent, or old partner onto your present companion. Just entertain the idea that it may not be all their fault. Talk about it with some uninvolved people. Check it out.
10- Take care of your body. Eat healthy, exercise moderately soak in a bath, get a massage, be gentle with yourself. This is a highly stressful time for both partners. So don't try to be perfect, just try to be a loving parent to yourself. Be gentle with yourself.
Example: She drives you crazy when she leaves the top off the toothpaste. You have tried criticisms, nagging, strategic notes, and hiding her toothbrush. Nothing has changed her behavior (Rule #1). You stop saying anything about the top (Rule #2). I am very frustrated (Rule #9). You look at your anger, in therapy, and in a self-help group (Rule #4). You become aware how extreme your reaction is to this trifling detail. In looking at your own childhood you discover how important it was to keep everything orderly. Without order the top would fly off the family, and someone would explode. So you learned as a child that order was a matter of survival (Rule #5). You realize that you got angry at that toothpaste top because mess makes you a little scared. Understanding that, you are more cautious about which issues you will make a stand on. Anger does stress you out (Rule #10). The toothpaste top is not that important (Rule #3). But that doesn't mean that there are not cleaning issues which need to be addressed. Leaving her cloths all over the bedroom floor when she walks in, that is an issue which the two of you are going to have to work out (Rules #6,7,8).
I recommend Pia Mellody's book, Facing Codependency for more assistance with all this.