Couple's Recovery Workshop
Developing Meaningful Communication
Meaningful communication is to a partnership what gas is to a car. Or air to a ball. Without it, the car can't move; the ball can't bounce. Partnerships need communication to function. Without it, the relationship becomes a masquerade. An illusion. Two people who present themselves as partners, but who function as individuals.
Rebuilding the way you communicate will be the single most valuable gift you can offer your relationship. Not only will it open doors that have remain hidden, it is the only way that you will be able to heal as a couple. Without your ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, it will be impossible to experience depth in values such as trust, intimacy, equality and respect (in yourselves and each other). It will only be through transparent communication that you will both be able to recognize traits such as courage and vulnerability — again, in yourselves and each other. And note, we are not talking about building an illusion of such values based on carefully crafted and projected images, but rather, experiencing them as real sources of identity and stability within your partnership.
What is Meaningful Communication?
Meaningful communication is the ability to engage in a free-flowing river
of thought from one mind to another. It is feeling safe enough to
share any and everything with each other without fear of being condemned.
It's feeling comfortable with an evolving exchange of values, boundaries
and goals — without fear of judgment or critique. It's feeling
safe enough to communicate the anxieties, struggles and irrational
thoughts you may have — knowing that they will be explored, not exploited.
Supported, not attacked. It is knowing that you will not have to defend your mistakes, merely
acknowledge them. It is learning to communicate with the person you have chosen to share your life with,
not as you would any other person, but with the reverence and respect that a true partner deserves.
Until meaningful communication is developed, the best you will muster in your relationship will be acceptance. Accepting distance. Accepting mediocrity. Accepting the image your partner is projecting to you. Accepting that you aren't truly partners — that you are instead role-players within each other's lives. Partnerships require fluidity. They require the working premise that 'it doesn't matter what we face in life, what matters is that we turn to each other to face it.' Having a concern and being unwilling to express it to your partner for fear that your concern will not be respected, will be brushed aside or will be 'taken over' by your partner is not a solid foundation for meaningful communication. Wanting to share something with your wife, but holding back because of the likelihood that it will trigger an emotionally exhausting crisis is not a solid foundation for meaningful communication. Yet, many relationships settle for such mediocrity — healthy, stable marriages as well as those who have been forced into recovery. This poor communication isn't limited to being a consequence of addiction; it is a staple of most current relationships. However, because of the addiction, your relationship doesn't have the option of settling. Because of the inherent destruction to the skills and values surrounding partnership that comes with addiction, you have only one healthy option: to learn to communicate meaningfully. This will not be easy for either of you. You both have major challenges to conquer in rebuilding your own communication skills. But it will be the only option that will allow values like trust and respect to be rebuilt; and confidence to be felt.
Repairing the Damage
Healthy communication. If it had been in place from the beginning, you wouldn't be in this situation. Without secrets, without lies, without irreverence for what you each value in the relationship — addiction doesn't exist. It can't. Addiction needs this deception, needs this selfishness to survive. You cannot both engage in open, meaningful communication with your partner and maintain an addiction. Both of you need to recognize this because it will be one of the primary warning signs for recognizing threats down the road: the deterioration of the skills that you will be developing in the coming months. But learning communication skills isn't the only challenge you face. Some additional considerations will need to be addressed as well. These are:
1) The likelihood that early communication skills in your relationship were never what they seemed to be; that pintail courting rituals involving openness, depth and connection were ritualized for courting. Granted, just about all relationships begin with 'putting your best foot forward' during courtship, but for those with a sexual addiction, this often goes beyond that. It is likely that the foundation for this addiction existed long before you two met and so, certain rituals relating to courtship and mating — rituals that the unsuspecting partner processes as passion, unique love, etc.; are in fact scripted as part of his compulsivity/addiction. They have been played out on others. Ignoring this potential will allow important stones to go unturned — which will then leave fissures in the healthy foundation that you are striving to build. For now, don't attempt to resolve this issue — or even determine whether or not it applies to you. Simply be aware of the possibility. Stick it in the back of your head for those times when you will both be challenged to see this addiction across your life span.
2) The reality that rebuilding meaningful communication isn't as simple as developing the skills and applying them. That, over time, the existing communication rituals have become ingrained into the relationship — some with ongoing destructive effect. In other words, you have both come to rely on communication rituals that are less than efficient (at best), and destructive (at worst). For those in recovery, many of these rituals have evolved through the need for projecting illusions and protecting secrets. For partners, they have typically evolved as a result of 'learned helplessness' in past communication patterns and as a means of control. For instance, using confrontation as a tool for controlling emotional distance. Like above, you will not be confronting these rituals just yet, merely developing your awareness of them.
3) The recognition that changing the dynamics of existing communication rituals will change the dynamics of the relationship itself. This will likely have a much greater impact on your partnership that you might imagine — and not all of it good. There is a comfort zone that is established through years of ineffective communication between partners. These rituals, while less effective and potentially destructive, are never-the-less a part of the relationship's identity. Changing them now will not come without cost to comfort and control. Recognize that you will BOTH be challenged with tasks of vulnerability and courage. Both of you will need to step beyond your current comfort zones — without resentment and without the need to assign responsibility for the damage that has been done. There must be an awareness from both of you that you are entering a phase of your lives that neither of you have ever experienced before. And, you both must do this willingly, at worst; enthusiastically at best.
One final thought before moving into some unique communication issues that are typical of each person: rebuilding these skills will take time and the path will not always be smooth. It's one thing to tackle skills that are linear: such as that required with urge control, emotional management, decision-making, etc. Skills that are more complex, like ongoing communication where emotions influence decisions AND decisions influence emotions; where complete information is not available without your partner's input — thus requiring trust and honesty for success — things beyond your individual control; where unique perceptions — perceptions altered by past experience — are a part of the skill application. All of these things and more make this a far more complex thing to learn than simply deciding to improve your communication skills.
It will take both of you time to adjust to this new means of communication. There will be times when you abandon what you learn and retreat to what is emotionally comfortable. BOTH OF YOU. If you have previously developed a pattern of emotional withdrawal during confrontation, expect it to recur from time to time throughout this rebuilding process. If you tend to lash out at your partner when you feel misunderstood, frustrated or confused, you will lash out again. If you have developed patterns of trying to 'solve your partner's problems', punishing your partner by bringing up the past out of context, or passive-aggressively manage a situation that you didn't want to communicate about initially — all of these things you will continue to do. Granted, they should diminish significantly as you become aware of them. And with experience, they will actually serve as reminders of how far you have come in terms of maturity and partnership. But for now, awareness is what is needed. Awareness, so that healthy skills can be developed and that experience gained.
Being that there are books upon books relating to communication between couples, the following is an attempt to highlight the most common issues relating to communication between two partners having struggled through a sexual addiction together. While each section was written for the targeted audience — (P) for partners; (SA) for those in recovery — there is only good that can come from each of you reading through all of this. Remember that, unlike the individual workshops, these lessons aren't necessarily geared towards sitting down and completing them in one sitting. They are more comprehensive and focus on developing insight/skill over time.
(P)Understanding Your Partner's Communication Skills
Learning to communicate in a healthy, meaningful way comes naturally for those who have been raised in a healthy, nurturing environment. People are taught to express themselves openly without having to worry about being judged, punished, ridiculed or constantly belittled for their thoughts. In an oppressive, abusive or neglectful upbringing, such communication is stifled. In its place develops the foundation for secret, nurturing communication with oneself. This is a foundation that often continues to develop into adulthood — and is directly correlated with the development of addiction. This is not to suggest that everyone who is raised in an unhealthy environment develops an addiction; only that those who do develop an addiction and who have been raised in such an environment, already have the 'dual-identity' ingrained into their communication skills long before the addiction is apparent.
As you have no doubt painfully discovered, this transparent, open communication style is not present in those who are struggling with sexually compulsive behavior. At best, especially in the beginning of a relationship, there will be a 'selective openness' that will have you believing that they are pouring out their souls — but it is a measured tactic. Such 'deep communication' is required to achieve the instant intimacy that is required in many types of sex/love addictions. Once the relationship progresses, there may be a 'calculated openness' that is used to distract you from uncovering the more shameful secrets they hold, but a complete openness is something they are incapable of. Not while actively engaged in the addiction. This is not to suggest that people with addictions cannot communicate. In fact, it is their adeptness at communication that allows many to continue on with the "other life" without their secrets being detected. It is their communication skills, and their ability to "say all the right things" and "act normal" around others that lead to the perpetuation of their double life. Eventually though, their communication skills deteriorate to the point where they must avoid such communication altogether — as the lies have become too numerous and the risk of discovery too great. Communication becomes paralyzing. This is usually when relationships begin to show serious signs of incompatibility — with you believing that it is somehow your fault.
Most romantically compulsive people have the ability to communicate on levels that others simply cannot match (note the word 'romance' here; severe sexual compulsion — without romantic rituals as a part of that addiction — often exhibit the opposite skill level). It is how they overwhelm their targets. They frown upon small talk and believe it is a waste of time in social settings — preferring instead for deep, meaningful conversations. With small talk, they realize that there is no possibility for an "instant connection" to those they are talking with. It is instead a slow process in which they often see themselves as inept, but rationalize this by pointing to the superficiality of those engaging in such small talk. Why is small talk so difficult for them? It is too unpredictable. They are no longer in control of the conversation and thus, they risk being asked personal questions that will lead to uncomfortable moments. While they are engaged in deep conversation, romantically compulsive people have a phenomenal ability to remember all of the lies that they have told (both past and current), and to naturally steer the conversations away from topics that might threaten to expose those lies. This occurs as a result of the trance-like state they put themselves in — a state that just can't be reached when engaged in superficial conversation.
And social conversations within a group? Forget it. The sexual/romantic addict is a master at remembering exactly what story he/she is telling, why he/she is telling it, "planning ahead" for the impact of the story and measuring the outcome of the story. At the same time, he/she is also calculating past stories with this person and setting them up for future conversations. Part of their extraordinary ability to communicate is in their ability to read a person's body language and subtle inflections. This is nearly impossible in a group setting. There is simply too much stimuli to process to allow the trance-like state to exist.
As your partner removes the secrets and lies from his/her life, they open the door to experiencing real, meaningful communication. Communication that is predicated on talking with someone, instead of to them. Quite often, it is this type of communication that is reflected in the majority of partner's who recognize that their partner has "really changed". Well, they have changed. They have begun to see you as an individual that they respect and want, rather than as a person who fulfills certain roles in their life (e.g. wife, mother of kids, etc.).
Understanding Your Communication Skills
It's easy to place the lion's share of responsibility for failed communication on your partner. After all, they're the ones who've lied. They're the ones that kept the secrets. They're the ones who chose not to trust you/respect you with the truth. They're the ones who kept you from engaging in a real partnership. It was their communication skills that are at the heart of this relationship crisis. If they would have communicated what was going on in their lives, you could have worked together to tackle the problem — or at least, offered support as your partner worked through them. But they chose not to. And because of that choice, your relationship has been led down a path of unnecessary pain and chaotic struggle. How often since the discovery of your partner's addiction have you looked back and wondered if you weren't a part of that addiction as well? Or, if his behaviors were the reasons for many of the fights, the times where intimacy was lost, where you felt sexually rejected or undesired, etc? Meaningful communication cannot exist in such an atmosphere.
We've already covered some common issues involving an addicted partner's communication skills, but what happens when your partner recognizes those deficiencies and sets out to overcome them? What happens when they are ready, willing and able to engage in meaningful communication with you? If you're like most, you will soon discover that it is YOU who is not ready. And for good reason.
Most people believe that the critical time in determining the salvageability of a relationship is upon the discovery of the addiction. Is this something that I can live with? Will I ever be able to love this person again after knowing what I know now? Do I really believe that my partner will ever truly get over this? Such thoughts are common soon after the discovery and they help put a tangible quality on the instability that you face. But the answers to those questions cannot possibly be answered. Not that early in the discovery — and not while your partner is continuing to engage in active recovery and/or addiction. It is AFTER they have ended those patterns...after they have ingrained the changes from recovery...that is when you will face the reality of your situation for the first time. This is when you begin to ask these questions for real. Can you live with what he has done to you? Do you believe that he has changed? Do you believe that these changes will remain? This is when the answers matter and you will undoubtedly come to the conclusion that you just don't know. Not yet, anyhow. And so you set up your own boundaries to block meaningful communication. Why? Because you're not yet ready to move on. Now that the immediate crisis is over and your partner is ready to move on in a healthy way, it is you who needs to take a step back and explore the situation with more depth. It is you who now needs to come up with some answers that will 'feel right' for you to move on. But how?
Effective Ways to Communicate
Express Your Feelings
It's important that you express your feelings instead of stifling them or feeling afraid to speak out because of how your partner may react. This is one of the steps in developing meaningful communication. You need to communicate what you're feeling when you're experiencing those feelings instead of holding onto them and expressing them inappropriately in other areas of your life – for example, snapping or yelling at a small irritation that happens later rather than calmly confronting your partner when something is not feeling right to you. However, there are some considerations to take into account.
1. Consider the maturity level of your partner
In early recovery (after surviving the volatility of the initial discovery, but before maturity and insight has developed), most individuals in recovery will be hypersensitive to emotional confrontation. Because they lack the skills of true empathy/compassion and insight into their own behavior, emotional expressions by you will rarely be processed as a genuine need for your own healing but rather, as a potential threat to them. Couple this extreme egocentrism with an existing deficiency in emotional management skills and you are talking about someone who will do most anything to avoid being confronted. Instead, they will turn to deception, aggression, manipulation, withdrawal, helplessness, hopelessness — anything to allow them to avoid or minimize what they perceive as confrontation, attack and/or being judged. You will see this most frequently when you pose questions he doesn't know the answers to (or knows the answers but doesn't want to answer them), bring up situations that highlight his mistakes/ignorance, or repeatedly force discussion on topics that produce guilt and shame. Recognize this response and adjust your expressions accordingly. Meaning, if you need to express yourself openly and your partner selfishly processes this as a threat, you may want to seek such emotional support elsewhere. Somewhere that will actually serve as a means of support for YOU.
And to be clear, we are not talking about what SHOULD BE, we are talking about what usually is. And, we are not talking about altering your needs, we are talking about altering your approach. And finally, we are not talking about altering your approach to appease your partner, we are talking about altering your approach to best meet your own needs. Think of it in terms of asking a construction worker to scratch an itch that you have on the top of your head. You need this itch scratched, but can't do it for yourself. And so, you share your needs with this construction worker and upon hearing them, he proceeds to take out his hammer and rap you over the head. With the hammer's blow, the itch is gone but more serious problems have arisen. This pattern continues again and again because it is all the construction worker knows: 'when there's a problem, solve it with my hammer'. At some point, while it is reasonable to expect them to scratch your head in a way that will meet your needs, you must realize that he lacks this ability and it is no longer in your best interests to continue going to him with this itch. That the damage that ensues isn't worth the relief you sought. In recovery, we are not talking about stifling your feelings or avoiding confrontation when such confrontation is warranted. There are times to yell, times to cry, times to confront. If your need is to vent pent-up emotions. But if your needs are emotional support, insightful answers, reasons why...then someone in early recovery is not the best source to meet those needs. Without the ability to experience true empathy, their answers will be selfish and self-preserving. The long-term damage that is wrought through this minimization, rationalization, justification and deception is often not worth the potential relief to be gained.
In middle or late recovery, this is not the case. At least, it can't be in a healthy transition. There should be an expectation of openness and transparency that flows from both of you. Communication should no longer be seen as a threat, but rather, as a means of sharing. As well, there should be clear enough boundaries on your part and clear enough respect for those boundaries on your partner's part, that such communication is welcomed. You cannot allow yourself to be held hostage by ignorance or immaturity any longer. Thankfully, if your partner is sincere, they will no longer be ignorant or immature by that point. This doesn't mean that there won't be times of conflict, there will be. But, it does mean that such times will be recognized by both as an external threat to the partnership, rather than an internal threat to one's identity.
2. Have a purpose when expressing yourself
When you engage in communication with your partner, have a clear purpose. Here, we are not talking about spontaneous casual conversation, we are talking about premeditated meaningful conversations relating to issues involving trust, honesty, value conflicts, boundary violations, etc. Know what it is you want to communicate to your partner and, anticipate their likely response. Anticipate a few likely responses. Be prepared to keep the purpose of this conversation in the forefront of any such response. Be prepared to recognize (and down the road, manage) any destructive communication rituals that may arise. Learn to recognize the methods of how you allow yourself to be distracted and/or are forced from the original purpose of the conversation.
3. Recognize ineffective communication rituals
There are certain communication rituals that develop within relationships that can have a significantly disruptive impact on meaningful communication. In recovery, some are more common than others. The following are rituals that you should assess within your own communication skills.
By far the most common and natural communication style in early recovery. You want to know any and everything about your partner's behavior and believe that you have every right to hear exactly that. Your partner becomes dehumanized, with his/her only role in the communication being to provide you with whatever information you may want to know, when you want to know it. And while the interrogation technique is required to some degree in early recovery/healing, when it is used as the only communication style, or it is used over long periods of time, it will serve as a shameful, dehumanizing event to your partner and an ineffective communication tool for you. In early healing, such submissive question and answer sessions are used to help you gain the illusion of control over a situation that you had little to no control over. But they are rarely effective for meaningful communication — especially given your partner's likely use of deception and other self-preservation techniques to end the interrogation.
The 'Setting Them Up to Fail' Approach
"Be honest with me." It sounds like such a simple request. And coming from a partner who just discovered that their relationship was in jeopardy, it is a request that doesn't seem to be too much to ask. Rather than condemning the relationship, the compassionate spouse courageously looks upon their partner's deception and betrayal and requests only to know the extent of it — fully intending to work through these issues. "Just look me in the eyes and tell me this is everything. That there is nothing else I should know about. I won't hold it against you. I know that you have a problem. But now is the time for you to come clean with everything. Right now, or our relationship will be over." The usual response? "There's nothing else." A lie. Not always, but it is the rarest of individuals who share all of their secret behaviors when asked. Why? Why with the opportunity to come clean would they choose to continue to lie and keep secrets? Because this response is tied in with the nature of the addiction itself. It is completely irrational and potentially devastating. And yet, it is a response that is almost universally engaged. The shame and humiliation that would be experienced otherwise is just too great. That, and the desire to end their addictions does not instantly translate to their ending their addciitons...and so they leave behind hidden pockets to reconnect to that secret life — should they ever need to.
Does this mean that you shouldn't ask for complete honesty? No. You should demand it in a compassionate and accepting way. But if your goal is to develop a meaningful communication style with your partner, accept the reality that there is a good chance that other secrets will come out as his/her recovery progresses. Providing your partner with one opportunity to 'come clean' is an unrealistic expectation that will likely force an even stronger reliance on keeping the remaining secrets secret. The most common pattern of complete discovery occurs first in the months following the initial discovery and second upon the transition to a healthy life — once they have begun to disassociate from their compulsive experiences and want to let go of all of their secrets.
The Valueless Question
Because you will undoubtedly be in a state of emotional crisis for several months, many of your questions will be geared towards achieving emotional stability in your own life. There is nothing wrong with this. It only becomes problematic when the answers to those questions hold no value to either discovery, healing or recovery. In other words, it is the asking of the question that is providing the emotional control, as opposed to the answer. For instance, you discover your husband having an affair with your best friend. You ask the question, "Did you guys sleep together in our bed?" There is no answer to this question that will provide value to you. If they did, you will increase your own disgust, but to what degree. You already know about the affair — which is the critical element of the discovery. And if they didn't sleep together in your bed, what will you gain? Nothing. You will either continue disbelieving the answer or will refocus on what they did do together. This is a valueless question and they should be avoided if at all possible.
The Endless Interview
How long do you have to find out everything you need to know about your partner's behavior? A month? Six? The rest of your life? It's a tough question to answer. And it gets even tougher if your partner has begun to make real changes in his/her life. Imagine if you were overweight and you committed yourself to losing fifty pounds and succeeded. Now imagine your partner consistently asking you why you gained all that weight to begin with. And reminding you how unattractive you were. How unhealthy. At some point, you would no doubt want to ring that person's neck and say, "Look at me now. I've changed. I'm no longer that unhealthy person I once was. Judge me for who I am, not who I was." Those who make a healthy recovery from sexual addiction are no different. They are changing their identity and the only way that a healthy identity can become ingrained, is if they aren't constantly reminded of how sick they once were.
This puts you in a difficult position. On the one hand, what is best for you is for your partner to be as healthy as possible, as quickly as possible. On the other hand, you most likely won't begin to appreciate the answers he provides to you about his addiction until after the crisis has begun to resolve. And so to you, these questions are relevant for your ability to move forward. For him, they are 'asked and answered' questions that are only being re-asked to sabotage his progress. Again, this through his immature, selfish perspective.
For many communication rituals, there are no easy answers because the conflicts involve two separate sets of values that are colliding. If it were two healthy people having such a conflict, the options would be much more simple. But when you have the values of a wounded person trying to heal colliding with the warped values of someone trying to recover from addiction — dynamics are in play that have no simple answers. As a partner though, never let it leave your awareness that you WANT your partner to be healthy. You want your partner to transition away from having an addict's identity. This is in YOUR best interest.
(SA) Understanding Your Communication Skills
If you are new to Recovery Nation and haven't yet been exposed to the individual workshop, you may be getting frustrated by repeatedly being referred to as 'immature' or 'egocentric' or 'selfish' or the like. Note now that these are not insults, they are accurate descriptions of the personality dynamics that exist within all who have a sexual addiction. This doesn't mean that you can't experience deep emotions, that you can't empathize, that you can't be altruistic. Many writers, therapists, philanthropists and others who happened to have developed addictions are deeply respected for exactly such traits. But what it does mean is that a person who manages a secret world of sexual compulsion in the face of their partner — cannot at the same time be empathetic to that partner. You can't at the same time love someone compassionately and place the fundamentals of their life in jeopardy. Likewise, a person who jeopardizes not only their life's goals, values and stability; but those of their partner, their family, their profession, etc., is selfish. By definition. That they 'can't help it' is immature. Again, by definition. You lack the ability to manage your intense 'aka compulsive' emotions because your emotional management skills are immature. Doesn't matter if you believe this or not. Once you mature those skills, you will see it for what it is.
The reason the above was summarized is that your communication skills have to this point been developed over the course of your addiction to protect those compulsive rituals. To protect that secret world. This will be a major obstacle for you to overcome in your recovery because it will require you to stop seeing things 'as an addict' and start to see them as a human being. And this can't be done with a simple decision to do so. This isn't just a switch that you flip. Your communication style has directly protected and promoted your addiction. It has warped the way that you see the world around you and likewise, the more selfishly that you perceive this world, the more self-serving your communication skills have become. Overcoming this will require more focus and energy than overcoming the compulsive rituals. Why? Because of how deeply ingrained these communication skills are within your perceptions. With compulsive rituals, once you become aware that an urge is present, there is a process that can be engaged in to manage them effectively. With communication rituals, you often don't have clarity in relation to the big picture. What you perceive is clear, but only through your warped perspective. How it relates to you, through your eyes. And so, you KNOW you are right, because it makes sense in your perception of how the world should work. But what you likely lack is the ability to see this same situation through your partner's eyes — and take those perceptions into consideration. Instead, you see what you think your partner should see — if she saw things the way that you do.
This is a source for a lot of frustration among couples — as both can make effective arguments as to 'why they are right'. And to be fair, there are times when both are right, both are wrong, one is right, one is wrong. This isn't about absolutes; it is about tendencies. And the overwhelming tendency for those in recovery from addiction are to believe that they are right, to overreact to being wrong, and to struggle to perceive situations where you are both right or wrong. An important clarification here, this isn't applicable to the discovery and disclosure of your compulsive rituals. There, you likely know you are wrong and have either come totally clean or have consciously attempted to deceive. We are instead talking about just about everything else: career, finances, vacations, parenting, healthy sexual relations, etc. Not that you get involved with all of the areas in managing such a life, only that those areas that you do engage in, you do so with a feeling that you are right. That your perspective should determine the final outcome.
This will need to change. And what's more, you should want it to change. It is only through the transparent sharing of your life with another and, their willingness to share their life with you that partnership can be achieved. If you take away their willingness to share openly with you because their perceptions aren't treated with respect and/or equality, you are taking away the essence of partnership. In the individual part of this recovery process, you will learn much detail about communication as it relates to your addiction and recovery. The need for honesty, the role of emotional immaturity in communication...but for now, allow yourself to focus on the bigger picture: how you communicate with your partner. How your partner perceives your communication. What rituals you engage in to manipulate and/or drive the conversation topics. How you protect yourself from perceived threats. How you feel about your partner in terms of deserving equality and respect.
Understanding Your Partner's Communication Skills
There is a common tendency to see the rebuilding of communication skills as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. As in, the person with the addiction has caused all of the problems in the marriage and the partner has achieved sainthood — based on the reasoning that she is still in the relationship after all that she has been through. Neither are accurate. Nor does this 'all or nothing' thinking span across all relationships in recovery. Some in fact, goes as far as demanding that their partner take equal blame/responsibility for the damage that has been done — which is in and of itself a problem with warped perceptions. But what is an almost certainty is that, should the addiction have never developed and thus, never influenced the relationship, that communication problems within that marriage would have existed. With equal destruction? No, no way. But problems would have existed. And therein lays the most common obstacle in your partner's communication that you will have to prepare yourself to manage: the tendency for her to place the responsibility for most of your relationship's issues on your addiction.
Think of it like a ship that has been neglected for many years. The hull is damaged, there is rust on the deck. The engine has been misfiring on occasion, but never looked at for fear of the repair costs. Both of you have neglected the maintenance of this ship — though she would at least keep it tidy. Then one day, the ship burns down because you were selfishly and irresponsibly playing with fireworks. She discovers that over the years, you had done this regularly — which had a direct impact on the time, energy and finances that could have been invested into the care of the ship. It was you burning down the ship that will serve as the catalyst for her ire — will serve as the 'reason' you lost the ship. But ultimately, there was neglect from both sides. Was this neglect equal? No, it wasn't. And for the person to suggest that as a means of lessening his responsibility for burning down the boat is terribly misguided. There is no equal comparison to be made, but there is mutual responsibility.
If you are in early recovery/healing, your partner's ire will almost certainly be targeted at you and your addiction. Not at her responsibility for other problems within the marriage — unless it is in a self-deprecating, self-doubting way; and not at the marital problems themselves. You would be a fool — and an inconsiderate one at that — to attempt to rush this awareness. It will be your addiction that serves as the lightning rod for her anger and focus. Expect this. Accept this. In the long run, if you are sincere about your own recovery, this is a good thing. It allows her to attach all of this rage, doubt, hatred, disbelief, etc., to your addiction and so, as you transition away from that addiction and she experiences it for herself, the opportunity for her letting go presents itself. But here is the challenge: until she is able to isolate the addiction from your identity — she will not differentiate between the two. And so, you will become repulsive to her. You will trigger feelings of doubt, hatred and rage. But at the same time, there will be underlying feelings of love, compassion and hope. You cannot predict which will dominate at any given time because such feelings are beyond her control. However, you certainly play a dramatic role in triggering those emotions. And that, you can control.
If we were to sum up your responsibility in establishing effective communication in one word, it would be 'transparency'. This is far more than just being honest. This is also being vulnerable. It is being fallible. It is to willingly communicate the uncertainties/gray areas of your thoughts. It is to seek better answers together, as opposed to justifying your answers. It is having the courage to acknowledge wrongs openly; and in that sharing develop true intimacy. It is the ability to see the flaws in your partner and actually come to cherish such imperfections, not try to fix them. When you are transparent with your partner, you are basically saying, "I don't want to filter who I am when I am with you. I want to build a relationship where I can share my true self with you. I don't want you to filter who you are. I want you to share your true self with me."
Mechanically, such effective communication presents as fluid, spontaneous discussion. It is void of the individual manipulations that have infiltrated the dynamics of the relationship; void of the need to defend a position. When one person is talking, the other is listening. Listening, not developing a counter-argument or finding fault in what is being said. When one person has an idea, the other seeks to understand it through their partner's eyes, not simply their own. When there is conflict — and there will be — the goal is not to 'win' the conflict, but to work through it. To be mindful that conflicts are fleeting and that how you manage them will have a greater lasting effect on your relationship than the immediate resolution. To be mindful that sometimes, it is better to selflessly lose an argument or settle for the 'less perfect' solution because that is what will better promote trust, nurturing and respect for the partnership.
There are several communication rituals that are commonly seen from those in recovery (and in relationships in general, but amplified through recovery). They are:
Hijacking an Issue
To put this in a simple context, your partner approaches you about a struggle they are having related to their concern that they will not being able to trust you again. They are calm, but obviously struggling with this. Your response? 'WHAT IN THE HELL DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?! I'M DOING EVERYTHING I CAN TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT! I'M WORKING MY RECOVERY PROGRAM; I'M NOT ACTING OUT; I'VE TELLING YOU EVERYTHING...WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!' What you have done here is hijacked the issue. This wasn't about you, this was about your partner's concerns in dealing with past deception.
There is nothing that you can do here, save for maintaining your own healthy recovery path, maintaining healthy communication and simply allowing your partner to express their concerns. Allow them to have concerns. Doubts. Ultimately, these concerns/doubts will be irrelevant as it will be your actions over the long run that will restore her faith in you. Or, destroy it. So for now, when she has personal issues, just listen. Allow her to say whatever she needs to say as a method for her healing. Force yourself to recognize that not everything is about you — even when the topic is indeed about you.
One of the more common ineffective issues in all relationships, not just those affected by addiction, is the issue of you trying to solve every problem that arises. Whether this is instinctual to men or not is debatable, but do recognize the tendency if it exists. An example: your wife approaches you about being dissatisfied as her job. She talks about the pressure she is feeling from supervisors, the social uncomfortableness from her peers. She acknowledges that she hates going in to work each day. Your response? To turn it into a math problem to solve.
Sometimes, many times in fact, your partner doesn't need you to solve her problems. She doesn't want you to solve her problems. She simply wants to share her experiences, feelings and perceptions — right or wrong; accurate or distorted. Afford her this comfort. Provide her with this support. Ironically, it actually makes your participation in such crises much less stressful and significantly more fulfilling for you both.
Communication in early recovery can be quite volatile. When someone who feels wronged confronts someone who lacks the ability to maturely accept responsibility (not blame, mind you...but responsibility) for what they have done — all sorts of ineffective dynamics can take place. One of the more common ones is when, God forbid, your partner is actually wrong about something. Granted, in a situation where 99% of the recent wrongs have been perpetuated by you, your partner is mistaken about a specific detail or confronts you about something of which you are truly innocent.
The healthy response is to calmly and confidently share that 'this simply isn't the case' and use it as a means of reinforcing your own positive image. The typical immature response is to use it as a means of 'balancing the field'. Of going from defense to offense...and to do so in a punishing way. What is important for you to recognize in this dynamic is that there won't be a conscious manipulation taking place, you will actually feel justified in attacking your partner. Using their mistake as an opportunity to make them think twice before ever confronting or accusing you again.
'Taking the Ball and Going Home'
A less common ritual occurs after you have made a significant effort in your early recovery and feel as if your partner isn't making that same effort. You become resentful that you are moving forward and, in your mind, your partner isn't. You don't think it is fair and so, you take your ball and go home. At least, you threaten to unless she starts playing by your rules (aka expectations).
What you don't realize is that you are playing two totally different games and are in two totally different leagues. The rules that you play by in recovery aren't necessarily the same rules that govern her healing. Whereas you require insight and experience; your partner requires the feeling of control and influence. You need to learn what to do. She needs to learn that she has a direct impact on what is being done. These are not the same.
'The sun is too bright'
Take someone and stick them in a cave for a year. Deprive them of all sunlight. Then, on a clear summer's day, let them out. The sun will be too bright and they will instinctively revert back to the darkness. It would be too painful otherwise. An emotionally stunted person is no different. For years (decades, for some), they have lived in an emotional cave — where secrecy and careful image projection were the survival tools. Now, they are forced into engaging in concepts such as absolute honesty, emotional vulnerability, accepting infallibility and more. This alone will be painful. Now in the midst of this emotional immersion, add the complexity of their partner demanding answers from them. Demanding insight. Demanding emotional maturity. Demanding that they act like the adult that they are. What happens? They panic. They retreat back to the cave because the direct exposure is too painful.
Think about it like a child playing basketball for the first time. Insecure in his/her skills, they set out to do their best but in the first half, the coach says, 'No, you are doing it wrong!' They don't do this in a derogatory way — they do it as a means for communicating the need to teach correct rules/skills. But the player is hypersensitive to the criticism and runs off the court — refusing to play anymore.
Should you find yourself engaged in this dynamic, see it as an opportunity to find comfort in 'being wrong, imperfect'. See it is a reinforcement that you are in a state of transition — getting used to the light, so to speak.
Playing the 'I have the Power' card
One final ritual to be aware of is more of a tactic than a ritual. That being, the threat of ending the relationship to serve one of two outcomes:
1) to force your partner into submission. This is a manipulation tactic that takes the responsibility off of your behavior and places it square on your partner. Think about it for a minute. You have jeopardized the relationship through your selfishness but rather than accept responsibility for this, you instead threaten to end the relationship. Or just short of that, refuse to commit to saving it. This keeps your partner — who likely doesn't want the relationship to end or isn't sure — walking on egg shells so as not to force this decision. By threatening to end the marriage, you have taken control over it.
Or 2), to ease the overwhelming pressure of recovery. This is used by the same people who might consider suicide as a viable recovery option. At it's core, this is emotional immaturity dictating decision-making It is the desire to experience immediate emotional gratification (e.g. relief), rather than to invest in long-term value. To the immature mind, when there are two options: one to fight for a relationship that they themselves damaged, to accept responsibility for that damage and, to commit to rebuilding that relationship — all without guarantees; the other to simply chalk it up as a lesson learned and move on to a new, fresh relationship — well, the immediate gratification choice is easy to see.
Don't allow yourself this option. It is an illusion that will only allow you to escape from the current pain/pressure. Even if you never engage in such compulsive behavior again, the consequences of what you have done will continue to mount unless you willingly take a stand against them now. This is not about your partner. This is about your own identity. Commit yourself to embracing the concept of responsibility and in moving forward — not backwards. Starting over with someone new is moving backwards. Getting a 'fresh start' as a recovery option is moving backwards. Heck, even seeking a 'second chance' from your partner is moving backwards. In moving forward, you would be embrace the challenges that you both face and commit to working together to resolve them. No matter where that takes you both. You aren't looking for guarantees; you are looking for process. In the short term, that will be challenging. In the long term, HOW you move past these hurdles will dictate the quality of your partnership. Eventually, leading you to the realization that BECAUSE you both experienced these struggles together and worked through them as partners — you have achieved a bond that you could not experience with anyone else. But, that first requires you to voluntarily give up the power card. To communicate as equals.
(SA & P) Final Thoughts
One final thought on communication. Developing meaningful communication with your partner is an ongoing process. Because both of you will be constantly changing, there will never be a time when you can take such communication for granted. Ever. Either of you. How you communicate from this point forward will be a direct look into each other's souls because that is exactly what meaningful communication is: allowing your partner unfettered access to the way that you are experiencing your life. Your communication will serve as both a healthy path to intimacy and, an undeniable warning sign to conflict and secrecy. You BOTH must do your part. You BOTH must take responsibility for monitoring yourselves and respecting each other.
1) Consider the following situations and share with your partner first an INEFFECTIVE way of communicating each; then how you WILL EFFECTIVELY communicate such situations should they come to pass. These are to be considered safe, hypothetical situations. Even if they are similar to a real-life event, process them as hypothetical. Your mindset and emotions should be one of disengaged learning, not real-life processing.
Your partner is contacted by an old romantic partner that they haven't seen in many years. Not wanting to keep any secrets from you, they tell you exactly when the person will be in town and would like your permission to visit with them alone over dinner.
You come home early from work and find your partner masturbating to porn on the Internet. Upon seeing you, they quickly close down the computer and lie about what they were doing.
You suspect that your partner is lying to you about where they were, but you have no proof.
You find yourself feeling frisky and so you make a few sexual overtures towards your partner that are quickly brushed off. You are feeling hurt and rejected.
After discovering that your partner had been involved in many affairs over the course of your marriage, you experience the urge to ask your partner if he had an affair while you were pregnant some eight years ago. You want to know if he ever used your bed to have an affair.
2) If there are any disagreements/confusion with how these effective situations would be communicated, share them in your couple's thread.
1) How many times over the past year have you consciously made a decision that you felt you were right on, but deferred to your partner's decision because consciously, you thought that she was deserving of equal consideration?
2) Actively seek out at least one such opportunity over the next two weeks. In all conflicts from this point forward, apply this awareness to your decision-making process. This doesn't mean that you have to defer all decisions to your partner, only that you make such decisions after giving your partner's thoughts equal consideration. Actively seek equality, not the illusion of equality in your relationship.
3) Consider the following situations and share with your partner first an INEFFECTIVE way of communicating each; then how you WILL EFFECTIVELY communicate such situations should they come to pass. These are to be considered safe, hypothetical situations. Even if they are similar to a real-life event, process them as hypothetical. Your mindset and emotions should be one of disengaged learning, not real-life processing.
There exists something about your addiction that you were afraid to tell your partner about. The further you get into recovery, the more you realize the importance of absolute honestly not simply as a policy for recovery but as a value for your life. You now want to share with her these additional disclosures but don't know how. You fear her response will be targeted towards the behaviors themselves, not the maturity and growth that was at the center of wanting to disclose.
After achieving two months of complete abstinence, you are feeling sexually frustrated and allow yourself to view porn for twenty minutes while you masturbated. She was in the next room sleeping. She is completely unaware of what you did. What's more, you have covered your tracks effectively, recognize that you wouldn't have engaged in this behavior if she wouldn't have sexually rejected you earlier in the night and feel certain it was just an anomaly. You are thinking to yourself that communicating this event to her will cause more problems than they will solve.
You have maintained abstinence from all overt sexual rituals. Still, a haunting feeling of insecurity and doubt has begun to develop inside your head. You don't want to act out, but are feeling uncertain as to your ability to maintain your abstinence.
Your partner comes to you with concerns about you having lied about the details of an affair. You have been through this with her many times and nothing ever changes. Your answers remain the same (because they are truthful); her accusations remain (because she believes them to be truthful). You are at an impasse. (Note: this might be more difficult to process than the others so, work together to generate an effective response. Don't allow frustration to enter into the picture. See this as a puzzle to solve together.