Partner's Workshop: Stage One: Lesson Eight

Evaluating Your Partner's Role in Recovery

Today's lesson is for those who have already made the decision to remain with their partners, those who are evaluating their partner's behavior for evidence of their sincerity and/or for those who merely want to arm themselves with the knowledge of what a healthy addiction recovery process looks and feels like. The following information was gathered from the patterns of over a thousand people who have attempted recovery from sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior. These patterns will be divided into three consistent yet strikingly different categories: those who have transitioned into a healthy life, those who continue to struggle with relapse and those who continue to struggle with recovery. It is important to understand that the percentages of people who fall into each of these categories is irrelevant. The only percentage that matters is that which is related to your partner as an individual — and for him/her, it will be their pattern of recovery that will directly dictate their success.

Those Who Will Continue to Struggle With Relapse

General Behavioral Pattern: Individuals who attempt recovery yet continue to struggle with significant patterns of relapse that may last for years at a time. Often it is an "on again/off again" recovery pattern, with the "on again" being triggered by their being caught engaging in unhealthy behavior.

Those who struggle with major relapse, tend to exhibit the following patterns:

  • They often feel forced into recovery (e.g. legal consequences, social expectations, treatment demands)
  • Their motivation for recovery comes from an attempt to appease others (e.g. to save a relationship; to deflect attention from the behaviors)
  • They minimize their behavior (e.g. "It's not how it seems"; "It's not that big of a deal.")
  • They actively prepare their environment for successful acting out by: setting a preliminary foundation for excuses/alibis; seeking out times/situations where they will be unaccountable to anyone but themselves; laying the foundation for the emotional manipulation of others who may pose a confrontational threat (e.g. their spouse), etc.
  • They believe that they are uniquely defective and/or damaged as human beings
  • They believe that they have suffered so many consequences from their compulsive behavior, that it will be impossible for them to reach their lifetime goals
  • They believe that what they are experiencing is their fate
  • They are inflexible in re-evaluating their lifetime goals (e.g. "Since I have failed so far at being a professional actor, athlete, writer, etc., I can't be successful at anything." "Since I cannot be around to raise my children, I will always remain unfulfilled as a parent.")
  • They suspect that they will never be able to overcome their urges, and so their goals are to establish the appearance of change, rather than to pursue actual change.
  • They find comfort in being able to use "powerlessness" as an excuse for continuing to engage in their behavior.
  • Relapse triggers are seen as opportunities.
  • They often attempt to "prove" their sincerity to others through voicing dreams, sharing words and making promises, rather than through their actions.
  • They find comfort in knowing that they can play the "relapse card" should they ever be caught acting out
  • They often experience selfish thoughts when caught acting out (e.g. "Why didn't I see this coming?" "Why didn't I cover that up better?" "Why do I cause myself so much pain?")
  • Partner's tend to experience these individuals across the entire emotional scale. Though again, the emotional experiences are usually in their extreme form. From shame and placing them on the highest pedestal — the relationship tends to shift in the extreme. Which stage is currently being experienced will be directly related to that person's ability to manipulate others, how many times they will have been caught in contradicting behavior, and how willing/able the partner is to leave the relationship.

Those Who Will Occasionally Struggle with Relapse

General Behavioral Pattern: Individuals who attempt recovery yet continue to struggle with occasional mild/moderate patterns of relapse. Quite often, it is the abstinence that can last for many years, with relapse coming in binges, rather than sustained patterns. Though it is also an "on again/off again" recovery pattern, the "on again" is most frequently triggered by their own guilt and shame for returning to the behaviors, rather than being caught engaging in such behavior.

Those who find relative success in recovery over the course of many, many years, tend to exhibit the following patterns:

  • They often jump from addiction to addiction, and are particularly susceptible to hyper-religiosity and hyper-recovery. They put out fires by refocusing on other areas of their life. When these areas involve compulsive behavior — their use of addiction to manage their lives continues.
  • They believe that they are suffering from a disease that is beyond their control, but not beyond all hope.
  • They believe that they are defective in the sense that their emotions, urges, impulses, etc. are experienced with much more intensity than "normal people". And this puts them at a disadvantage for living a "normal life".
  • They tend to confuse addiction recovery with general mental health issues — creating a hypersensitivity to all of the emotions that they experience. Depression, anxiety, anger — they are all tightly related to "recovery" and an imbalance in one often leads to an imbalance in the other.
  • They perceive "powerlessness" not as absolute powerlessness over their life, but a limited powerlessness over their urges.
  • They often attempt to convince others of their recovery by offering their "new identity" as proof. Again, most often seen with hyper-religiosity and hyper-recovery situations.
  • Relapse triggers are feared, and so their lives continue to be altered as a result of addiction.
  • They tend to focus on controlling past behavior, rather than learning new behavior.
  • They tend to see life in episodes — with beginnings and endings — rather than as a process.
  • They consistently measure the success of their recovery through abstinence, rather than emotional stability and personal satisfaction.
  • They often experience extreme emotions in relation to acting out — extreme guilt, extreme shame, depression, anger, hatred. Or, they experience very mild emotions — when it has become a pattern that they have resolved to accept as a part of their lives.
  • They tend to hyper analyze their actions, thoughts and feelings...and make the possibility of living a "normal" life all but impossible.
  • They continue to identify themselves with their addiction and cannot imagine a life without such an association.
  • Partner's tend to experience these individuals as exhausting. Capable of achieving anything they set their minds to...though unsure of what it is they will eventually settle their minds on. The relationships themselves tend to be selfish, focusing on the "addict", more so than the partnership. While love and admiration and long-term stability can still be achieved, it is often at the expense of the partner's individuality.

Those Who Will Make the Transition to a Healthy Lifestyle

General Behavioral Pattern: Because this is the purpose of the Recovery Workshop: to guide those individuals seeking a healthy transition in their lives; the roles and patterns associated with such a transition will be reviewed extensively.

Those who make the transition from recovery to health, tend to exhibit the following traits:

Prior to the First Transition: "Understanding/Recognizing the Behavior"

  • In early recovery, individuals often experience significant doubts relating to their ability to change.
  • In early recovery, extremely negative emotions are the norm: especially as they relate to depression, anxiety, hopelessness and suicide.
  • In early recovery, they often "test the waters" of recovery by attempting recovery for a few days, then acting out. Attempting recovery for a few weeks, then acting out. Attempting recovery for a few months, then acting out. A weaning behavior similar to a toddler giving up a security blanket.
  • In early recovery, they tend to explore many different trigger situations to see how well they can handle themselves. To see "how far they have come". This is a behavior that is often witnessed in adolescent wound care — where the adolescent almost compulsively tears open their bandages to "check the wounds". Of course, just like with addiction, such behavior is often problematic — as it opens the individual up to additional infection. But it is a behavior that provides comfort to the adolescent — no matter what stage of healing the wound may be in.
  • In early recovery, they tend to experience relief in having their behaviors understood, and immediately seek understanding in all areas of their life. Unfortunately, this tends to overwhelm them, distract them, etc., but it is fairly common...and a good sign that their desire to change is sincere.
  • In early recovery, these individuals may be all across the board in terms of treatment, and may display many similar traits as to those in the "Those Who Will Occasionally Struggle With Relapse" category above.
  • In early recovery, they perceive "powerlessness" as "helplessness" and "desperation".
  • In early recovery, partner's tend to experience these individuals as very needy, pathetic, "lost souls".

After the First Transition: "Actual Recovery"

  • They have accepted that they have struggled with certain immoral behaviors that contradicted their values, but realize that what matters is what they are doing, not what they did. They realize that no successful recovery ever took place by changing the past, only by changing the present.
  • Their motivation to recover comes from the desire to live a life that they can be proud of, rather than a desire to create the illusion of a life that they can be proud of.
  • They make decisions based on what they believe is the right thing to do, rather than on what they think they can get away with. They know that whether these decisions end up being the right ones or not is irrelevant. That all that matters is that they were made with the right intentions in mind.
  • They are not focused on controlling/ending their past behavioral patterns, but on developing new patterns that will take the place of those related to the addiction.
  • They perceive "powerlessness" as a temporary term that more accurately describes their lack of skills in managing their urges.
  • Relapse triggers are experienced not as a threat, but an opportunity.
  • They recognize failure as a learning experience — but only when that failure occurs with on-the-spot sincerity, as opposed to pre-planned deception.
  • They recognize that the feelings that they are experiencing are the same feelings that others deal with every day in many different situations. That they are not "defective", but "deficient".
  • They identify their future with a healthy person that once used addiction to manage their life; not as an addict that is managing their life with healthy behavior.
  • They see their lives as a continuous process of growth and development, rather than an episodic book of starts and stops. (e.g. "When I was addicted" "After I recovered").
  • They will take a long, hard look at anything associated with their destructive past, and will voluntarily make the decision to remove these objects from their life. This refers to pornography, internet accounts, etc. It does not necessarily refer to affairs where real feelings were experienced/exchanged.
  • They tend to have an emotional relapse in terms of the consequences that they have affected on others — especially those closest to them. This frequently triggers true remorse, temporary depression, temporary helplessness — but is soon resolved with a commitment to making it up to people in other, more healthy ways.
  • Partners tend to experience these individuals with cautious optimism. They can see the changes taking place, but remain unable to commit to their partner's fully — as they continue to doubt their own judgment (a consequence of the shocking discovery of the addiction's reality).

After the Final Transition: "From Recovery to Health"

  • They have complete confidence in their ability to manage their life and are moving forward with their dreams in a rational, planned manner.
  • They no longer avoid "trigger situations" as they have developed the skills necessary to make confident, healthy choices in just about any situation they may face.
  • They tend to see their past as something rather unbelievable. They are sometimes able to achieve distant emotional connections with those behaviors, but can no longer visualize a situation where the pleasure they once achieved would be worth the risk of all they would lose inside themselves. Except at this stage, those thoughts are actually felt, rather than intellectualized. They will not be able to comprehend a situation where such a risk would ever be taken.
  • They have developed the ability to produce the same emotional stimulation from value-based actions as they once derived solely from impulse-based actions.
  • They will have eliminated all previous connections to their recovery, except that which will be included in their ongoing plan for a continuing evaluation and assessment of their life. They will no longer associate themselves with addiction, but with health.
  • Partners tend to experience people who have made this transition with greater respect and admiration then they ever had previously for the person. Additionally, trust and closeness in the relationship will take on a very real quality. One that has never actually been present previously — only assumed. The partners believing in the "recovery" will no longer be a matter of crossing their fingers and hoping, but of having no doubt. This area will be explored extensively in the next lesson: Assessing Your Partner's Sincerity.

Your Partner's Role in a Healthy Recovery

In recovery, your partner's role is to learn. To let down their guards, let down their barriers...and simply soak in all that they can in terms of understanding the patterns associated with their behavior. Though not for too long. A healthy recovery is based on action and growth, not intelligence and knowledge. To this end, your partner's responsibility in early recovery will be to identify where it is they are wanting to go, develop a plan for getting there, and finally, to develop a way of evaluating their progress along the way.

Where it is They Want to Go

There are two keys here: values and goals. Their values will help them to stabilize their lives, and will allow them to begin isolating their emotions from the decision-making process. Later, these emotions will be re-introduced, but only after the skill of producing emotional stimulation from their values has been learned. Additionally, their values will mark the beginning of the "changing of the guard" in terms of the "addictive identities" and their "healthy identities".

Their structured goals (which should be based on those values) will present a natural distraction from the urges and triggers that are often associated with relapse in early recovery. Most notably: boredom, time management, lack of control. An additional benefit of goal management in early recovery, is that it is a critical skill in delaying the immediate gratification that is so often sought in impulsive situations. Goal setting — even poor goal setting — allows the individual to focus on growth and the future, rather than destruction and the past. But, goal-setting can be tricky, as there are several land mines that must be navigated along the way — like becoming overwhelmed, experiencing failure again and again in reaching these goals, etc. That is why your partners need to take the approach that goal-setting is a difficult skill to master...because it is. And in the Recovery Workshop, it is spread out over approximately two months...and those two months are just to LEARN the skill...the implementation comes after that time.

Developing a Plan for How to Get There

Your partner's responsibility in developing this plan will come towards the end of the second stage of the workshop. For those who are not participating in the workshop, it will be when the skills of Value Identification, Goal Management, Prioritization and Time Management have all been identified. Once this occurs, your partner will need to identify the most important goals in his/her life — goals that relate to his/her prioritized values. These goals will be broken down into moderate goals, which will then be further broken down into the actual steps that he/she will need to take in order to get there. From that point, a realistic plan will be made that takes into account their time management skills and current life skill development. It is critical that at this stage, the plan be realistic, rather than optimistic.

Evaluating Their Progress Along the Way

The final step in this process, will be in your partner's development of a means for evaluating their progress. This will involve a regular assessment of their goal progression, value review, relapse prevention, etc. In addition to these three main tasks, your partner will be attacking his/her personal deficits on many levels — especially as they relate to life management skills and values. The reason for this is simple: addiction creates many personal deficits in a human being...and it is not enough to simply acknowledge this — something must be done about it. What must be done is to rebuild those deficits.

Your Partner's Role in Relapse:

It is our universal experience that focusing on specific behaviors in early recovery can be disastrous. Recovery is not about stopping behavior, it is about changing the patterns which led to the behavior. Much too often, a person in recovery will see their ultimate goal as abstinence — and so once this abstinence has been achieved, the crisis is over. But the addiction is not even close to being resolved. Those underlying patterns will remain...and will come out in other ways. More on this as we discuss the role of addiction in a few lessons down the road. Another reason for not focusing on specific behaviors in early recovery is that they often provide a distraction for both the individual and those involved with him/her.

Part of the goal in early recovery is to achieve emotional stability, yet a focus on controlling that behavior often leads to the opposite end. It leads to emotional instability. For those with a sincere desire to end their addictions — addictions they have most likely been struggling with for many, many years — they must allow themselves at least a month to build a solid understanding of the foundation for recovery. They should allow a month to begin building the skills necessary to sustain this foundation. This does not mean they get a "free pass" from taking responsibility for their actions...not at all. It only means that, for some of the more immediate "impulse-related" behavior — like compulsive masturbation, porn — such behavior is not blown so far out of proportion that the early foundation is destroyed. The motivation is smashed. Helplessness and hopelessness set in. Etc. They need to give themselves time to recover. To expect an immediate cessation to their behavior is irrational and destructive — except when such behavior includes potentially serious compulsions with potentially serious consequences — affairs, prostitution, rape, molestation, voyeuring, exhibitionism, etc. In such a situation, if your partner is unable to stop their compulsive behavior for at least a month, then hospitalization should be considered while this healthy foundation is built.

When you are talking about relapse in a healthy recovery...the underlying patterns for the relapse are much more important than the relapse itself. There are a lot of things involved in determining these patterns...and it will be these specifics that will determine whether this was a natural part of recovery...or whether it was a deliberate attempt at trying to maintain both worlds (the addiction and the recovery). When it is the former, it is easy to pick up the pieces, learn from the before, during and after emotions...and move forward. When it is the latter, recovery becomes a game, and your partner's efforts towards recovery are wasted — as are yours in supporting him/her. Their sincerity is gone, their motivation is gone...and all they are left with is trying "not to get caught".

Behavioral relapse is not an expected part of a healthy recovery, though it can be common. Emotional relapse, on the other hand — the struggling with thoughts and desires and urges...this is an expected part of a healthy recovery. And please remember, we are talking here about compulsive behavior, not behavior that is committed by choice. Behavior that is committed by choice will land your partner in one of the other recovery categories — most likely the first: Those Who Will Continue to Struggle With Relapse.

Places to look for this motivation is in the setting up of the behavior, the extensiveness of the behavior, and the cover-up of the behavior. When lies are used long before the engagement of the behavior to help set-up alibi's or excuses...this is not part of a healthy relapse. When the behavior being engaged in is a "multi-level" type of behavior...with numerous stimulating elements and numerous decisions having to be made in order to continue this behavior, this is not part of a healthy relapse. And more than anything else, when personal attention turns to covering-up the behavior, rather than is not part of a healthy relapse. All of those behaviors suggest a pattern of someone who wants to retain their secret life...while pursuing a public recovery. However, when the 'relapse' is of a more sudden, spontaneous manner...triggered by emotions...without premeditation...and followed by true remorse and a recommitment to ending their addiction...then it is most likely part of a natural, healthy recovery process.

Exercise Eight

While this workshop is about rebuilding your life, you are nonetheless impacted by the ongoing behavior of your partner (unless you have completely broken away from the relationship). For those who continue to be impacted by their partner's behavior:

If you were to identify three issues relating to your partner's recovery that you would like to see changed, what would they be?

Example: 1) He communicates only positive aspects of his recovery; that type of selective disclosure worries me. 2) His emotional immaturity when I bring up my pain. He gets angry or completely shuts down emotionally. 3) His apparent lack of motivation in working on himself and his recovery. It's like I have to push him every step of the way.

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