Partner's Workshop Stage Three; Lesson One
The Vision to Heal
Until now, you have been provided with a lot of information to help further your understanding of many issues surrounding the discovery of a partner's sexual addiction. The remainder of this workshop will focus on the use of this information to actively pursue your own healing. This will be done through skill development, boundary development, contract development and more. And so, before you move on, let's review what you have been exposed to so far. This should provide you with a measuring stick of sorts, allowing you to gauge where you are in relation to developing a foundation that will facilitate complete healing. Because each of you will have unique obstacles to overcome in your own healing processes, and because some of you have yet to commit yourselves to that healing process, the focus here will be on recognizing the basic insights necessary to facilitate your transition into a healthy future.
These insights are provided in no particular order. As you read through each, assess your own understanding of the concept being presented. If you are not clear as to what is being said, use the forum to ask additional questions for clarification. If you flat out disagree with what is being shared, don't fret. What is being provided is not applicable to every situation, merely a representation of the attitudes and insights seen in the overwhelming majority of those who go on to move past this destructive event. Is it possible to move past this crisis in ways other than what is being presented here? Of course. But the closer you come to the following insights, the more certain you can be that you are indeed headed down a healthy path.
Important insights that need to be understood before moving on:
- That you played no role in the development/continuation of your partner's behavior and in fact, were often pursued by your partner to perpetuate the moral and social identity that they desired. All marriages have stress; all relationships have conflict. This stress and conflict is not what has caused your partner's addiction; nor is it what sustained it.
- That there is a difference between what motivates addictive/compulsive behavior and that which motivates selfish, immoral behavior. And while it may be hard for you to identify which is which — and in some cases impossible — many answers can be found by looking towards the how the behavior has been perpetuated.
- That the absolute best thing that you can do for yourself is to regain stability and control over your own life. To determine freely what options are available to you, so that no matter which way that you move forward, it will be through choice, rather than the feeling of being trapped.
- That recovery from sexual/love addiction is not only possible, but when taken on in a healthy way, the individual often becomes significantly more stable and dynamic. They are able to contribute to the relationship in ways more consistent and devoted than either of you thought possible.
- That while ending compulsive behavior may appear to be a simple matter of your partner's will, choice or moral fortitude, should they be engaged in a pattern of addiction, it is a much more complicated process to resolve. Along these lines, the more staunchly that you hold on to such a misbelief, the more instability that will remain within the relationship and your life. Recognizing the existence of an addiction is not an excuse for the behavior patterns that are associated with that addiction. It is simply recognizing a behavioral pattern that needs to be addressed in a mature, comprehensive way.
- That emotion-based decisions are linked to immediate gratification — a common motivator in addiction and early healing; value-based decisions are linked to long-term fulfillment — a common motivator in making healthy transitions within one's life.
- That effective communication between partners in early recovery requires safe, unconditional listening. If you are not capable of providing this, it is best that your partner seek support elsewhere.
- That your partner is not the best support person for you in early healing. While you may want answers...they are not in the best position to give them. They are vulnerable, disoriented, and suffer from a significant lack of true insight into their behavior. But, with a few months of effort in recovery, they have the potential to be an excellent source for understanding and healing.
- That forgiveness is a feeling, not an act. It is not required for your own healing to take place, though it can be tremendously beneficial when offered naturally.
- That forgiveness is something that your partner will most likely be looking for in early recovery. The best approach is to hold off with a declaration of such forgiveness (or inability to forgive) until after your own emotions have stabilized.
- That the best indication of your partner's sincerity comes from his/her actions, not his/her words. Quite often, an addict's reality is what is in his/her mind...and just the voicing of the promises and sincerity to recover is translated into perceived action. But it is not. Action in reality is what is needed for confirmation, not words.
- That those partners who respond to you with anger, secrecy, accusations or similar types of 'closed' communication...often are not actively engaged in a healthy recovery.
- That those who engage in open, engaging, sincere, vulnerable communication with you most likely are. Even when this communication is coupled with occasional bouts of acting out or efforts to cover-up their behavior through dishonesty.
- That it is not always easy to recognize the beginning of a compulsive act. Many acts begin in the mind, not in the action. And so trying to pinpoint whether a person is using dishonesty to engage in behavior, or whether they are using it to cover-up the need to complete their 'ritualistic chain' is not always clear to anyone but the person engaged in the behavior.
- That the motivation to end their compulsive behavior must come from within. There is nothing that you can say or do that will produce the motivation for them to make such a change. There is no amount of love that you can offer, no amount of guilt that you can bestow, no amount of logic that you can apply. This does not mean that such efforts by you are useless, far from it. Things like unconditional love can often provide the trigger for such internal motivation, but alone, it is not enough to end the addiction. If it helps, consider that even the most religious, spiritual people — with the sincerest of desire to stop their behavior — cannot even rely on their faith in God to stop. The motivation must come from within their own hearts, when they have no one else to answer to but themselves. It is beyond your control.
- That most initial reactions to what you have been put through are akin to other traumatic events. Such reactions often parallel the stages of grief and loss, and may include such attributes as: emotional instability, intense rage, helplessness, blaming, the desire to lash out, ruminations, irrationality, disbelief, etc.
- That your eventual healing will occur only with education, awareness, acceptance, and a redefinition of your own values, boundaries, skills, etc. Time, alone, does not heal all wounds. Effort must, on occasion, be made. But with a strong commitment to health, the major portion of this healing will occur within the first six months.
- That your partner's eventual recovery will occur only with a recognition of his/her values, boundaries, priorities, etc., and a rebuilding of the life skills necessary to manage them. With a strong commitment and effort, this often takes up to twelve months. Without it, it may never happen.
Again, should you have a firm grasp of the concepts presented above, you are well on your way towards turning this destructive event in your life into one that facilitates personal growth and strength. What's next in the workshop is to begin putting many of these thoughts we have discussed into practice. To begin making changes that will help to further stabilize your life, and to allow yourself to begin moving forward once more. Such is the purpose of the next twenty-two lessons.
In Stage One; Lesson Two of the Partner's Workshop, you were asked to develop a general vision for your life. This vision focused on developing an anchor to health and stability by allowing you to identify and re-attach yourself to those areas of your life that you truly value. Now, you are asked to create a second vision. This one is more of a 'mini-vision', isolated to how you will manage your life over these next few months — through your healing (and your partner's recovery — if applicable).
To assist you in developing this limited, practical vision, here are a few questions to ask/answer. Think about the questions in normal type; answer the questions that are italicized in your healing thread.
*Over the next month, how much time do you intend to spend focused on managing, tracking and/or assessing your partner's addiction/recovery? List the role(s) you intend to play in his recovery. If none, say so. If some (and there are potential healthy roles for you to play), list them.
*How much time do you intend to spend secretly investigating his actions? If none, how will you manage those times of mistrust and/or doubt?
*What personal values are you willing to allow your partner to continue damaging over the next month? If none, how will you protect these values?
*Over the next two months, what mistakes are you prepared to tolerate from your partner and why? What mistakes (if any) are intolerable and will serve as the catalyst to end the relationship? Note: think with your head here, not your heart. You are no longer ignorant as to what to expect in recovery and so, define those true 'bottom lines' for you and your relationship.
*How much responsibility do you intend to invest in changing your partner? Versus placing the responsibility for change on them? How do you envision communicating your observations about their motivation/responsibility — both positive and/or negative? For those positive observations, how will you make them seem genuine? For those negative observations, how will you make them seem non-punitive?
*Do you intend to motivate change in your partner by threats and/or rewards? Or by simply sharing your needs and allowing your partner to find the motivation to meet those needs? If the latter, how much clarity do you have in determining and communicating your personal needs?
*How do you envision moving beyond two individuals in recovery/healing to becoming a team in overcoming those areas of your relationship that have been damaged? What changes will YOU need to make in your own perspective to regain a sense of teamwork? What changes do you need to see from your partner for this to happen?
*Apart from your partner's addiction, identify the current major obstacles that your relationship faces. For each obstacle, seek out any patterns that will eventually need to be worked through as a team. For instance, communication. We have fallen into a pattern of dysfunctional communication that must change. Here is what I can envision doing to bring about change to these dysfunctional communication rituals:
*Should you find yourself struggling to manage your own life (intense emotions, undefended boundaries, deteriorating values, neglected values, etc.) how do you envision getting yourself refocused and back in balance? List this general plan.
*What signs will you look for in your partner to generate confidence in the sincerity and stability of his/her recovery?
*What unique signs will you look for in your partner over the next few months to generate warning of imbalance and/or insincerity?
These are just some of the questions that you will want to consider and prepare yourself for. There are potentially many others. List anything additional that you feel is important in preparing yourself to face this transition in your life/relationship over the next few months.