Partner's Workshop: Stage Three; Lesson Three
Understanding Your Values
A critical aspect of healing that has been mentioned several times already in the workshop has been the need for you to regain stability and balance in your life. But how? It certainly won't be through understanding addiction. And it won't occur through forgiveness. While both can play important roles in your own long-term healing, they will do little to help you now. Why? Because they likely have so little substance behind them. Understanding — truly understanding — your partner's behaviors takes time that you have not yet invested. Forgiveness, at this stage, comes with little more than a hope and a prayer. Neither offers stability. So how then, do you achieve it?
If there is one universal similarity between those who are struggling with addiction and the partners of those struggling with addiction, it is in the destructive effect that the compulsive behavior has had on each of your value systems. The best way to regain that stability, bar none, is to regain a functional control over those values. Let's examine this further.
The Values of the Sexual Addict*
*The term "sexual addict" will be used from time to time for simplicity and clarity in this workshop only. Please note that in recovery, these labels are not always healthy and tend to promote the very identity that your partners are seeking to change.
For a moment, clear your mind of any preconceived notions about your partner or their destructive behavior. Erase all critical memories that you have of this person and give him/her a clean moral slate. Are you there? If so, take yourself one step further. Forget about your partner's physical self. Forget about their body shape, their hair, their smile, their voice...forget anything and everything that could be used to identify your partner's appearance. Now, turn your attention to what is left. This is your partner. This is the person that is struggling with addiction. This is the person that, hopefully, is committed to changing their life. Imagine the thoughts, values and emotions that your partner is experiencing. Most likely, you will have much difficulty in doing so. After years of compulsive behavior, their value system has become so degraded that they have little ability to manage their lives. Their perceptions, their decision-making, their personal awareness, their emotions have all become so distorted, that the reality that they currently experience is one that rational people would find difficult to comprehend. Examine some common insights relating to an individual with an ingrained pattern of compulsive behavior:
Your partner is not the same person that he/she set out to be as a child. In the moral development of a healthy person, the values that they are exposed to through parenting, television, radio, peers, etc., are filtered through their own experiences and a broad, stable foundation of values is developed. In a healthy person, this foundation of values is then used to make decisions involving moral or immoral behavior; it is used to regain stability in times of emotional extreme; it is used to manage life skills such as goal setting, time management and prioritization. In a healthy person, it is their value system that is used as the foundation for both their social and personal identity.
But what happens when addiction is involved? Or when a person is exposed to extreme trauma? First, a separation begins between the values that they know to be moral and socially just; and the natural feelings they experience as a result of immediate gratification. At this point, we will avoid the specifics of this process, but will focus only on the fact that once it does — be that through childhood trauma, emotional immaturity, extreme stressors, parental abuse/neglect, etc. — a "secret identity" has already begun to develop. From that moment on, your partner has experienced life in a way that you could not rationally comprehend. On the one hand, they had the life that they wanted to experience — the life that they felt like they "should" experience — filled with morality and values; it is this life that they attempt to share with others in early courtship, at work, at church, among their family. It is the person that they want to be known as. Intellectually, they know that this life should be fulfilling to them, but for some reason it is not. There is something missing. What is missing is what is on the other hand: the secret life that they have developed through fantasy and escape. In the early years, this dichotomy can be hidden rather easily, as the secret life is able to be kept reasonably under control. But in an unhealthy person, when emotions square off against values, emotions win every time. Even when decisions are made to act according to their values, when that secret life is already intact, the pressure from not acting to satisfy those emotional needs creates a pressure that will eventually be fulfilled. Compared with values, emotional stability is the more immediate, basic human need...and in times of crisis, these are what must be resolved first...every time.
Over the course of several years in an addict's life, a tragic phenomenon occurs. The values that the person once believed in become secondary to their ability to achieve emotional balance. What happens is that their "secret life" becomes more important to them than the real life that they had set out to live. It is their secret life that allows them to experience immediate relief. It is their secret life that allows them to experience freedom, fantasy, accomplishment. It is their secret life that allows them to live without pressure and boundaries. Tragically, as this 'secret life' takes on an increasingly functional role, it begins to fuse with their identity. They no longer see themselves as a value-based person, but rather, a phony. A farce. A failure. And the longer this destructive process continues, the more their identity becomes ingrained. Eventually, a point is reached where they realize that they can live without the values — but cannot without the addiction.
Now, does this mean that they are not responsible for their actions? Of course not, and this will become clear as you progress through the workshop. But what it does mean is that your partner has not acted with willful disregard to your values; nor has he/she acted with complete disregard to their own values. Instead, they have acted in a way that is consistent with the unhealthy patterns that they have developed over the course of many years. What it also means is that recovery will not be made with several weeks or months of promises and/or abstinence...but only through a systematic effort to redevelop those values and the skills necessary to utilize those values in a healthy way. There is no other way. Your partner's values must be redeveloped, their "secret life" must end, and the core of their identity must change. Otherwise, they are in for a lifetime of addiction or a lifetime of recovery — both of which can be miserable.
The Values of the Partner
Enough about your partner. Your partner's values aren't the only one's affected by addiction. This workshop is about you. And as you have most likely become painfully aware, your values have also been significantly altered. Thankfully, it is not to the extent of your partner. Whereas your partner's values have often been abandoned or isolated from what they now perceive to be their "real selves"...your values have merely been trampled upon. And though that is not meant to minimize the damage to your life, it is meant to underline the fact that your recovery process is a much easier one — in terms of regaining your identity. It is a process that can last days, rather than years. Not that the consequences of what you have experienced will ever be forgotten, only that your ability to regain a healthy perspective of your life and the role that you play in the relationship can be achieved quickly.
"Why would it be easier for me? They are in control of their future. The only way that I can control my future is to leave my partner. And even then, I'm facing a world of uncertainty and instability."
It is easier for you because most often, your foundation of values remain intact — they have just been ignored, neglected or manipulated. Whether subtly or through force, the changes that have been made to your values to compensate or adjust to your partner's addiction are changes that can be repaired rather easily. What it will require is your understanding of how they were changed, your realization that you do not like what they have been changed into, and your commitment to strengthen them once more. Once this happens, you will have achieved your own stable foundation from which to begin healing. You will have achieved some very real control over your life. The exception to this is whether or not you were healthy prior to getting involved with your partner. But for simplicities' sake, we will assume that you were. Your current goal then is to identify the values that are at the core of your own identity. The values that, when you look beyond your physical appearance and when you take away the affects from your partner's addiction, make you — you.
A. Create a list of at least ten core values that represent the person you want to be. You should be able to rely on this list with confidence in guiding decisions, actions, prioritization, etc.
B. In your own words, how can you use these values to guide you through this current crisis (or a future crisis)?
C. Compare this list to the vision that you created in Stage One; Lesson Two. Are they similar? They should be. In fact, they should be practically identical — with your vision serving as a narrative for the list you have here. If they are not, change whichever is inconsistent with the life that you want to lead. Your vision must be forged from your core values or you will continue to struggle with imbalance and chaos.