Partner's Workshop: Stage Four; Lesson Four
Monitoring Your Partner
If your first instinct was to ask, "But I thought we weren't supposed to monitor our partner?!" then you are picking up some important insights — just need to refine them a bit. On the other hand, if your instinct was somewhere along the lines of, "Yes, finally! How can I best monitor his recovery?" then you've missed something. The single biggest mistake you can make in your own healing process is to allow your partner's addiction to continue to actively devalue you and your life. And while it may make sense that, since you are the one with the least damaged value system (and this is the case, I promise you — as your values are likely damaged, even significantly so; but your partner's values are so distorted that they are hardly recognizable/functional beyond an intellectual understanding of the role they are supposed to play), that you are the one best suited to manage a healthy recovery process, this just isn't the case.
As you should have learned by now, your first objective is to manage your own healing and leave the responsibility of your partner's recovery to your partner. This is scary, no doubt. It even heightens the likelihood that your relationship will end — because bluntly, your partner is NOT the most responsible person to manage his recovery. But he is never-the-less the only one who must. It sets the tone for a real, permanent recovery to occur — and at this stage, you should not care about anything less than that. When you manage his recovery, you are actually keeping him from the very commitment, responsibility and maturity that he needs to move on to that next phase of his life: adulthood. You are providing him with an 'out' to passively manage this crisis (by doing whatever you tell him to do).
Of course, if you have any ongoing relationship with your partner — romantic, friendship, parenting — you absolutely need to monitor their recovery. You would be a fool not to. The addictive person is just too manipulative, selfish and potentially destructive for you to continue to blindly interact with them. So, when we talk of monitoring your partner, recognize that we are not talking about managing your partner's motivation, recovery or addiction. We are talking, really, about learning to monitor your partner's health. Not in an effort to control him, but rather, to protect yourself. The areas that you have to become proficient in monitoring are those areas that cannot be faked in recovery.
Areas that can be faked in recovery:
- Words — especially the sincerity in which they are said (words stemming from emotions can't be relied upon as a monitoring device)
- Behavior — what you see is not typically what you get with those in early recovery; their behavior may be showing progress, but that is not a reliable monitoring device of actual health
- Abstinence — from the warped, dual-identity perspective of the individual in early recovery, abstinence is defined by many as what can be proven, not what has occurred. And so, even in their own minds, if they engage in a compulsive ritual that was 'successfully' hidden, that has no affect on their abstinence. This isn't universal, just common enough to make this a poor monitoring objective.
- Disclosure — one of the more common 'sincere moments' in recovery is when a person discloses their addiction openly and fully to their partner. Except that typically, this disclosure is neither open nor full. Again, this 'holding something back' isn't a universal trait, just common enough so that it should be anticipated.
If you look at the above list, you might note that each of these is directly related to their addiction. And make no mistake, it is important for you to get as accurate a picture of their addiction as you possibly can. But in terms of ongoing monitoring, the risk/reward ratio is not to your benefit, nor the long-term benefit of your partner. So, rather than seeking to monitor your partner's behavior associated with his addiction, seek to monitor his behavior associated with the pursuit of health.
Areas that cannot be faked and thus, provide an excellent means for monitoring your partner's health:
- Offering open, transparent and spontaneous communication
- The pursuit of true intimacy (not to be mistaken for passion; not the experience of intimacy — which takes time to develop — but the active pursuit to develop it)
- Vulnerability and risk — especially as it is related to communication and intimacy (a caveat here, as 'calculated risk and vulnerability' can be faked; but when seen in concert with open, spontaneous communication, generally isn't)
- One's willingness to take responsibility for their recovery and their life
- One's seeking to generalize what they learn in recovery to other areas of their life (applying honesty or values-based decision-making to situations outside of recovery and your relationship, for instance)
These are the areas that you need to monitor to get a clear perspective of whether or not your partner is on a healthy path. The other areas: ongoing affairs, secret porn binges, compulsive masturbation...they are all symptomatic of these other areas not being active.
Looking Down the Road
Another common objective in partner's healing is overcoming the fear that the changes that are taking place in early recovery are temporary. That as soon as the crisis has passed, your partner's behavior will return. This is a valid concern as your partner will almost certainly experience some type of relapse over the course of their transition from addiction to health. The difference between now and in the past is that neither you, nor your partner are ignorant any longer. These patterns that are developing: they are the key indicators of not only a healthy recovery path, but they also serve as the first warning signs of a life falling out of balance and thus, at risk for relapse. This is another reason why focusing on abstinence and/or acting out as a monitoring technique is not worth it. It provides you with no objective warning signs of relapse, until it is too late.
Your goal is to establish a comfort zone with your partner that allows you to distinguish objective signs that his life is focused and in balance; and objective signs (like aloofness, irritability, over-working, etc.) that his life is falling out of balance.
A) Make a list of objective signs that you would recognize in yourself that would indicate that you are not living a healthy, balanced life.
B) Taking your partner's current mindset, what areas (listed above) do you feel that he might be faking/holding back on? What areas do you think he is really putting forth a sincere, adequate effort?
C) Looking six months down the road and assuming that your partner transitions to a healthy life, what objective signs would you look for that might indicate that he is starting to struggle with sustaining a healthy, balanced life?