The Reason to Heal)
In my last post I pointed out that many of our emotions are regulated by our subconscious mind, meaning that a spouse who has been hurt by her addict-husband’s behavior might have sudden bursts of tremendous anger, which unbeknownst to her is actually covering up the intense grief brimming just beneath the surface.
I’ve already mentioned that anger is often a secondary emotion, used to mask our fears or pain. Since anger is the side that gets presented publicly, it is what people typically address when interacting with us, either by appeasing to, or reasoning with, or arguing against it. But since the anger isn’t the real underlying issue, anything addressed towards it isn’t actually going to help. Interfacing with a wounded wife’s anger does nothing to help her grow past it.
Now an injured wife might feel upset at the notion that she needs to grow past her anger. She might say that her husband is deserving of her anger, that his actions have natural consequences. And while this is true, the reason for a wife to deal with her underlying issues is for her own sake, not her husband’s. Even if she has no intention to restore her relationship with her husband, it is still to her own benefit that she get past her mask of anger and process the pain hiding underneath.
Even if a wife felt like her husband needed to be punished for what he had done, it is a terrible fate to take upon oneself the role of executor. Staying in a place of rage only makes the wife a continual prisoner to the pain that her husband inflicted upon her. Shouting and berating might feel like she is claiming control of the situation, but needing to do these things only reveals that the wife still lives under the power of her addict-husband’s choices.
Just as surely as the addict needs to become free of his addiction, his spouse needs to be made free of his addiction also. They each have their own work to do here.
Doing Your Own Work)
It is inevitable that the path of healing for both spouses will involve one another. Even if they decide to go their separate ways, they each must resolve the idea of the other person in their mind. The addict must come to terms with the loved one he has hurt. The spouse must come to terms with the loved one that hurt her.
Some of this work can be done together with late-night conversations and couple’s therapy sessions, but much of this work is going to be individual. In fact, a key step in the recovery journey is for both parties to stop trying to manage the journey of the other. The husband needs to not set a timeline for his wife to stop hurting, and the wife needs to stop evaluating whether her husband is recovering in the “right” way. Obviously each needs to be active and sincere in their work and needs to seek out the best resources that they can, but so long as their efforts are genuine they should be trusted to progress at their own pace.
For my wife and I this meant meeting with our own therapists and working our own professional recovery program. It meant having our own homework, meeting with our own groups, and making our own plans of action. We would talk to each other about all the things we needed to talk about, we would update one another on our journey, but we each found healing in our own way and in our own time. After we had each come to a healthier, truer place, we were able to come together and decide what the relationship would be moving forward.
Of course, what I’m describing is not necessarily the process by which every marriage will be saved. There are couples who did their work and still decided that they didn’t have a future together, but they were able to part ways as whole individuals. And that is what this is really about, doing the work to process your own issues and make yourself whole, and that is prerequisite to having a meaningful life, whether together or apart. This process isn’t guaranteed to make your marriage whole, though it is the only way that your marriage even stands a chance.
NOTE: Throughout this series I refer to the addict as “he” and the injured partner as his “wife.” This is merely a convenience for maintaining consistency. It is entirely possible for the addict to be a woman and the injured partner to be her husband. It is also entirely possible for the strained relationship to be between non-romantic partners, such as with a parent and a child.