Different Commitments)

I have made the case that both the addict and his spouse have their individual work of recovery and that each of them needs to be active in it for their own sake. I have stated that this is the only way for them to become whole individually, which is already a worthwhile endeavor, but that this is also a prerequisite if they are ever again to be whole in their union together.

This brings up the question of what happens if both members of the relationship aren’t doing their work? Or what if only the addict is, or only the spouse? I thought it would be worth-while to consider all of the possible configurations and all of the different choices that they lead to. Like the branches of a tree, each individual decision splits into multiple possible futures. Today I will cover the most common and general options, which may manifest themselves in numerous ways.

No One is Doing Their Work)

The first option is that the addict isn’t really working on addiction recovery and the wife isn’t really working on trauma recovery. Perhaps they make an effort at first and burn out, or only ever go through the motions, or don’t even make any overtures towards getting better at all. Whether consciously or not, they decide that the effort of recovery isn’t worth it, and they would rather continue with things as they are.

There are two main ways that this situation might play out. The first is that the addict publicly continues to do behavior that is damaging and hurtful and the spouse continues to be incensed at his choices. Argument and self-justification will be constants in their household, thoughtless actions and harsh words will damage one another, creating great emotional scarring in them both. Either they will have a totally loveless union, or they will decide to part ways bitterly.

The other option is that each of them tries to deny the reality of what’s going on. The addict tries to hide his offensive behavior and the wife knows it is happening but turns a blind eye. For the sake of comfort or appearances they try to live as if there isn’t anything wrong at all, silently agreeing to just not bring the matter up anymore. Of course, no matter of pretend will take away the damage. They are living a lie, and the mutual disrespect will stretch a great hole in their hearts.

One is Working)

The next option is that only one member of the relationship is doing their work. It might be the addict sincerely striving to overcome his behavior, but his wife insists on holding onto hurt and anger, or it might be that the wife is working to heal her wounds and forgive, but her husband has no intention of ever changing.

Pretty soon this disjointed approach will separate the two into very different circles. One is trying to live a healthy and productive life, the other is constantly stuck in place. One outcome of this would be divorce. It might be that the healing partner seeks to move on to a relationship that is on more equal footing, or it might be that the complacent partner wants to stop feeling guilty for not trying.

Another outcome might be that they stay together, but start living totally different lives. Perhaps due to pressures of family or community, they feel that they have to hold the relationship together. Perhaps the member of the partnership who is actually trying feels that he/she must sacrifice his/her own interests to provide greater stability to the children. I believe the risk for unhealthy self-denial is very high here, but only you can judge your own situation.

Both Are Doing Their Work)

The final and best option is that both the addict and the wife are doing their work. The addict is overcoming his nature, the wife unburdening herself from the problems that don’t belong to her. Each of them is looking ahead to a life that is abundant and centered on truth.

An obvious outcome of this is that the addict and the wife find that they can rebuild their relationship. Or perhaps more accurately, they find that they can build a new one together. They sweep out the old and start anew. They will enjoy a union that exceeds any that they had before, for the first time they are building it on a foundation of truth.

It must be noted, though, that even in the situation where both parties do their work, it is possible that they find they are no longer compatible with one another. Perhaps they came together due to unresolved insecurities and encouraged the worst in one another. In this case, it might be to the benefit of both to let each other go with a full heart, hoping that they will find a union that is better fit to their healthy self.

The Ends)

Here we have multiple paths, but really there are only three outcomes. They are a dysfunctional relationship, a painful separation, or mutual wholeness. Each decision comes with a heavy cost. Making real change is expensive up front, but avoiding real change takes its toll over the rest of your life. Perhaps you had intended to spend your time and energy elsewhere in life, but believe me when I say that this is the only work that really matters. This is the work of the soul, and you owe it to yourself to do what is right, no matter what follows.

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.

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