Yesterday I shared about the broken and divided foundation that is exposed in a marriage when a secret addiction is brought to light. Every positive experience from the past was at least somewhat predicated upon a lie. Every good and decent thing that the addict ever did is tarnished.
And not only is the past thrown into disarray, but also the present and the future. I pointed out how even the most sincere and genuine acts of kindness from the now-truthful addict can be a trigger to his wife, reminding her of all the false and manipulative overtures he made in the past. Yes, today his actions might be blameless, but they are linked in her memory to the actions that were not.
Thus, the husband trying to repair the marriage with acts of goodness is like trying to fix a crumbling building by stacking new floors on top of it. Those new floors might be sound and whole, the very finest of design, but their added weight is only going to hasten the collapse and soon the whole thing will come down, good and bad parts alike.
The addict and his wife are stuck in a situation where anything they do to try and prop up the falling structure only sets off more problem areas. Finally, they might realize that they have to stop trying to save a fundamentally ruined structure. And, counter-intuitively, that might just be the thing they need to save their marriage.
I have known many couples in recovery that just admitted that their marriage had failed, stepped back from the problem, and watched it collapse at their feet. And then they started talking about how to build a new one. They realized that they could start the relationship over from scratch. They could pour a new foundation there at ground zero.
The old marriage vows were now a sham, they had been broken to the point of losing all meaning. So rather than trying to revitalize them, why not renounce them for the empty promises that they were and make all-new commitments instead? The couple’s memories are marred by the Jekyll-and-Hyde performance of the addict weaved through them all. So why not accept that those memories’ former luster has been lost and start making new ones instead?
It can be such a relief to realize that you don’t have to solve this architectural problem at all. You don’t have to marry two opposite realities together. You can instead assign all that was flawed and broken to the past and all that is hopeful and good to the future.
Some of the couples I have known that made this discovery bought new rings, had a new vow ceremony, and started counting their anniversary from the day they recommitted themselves to one another. It might sound like a strange thing to do, it certainly goes out of the normal convention, but really why not? It is an irregularity that is more congruent with life as they were experiencing it. Perhaps they didn’t realize it at the time, but so much of their confusion was because they were trying to fit stereotypes of love and marriage that didn’t fit their situation. There’s nothing to say that you can’t and shouldn’t alter the signs and symbols of love and marriage to match the one that you actually have before you.
In Due Time
Before I close off this topic, I must point that none of the couples in our recovery group took this step on day one. It would have been hugely premature to say, “let go of the past and hold on to now,” when “now” was still totally enmeshed with the “past.” Most of us addicts were still learning how to even live soberly from day-to-day, and it wouldn’t do to make new marriage vows that wre then broken a second and a third time.
It is prudent to wait until you are actually ready to live the new life before you make a solemn symbol of it. Better to not start pouring the new foundation until you have learned the fundamentals of architecture. Better to not say it is for real this time until you really mean it. And not only that you mean it right now in this moment, but you know that you will still mean it tomorrow.
Put another way, it is good to commit to the better future, but neither of you can do that until you are first ready to totally let go of the past.