20 March 2012

How NOT to Respond & Why

My idea of how to respond to Pete's relapses has evolved over the years.  I think I've tried every response I could come up with.  I've been cruel and said awful things, I've been angry and stomped around, I've withdrawn and become despondent, I've sobbed in front of him and in private.  I kept waiting for one of these methods to be the silver bullet that motivated him to never return to the hurtful behavior.  But I could see that they weren't having the desired effect. 

I'm going out on a limb here and drawing a parallel to parenting (although I also believe this principle applies to ALL relationships.)  Have you heard the phrase "positive parenting?" It's sort of a trend in parenting that is based on the idea that if you guilt, shame, manipulate your child as a form of discipline, it might provide immediate results, but is not effective for long-term behavior change.  Punishing children this way, it is suggested, causes the children to feel ashamed, to lose their self-worth, feel a lack of love from the parent, and over all decrease the child's confidence that he/she is capable of making good choices.  In essence, using guilt, shame and manipulation as a consequence does more harm than good. 

I used to think that the harder I cried, the worse Pete would feel and therefore the more he would desire to change.  The problem was, Pete already desired to change, he just didn't have the strength to do so.  And feeling guilty, ashamed and hated by me sucked even more strength out of his already weak spirit. 

Quick aside- I must be careful not to imply that I am responsible for Pete's recovery, I only want to show how without meaning to do so, I was hindering his recovery. 

It is not my job to punish Pete.  But, you might say,

"If you are quick to forgive, if you don't demonstrate through tears or anger how you've been hurt, he will take advantage of you and he will never change because he knows you will always forgive him! "

This is not true.  Like I said before, Pete already has a desire to change.  And to differing levels I believe all addicts do.  Pete's own pain, the anguish he feels of his own accord, the suffering of disappointment, shame and frustration with himself are adequate for him to realize that this is not the way he wants to live. 

In addition, I am quite certain that by now, Pete knows how it hurts me.  He knows.  Whether or not I throw a tantrum he knows.  And because he is an addict, and logic and reason mean nothing during temptation, he doesn't consider how it will make me feel before acting out.  Whether consciously or subconsciously I'm positive that before he crosses that line, he never thinks

"It's okay if I do this.  She will just forgive me."

Although there may be narcissitic addicts, who thrive on hurting others, I think this is the rare case.  My heart breaks for you if this the type of relationship you find yourself in, I pray that you will be able to trust God to help you discern the path ahead. 

But more often than not, I believe most addicts love their wives, hate their addiction and long to feel loved and supported. 

I'll come back to this and share what I believe are the blessings that come with learning to respond in a way that doesn't enable addiction but gives peace to me and support to Pete.


  1. When it comes to this topic there are so many conflicting emotions for me. I think it will take a lot of self mastery... heated emotions are so hard to control. In the mean time I'm just trying not to yell at him.

  2. It took me YEARS to figure out how not to respond. And I'm still working on it, of course. But I will say that the last time he had a relapse, I responded with complete calm and support and he actually ended up crying and thanking me for supporting him. In the 8 years we had been struggling, he had not cried about it once. It really surprised me to see him break down and out of gratitude to me for not yelling. It was an entirely new world.

    Granted, within a few days I was yelling (speaking sternly?), because he was completely blind to the steps he needed to start taking toward recovery (going back to group meetings, speaking with the bishop, etc.), even though he had taken those steps in the past. When I mentioned them to him, he was actually surprised that he hadn't thought of them himself. Oh, addiction.

    1. I'm dying laughing at "oh addiction" because it's (sortof) one of my favorite phrases.
      Husband says "I'm on vacation, I don't have to do my stuff" and I say "OK. Let me know how that works."
      Within 2 days of being home he has slipped. He comes to me saying "I don't know what happened." and I wish I had recorded the "I'm on vacation" conversation to play it back to him.

      Because, really? You don't know what happened? Then I ask "what now?" and he (surprised) says "oh. I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it. Should I do something?"

      Oh the mind of an addict.

  3. "It OK, she'll just forgive me" is what I'm terrified of. But I can see a CLEAR correlation between my reaction and his reaction. When I freak out and have a meltdown, he doens't. (Because I did it for him.) But when I'm calm and collected and OK, he appreciates my support and realizes his own need to change.