Jeanne, a recovered alcoholic, recounts her husband’s role in her journey to recovery:
“If you really want to mess up an alcoholic’s drinking fun, just get the spouse involved in Alcoholic Anonymous. Peter changed his approach in three ways, and it bugged me like crazy:
Whereas he previously poured my booze down the drain, he stopped doing that or anything else to keep me from drinking. I really wondered if he loved me anymore.
On Mondays, I would ask him to call the office and tell them that I had the flu. He had always done that for me. But after going to AA, he would simply smile and say, ‘No, you’ll have to do that yourself’.
He seemed to be calmer, more in control. Before, I would come home from drinking with the guys and look for an excuse to leave again. All I had to do was to pick a fight with Peter and say, ‘All right, if that’s the way you’re going to act, I’ll just take off’. Now, he gets in the AA thing, and instead of trying to hold me at home, he smiles and says, ‘I’m going to a meeting’.
Her story is a simple demonstration of how spouses can learn to live effectively with their difficult spouses to get them back on the path to self-recovery.
Power in laying down weapons
Spouses everywhere spend needlessly on weapons like anger, verbal abuse, tears and valuable resources just to control their partners. But these weapons won’t stop the fight; they only perpetuate conflict and deeper separation. Weapons not only fail to work, but lead to endless frustrations, despair and gradually utter hopelessness.
Laying down weapons and stopping from trying to control the partner, on the contrary, work all the time because:
It is the right step towards recovery.
It liberates the spouse from this debilitating thought that nothing can be right as long as the partner’s destructive behaviour persists.
It makes it very clear that the partner can never be the source of his/her happiness or sorrow.
It stops giving excuses for the partner’s bad behaviour.
As Jeanne shared – the moment her husband started accommodating and stopped controlling her, she began to take charge of her own difficulties.
A married couple is interdependent on each other, yet each is responsible for one’s own behaviour.
Laying down one’s weapons includes admitting being powerless and trusting that God will change them, not just their circumstances. Hope in God enables a person to surrender totally that leads to a personal conversion process.
Family recovery and renewal are far from simple. But what is crucial is creating the necessary conditions for growth and development of both the individual and the family.As Christians, we all accept the power of God’s Word in building and renewing the family. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).
To be changed, Christians also need repentance. We need to admit to God as well as to ourselves that we need to change. Even here we need God’s compassionate intervention; we need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins and our need to change.
An area we need to seek God’s guidance is confrontation and intervention, because many hurting families need outside help. Perhaps it is here we need to pray for it as well depend on God and work as if it all depends on us. Family ministry and counselling are vital in helping families to recover.
Having gained some mastery over their behaviour by surrendering to God, family members begin to develop new attitudes, values, paradigm and tools required to be more effective to cope with adversity and crisis.
Help children more than survive
Being totally defenceless and dependent, equipping our children with coping skills is urgent.
Of course some get stuck, but the majority quickly develop incredible skills. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.
Thinking they must do everything for themselves and their troubled members, they look good on the outside, but are scarred deep within. Some children have even started caring for their troubled family members.
Parents need to recognise children’s vulnerabilities to enable them to rise above their brokenness. Otherwise, distraught and confused, children will blame themselves for any abusive treatment.
Parents need to permit their children to speak about their emotions, especially in dealing with their shame and pain. Shame thrives in secrecy, but dissipates once it is aired with a loving, accepting counsellor, or relative.
Professional help may be required to help them to distant themselves from their parents’ problems, including the responsibility to change or to rescue them.
They need to gain emotional freedom. They need to realise that since they naturally choose to feel for their parents, they now can choose not to feel them.
It is liberating and healing for family members to see that changing the difficult person is not the solution.
Rather, they can gain more freedom by not allowing that difficult member to ruin their lives and the family. As children they are never responsible for the unhappy lives of their parents: “I don’t have to be sad because Mum is drunk”.
Eventually, when they continue to relate and befriend each other, their home life will be different – still not perfect, but normal.
Relationship in marriage is determined not so much by having the right spouse as by our being the right partner. The point is: do I want to be my spouse’s right partner?
When I choose to be the right partner I am free to choose to be:
a good listener
gentle and affirming
Remember, you don’t have to agree with your spouse to be good listener, or to be a gentle and affirming partner!
Every marriage is vulnerable. Every husband-wife relationship takes work and trust. But no marriage is too far gone to save if both partners long to remain together because:
It pleases God
Married people live longer
You will be healthier
You don’t have to divide up your children
You will be more protected
You do not have to live alone
You can build your family together
You will be able to lift up one another when you fall
Your desire to stay together in the midst of adversity will strengthen you.