Not long ago, Devin and I were sitting on the couch watching television when he suddenly turned to me and said, “Are you okay?”
He turned the TV off. “You’ve been quiet and I’ve noticed our affection level has dropped down quite a bit.”
I was tempted to brush his observations aside. Just blow them off with a, “Nah, I’m good. Just tired.”
Why not? It’s easier to shrug things off than really look at them on a deeper level. Further reflection meant dealing with emotions and feelings I was trying to ignore, and for Devin to make note of it meant that it had been going on for more than just a day or two so whatever was going on with me, must really be some good ol' gunky stuff.
I took a deep mental breath and made the plunge. It wasn’t hard to find the resentment that had been lying just below the surface. It had been there for a few weeks, festering and growing.
As I shared the incident with him, I could feel how angry I was about it and couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t go to him about it when it all went down in the first place. It’d been years since he’d been unable to let me use my voice.
The more I talked to him, the more I realized it was the timing of it all. We had a lot going on in our home: a big party, my health had taken a hit, his work had gotten crazy busy…and that was when it dawned on me.
I didn’t share my feelings with him because I was protecting him from my emotions and how they would make him feel. But what about me? Didn’t my wellbeing count too? Yeah, it did. And you know who had to remind me? Devin.
After listening to me talk through what was going on in my head for about thirty minutes, echoing back what I said to make sure he understood it all, he used the FANOS card. Just like that. KABAM!
(ETA: It's not literally a card. FANOS is conversation tool created by Debbie Lasser. You can click the link for more info.)
Devin said all calm like, “Can we agree that the next time something is bothering you, that we do FANOS within twenty-four hours so that it doesn’t build-up like this?”
My reply? “Tell me you didn’t just throw down the FANOS card!” while I was laughing and realizing just how lucky I truly am to have a husband who cares enough to listen to his rambling wife while she goes on and on during an emotional tirade.
He said, “I did. Now let’s shake on it.”
We shook hands to seal the deal and haven't let go since.
We used FANOS, created by Debbie Laaser from Faithful and True for a long time. As our needs changed, so did our check-in conversations. Now if we need them, we use my updated communication tool (with a grateful nod to Mrs. Laaser): I call it GRACE since these talks were my saving grace during that difficult time.
G R A C E
Gratitude: I'm all about having an attitude of gratitude. Start off on a positive note and talk about the things that you’re each grateful for that day or that week. It can be something your partner did or said. Or if you’re not in that place at that moment, try to find something else you’re grateful for. Perhaps it’s because you’re having a check-in conversation or you have food on your plates and a roof over your heads. Maybe you’re grateful because you’re healthy, or the sky is so blue today. Maybe you’re grateful the car started or saw a duckling crossing the road. Anything you can find, no matter how minute, that you can appreciate. Sometimes having an attitude of gratitude can set the tone for a really good conversation.
Requests: Are there any requests or desires you’d like your partner to be aware of? Now is a great time to share those requests with your partner. For instance, if you’d like them to call or text you if they're going to be late, or if you’d like to know if they have a sponsor or accountability partner, or maybe you’d like to request a period of abstinence from sex, or you crave thirty minutes of alone time a few days a week so you can spend time working on yourself, this is the perfect place to share those desires.
In turn, they can make requests of you. I feel it’s important to remember to be empathetic at this time. I understand how difficult that can be, especially if there has been a recent slip or if you’re still grappling with emotional struggles that come with a disclosure. I admit I was not the best role model for this in the beginning and at times, I struggled to keep my ego in check and had to remind myself that Devin deserves my respect and his addiction does not define him. He has a voice just as much as I do. If I feel the request is leaning towards serving his addiction, well then, I have the right to use that voice and vocalize my concerns being careful not to use that snark that creeps in from time to time.
Acknowledge: This is a chance to acknowledge what you’ve just heard from your partner and make sure you understood their request. It’s okay if you struggle in this department. Goodness knows I did. I discuss this in detail later in the book.
Care: How are you caring for yourselves? Is either of you in a twelve-step program or a face-to-face meeting? Maybe a support group or meeting with a trusted religious leader? If so, now is a great time to talk about the things that resonated with you in your meetings and/or group. Perhaps you’ve decided to start journaling or doing artwork to help alleviate your anxiety, go ahead and take this opportunity to share this with your partner.
It’s also a great time to open up and discuss sobriety. If you’re in a twelve-step program or are trying to do a better job at not being hypervigilant or controlling, let your partner know your progress and they can let you know how they are doing in their recovery. It’s important to note that some partners want to know the nitty-gritty details of their loved one’s recovery including the setbacks. I used to be that person. I felt I needed the what, where, when, etc. I eventually figured out that for me, it wasn’t beneficial for my recovery or my healing. It didn’t promote our growth as a couple either. Now, I only need the bare minimums. That’s what works for me. Some people prefer not to know anything at all and have their partners tell their sponsors or accountability partner. It’s whatever works for you and your relationship. There is no right or wrong way; it’s your way. It’s what your emotions can handle.
Emotions: Now that you’ve discussed your requests and care, this is the perfect time to talk about your emotions. If need be, take a few of those calming breaths we talked about. How do you both feel about what you discussed? Do your best to avoid being like me and answering with the standard, “I’m fine,” because life is just so much easier when we say that, isn’t it? Allow yourself to truly feel your emotions and then share them, gently, honestly, and calmly with your partner. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Try to finish on a positive note. Let your partner know how much you appreciate their time and their ability to be vulnerable with you, even if it's little stuff, it's something and that's much better than nothing.
Remember, this is a safe place for each of you. If we want to have a healthy and productive check-in, there should be no yelling, condemning, or criticism from either side.
Do you ever hold stuff in for too long or do you let people know when things are bothering you?