I’m a big fan of check-in conversations. They helped me tremendously while I was trying to recover from the damage done to our marriage after the depths of Devin’s struggles were revealed to me. Having a scheduled time allowed us a safe place to talk to each other in a calm, peaceful, environment and my husband didn’t have to worry about feeling attacked by questions the second he walked into the house. We used FANOS, created by Debbie Laaser from Faithful and True for the longest time, but as our needs changed, so did our check-in conversations. Now we use my updated communication tool (with a grateful nod to Mrs. Laaser): 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 duck 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 maybe 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 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 calming breaths. 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 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.
Why Did I Stay?
I doubted my decision to stay in my marriage dozens of times that first year and a half. So many people I spoke to in anon groups or online were making the difficult decision to leave and here I was, staying. Why? Was I glutton for punishment?
No. I stood by Devin’s side because as a recovering addict, I felt I had a unique understanding of walking his path. I understand the disappointment when there’s an inner struggle between the desire to be sober and the actual ability to remain sober. It’s tough. I had my share of setbacks along the way. I don’t judge him for his struggles because it wasn’t my place to judge. I also had faith in myself, in him, and in us.
I’m emotionally healthy enough now to know I’m in this marriage because I want to be, not because I’m still trying to survive it. I’d sooner live in a cardboard box before I’d go through the mental anguish of being cheated on and manipulated again.
I was once asked how I could respect Devin after all he’d done to our marriage and me. When I put it in perspective, it became much easier. He is more than his addiction, just like I am. His actions were a result of his addiction. My addiction does not define me any more than his defines him.
Not all couples can make it through this addiction and that’s understandable. It’s no one’s fault. The important thing to remember is taking care of you, your needs, and only staying together if you’re both in a healthy recovery and able to maintain hope that things can get better. It’s not something that’s fixed overnight or cured in a few months. It’s a lifetime of commitment for you both. Only stay if you’re both willing to commit to that kind of recovery.
As I said, when I learned the truth about our marriage I almost left Devin several times that first year. I felt like his recovery wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted everything fixed immediately! I learned patience. I remembered what my marriage counselor told me. He said not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It took a long time before I understood what that meant. Just because the bathwater was dirty, like our relationship was damaged, didn’t mean I should throw the whole marriage out. Instead, I kept the baby, we fixed our partnership, then threw out the water, the bad stuff, in our marriage.
I stepped back and recognized the small strides he’d made in his recovery. He shared his feelings with me, something he’d never done before with such honesty. He hadn’t had a slip in a long time and he told me about his triggers (without over sharing them) with full accountability for himself and without blaming me. He was learning to open up and risked sharing his emotions with me and I did the same with him. It was difficult to allow myself to be so vulnerable again, but it happened over time.
I come back to what I mention all the time: the three recovery approach: mine, his, and then ours. This allowed us to focus on ourselves and it gave me the time I needed to heal from the trauma before trying to repair the relationship immediately. This way, I could take things a bit slower if I needed to that day, week, or month without feeling a ton of pressure. Lord knows I needed quite a while to process those emotions so any gift of time I could get, I grabbed. Maybe that approach can work for you too. If not, don’t give up, you’ll find what works best for you. There’s no one size fits all here.