I was saying to my friend that I wished for more time alone at home. My husband is a teacher and he is off in the summer so I miss my mornings alone in the house. My friend’s husband travels for work and so she has lots of alone time but she misses those daily dinners they shared when his previous job brought him home every night.
It is true that the grass is always greener, but its also true that we each have a preference for how much autonomy and how much dependency we like. It’s almost as if we each have a set point. That’s also why many of us couldn’t be married to someone else’s spouse.
I remember in early recovery a therapist explaining to me that the hardest work a couple has to do is learn their preferences and negotiate the middle. I know that I was a “distancer”—always pushing away, making space and when I was in the midst of addiction I was the one who left. But I also learned that being a distancer gets challenged when I meet another person who likes a lot of space too. What I learned over time was that my distancing simply hid my own need for dependence. When a new guy stayed away, or walked away first, then I got to feel that yucky, dependent, needy, caring feeling.
That’s part of what we get when we are sober a long time. We learn about ourselves and what is underneath our first or presumed reactions. I was a distancer until a man took more distance, then I would I tip toe back toward coupledom and closeness. It’s similar for my sober friend who says she likes to be very close and have lots of time together. When her husband was laid off for eight months and was waiting at the door each night she took longer and longer to get home from work each day.
We contain all of it.
I have come to believe that when we say of any other person’s behavior, “Can you imagine!” that in fact we actually can. And that’s what upsets us. We all have it in us to be dependent and to run away. Psychologists talk about “reaction formation” where we do the very opposite of what we want or fear. My fear of being dependent, or having someone dependent on me, is very likely some of the fuel in my “independence” and distancing.
The gift of long recovery is all this learning about ourselves. And then, if we have the courage to face what we learn, we can create or re-create great relationships with our partners.