Sunday, July 01, 2012

How Much Together? How Much Apart?

I was talking to a friend this week about marriage. In recovery many of us have the opportunity to do relationships and marriage differently. We also know that many of us do different marriages—some more than once—or twice.  For this reason many of us in long-term recovery also read about relationships and we try counseling and workshops and “couples work.”

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.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

I am so thrilled to find your blog. I found out about it by clicking through links on the Renew facebook page...ended up on their website. I am a woman with long time recovery - 12 years clean with a minor skirmish with medication for two days after my mother's death in 2000 (it was her medication, and I took it rather than feel the loss). At that time, I was about to hit 11 years clean. So I like to say that I have 23 years of recovery - the last twelve clean. I'm excited to read through all of yours posts but just wanted to reach out and tell you - I am glad you are here. (I started a facebook page called She Recovers last year in order to create a community of women who could share what it is like to grow beyond our expectations of ourselves.

On the topic of relationships - I met my husband in an NA convention in 1989. We've been through a lot: stepkids (as in, not the Brady Bunch experience); my return to school for 3 degrees (addict? me?);cancer (his stage 0 kidney, mine stage 3 colon); a death of a parent (my mom...did more than wreck my clean time, it broke my heart); a bad bout of my own workaholism; my getting laid off from that job (there is a god); and now, a new career that is as far from anything I have ever done as could be. But we've learned a lot about ourselves, and our marriage is strong. I love summer because he goes fishing most weekends and I get the house and yard to myself. Not that I don't love his company, because I do. But I have worked so hard to enjoy my own company more than anyone's and I have a few years to make up to myself.

Well that's quite the babble. I told you I was excited to see your blog. get back to reading it.