A few years ago, we chose to add a member to our family by purchasing a cute puppy. What puppy isn’t cute? They are all adorable and innocent until… they grow up. Puppies grow up very fast, and a puppy without training and discipline is a nightmare. Needless to say, we quickly enrolled Koda in dog training classes. I immediately learned “dog training” was more along the lines of “owner training,” which taught me how to communicate and understand the language of “dog.”
Show me a well-trained dog who obeys its master’s voice or whistle, and I will show you a dog that can be trusted with some great freedoms. Show me a disobedient dog who has a hard time with obedience, and I will show you a dog on a short leash. The dog learns through obedience comes great freedom and a great relationship with its owner. The dog wants to please its master and understands the master has its best interest in mind.
How true is this example to those of us in recovery? Now, I am not saying we are dogs, but we can definitely learn some life lessons from our furry friends.
Like most addicts in recovery, we start with an attitude of “I have to…go to counseling, attend a support group, be accountable, forgive, love, pursue my partner, etc.” as compared to “I want to.” This is not only true of individuals but of couples as well.
Throughout the journey of recovery, the pendulum can swing back and forth between “have to” and “want to.” However, after some time, the addict and their partner generally realize the blessings and freedoms that come with recovery, and they become motivated to want more.
Most couples are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Generally, the partner is motivated by “want to” long before the addict is. The old life of doing what they wanted when they wanted only brought bondage. They realize there is freedom in accountability, order, structure, rules, discipline and obedience.
It can be very difficult to try to help individuals who struggle with addiction. Generally, the addict is hurt, sensitive and easily offended by the words and comments of others who are trying to help them. When working with couples, this is even more true.
For most couples, receiving correction from your spouse is enormously difficult. Many addicts have told me they feel they are on a short “leash” with their spouse. When in fact, they are correct with this observation. Trust has been broken, and it will take positive consistent behavior over a long period-of-time to restore it.
Oftentimes, when the non-addicted spouse begins to ask open questions to the addicted spouse about how they are doing in their recovery or more direct questions of accountability, (such as ”where have you been for the last two hours,” “what have you been doing” or “who you have been with?”), the addict generally becomes defensive and views these questions as threatening, accusing and critical.
Typically, the addict feels attacked, and the natural response is to defend oneself. Eventually, the addict can begin to build feelings of bitterness and resentment. Recovery for them is not freedom but bondage, as questions of accountability are only heard as accusations. The partner now cannot trust the addict and will tighten up on the “leash” which in turn will make the addict want to pull away even more.
Many addicts have distorted thinking, such as “I have worked hard today. I deserve a break.” “I am a grown man…” “It’s not a big deal.” “I have been sober for 90 days. I can handle it.” “It’s not a relapse; it’s just a slip.” It is this detrimental thinking that can continue throughout recovery and prolong their success.
They are still in “have to” not “want to” recovery. They are also externally motivated by their partner’s anger or by getting caught. They are not internally motivated to have a heart and attitude change to desire recovery nor to understand the freedom it brings. They are still emotionally and relationally stuck as a child. [Read from Childhood to Adulthood in Recovery].
If you or your partner are still externally motivated and in the “have-to” recovery mindset, the relationship will most likely not get better. If you have been in recovery more than a year and are still stuck here, know there is a better way. It starts with your attitude and understanding that you want to get better with or without your partner. Know that by staying obedient and accountable to your recovery, great freedom is close behind.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.