How to Use the 12 Steps to Improve Your Relationship
In last month’s column, “Heal Fractured Relationships with These 7 Tools,” an 8th bonus resource was identified: Live the 12 Traditions. It explains, “The 12 Traditions are to relationships as the 12 Steps are to sobriety. They really are the instruction manual for [improving] relationships.”
So, the next set of articles will each consider several of the Traditions and discuss how to apply them to improve your relationships.
Tradition 1: Our common welfare should come first; recovery as a couple depends upon our unity. We sacrifice or surrender being a loner.
In early recovery, I became convinced the IRS was after me, in spite of not having been contacted by them. I withdrew all my money ($9,800) out of the bank and put it in my back pockets, to prevent the IRS from seizing our bank account. Somehow, I found myself in front of Glendale Harley-Davidson, with a used red FXR in the window, priced at exactly $9,800.
There was the motorcycle I wanted, and in my pocket was the money my wife and I had been saving toward the down payment on a home. I remember walking away from the bike with the cash for the down payment still in my pocket, and realizing it was one of the first times in which I had placed the common welfare above my own benefit, and it felt great.
For most with the disease of substance abuse, it’s always been about me, me, me! It is not uncommon for that self-centeredness to follow us into recovery, and to continue to have a corrosive effect on our relationships. It disallows intimacy from ever developing. Our selfish behavior keeps us alone and miserable.
I’m sorry. I’ve done nothing but talk about myself. Let’s talk about you; what do you think about me?
There’s a joke about the guy who can’t get a second date in sobriety. He tells his sponsor, “I take women out to a nice dinner; I’m clean, polite, and smell good; I spend a few hours telling them all about myself; I’m a gentleman, but they never want a second date with me.” The sponsor says, “you can’t just talk about yourself; you have to engage them, talk about them.”
So, on the next date, he takes the lady to a lovely restaurant and talks about himself for almost two hours. He suddenly realizes what he’s done, and says, “I’m sorry. I’ve done nothing but talk about myself. Let’s talk about you; what do you think about me?”
The opposite behavior – making it all about the other person – can also be corrosive. This behavior is most often associated with Al-Anons and co-dependents, but is certainly not limited to them. Over time, it breeds hurt, sadness, “suffering in silence,” and resentment, and it destroys intimacy.
The solution is found in Tradition 1 – to place the common welfare first. We do that by running our plans, behavior, and decisions through the filter of “does this serve the common welfare or oppose it?” As we commence to use that filter, behavior changes, and relationships are strengthened.
Tradition 2: Concerning couples, there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. We are but trusted servants; we do not govern. We sacrifice or surrender being the ultimate authority.
I remember hearing Nancy, my wife, telling friends that our favorite restaurant was at La Cienega & Santa Monica. I jumped in and said, “no it’s not – it’s on Santa Monica, just west of La Cienega.” Technically, I was correct, but Nancy wasn’t giving directions to the restaurant, she was just describing it. I had gone out of my way to act like the ultimate authority and to make her wrong. I saw the hurt in her eyes and her embarrassment over how I’d spoken to her, and realized the damage I cause when I act like the ultimate authority (and fail to place the common welfare first – Tradition 1).
As Nancy and I learned this Tradition, we started having threesomes – Jay, Nancy and God. The easy part for me was to look for a loving God in Nancy, and when I saw that God in her, my behavior always softened and improved. The hard part for me was to look for a loving God in me, although every time I looked for and saw that God in me, my behavior again softened and improved.
Tradition 3: The only requirement is a desire to be in a loving partnership, and to behave in a manner which reflects that desire. We sacrifice or surrender being conditional.
My friend Bob worked the oilrigs in Texas. Each day, after work, he’d drive to the highway and look west towards California, then east towards his house. Each day he’d turn east and return to his family, but behave as though the only place he wanted to be was California, and withhold his love unless they embraced the idea of moving to California. Not surprisingly, his marriage was disintegrating.
It’s been my experience in my relationship, that the more conditional I am with my wife, the more turmoil, frustration, resistance, resentment, and disappointment I create. However, when I allow what Nancy gives to be enough, especially in the sexual and emotional arenas, it always seems that it becomes safe for her to risk giving more. For me, this is the most important lesson of Tradition 3.
Next month, we’ll look at the next three Traditions, and how they apply to relationships.
In the meantime, you might want to make a conscious effort to place the common welfare first, to let go of acting like the ultimate authority, to look for a loving God in your partner, to look for a loving God in you, to let go of being conditional, and to allow what your partner gives to be enough. Try that for a month and see how your relationship changes for the better.
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