Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationship

Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationship

The 12 Traditions are to relationships as the 12 Steps are to sobriety.

In last month’s column, we looked at how the first three of the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous might be used to improve relationships. This column will discuss and explore the next three Traditions.

Tradition 4: Each member should be autonomous except in matters affecting the other person or the couple as a whole. We sacrifice being a dictator and/or people pleasing.

In early recovery, Nancy (my wife) and I lived in West Hollywood, and regularly attended a Monday night meeting at La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills. When I drove, I’d go the “right” way – south, then west. When Nancy drove, she’d go the “wrong” way – west, then south. On “my” route, there was less traffic, but Nancy worried that our big Chevy Blazer would get side-swiped on the narrow streets I navigated. On “her” route, there was heavy traffic, and I complained as we inched along the wide, but congested, streets she chose.

We usually argued about the route the other chose, and arrived at the meeting frustrated and disconnected. But the point was, we arrived at the meeting – whether we went south, then west, or west, then south – either way, we arrived at the meeting.

Autonomy means self-governing, and this Tradition suggests that I get to be self-governing except in matters affecting the other person or the couple as a whole. Once the other person or the couple as a whole is affected, we really need to return to Tradition 2 and have a group conscience, or to Tradition 1 and strive for unity by placing the common welfare first. And, that’s exactly what we did – we decided that the driver gets to choose the route, and the passenger just goes along for the ride, without arguing, pouting, or sulking.

Once the other person or the couple as a whole is affected, we really need to return to Tradition 2 and have a group conscience, or to Tradition 1 and strive for unity by placing the common welfare first.-Jay Westbrook

What happened was we arrived at the meeting happy and feeling connected. Others noticed it and commented that we “looked different, looked good,” and asked what we were doing. Just living the Traditions, by surrendering being the dictator.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If asked by a partner which movie you’d prefer to see, or what kind of food you’d like to eat, consistently responding “which ever you want, whatever you’d like” is a form of people-pleasing. In situations where I am asked for my opinion or preference, I have a responsibility to make the autonomous decision that is being requested, and in so doing, surrender people-pleasing.

Failing to practice this Tradition, over time, breeds irritation, bickering, and separation. The solution is to practice Tradition 4 – to surrender my autonomy when something affects the other person or the couple as a whole, and to take responsibility for an autonomous decision when asked and/or when it does not affect the couple as a whole.

Tradition 5: Each member of the couple has a primary purpose – to carry a message of love and tolerance, mercy and compassion to each other and to themselves, especially when either is suffering. We sacrifice or surrender being judgmental.

I remember Nancy coming home from work frustrated and exhausted, walking in the door, slamming it, throwing her stuff down and sighing. There was a time when I was offended by that, thinking “how dare she bring that anger into my house.” Then I remembered that it was not “my house,” but rather “our home.”

…I was blessed to learn this Tradition, and to view Nancy’s behavior as a manifestation of her suffering.-Jay Westbrook

Additionally, I was blessed to learn this Tradition, and to view Nancy’s behavior as a manifestation of her suffering. Once I saw her suffering, I immediately had this Tradition to guide my behavior – stop judging her, and bring love and tolerance to the suffering alcoholic. That was not too hard because of how much I loved Nancy.

What was hard was to learn to see my own less-than-ideal behavior as suffering, and let go of the self-judgment and bring love and tolerance to me as well. One of the things that helped was the realization that being compassionate to others, but not to self, was not a compassionate stand.

It was also invaluable for me to learn to replace judgment – of self and of others – with its opposite, mercy. Judgment comes from the head, mercy from the heart; judgment wounds, mercy heals; judgment separates, mercy unites; and judgment is touching pain with fear, mercy is touching pain with love.

This is actually my favorite Tradition, and has, I believe, created the greatest change in my behavior and in my relationships of all of the Traditions.

Tradition 6: The couple ought never let problems of money, property or prestige divert them from their primary purpose. We sacrifice or surrender being materialistic and egotistical.

Professionally, I am a hospice nurse, and work bedside with dying patients and grieving families, and have done so for over a quarter century. I am at the top of my field, and am often asked – and paid – to speak nationally to groups of others who do the same work. I’m a fabulous speaker (I don’t believe in false modesty) and easy to work with, so there was a time when I was flying out of town to speak four to six times per month.

I tried to say it was about earning extra money when the opportunity arose, and it was, in part. But, it was also about my ego and the prestige of being recognized as a national expert.

However, each time I flew to a convention or gathering to speak, it was time away from Nancy. And in truth, the relationship suffered. I failed to bring balance to my choices, and let my desire for more money, more recognition, and more prestige cloud my priorities.

I failed to bring balance to my choices, and let my desire for more money, more recognition, and more prestige cloud my priorities.-Jay Westbrook

Certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing my knowledge and tools, generating additional income, and enjoying others’ recognition of my expertise. But all of that has to come second to making time for my family, creating sufficient “down-time” to renew spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and cultivating an approach of service rather than just a desire for more money and prestige.

Of course, as soon as I started practicing a more balanced and selective approach to these choices, I reduced my time away from home, got to enjoy the company of beloved Nancy, and found a little more humility and greater opportunity to renew. Balance, for me, was the key.

Next month, we’ll look at the next three Traditions, and how they apply to relationships. In the meantime, practice the first six Traditions and see how your relationships change for the better.

Related Reading: Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationship – Part I

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