As addicts, we damage our relationships. And sadly, the more important a relationship is to us, the more damage we tend to do. Once we enter recovery, beyond the work of staying sober and pulling our lives back together in a general way, a primary goal for many of us is healing our damaged connections—especially with our spouses and partners.
Most of the time, the most significant and painful damage, in the minds of our loved ones, involves the loss of relationship trust. As addicts, we lie, we keep secrets, we manipulate, we gaslight, and we just plain violate every aspect of relationship trust. These behaviors are part of the denial of our addiction. We lie to and keep secrets from ourselves and everyone else as a way of protecting (and continuing) our addictive behavior. Much of the time, we’re not even aware that we’re doing this. Our lack of truth and attempts at manipulation and justification become an unconscious, ingrained habit.
If we want to get out of the doghouse with our significant other, we need to rebuild relationship trust. If our partner can’t trust us, how can we expect that person to stay with us? And let me be clear here: Relationship trust is not automatically rebuilt just because we get sober, nor is it rebuilt just because we manage to stay sober for a certain timeframe. Instead, relationship trust is regained through consistent and sometimes painful actions engaged in over time.
To rebuild relationship trust, we need to make a commitment to living differently and abiding by certain relationship boundaries, the most important of which is ongoing rigorous honesty about everything, all the time, from here on out. This means that we need to fearlessly tell the truth no matter what, starting right now, even when we know it might be upsetting to our partner.
When we are rigorously honest, we tell our significant other about everything—not just the stuff that’s convenient or that we think will hurt the least. There are no more lies and no more secrets. With rigorous honesty, we tell the truth and we tell it faster. We keep our spouse in the loop about absolutely everything—spending, trips to the gym, gifts for the kids, issues at work, needing to fertilize the lawn, and, oh yeah, any interactions that he or she might not approve of. If our significant other would want to know, then we must tell. Period.
Notably, rigorous honesty is more about behaviors than thoughts. If we slip up and have a conversation with an old using buddy, we probably need to tell our spouse, and the sooner the better. If we simply think about doing that, we should talk this over with our therapist, our sponsor, or a close friend in recovery who is supportive of our healing process, but our significant other probably doesn’t need (or even want) to know. So, if we think about it but don’t do it, we need to talk about it, but we should do so with someone other than our spouse. If we actually do it, then we need to tell our mate.
In my next post on rebuilding an addiction-damaged relationship, I will discuss the difference between active and passive truth-telling.