This article belongs to Addictions Anonymous column.

Relationship Problems

Unhappy relationships come up for discussion in many group therapy sessions. For some of us, all of life is controlled by relationships while, for others, relationships are few and relatively insignificant. Woe unto the relationship-dependent personality who gets involved with the detached or loner type of person. They could both be unhappy because they are reading from different scripts. It's very easy to mistake the intentions and needs of another when our own thinking is clouded by need.


If you made a mistake in forming a relationship, admit it, learn from it, and consider the costs of leaving it. Leaving is often the best, and the most neglected, option.


All relationships are voluntary

It may not seem so, but every new day we continue in any relationship is the result of a decision we make to continue it. As soon as you decide you have no power to end a relationship, it's already dead.


Leaving has a price

The price of leaving a relationship can be financial and emotional. People bond in relationships for selfish reasons: protection, work, sharing resources, ideas, complimentary assets, legal decisions, power sharing, sexual gratification and so forth. Do you know why you are in whatever relationships you find yourself in? Are you still there for the reasons that led you into it, or have things changed since then? It's sometimes hard to be honest with ourselves, but it helps if we are.


One complicating factor that may occur is when two people enter into a rewarding relationship for very different reasons with very different goals. I see nothing wrong with this when it works, except that sometimes dreaming tells us that someone's motives and goals are the same as our own. Then, we're in trouble. As they say, read all the fine print before you sign up.


Staying always has rewards

Mostly, people approve of durable relationships and growl about people who move on leaving disappointed or angry partners behind. So, staying may pay off in terms of social acceptance, emotional or financial security, status, power or control, and more. Is the pay-off worth it? Maybe sometimes it's best to put up with some trouble in one area of life in order to gain something in some other area.


Leaving has rewards

Living a solitary life, even for a short time, can lead to the discovery of new personal freedom and can encourage the development of new emotional resources making you less dependent. If you can't bear living alone, it's not realistic to think that a new relationship can bury that problem. If you can't choose to live alone at times, you've given up important choices.  


Staying in always has a cost

Bad relationships cost us time, resources and energy. A chronically bad relationship can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Is the cost worth it? Whining about it doesn't help. A rational cost/benefit analysis can help.


Don't re-assign the burden of a bad relationship

An abused wife calls the cops every time, and nothing changes in the marriage. A new mother has a kid for the wrong reasons and then leaves the grandmother to baby-sit or even to take over full time, and nothing changes for the mother. Rather than get a divorce, a spouse puts up with infidelity, addiction or worse, and nothing changes. Someone due for a root canal hires a stand-in . . . no, that won't work, but it is the same kind of thinking.


Soap opera relationships

You know what these are, the kind we see in Italian or German operas, or on daytime television. Isn't it glorious to suffer through the joy and doubt of failed marriages? Isn't it dramatic to end up in suicidal behavior beating your chest and pulling your hair? Isn't it cute to spin out tales of undying loyalty in the face of certain disappointment? Don't you love it when someone undertakes some stupid romantic quest or holy mission in the face of all odds and criticism? You know the drill: do really dumb stuff, blame others, and enjoy life's tempests.


If I were a marriage and family counselor, I'd avoid soap opera lovers. Some people love to cement relationships for others; I love to cement departures when the time comes.


No special cases

When a relationship is hard to end, we know the personal price may be very high. The law requires a parent to provide for and protect a minor child, or does it? If you're really an unwilling, rotten parent, put the poor kid up for adoption or get yourself sent to jail. The state will take over and be a better parent.



Fire your kids

If your kids are grown and still depend on you and drive you nuts, admit your failure to produce self-sufficient kids and tell them where to get food stamps. Changing the locks helps.


Fire your parents

If you can easily provide and care for aging parents in your home, and if everybody is happy doing that, there is no problem. If you're trapped between small children and the needs of aging parents, you face tough decisions that must be made for the good of all. If your Mom or Dad is merely a pain in a bad place, fire him or her. Don't let parents work emotional blackmail on you unless, of course, you like classic Greek tragedy or soap operas.

Fire your boss

So, you just have to keep that old job that makes you so miserable? There are two reasons to work as far as I can see: money and self-actualization (whatever that is). You're abusing work if you work for power, control, status, to spite someone, guilt, shame, insecurity . . . well, how basic can I get? Work for money and because you enjoy it. Nothing else matters unless you get drafted into the military or sent to prison. Then you work to stay alive, and that's not a bad motive although most of us will never experience it.



Happiness is not a soap opera. Soap operas are not fit entertainment for a sound mind, or the basis of any good relationship.


In summary, if you really feel that your life is controlled by relationships you cannot escape, you will be very depressed and prone to addiction or relapse. Remember the old slogan: pay any price and go to any lengths to avoid relapse. Any lengths! No half measures, no compromises. Taking control of life may mean taking control of relationships by finding solutions, advice and resources. Control means change.


Sponsors and Sponsorship

Therapy groups often talk about sponsorship in self-help groups. Normally, of course, what happens in a Twelfth Step group is not talked about outside the group, but I think a general discussion of important topics is acceptable as long as we avoid names and personalities. The most frequent problem I heard was that a member would elect to not get a sponsor in the organization. They were not sure they needed one, they didn't know how to go about asking for one, or they didn't know what expect from a sponsor


Same sex sponsors

There is a general consensus that men should ask men to sponsor them and women should ask women. On balance, I think this is a good idea since patterns of addiction often seem different between men and women. Family and work problems are different to say nothing of temperament. You need someone you can feel comfortable with, someone you can trust, but not someone who is too lenient.


A sponsor is never a romantic target

 Leave attraction out of it. But, does this mean that a gay person should pick a straight person, or a person of the opposite physical sex? Some questions confuse your friendly shrink, except that a caring relationship, not a romantic relationship, is the goal. Let's not complicate what should be a simple thing. Leave sex out of it.


A sponsor is not a used car salesman

No buying, selling or swapping cars, houses, wives or other items. Leave money and materialistic things out of it.


A sponsor is not a convenience store

Don't pick a sponsor because he or she is convenient, as in a neighbor, a fellow worker, family member, or favorite dogcatcher. You're probably better off picking the toughest, meanest, and hard to find s.o.b. in the room. That way, getting hold of your sponsor will be a real accomplishment, especially if you call every day, as you should during the first months of recovery.


Don't mess up the relationship by asking a sponsor to give or get you a job. In fact, if you don't ask for any material favors; things will go better for both of you.



A sponsor is not your mommy

 "Why doesn't my sponsor ever call me?" Well, why doesn't your sponsor come tuck you in at bedtime, or bring you warm milk and cookies, or worry constantly about your sniffles, zits and scrapes? A sponsor is only a tool, not a parent. A tool only works when you pick it up and use it. Life would be hell if your hammer and saw kept running around trying to get your attention and trying to take care of you.


Don't expect your sponsor to have the patience of Job

(I'm really rather vague on who Job was, but they say he was very patient.) Sponsors have lives; they have families, jobs, and commitments. The last thing they need to hear every other day is, "Gosh, I slipped and used again." After a few calls like that, expect your sponsor to politely tell you to go to meetings, work the program and leave them alone. And a sponsor is not going to call you and ask if you brushed your teeth and ate your veggies; you're supposed to call them and, yes, everyday at first.


A sponsor is not your shrink

Good sponsors try hard to understand you, and some are skillful advisors, but mostly they just want you to follow their suggestions, report your daily progress, attend meetings, work the steps, and respect their time. Today is the only day we have, so that's where you should be in working with your sponsor. A sponsor is wise not to get too emotionally involved with those they sponsor. With time and experience they often develop an objective or matter-of-fact attitude that may seem cold at first. Empathy is great, but thinking and action get the work done.


Ask not what your sponsor can to for you; ask rather what you can do for your sponsor, and why he or she is willing to be a sponsor

Sponsoring a new person can be a big responsibility, so realize that whomever you pick may be looking at this as a risky situation; do your best to take the risk out of it for them. Sponsors want to be reminded of the pain and frustration of trying to quit. A sponsor wants to feel needed, so admit that you need advice, guidance, and leadership. Sponsors want to feel they are heard, so do whatever they suggest and just follow directions without arguments. Sponsors often need to balance obligations, so if you're given a time to call, honor that except in great emergencies.


If your sponsor were to go back out and uses an addictive again

It does happen occasionally. Don't take it personally, and get a new sponsor immediately. Although you should try to remain on friendly terms and welcome him or her back to meetings, never keep an active addict as a sponsor. If you've put a sponsor on a pedestal, you've made serious error in thinking. Don't do it again.