Throughout my relationship with my partner, especially when he was in active addiction, I was always trying to change him. And the funny thing is, I never actually thought I was because in my mind it was help. I always believed myself to be someone who wasn’t like that, because I didn’t want to “restrict” him which would then lead to him pushing me away.
But changing him was what I was actually trying to do.
At the beginning of our friendship, I wanted to change him by helping him get sober and recover from his addiction, even when he didn’t ask me to do anything.
When he was feeling better, I wanted to change him by making sure he wasn’t out with other people too much and that he was acting in a way that was for my benefit.
When he would relapse, I would try to figure out the best way for things to work out for everyone, and I would make sure he did what I thought was best.
Even in matters not having anything directly to do with our relationship or addiction, I would try to intervene. Like if he would eat junk food, I would try to get him to eat healthier. Or when I would work out and go to the gym, I would try to get him to go, too.
And I mean sure, I wasn’t doing any of these things to be deliberately pushy or mean, and I was doing (most) things with the best of intentions (or what I thought were the best).
But still, at the end of the day, yes, I was trying to change him. I was focusing too much on what he was doing and not enough on what I was doing for myself. Also, I was trying to focus so much on him so that I didn’t have to focus on myself, at least fully. I found that if I tried to get him to do his work, I felt like I was still doing something beneficial and good.
After some time, I finally found the way things are supposed to work, and why things wouldn’t work in the past.
The trick is, we both have to be working on ourselves in our own ways, and meet in the middle.
Looking back now this seems very obvious, but when you’re in the middle of addiction and finding your own way in the relationship, and wondering how to help them, it’s hard to turn the focus on yourself (especially if you feel like you have to be the savior all the time).
It’s like a seesaw. You know, like those wooden ones at parks that kids play on.
I know I just said wood, but imagine for a second if you were able to bend the seesaw so that both ends could touch the ground. Now imagine both ends had heavy weights on them.
The seesaw represents your relationship. You are one side, and your partner is the other.
The weights are the things in your life that you are struggling with. For your partner, the weights can be their addiction of course, but also anything else they are struggling with.
For you, it can be the struggles in your own recovery, like perfectionism, issues with control, not being able to detach or surrender, things like that.
Obviously, when both ends are weighted down, the seesaw cannot work as intended. It can’t move, it’s just stuck, and isn’t any fun for anyone trying to use it.
Now imagine your partner gets sober, and starts recovery. They are doing better, they are doing the work, and trying to heal the things they are struggling with.
But if you aren’t doing the work on yourself, the seesaw still can’t work. Your side is still weighed down, and the balance is still unequal. Your partner could be doing so well that it’s like their addiction never existed. But if you aren’t doing anything for your own recovery, the relationship will still suffer.
Same goes the other way around. If you do the work on yourself, and do your work to heal your own struggles, then your end will become more and more free. But if your partner isn’t doing the work to heal and recover on his side, the relationship will still be unequal and unable to function.
But wait, when you start doing the work, how do you get your partner to follow? If you can’t try to change them, how do you get them to start improving as well?
That’s the thing. You can’t. You can’t go into it hoping your partner will do the same, and you can’t do it as a method of indirectly changing them either.
You have to do it for the simple reason that you want to change yourself and become a healthier person, on all levels. Just like it’s said that they have to “hit bottom” and be done living the way of active addiction, you have to as well. You have to want it for yourself, and not because you want them to change since they see you doing it. If you go into it for the wrong reasons, not only will no one change for the better, you might actually end up making things worse because you end up with more resentments and more negative qualities and weights of your own.
You also can’t start for positive reasons, and then stop because you think you are done. I know often I would start my journey when he would go away to rehab and then once he got back I would stop (and he would end up stopping as well eventually). It’s a constant, life long experience that you have to be committed to always walking.
If you go into it for the reason of benefiting yourself and growing and changing for you, you will very often come to the realization that you don’t actually need anything from them. You will become more sure and safe in yourself, and realize that they have their own life to live. You won’t try to change them because you realize that it won’t work in the long run, even if it appears it is for the short term.
But something else also happens. Sometimes when you change for the pure reason of healing yourself, that can also cause your partner to want to do better as well. They realize that their old ways won’t work anymore, and that causes their own journey to self work.
Of course, nothing is certain and they could also not decide that. But like I said, you will get to a place where it doesn’t bother you as much, if at all, anymore. You are recovering, and leaving things that aren’t yours to carry.
If you and your partner both decide to take the journey of self work, only then will your relationship seesaw be truly free to work as intended, and be fully equal. There is perfect balance, and even if at times your ends are opposite (meaning, you both can struggle at times and overcome those struggles), you always continue to push on, and become equal and balanced again. That’s how the balance works, and that’s how the relationship can heal and become healthy and fulfilling again. No one tries to change the other and both partners do their own work for the benefit of the relationship.
Addiction or not, we all have the power to choose how our lives go, and only we individually can decide what we will and won’t allow. But with time and recovery, we can more easily navigate this path, and become more of ourselves in the process.