Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationships
The 12 Traditions are to relationships as the 12 Steps are to sobriety.
In the last two columns, we looked at how the first six of the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous might be used to improve relationships. This month’s column will explore how the next three Traditions (seven, eight, and nine) can be applied in the same manner. What follows are the couple’s versions of the Traditions.
Tradition 7: Each member of the couple ought to be self-supporting, especially emotionally and spiritually. We sacrifice or surrender dependency, using others and self-sabotage.
This is my second favorite Tradition, second only to Tradition 5, in my ability to use it to create powerful changes in me, and my relationships.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a survivor of brutal ongoing incest from age three to six. My wife, Nancy, on the other hand, grew up in a loving, supportive, stable, and non-abusive home. Early in our relationship, my incest would sometimes get triggered out in the world, and I would come home expecting Nancy to support me in a manner that would fix me. I would expect her to cater to me, to read my mind, to walk/talk on eggshells, and to sleep with me – not as an expression of our love, but as a distraction and to make me feel better.
If Nancy did not, then I would blame her for my state. I would say she “made me feel” unimportant, insignificant, abandoned and unloved. The truth was that Nancy consistently demonstrated that I was important, significant and loved by her, and I was just using the situation – my triggered incest – to feel a certain way. I was also looking to someone who had no experience with incest or incest recovery to understand my situation and the tools needed to change it.
I was failing to remember that it is my job, an inside job, to be self-supporting emotionally and spiritually.-Jay Westbrook
I was failing to remember that it is my job, an inside job, to be self-supporting emotionally and spiritually. It is my job to use the myriad tools that have been laid at my feet to change my perspective, my action and my state – rather than expecting Nancy to do that. It is also essential that, when I am triggered (in any way), I consciously replace being self-sabotaging with being self-supporting. Otherwise, I will go out and sabotage myself, my sobriety, my job, my relationship, etc., and justify it by blaming you for not supporting me in the way I wanted and expected.
Failing to practice this Tradition, over time, places an impossible burden on our partners to “fix” us. It also both cultivates and reinforces a stance wherein we are not responsible for the condition of our internal and external lives, and leads to a life of frustration and blame. The solution is to practice Tradition 7 – to surrender self-sabotage and expectations, or demands, for others to fix us, and to become self-supporting.
Tradition 8: Each member of the couple should remain non-professional, and may employ special workers. We sacrifice or surrender being the expert, the know-it-all.
I am a professional hospice nurse, extremely knowledgeable in pain management and symptom control in the dying. My patients and their families expect me to be the expert, to know everything, and to be somewhat rigid in fighting for what I know will bring them the greatest comfort.
That being said, I am not a professional husband, lover, partner or friend. And, my personal relationships – especially my romantic relationship – seem to go much better when I approach them with the enthusiasm and “equal footing” of an amateur, and without the rigidity (“my way or the highway”) of a professional.
[Nancy] surrendered thinking she knew what was best for her and everybody else, and she let go of her preconceptions about how everything and everyone should be.-Jay Westbrook
Nancy used to buy me clothes that she knew would make me look better. She was acting like a professional, the rigid fashion expert. She had an ulterior motive – to change my look. I would thank her, tell her it wasn’t my look, and not wear the clothes. She would then get hurt and angry. She finally let go of that behavior when she learned this Tradition. She surrendered thinking she knew what was best for her and everybody else, and she let go of her preconceptions about how everything and everyone should be. I love you Nancy, but I’m a “solids” guy, and am not going to wear checks and patterns.
We also found that certain activities in our lives caused us great stress, usually because we weren’t very good at them, and we would become irritable and snap at one another. These activities included moving, tax preparation, cleaning the pool, and purchasing cars. Our solution was in this Tradition – we employed “special workers” (moving men, accountants, etc.), and our relationship became much more harmonious.
Tradition 9: Each member of the couple ought never be organized, but should remain focused on service to one another. We sacrifice or surrender manipulation.
To me, this Tradition is about surrender and powerlessness more than any of the other Traditions. My entire life, I have come from a place of fear – fear of not getting what I wanted, fear of losing what I had, fear of pain, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, and fear of being laughed at.
I manipulated, coerced, charmed, powered and bullied Nancy in an attempt to organize her words and actions in a way that allowed me to feel in control…-Jay Westbrook
In response, I have tried to organize everything and everyone to fill or meet my needs and to protect me from my fears. I manipulated, coerced, charmed, powered and bullied Nancy in an attempt to organize her words and actions in a way that allowed me to feel in control and pretend my fears were not being realized. This took tremendous vigilance and energy on my part, almost destroyed that which I was trying to preserve, and allowed no space for spontaneity, playfulness or joy. In other words, I was not a happy camper and not a camper with whom you’d want to spend time.
In my sober journey, and because of this Tradition, I have become willing to surrender control and live in powerlessness, acceptance and even celebration of you. To the exact degree to which I have been willing to do this, I get to live in the grace of the intuitive level, with God in control, and no need for me to organize – manipulate – the words and behaviors of others to get what I want.
Instead, I am open to life’s blessings and tender mercies.
Next month, we’ll look at the next three Traditions, and how they apply to relationships. In the meantime, practice the first nine Traditions and see how your relationships change for the better.
Related Reading: Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationship – Part II