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Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationships

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

In the last few columns, we looked at how the first nine of the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous might be used to improve relationships. Now let’s explore how the next three Traditions (10, 11 and 12) can be applied in the same manner. What follows are the couple’s versions of the Traditions.

Tradition 10: Each member of the couple should refrain from allowing opinions on outside issues to disrupt unity, and should communicate with one another in a loving and non-controversial way. We sacrifice or surrender being overly-opinionated, disagreeable, meddlesome, and gossiping.

The essence of this Tradition is about learning to disagree without being disagreeable. As alcoholics, even as sober alcoholics, it is easy to fall into behavioral patterns that reflect our disease.

The alcoholic’s behavior is said to be characterized by immaturity, reactivity, rigidity, arrogance, defensiveness, and a powerful desire to be right. These characteristics lead to engagement with others – especially a romantic partner – in which mean and separating behaviors are out of control. The result is lots of drama, lots of hurt, some breakups, and some make-up sex.

While the make-up sex may be fun, it comes at a high price, and over time the relationship suffers.

Here are five inventory questions on this Tradition that are worth your consideration:

  • Do I focus on my partner’s defects to feel better about myself, and to avoid seeing and changing my own defects? What might I do instead, specifically?
  • Do I criticize or gossip about my partner to others? If so, why (to get sympathy, to feel superior, etc.)? What might I do instead, specifically?
  • Do I cultivate and practice judgment and blame (which wound and isolate) or mercy (which heals and unites) toward my partner? If judgment and blame, why? What might I do instead, specifically?
  • Am I able to articulate difficult truths to my partner in a loving way, or do I try to hurt, destroy, and insist on being “right” when I disagree? If the latter, how? Why? What might I do instead, specifically?
  • Am I able to disagree without being disagreeable (pouting, sulking, manipulating, bullying, etc)? If not, what might I do instead, specifically?

If our code is love and tolerance, then practicing that code when speaking to the person we love will go much further toward creating harmony. It will also make us more attractive, which brings us to Tradition 11.

Tradition 11: Our behavior should be based on attraction rather than promotion, and a willingness to sacrifice. We sacrifice or surrender being a promoter.

I sometimes joke that I used to think women found pouting and sulking very attractive in a man; they do not. Nor do they find bullying, manipulation, blame, neediness, or whining attractive.

Do my words reflect love and tolerance, or do they wound others? Am I respectful of others, or judgmental and dismissive?-Jay Westbrook

Key questions to ask in working this Tradition are whether or not our behavior, attitudes, and style are attractive – and not only to others, but to ourselves. If I looked at myself objectively, would I find my behavior, attitudes, and style attractive? Do my words reflect love and tolerance, or do they wound others? Am I respectful of others, or judgmental and dismissive? Am I generous or stingy – with my money, my time, my attention, and my affection? Am I self-supporting or self-sabotaging? Do my body, my clothes, my home, and my car reflect good hygiene or do they reflect a lack of self-respect and appreciation? Do I create stability or chaos? Do I write inventory or do I create it? How do I treat people who can do nothing for me? Do I score-keep: remembering every bad thing you’ve ever done and every good thing I’ve ever done?

Taking Tradition 11 inventory by asking and answering questions such as these will tell us very quickly how attractive or unattractive we are. If it is the latter, the good news is that the solution is built right into the question, and we can change.

Tradition 12: Sacrifice is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. We sacrifice or surrender need for recognition and personal distinction.

Tradition 12 in the Twelve and Twelve commences, “The spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice. Because AA’s 12 Traditions repeatedly ask us to give up personal desires for the common good, we realize that the sacrificial spirit – well symbolized by anonymity – is the foundation of them all.”

I have been moved to a state of humility and sacrifice by the patience, love, tolerance, mercy, and compassion of my wife and fellow AAs.-Jay Westbrook

When drinking, and in early sobriety, I was unwilling to sacrifice any of my self-centeredness. As I spent time in a 12-step world, I experienced again and again people making sacrifices for me. I learned about sacrifice by having it role-modeled for me and visited upon me, and I strive to incorporate it into by being. Over time, my personality has been surrendered to the principles of our Program, as I have been moved to a state of humility and sacrifice by the patience, love, tolerance, mercy, and compassion of my wife and fellow AAs.

There was a time when I could not have imagined doing anything around the house without pointing it out to Nancy, so I could receive “credit” for doing it. It took a while of being in meetings and hearing, “every day, do an act of kindness and don’t tell anyone,” to realize I could do that act of kindness in our home. The truth is that Nancy was so sensitive and observant, that she noticed anything I did to help around the house, and it 1) meant more to her and 2) felt better to me when I did so without demanding recognition and praise.


I am so grateful for these 12 Traditions, which for me are a simple instruction manual for relationships. All relationships, especially romantic ones, work better when I:

    • Put the common welfare first, and surrender being a loner.

  • Look for a loving God in my partner and in myself, and surrender being the ultimate authority.
  • Desire to be in a loving relationship, and behave in a way that reflects that desire. Surrender being conditional.
  • Act autonomously, except in matters affecting the other person or the couple as a whole, and surrender being the dictator and/or people-pleasing.
  • Carry a message of love and tolerance, mercy and compassion, to my partner and to myself, especially when we are suffering, and surrender being judgmental.
  • Avoid letting money, property, or prestige divert me from my primary purpose, and surrender materialism and ego.
  • Replace self-sabotage with self-support. Surrender dependency and using others.
  • Engage with the enthusiasm and purity of an amateur, and surrender being the expert.
  • Remain focused on service to my partner, and surrender being manipulative.
  • Communicate in a loving and respectful way. Surrender gossiping and being disagreeable and overly-opinionated.
  • Conduct myself in a way that is attractive to me and others. Surrender being a promoter.
  • Embrace anonymous service. Surrender my desire for recognition and distinction.


Related: Use the 12 Traditions to Improve Your Relationships – Part 3

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