Category Archives: For spouses & parents

Do this and your relationships will work 10 times better

Relating without manipulating

All of us want better relationships. For many of us, addiction has created walls of distrust and isolation. Many of us struggle with codependence, which creates stress, confusion, and resentment in our relationships.

Addiction isolates, and community (friendship, love, intimacy) heals us. But we have to learn how to relate in healthy ways, so that we can build friendship, love, and intimacy. Our addiction and codependent relationships are evidence of the fact that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to learn.

If we can learn this one thing, it will make our relationships work 10 times better: relate honestly, no manipulation. When we are manipulative with others, we create distrust and resentment. If we are skilled manipulators, we can be so subtle that it’s hard for people to tell that we’re being manipulative. But that doesn’t matter: if we are subtly manipulative, it just means that people will be subtly resistant, and over time we’ll notice them pulling away from us. They may not even be able to articulate why they are pulling away … they just don’t like being around us.

How do we manipulate? Besides manipulation through outright lying, here are some key strategies of manipulation. Be honest with yourself – do you do any of these?

  1. Being passive-aggressive is a means of punishing people when they displease us without acknowledging that (a) we are displeased, or (b) that we are punishing them. It is a way of relating that does not admit our displeasure with someone, and therefore creates confusion and consternation in the people around us. They know they’ve done something that bothers us, but are not sure what.
  2. Unspoken guidance is another way we try to manipulate other peoples’ behavior. In this case, we are trying to get them to do more of the things we like. To accomplish this, we do things that seem kind and sweet, but aren’t done out of the goodness of our heart. We are doing the things we do as a way of getting others to respond to us in a certain way.
  3. Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win back our approval. Note that we aren’t telling them that we’re displeased, or why … we are expecting them to intuit this, and then go out of their way to be nice or apologetic to us.
  4. Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose. We want them to feel something towards us, or do something for us … so we offer insincere praise.
  5. Withholding deserved praise is another manipulation strategy. It is a means of putting others down without overtly saying anything unkind. We seek to “bring others down” by refusing to encourage or affirm something that legitimately deserves to be affirmed or encouraged. Usually we do this because of jealousy or resentment.

Manipulative behavior is almost always selfish behavior. It is usually a false means of trying to get our own way. It is an immature and unhealthy way of dealing with people and situations — and it often backfires because people sense the manipulation and resent it.

Never forget this: We don’t have the right or the responsibility to control or regulate other people. If we want to influence another’s actions, our best approach is simply to state our own desires/needs with sincerity and honesty. Others must be free to act, free to choose, and free to make their own decisions without manipulative interference on our part.

The best way to avoid being manipulative is to do two things:

(1) Do whatever we need to stay in touch with our own emotions and needs. We can’t deal with our emotions and needs if we don’t understand what they are.

(2) Find ways of honestly expressing those emotions and needs. There will be times when emotional triggers highjack us, or busy schedules overwhelm and cause us to shut down. When that happens, we will need to step back, quiet ourselves, and possibly meditate or journal to get back in touch with our souls.

This might sound like a lot of work, and it is at first. But it does get easier over time, and the rewards are tremendous. The rewards are serenity, intimacy, and recovery.

* This is a remix of a meditation by Mel B, published in “Walk in Dry Places” by Hazelden Publishing. I took some of Mel’s ideas and mixed them with my own, rewording, adding things, and taking other things out. My sense is that what separates written “remixing” like I’m doing here and plagiarism is that I’m acknowledging my debt to the source.

What do you think? Do you find other ways people are manipulative in relationships? Do you think this impacts recovery?

Codepedence is not just an issue for partners of addicts

Many of us struggle with codependency. When addiction is present in a relationship, the old model was that the addict was “dependent” and his or her spouse was “codependent.” But today we know that usually both the addict and spouse struggle with codependency in its various forms.

Codependency happens when we lose touch with our sense of self, and become over-dependent on how other people are doing, and/or how they perceive us. Since we are not “okay” with ourselves, we have to work overtime to ensure that other people around us are doing okay, and/or that they feel good about us.

So we wind up tolerating things we shouldn’t tolerate, feeling responsible for things we shouldn’t feel responsible for, and compromising what we want simply in order to please someone else. This inevitably leads to distress and frustration, which causes the addict to move deeper into their addiction, and for the addict’s spouse to cope in other ways.

The issue of codependence is complicated for Christians, because it gets mixed up with our desire to love and serve other people. The Bible tells us to “consider others better than ourselves.” But the same Bible also tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which presupposes some sort of healthy self-regard. The Bible also portrays Jesus himself taking time away from the crowds – not being “nice” and doing what they want him to do – in order to rest and reconnect with God the Father.

The trick to living a recovery life in relationships with others is to know how to separate healthy love with unhealthy codependence.

Melody Beattie has been a great help for me over the years with her many books on this topic. One of her best books on this topic is a daily meditation book called “The Language of Letting Go.”

In another article on this blog, I wrote about codepedence, and quoted at length from her book. But it’s so good and helpful that I want to quote some more! What follows are some excerpts about the issue of “Property Lines”:

A helpful tool in our recovery, especially in the behavior we call detachment, is learning to identify who owns what. Then we let each person own and possess his or her rightful property.

If another person has an addiction, a problem, a feeling, or a self-defeating behavior, that is their property, not ours. If someone is a martyr, immersed in negativity, controlling, or manipulative, that is their issue, not ours.

If someone has acted and experienced a particular consequence, both the behavior and the consequence belong to that person.

People’s lies, deceptions, tricks, manipulations, abusive behaviors, inappropriate behaviors, cheating behaviors, and tacky behaviors belong to them, too. Not us.

People’s hopes and dreams are their property. Their guilt belongs to them too. Their happiness or misery is also theirs. So are their beliefs and messages.

If some people don’t like themselves, that is their choice. Their choices are their property, not ours. What people choose to say and do is their business.

What is our property? Our property includes our behaviors, problems, feelings, happiness, misery, choices, and messages; our ability to love, care, and nurture; our thoughts, our denial, our hopes and dreams for ourselves. Whether we allow ourselves to be controlled, manipulated, deceived, or mistreated is our business.

In recovery, we learn an appropriate sense of ownership. If something isn’t ours, we don’t take it. If we take it, we learn to give it back. Let other people have their property, and learn to own and take good care of what’s ours.

Today, I will work at developing a clear sense of what belongs to me, and what doesn’t. If it’s not mine, I won’t keep it. I will deal with myself, my issues, and my responsibilities.

If you want to learn more about codependence, consider signing up for the Recovery Journey, an e-course for people in recovery from sexual struggles. If you are the partner of someone who struggles, note that we have a special module with materials just for the partners. You can learn more about this program at the website:

How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

In the process of recovering from sexual struggles, restoring relationships is vital … and hard. When sexual strugglers are married, their addiction / compulsion has led to repeated sexual betrayal in one form or another. Unlike other addictions, sexual addiction strikes at the heart of the marriage commitment. How can someone forgive that?

In the past year, my wife has started counseling wives of sexual strugglers, and we are now counseling couples together Continue reading How can you forgive your spouse in the aftermath of sexual betrayal?

How to build intimacy in your marriage

FREE Teleseminar – Thursday, July 21

Helping couples build emotional and spiritual intimacy is a big part of what we do in our recovery work. Recently, Charlene has been working to finish her Master’s in Counseling and Psychotherapy (only her master’s thesis is left!). Part of this has involved working with many couples in her internship practice.

Her experience confirms what we both sensed while we were working in the church world: MANY couples struggle to build intimacy. It’s not just marriages that are messed up with sex addiction … it’s almost everybody.

My wife Charlene and I will be conducting a teleseminar this Thursday, which we do every month for people in the Recovery Journey Program, and we’re opening it up to all the readers of this blog. We’re going to be talking about the challenge of building marital intimacy, and what we have learned about how to do it. We will be talking about the FANOS conversation model (created by Mark and Deb Laaser), and what we have learned after working with it in our own marriage for almost seven years, and sharing it with hundreds of people.

In today’s culture, we tend to think about “intimacy” in terms of our physical / sexual relationship. In this teleseminar, we want to focus on how emotional and spiritual intimacy can build our sexual relationship. For many reasons, this is important and challenging for couples who are dealing with the aftermath of sexual brokenness. Infidelity, pornography use, and other sexual struggles disrupt a couples’ sexual relationship, and (obviously) disrupt intimacy on many levels. We also find that the process of recovery often reveals an ongoing lack of emotional connection that was a chronic issue even before the sexual behaviors were revealed. How can couples rectify this? That’s what we’ll be talking about.

Continue reading How to build intimacy in your marriage

How to fight relapse in recovery: watch out for addictive thinking

Recovery is a growth process, and relapse is an interruption of that growth. But relapse doesn’t mean going back to square one. Unfortunately, that is almost always what the relapser is thinking. After four months or four years years of recovery, a person who relapses may feel like they’re back at rock bottom. They may believe that they “haven’t changed at all.”

But they’re wrong. And this mistaken conclusion can make things worse, inhibiting their recovery from from the relapse. Many people who relapse think, “What’s the use? I’ve tried and it doesn’t work. I might as well give up the fight.”

The problem is they are jumping to a conclusion rather than looking at the facts of their situation: the progress they’ve made, the skills they’ve learned, and the rewards of recovery.

We know that there is a part of the person who has relapsed that wants to continue the addictive behavior. The ideas of futility and despair are nothing but typical addictive (all or nothing) thinking. All or nothing thinking inevitably leads to despair when we fail to measure up to our standards of perfection.

All of our behaviors – including our patterns of thinking – have a purpose. The purpose of the addictive, all or nothing thinking is to promote continued addictive behavior. In other words, the all or nothing thinking leads to despair, which creates an excuse to just go act out again.

The truth is that relapse doesn’t wipe out the gains recovering addicts have made. It’s important for people in recovery to keep this in mind.

Important Caveat: With respect to rebuilding one’s relationship with spouse or partner, things are different. Relapse often does wipe out the gains that have been made in restoring trust. That’s what makes this complicated: we have two issues that often get confused: recovery and relationship restoration.

Relapse back into addictive behavior destroys trust, and – in terms of the relationship – puts the relapser back at square one with his or her partner. But in terms of recovery – in terms of their growth, their well-being, the progress they are making in becoming a different person … relapse doesn’t destroy those gains. This is what relapsers – and their partners – need to remember.

Think of recovery like riding in a boat across a lake. Relapse would be the equivalent of falling out of the boat into the water. If you fall out of a boat, you aren’t sent back to the shore where you started from — you don’t lose the progress you’ve made. You just fall into the water. You can choose at that point to get out of the water, back in the boat, and continue the journey.

This is how we understand relapse. Regardless of its pain, relapse is not a regression back to square one. The progress made up to the point of the relapse can’t be denied. An addict who relapses must start from that point and, as with the fall out of the boat, be even more alert to those things that can cause relapse.

One way to be alert to relapse is to watch for addictive thinking. A wise observer, whether therapist or sponsor, may notice instances of addictive thinking that are likely to result in relapse. Understanding and correcting this thinking can prevent a relapse.

In the paragraphs above, I highlighted the “all or nothing,” perfectionistic mentality that underlies many kinds of addictive thinking. But there are other manifestations of addictive thinking. Here are some examples:

  • A recovering person who begins exhibiting signs of impatience with the process has likely slipped back into the addict’s concept of time (gotta have it now).
  • Someone who claims not to need as many meetings because she is now in control is probably back into the mindset of “omnipotence.”
  • Someone wallowing in remorse may be regressing into shame.
  • Someone who reverts to rationalizing or projecting blame, or who becomes unusually sensitive to other people’s behavior, may be experiencing the hypersensitivity or self-righteousness of the addict.
  • Becoming morose or pessimistic can signal the depression or the morbid expectations characteristic of addictive thinking.

Any manifestations of these kinds of addictive thinking may be a prelude to relapse. Recognizing the relapse into addictive thinking and reestablishing  healthy thinking may help the addict avoid the relapse into addictive behavior.

Remember this: Be realistic about relapse. The growth in sobriety that preceded relapse is not lost, and the drift into addictive behavior is fueled by addictive thinking.

Special thanks to Dr. Abraham Twerski for ideas in this article.


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Anger and Recovery: how our anger can hurt us or help us

Anger is the gatekeeper of our emotions. If it is used wisely, it will allow us to interact with the world in safe and healthy ways. We will know when our emotional gates should remain open, and when to keep them closed.

Imagine a gatekeeper in a medieval castle. He knows that his job is to protect, and keep dangerous forces out. He also knows that if he is overprotective, those inside the gate will die from starvation, or suffer from a lack of exposure to the outside world.

In the same way, anger protects us by covering our most vulnerable emotions. When we feel emotions like fear, disappointment, pain, grief, loss, rejection, jealousy, etc., anger forms a protective layer to keep others from further exploiting us. This is a great tool in our emotional arsenal. Unfortunately though, just like the over-zealous gatekeeper can do damage by keeping the gate closed, anger can be destructive by fostering isolation.

Continue reading Anger and Recovery: how our anger can hurt us or help us

Recovery is about facing – instead of running from – suffering

Recovery will mean facing the suffering in our lives. This is hard to do, and many people cannot or will not do it. So they drift away from recovery habits, and drift back into their old behaviors. When we courageously address the painful issues in our lives, healing will happen. This is true for all of us – sexual strugglers and the spouses of strugglers alike.

The sexual struggler who does not face their suffering and process their pain may stay stuck in the “never never land” of recovery: chronic relapsing. Addicts don’t make progress in recovery until they can begin to Continue reading Recovery is about facing – instead of running from – suffering

Recovery from addiction is about moving to health, not just stopping a behavior

Recovery is about moving toward health: emotional health, spiritual health, sexual health, relational health, even physical health. It may be helpful to think about recovery in terms of restoring health to the multiple complex dimensions of our being.

Ours is a program of recovery, not simply a program of abstinence. A person can abstain from addictive sexual behaviors, yet still be tremendously unhappy, anxious, and isolated. Recovering alcoholics warn of the dangers of being a “dry drunk” or “white-knuckling it.” Both phrases speak of the same reality … someone finds ways of stopping their alcohol use while not dealing with the underlying emotional issues that led to the addiction in the first place. As the saying goes, “If you just take the alcohol out of the alcoholic, you’re still left Continue reading Recovery from addiction is about moving to health, not just stopping a behavior