“The story of our recovery is the story of our relationships.”
Relationships are the place where we will experience our greatest heights. And our lowest depths. But without at least a few close relationships, we cannot become all of who we can be.
Conflict in our relationships is stressful and disruptive. We often think that having too much conflict is the cause of breakups and broken relationships. Conflict is part of the equation, but the biggest reason for relationships not working is not conflict. When we allow things like addiction, work, personal ambition, hurt or bitterness to occupy our energy and attention, our relationships will fall apart.
All behaviors have their roots in our relationships. (Behaviors like addiction, rigidity and inflexibility, impatience, or mental health experiences like depression, anxiety, PTSD or paranoia.) These behaviors and mood states often arise because of our current relationship conflicts or distance, or childhood pain and traumatic experiences. Addictions and mental illnesses can impact our relationships and at times can even be destructive. For recovery to take root, we will need to learn how to grow close, while sharing more of who we are.
Developmental Psychologist Gordon Neufeld, PhD has researched and studied relationships over his 40+ year career. He is considered international expert on child development. He highlights the 6 needs that we all have and can only be fulfilled in our relationships. His model is directed at child development, but he highlights that any of us can have needs that are unfulfilled well into adulthood.
1| Learning to be physically close to another person. “I sense that you are a safe person.”
This may surprise you, but closeness is not just touch. In reality, touch is a small part of being close. Closeness is about how we sense ourselves and a person that we care about: being able to see them, to hear them softly, smell their unique scent, and touch.
Trusting another person enough to let them in begins long before we talk about what we think or feel. Relationships are built on sensing closeness and safety. In recovery, we need to learn to listen to our gut feelings, our sense of safety and our ability to know what is healthy and unhealthy.
2| Knowing what we share. “You are my person. I am like you and you are like me.”
Similarities create connections with couples, families and friendships. Recovery is not just about quitting drugs or alcohol or no longer feeling depressed. Recovery is about building a life together with other people. Knowing our strengths, what we value and who we want to be is a big step in knowing what we can share with other people.
3| Belonging or loyalty. “I am on your side.”
Being heard and listening to the other person builds belonging. How well do you listen to the other person in your relationships? What are the areas where you “get” them, what matters to them? How do they know that you are on their side and with them?
4| Significance. “You matter to me.”
Whenever I work with couples, I want to know how they communicate “You matter to me” to their partner. When we feel that we do not matter to another person, we will not invest energy in the relationship. It is the same thing with our teenagers or with our friendships. In recovery, we communicate You matter to me by spending time together, knowing the other person’s interests,
5| Love. “I am not going to leave you even when you are at your worst.”
Knowing that love is persistent, available and how to access it will help to support our relationship even when we face storms, conflicts and even distance.
6| Being Known. “I trust you enough to share what is personal to me, parts of me that no one else knows.”
We all have thoughts that no one else knows. Connection gives us a place for us to share our secrets, our fears, and what is most important to us. Sometimes in addiction we can live out patterns of secrets, lies and mistrust. In recovery, healing can happen when we learn that the more we keep private, or secret, the less available we are (to ourselves and to the other person).
An essential part of recovery is to understand our own attachment needs and find healthy ways to have our needs met and express more of who we are.
Our close relationships are the containers for our recovery. They are the place where we express and resolve our conflicts. Relationships are the place where we can be free to have contradictions and secrets. Relationships are never perfect, but the only place that we can be all that we are capable of is when we have people that we love and who love us.
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I invite you to read a related post, “Dust May Be Killing Your Relationships.”
Keep it Real
Photo by Simon Blackley