We want to help spouses who are feeling stuck in a marriage with a “hard” problem, which we define as the “Triple A‘s”: Affairs, Abuse or Addiction. With hard problems like these, someone is behaving badly and the other spouse’s healthy or integrity are being compromised.
Of course, we know it’s not helpful is to call your your spouse is the bad one, with you the good one, and call it a day. You would have left already if you didn’t love your spouse and wish to figure out what, if anything, you can do to improve your own mental health and the marriage itself. With that lens, here we go with our core, tough message for you….
Take an inventory of your contributions to the problems in the relationship.
This does not mean that you are responsible for your partner’s dysfunctional behavior (you don’t make your spouse drink), but it recognizes that you share responsibility for a variety of problems in any long term relationship.
Marriage counselors are trained to look at the “dance” of a couple–how they do patterns of intimacy and conflict. We want to share some common dance scripts we see in the hopes it helps you spot your own.
One person says or does something.
Their partner responds.
The first person responds to the response.
While it is never your fault that your partner has a hard problem (Triple A’s: Affairs, Abuse, Addictions) there are thoughts, behaviors or words you use that are likely not helping your marriage be as healthy as it can be. Of course we want to make it very clear if you are in danger, you need to leave as safely as you can. Nothing will help except removing yourself. But outside danger, a Triple A issue is often riddled with shame and internal torment for the person acting out. In this way, the “healthy spouse” often has ample verbal guns firing at their partner’s shame and vulnerability, sometimes while claiming to be a sweet martyr in the situation!
This list relates to our core article on Hard Problems, on how to begin to admit your less than ideal behaviors which you want to work on towards a new marriage. Having this list will demonstrate to your spouse that you are not perfect and that he or she is not going to be the sole focus of creating a new marriage.
Choose whichever apply to you and know that it may be you didn’t make conscious choices on any of this. But they are part of you and will likely stay with you even if you leave this marriage and get into a new one. Not all of these will apply to you but they are all at work in some marriages with Trip A problems. They’re phrased as statements to one’s spouse.
- I did not keep track of our financial situation, which meant that I didn’t express the stress or responsibility I have around our money. I should have been way more involved and need to be in the future so the burden isn’t all on you.
- I didn’t question suspicious behavior which means I wasn’t as honest as I should have been and going forward the work I have is to be more honest so I don’t stuff anger or resentment.
- I did question you a lot but I was never really nice about it or expressed my sadness or fears. I realize I came across really mean and put you in a corner where most people would just get defensive to my tirades. I need to work on my emotional reactivity so that I show you and our kids better ways to express unpleasant thoughts or feelings.
- I never took ownership over what we had in the house. I realize now I shouldn’t have bought the alcohol if I hated your drinking so much.
- I know when you come home stressed out and drunk, I get so angry that I don’t let you sleep it off but get in there and create huge fights where we really hurt each other.
- I shouldn’t have lied to our friends and family when you stayed home drunk or high. That made me resent you more and kept me distant from our loved ones.
- You always asked me to make up excuses for your behavior and I went along with it. I need to find the skills to be more honest with myself because otherwise you would have no way of knowing when a white lie is fine and when I’m really not okay with it.