…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Things That Addiction Has Taught Me About My Marriage

By Rex Goode


By Tyler Swenson

I am trying to find lasting recovery from addiction (what type of addiction is unimportant- pick your poison, as they say), yet my wife seems to continue to hold onto her anger and hurt and will not “let it go” and forgive. This has, until recently, been a great stumbling block for me and I often used as an excuse to “act out” in my addiction.

Thankfully, I have learned from experience- and people wiser than myself- the following truths that have been of great benefit in my efforts to simultaneously recover from addiction and improve my relationship with my wife:

1. My marriage would be in trouble whether I had an addiction or not. 

While my marital problems and my addition are clearly related, they are not a simple cause/effect pair. I have finally realized that even if I were ‘clean and sober’ from addictive behavior from this day forward, there would still be a lot of work to do in my relationship with my wife. Being able to separate the two things has been invaluable. I have learned that I cannot allow my spouse to put me in the box labeled: “It’s All Your Fault”. Although some things ARE my fault, some are not. I have learned that letting my wife blame all her problems on me or wallowing in self-recrimination and allowing myself to believe that everything is my fault is not helpful to either of us.
2. I must work on improving myself and loving my wife, not the other way around. 

The biggest problems/disputes in my marriage occur when I am either: (a) emotionally needy and trying to get my wife to forgive me or make me feel better (which usually occurs when I have just slipped back into addictive behavior or know that I am backsliding in my recovery efforts); or (b) when I am trying to “fix” her, point out her problems and issues, give her unsolicited advice or take her “inventory”. In the first scenario, my wife recoils emotionally and wants to withdraw further from me. In the second scenario, she just gets offended, angry and resentful.
3. Actions speak louder than words. 

My wife is really not all that interested in hearing about my struggles or my successes in recovery. She is also not interested in hearing any more flowery words and big promises. In fact, she generally just discounts what I say anymore and finds it irritating when I start to say too much. This does not mean she does not care, however. It just means she is sick of being lied to and tired of broken promises. She is VERY interested in seeing me take on and fulfill my responsibilities at work, home, church, etc. As I do these things, she gains trust and respect for me. My wife notices and values what I DO a lot more than I give her credit for.
4. Old wounds can take a long time to heal. 

My wife has a tremendous amount of built-up anger and resentment over feeling like I “sold her a bill of goods” when I convinced her to marry me. _Right, wrong or indifferent, that is how she feels at times. _She feels lied to, betrayed, abused and taken advantage of. In her view, I am not the man she thought she was marrying. I have to remember that it is going to take a lot of time for those feelings to be worked out of her system. I cannot expect that those feelings will just magically disappear. In fact, I don’t want to escape unscathed. I have come to believe that truly understanding and internalizing the pain I have caused her is part of the godly sorrow I must experience in order to fully repent of my sins against her.
5. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. 

I must always remind myself that whenever I am feeling like I am making progress in recovery, my wife will most likely hammer me with some of the aforementioned anger and resentment. But I need to remember that these expressions of anger are truly a left-handed compliment. They mean that she sees my progress and trusts that I am now sufficiently stable enough to hear what is really on her mind and in her heart. When these “storms” blow, I must remind myself to just hang on and not return to old patterns of behavior. I force myself to focus on what is causing her to say those things. I acknowledge her feelings, take responsibility for whatever I may have done wrong, apologize for it and then ask if there is anything I can DO (not say) to help her. If progress is to occur, I cannot take responsibility for her feelings or her moods, but I MUST take responsibility for my past and present and future actions.
6. My wife is afraid I will fail, but maybe even more afraid that I will succeed. 

I now understand that one of the biggest problems my wife faces is her fear that she will never again be able to feel love and respect and trust for me. All of those feelings have been squelched by my years if addictive behavior and broken promises. Despite this, (whether out of a sense of duty or commitment or whatever) my wife has stuck with it and has determined to try to make this marriage work. She has, in essence, said, “I’ll stay by you if you show me that you are making changes. Otherwise, I’m outta here.” The irony is, now that I am making changes, her subconscious is saying to her, “Oh no! He’s actually making changes and now you’re stuck with him because you said you would stay if he did.” Thus, she finds herself thinking, “I don’t feel like I love him, but now what am I going to do? I’m trapped in a loveless marriage!” It has to be terribly frightening to a woman who feels as duty-bound as my wife, to have no hope that she will ever again love the guy she’s promised to stay with. Indeed, at times it seems that she is (consciously or sub-consciously) trying to undermine me or set me up for failure, thereby giving herself an “out” from this seemingly untenable and unbearable situation. In an effort to alleviate her sense of being “trapped”, I have told her that if she didn’t develop warm, loving feelings for me through my process of recovery, I would let her go. That seems to have helped her relax a little.

Having learned the foregoing truths, I now take as my guide the following paraphrased version of the 121st section of the Doctrine & Covenants: “No [marital union] can or ought to be maintained [except] by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned . . . Let thy bowels be full of charity towards [your wife] . . . and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy [marriage] wax strong . . . The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion . . . and thy[ marriage] shall be an everlasting [and eternal marriage], and without compulsory means [your wife’s love] shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”

I know that my wife’s heart will turn back to me without compulsory means if I follow this admonition. I am learning, slowly, to “let go . .. and let God” and to concentrate on just doing my duty and let my wife go at her own pace in this process. It seems to be working.

Copyright © 1999 Tyler Swensen. All rights reserved.

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