In my marriage, there have been many ups and downs. I'd love to say there have been more ups than downs but I feel like that may be a lie. But it's not like I have been feeling bad for all these years!
Do you know what I mean?
In addiction circles, they call this, “practicing detachment” which essentially means we aren’t allowing the decisions and actions of others to affect our mood, thoughts and feelings.
I teach a lesson on detachment in my eCourse on how to make good, Godly boundaries. The course, 'UnBound Me', is currently being updated and will be relaunched later in 2018 but today, I’d like to talk more in-depth about detachment.
First things first, why do we need to talk about detachment?
There are many words to describe what life is like when we’re “attached” to someone with mental, emotional or behavioural issues. The struggle is not exclusive to addiction and sadly, life often doesn't get easier as our loved ones find recovery. In fact, I found my marriage to be more difficult in recovery than I did during active addiction.
When our loved ones are in active addiction, any uncontrollable, impulsive or obsessive nature is somewhat predictable. In recovery, we expect things to be better so we raise the bar, but what usually happens is things come out that we didn't see before. Because their behaviour doesn't change (note- the dry drunk), we're even more exasperated than we were before.
In addiction, we expect mistakes and know why they're behaving that way. If they speak unkindly, we know why. If they behave recklessly, we understand why. If they don't show love to us, we can rationalize it.
When our loved ones go into recovery, we’re all like, “WOO!” and then we get disappointed because they’re the same person, just sober. Sometimes, they're the same person but angrier. In my case, he was the same person but wildly unsettled, disconnected and impulsive.
“Were they always like this?” we wonder.
We convince ourselves that recovery is a long road and our loved ones are freshly sober so we must give them grace. We’re proud of their efforts to get sober and set our minds on being patient with their sour mood and irresponsible behaviour.
Time passes. Things get better.
Our loved ones stay sober and it fills us with hope for the future- until they fail again. In which case, we’re right back to the devastation and heartbreak we felt before. It hurts more this time. It hurts so much we aren’t sure if we can emotionally take them failing us again.
Which is why we need to talk about detachment; Because if we don’t, the constant breaking of our hearts will inevitably break us.
Click to Tweet: If we don't learn to detach from our loved one's addiction each relapse will hurt us personally leaving us feeling hopeless, with our hearts broken. In healthy detachment, we're better able to love them and support their recovery.
What does detachment look like?
I’ve Googled the “definition of detachment,” and like all things addiction-related, there doesn't seem to be a black and white answer.
Wikipedia says emotional detachment is:
“Emotional detachment can be a positive behavior which allows a person to react calmly to highly emotional circumstances/ individuals. Emotional detachment in this sense is a decision to avoid engaging emotional connections, rather than an inability or difficulty in doing so, typically for personal, social, or other reasons... This detachment does not necessarily mean avoiding empathy; rather it allows the person space needed to rationally choose whether or not to be overwhelmed or manipulated by such feelings.” [SOURCE]
Al-Anon calls it, “Loving detachment,” and defines it as:
Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means that allows us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s alcoholism can have upon our lives. [paraphrasing] [SOURCE]
There’s an excellent snippet from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation that says detachment is:
"Detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes. It also means being responsible for our own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives-the desire to control others." [SOURCE]
In other words, detachment is:
- The ability to remain calm, resist overwhelm and not have our feelings manipulated
- Protecting our lives from the chaos of addiction through some form of mental, emotional or physical separation
- Allowing our loved ones the space they need to make their own choices- good or bad.
I don’t think each definition is complete in and of itself because we need all three of these aspects of detachment to do it successfully.
How to successfully detach from a loved one’s addiction & recovery.
Detachment isn't easy and the goal should not be to do it perfectly. We love them! And love can be complicated.
If we want to restore our relationship with them, we will eventually have to “re-attach” ourselves to them emotionally by being vulnerable and trusting. If we stay detached forever, there will always be a gaping void in the relationship where the addiction once was [Read: How to Have a Healthy Relationship in Addiction Recovery].
The trick is knowing when we need to detach and when it’s “safe” for us to be vulnerable. This wisdom will help us to not fall apart when calamity arises. To be honest, I wouldn't expect a relationship to be successful beyond addiction if the non-addicted spouse is not able to practice detachment. It’s important!
In studying detachment, the question of “how to detach” is where I have found the fundamental difference between what the Bible says and what the world says to do about our loved ones and their addictions.
What the world says about how to detach emotionally:
1. The world says to put the attention and time we spent focused on our loved ones back onto ourselves. [Source]
2. We’re told to stop controlling others. “Let go and let God” so to speak. There’s a very famous line from the serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous that reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
3. We’re told to do things separately. Put space in our relationship by developing our interests and hobbies. Similar, but not the same, we’re also told to make physical barriers; watch Netflix, go on our computers, find something to do that creates physical space.
4. We're told to seek elsewhere for help- in everything. Our loved ones can not be expected to fulfill our emotional needs, help us with physical tasks, help around the home- things like that.
5. We’re told to leave. Leave the conversation, leave home for the night, leave the marriage.
6. Another tip was to detach emotionally but not with physical responsibilities. For example, you will still jointly take care of the children, take care of your lawn, get groceries, and carry out daily tasks of life (this is a total contradiction of number four). [Source]
What the Bible says about emotional detachment:
1. Our battle is not against the person but evil. We are to detach from evil with a watchful eye, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” -1 Peter 5:8-9 (ESV)
2. We are told to press on toward Kingdom goals and forget what is behind us. “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:13-14
3. Turning and going our own way, without consulting and seeking God’s will for us, is wickedness and sin. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, each one, to his own way; But the Lord has caused the wickedness of us all [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing] To fall on Him [instead of us].” -Isaiah 53:6 (AMP)
4. We’re told not to become bitter and cold-hearted by sin. “You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn.” - Hebrews 3:13 (CEV)
5. Sin has no power over us when we are “deadened” to it. “For when you are deadened to sin you are freed from all its allure and its power over you. And since your old sin-loving nature ‘died’ with Christ, we know that you will share his new life.” - Romans 6:7-8 (TLB)
6. We are each responsible for carrying our own burden. “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” -Galatians 6:4-5 (ESV) but also, we are to help each other bear those burdens as followers of Christ, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
Biblical detachment could then be defined as:
- Detach from the sin, not the person.
- Stay loving, gracious, kind, supportive and prayerful of our loved ones when practicing detachment.
- Do not put the attention we gave to our loved ones on ourselves, put it on God and His will for us in the situation.
Will detaching help in abusive relationships?
I want to put this in here just in case you need to hear it: I wouldn’t even try to practice detachment if the relationship is abusive. The last thing I would want is for a woman in an abusive situation to get stuck in her relationship believing she can stick it out if she’s emotionally detached. Worse, get some kind of Stockholm Syndrome to deal with the abuse.
In an abusive situation, physical detachment is necessary to be healthy. Remove yourself from the situation and then work on learning emotional detachment and healing (from a distance!).
Can God heal an abusive person? Of course. God can do anything. The purpose of this post and the point I was so very slowly getting to was, what if God doesn't heal them?
If your abuser does not find healing, deliverance and redemption, will you be okay?
In a non-abusive situation, if your loved one doesn't ever find recovery, will you be okay?
In my situation, I came to a point where I felt peace about whatever happened. If God healed my husband- great. If my husband never found healing and God still told me to stay in my marriage, I would be okay. If God didn't heal my husband and my husband left me, I would be okay. If God didn't heal my husband and told me to go, I would be okay.
I didn't have the financial resources to back up my newfound peace; it was a decision to trust God. Did that trust leave me feeling overjoyed over what we were going through?
I was sad about the state of my marriage and tired of dealing with it, but I could live with it. I could do it for Jesus. Feeling that God had asked me to stay, I made a decision I would honour my vows and believe in faith for healing for the next five, ten, twenty years.
Worst-case scenario, I also decided I would be okay if, after all that time, my husband chose to leave because life in recovery and living with a different set of values was too complicated, or if he dishonoured our wedding vows. I expected it to be difficult but worthwhile. I'd do it for Jesus and would receive my crown either way.
The question of, "But, what if they don't [stop doing drugs, stop drinking, stop watching porn, stop gambling, stop seeing that woman]?" is one we have to ask ourselves very honestly. Remember, God knows our hearts!
Click to Tweet: If God asked you to love your spouse, son, daughter, mother who was struggling with addiction and you knew that they were never going to find healing- could you still do it for Jesus? Sometimes, God asks us to do the difficult thing.
Another question to ask ourselves would be to get real, "What if I can’t do this?".
In your emails, one question I get asked often is, “When do you know it’s time to leave?”. I wish I could give you a laundry list of items to watch for, “Sure Signs You Need to Get a Divorce” or, “The Bible Passage Where God Clearly Explains How to be Married to an Addict” but unfortunately, it isn’t that clear.
What I do know for sure is that God will either release us or tell us to stay. His will is simple in that it's one or the other. It can be hard to know if it’s God talking or not, so finding someone you trust who is spiritually “tuned-in” to God’s voice might help clear it up for you, but in the end, it’s got to be from Him. If He asks you to stay He will equip you with the grace and patience to do so.
Now I’d like to hear from you and ask, “But, what if they don't?”.
If you’d like to read more on this very complicated topic, check out these posts:
- The Day the Lord Set Me Free from My Marriage
- Want to Know What My Most Important Boundaries Are? Here's One!
- When is the Right Time to Leave an Addict (Part One)
- When is the Right Time to Leave an Addict (Part Two)
- How to Not Give Up on Your Marriage
Wait! I almost forgot. What's the one relationship survival skill you need to have in case your loved one never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever gets better?
A good relationship with God.
Walk with Jesus, my friends and He will give you rest for your weary soul.