Funny that on Thanksgiving as I fill the lull between cleaning, organizing and putting the turkey in the oven, I am reflecting on red flags in relationships.
Relationships have not been my strong suit in recovery. I was married at two years clean to a man I truly loved, but he was and still is not able to stay clean. At five years clean, despite the pain and uncertainty, I divorced him to move on in my life and to try to fulfill my needs for intimacy. I talked to him last week, and sadly, he is homeless in Austin, a good place to be if you're homeless, and his life is pretty unmanageable, at least by my standards.
At about ten years clean, I fell in love again with a non-program man. That relationship lasted four years, but ultimately failed when he fell for another (and much younger I might add) woman. I was devastated, particularly because we lived in a small town and felt everyone (except me) knew that she was pregnant and what was happening. (Our own minds manufacture much of the drama, of course.) However, the signs were there for a few years and I ignored them or left and returned, thinking "It will get better." It never did. Now I am grateful for him in my life, for I found my wonderful dog Romy, who entertained me and many of you readers with her refrigerator-raiding antics over the years. I also found that I loved the area where he lived and ultimately bought a house there, where I hope to retire some day soon.
Anyhow, about relationships. Here are some red flags I've seen and often ignored over the years.
Verbal abuse. What is verbal abuse? It is hard to define, but we often know it when we hear it. Statements like, "You didn't get a good education," or "You are too fat," or "You are not as smart as you think," can all be defined as verbally abusive. Unfortunately, I was clean a long, long before while I finally understood that he verbally abused me. I only know I felt small, not smart enough, fat and confused a lot of the time
Relationships with extreme "highs" and "lows." Relationships characterized by extreme "feeling greats" then followed by feeling "totally down in the dumps" are often abusive or harmful to us. What we strive for in recovery if we allow ourselves to take direction is a lack of drama and emotional stability. My favorite episode of The Simpsons had Lisa sitting in Santa's lap. When he asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she answered, "Some stability in my life and an absence of mood swings!" I so related it made me wonder what was wrong in my life. A relationship that swings from "I'm on top of the world" to "I can't believe how miserable I am" is often toxic.
A lack of common financial goals and differing money-handling abilities. The last person I dated was retired and received a pension. When I think "retired," I think "financially stable." Only after we had dated for awhile did I realize that he wasn't retired, he was underemployed. He had quit his last job and taken early retirement because he hated his boss, and was still fuming about that. He took odd jobs when he could find them, but basically this meant if we were going to be in a relationship, I would have to bear the burden of partially supporting him. I couldn't afford to and found that I was too far in to exit gracefully. I saw him last week at a clean-time party and he left the party rather than speak to me. While few of us discussed how to handle money in our family of origins, hopefully in recovery we learn the skills of discussing money and budgeting.
Someone who lacks friends and family support. When I first started dating my mid-recovery relationship, I noticed he had no friends. He was a dog trainer and knew tons of people in the town where I lived; however, he had only one friend who lived in another state. I later learned why. It was because no one could live up to his expectations and he ultimately either destroyed or judged away each potential friendship. Of course, since this was his pattern, I couldn't live up to his high expectations, either. That was a huge red flag I chose to ignore. I thought my friends would become his friends, but that never worked. He found them defective, as well. In fact, the woman who worked for me one day said when he sashayed into my office to drop off a dog to babysit for the day, "I don't know about him." I chose not to listen and it took another year or so to really understand the depths of his narcissism. It's important that we look for people with a support system around them so that we don't become overly burdened by their emotional needs.
People we "can change." I know I'm not the only one who has been attracted to someone who has "PR" as we say in the program, either for sexual promiscuity, gambling compulsions or other issues that scream, "Unmanageability." When I sponsor women who are at the peak of their sexuality, craving love and affection, and watch them gravitate toward the NA "Casanovas," I often have to hold my voice--restraint of tongue. I can only gently caution them to watch the men's behavior in the rooms and outside the rooms. If they are breaking hearts as they march through recovery, I ask my gals: "Do you want to be in that lineup? What makes you any different?" I have seen far too many people use over broken hearts to ignore the fact that the old timers told us, "Under every skirt's a slip" (or under every pair of boxers) for a reason.
I think what I'm trying to say if you are thinking about romance in the rooms, go slowly. Who we fall in love with is often smoke and mirrors. We are always, me included, on our best behavior as we get to know a potential romantic partner. There is no magic number that outlines how long we should get to know someone before we decide to become intimate. The longer the better, though. One thing I am so grateful for in early recovery is that I knew that I didn't want to walk into a meeting and think, "I've slept with him and him and him." Believe me, I saw many women fall into that trap and many of them disappeared. They slept themselves out of recovery.
I hope your Thanksgiving (if you're in America) is wonderful. To my friends across the globe, Namaste. Feel free to add your own red flags.