Authorship and Shared Goals Needed in Relationships in Addiction and Recovery
The concept of a “shared-ends view” – a love where each partner shares in the other’s goals – can help adults whose relationships have been impacted by addiction. This concept suggests that the standard relationship is based on a “benefactor view,” which Harry Frankfurt defines as “a concern for the well-being or flourishing of the beloved”.
A Couple in Addiction Recovery
For clarity, I will assign the name “Ted” to represent the addict in the relationship and the name “Sara” to represent his partner. Ted has recently returned home after 30 days in an alcohol treatment program and is motivated to stay abstinent. Sara is still committed to the relationship. Both Ted and Sara agree that he is able to resume his normal responsibilities such as work, helping around the house, and helping out with the kids.
The challenges for Ted and Sara in this early addiction recovery stage remain daunting. While Ted will be learning to develop a lifestyle beneficial to recovery, Sara will be working on reclaiming a life put on hold by Ted’s addiction. The two will also need to rekindle their love for each other and rebuild their relationship.
Sara as a Benefactor
According to the benefactor view, Sara will immediately start planning Ted’s recovery even before he arrives home. As Sara is looking out for Ted’s well-being, she might clear out all the liquor from the house, get a list of all the AA meetings he can attend, and agreed to pick up Ted from the treatment centre rather than risk his possible relapse if he were to travel home alone. Sara’s actions reflect the benefactor view. She is demonstrating her love for Ted by caring of him under the assumption that he is incapable of making his own decisions.
But Sara’s actions are likely to lead to Ted’s relapse. As we have often witnessed at SCHC, such vigilant behaviour pushes the client to the inevitable outcome of relapse. That is because Sara, like many loved ones, is violating the principle of “authorship” – being the author of, or taking control of, one’s life – which we have found essential to our clients’ health and well-being.
Being the Author of Your own Life in Recovery
Authorship also extends to family members and spouses. In other words, Sara is also the author of her life and not the author of Ted’s life. Sara would be breaking the principle of authorship by insisting that Ted submit to random drug tests every week or by giving him an allowance to make sure he cannot afford to purchase alcohol. A more effective strategy for Sara would be to address her own issues of emotional security – typically, loneliness, helplessness, fear, guilt, and chronic anxiety – and to let Ted come to terms with his own emotional issues – frustration, fear, boredom, and craving for intensity.
The importance of authorship shows how Ebels-Duggan’s “specified” benefactor view would be ineffective in promoting Ted’s ongoing recovery. This view lacks because it does not consider Ted’s agency. Specifically, the specified benefactor view would permit Sara to disregard Ted’s agency by sabotaging his actions if she believed they did not promote his well-being. For example, Sara picks up the mail and sees an invite to a college friend’s wedding. Knowing that there is going to be alcohol served at the wedding, Sara destroys the letter. Again, Sara is once more violating the principle of authorship, robbing Ted of an opportunity to learn how to enjoy a social function without feeling the need to consume alcohol.
Working Together in Addiction Recovery
Unlike the benefactor view, the shared-ends view encourages Ted and Sara to practice authorship in, unlike the specified benefactor view, all situations. An advantage of the shared-ends view is its incorporation of authorship within a larger framework of interdependence, meaning that each partner encourages the other to develop independence. In authorship, Sara would support Ted’s journey to be the author of his life and, similarly, Ted would support Sara’s journey to be the author of her life.
The shared-ends view could avert potential disaster by allowing Sara to support Ted through the controlled drinking process. Specifically, Ted might agree to engage in controlled drinking while agreeing to set aside time each day to communicate openly and honestly with Sara. Ted might agree that if he repeatedly fails to limit his consumption to the agreed upon amount and frequency, he will see a counsellor. In our experience, individuals in recovery like Ted have a much higher likelihood of abandoning risky behaviour when they talk openly about their plan rather than hiding it for fear of ridicule. Spouses such as Sara express feelings of betrayal not so much because their loved one drinks, but because they lie about it.
Factoring in Codependency
Perhaps if Ebels-Duggan was more familiar with addiction, particularly the phenomenon of codependency, she would reconsider the application of the benefactor view for incapacitated adults. Codependency occurs when one partner assumes responsibility for the other based on the judgment that the other partner is incapable of making informed decisions. Codependency is also a dysfunctional response to addiction’s cycle because it facilitates its reoccurrence by removing the negative consequences associated with addictive behaviour. For example, Sara might drive Ted to the liquor store rather than have him risk getting an impaired driving charge. While Sara may have been motivated by a concern for his well-being, her actions ultimately delay Ted from getting professional help for his addiction.
Honest, Open Support and Negative Consequences
The shared-ends view is consistent with approaches endorsed by addiction professionals. First, Sara and Ted would be encouraged to discuss and prepare for the possibility of relapse as part of having the type of open and honest dialogue. Second, the shared-ends view would encourage Sara to support Ted’s goal of recovery. In this case, if Ted admitted he needed help and agreed to get help, Sara might drive Ted to meet with a counsellor or help him find a drug rehab program. If Ted is resistant to getting help, Sara would give Ted the authority to make his own decisions, including those decisions that lead to negative consequences such as an impaired driving charge, getting fired from work, or estranging himself from his children. In our experience, it is loving support from spouses and family members combined with a series of negative consequences that lead individuals like Ted to a recovery lifestyle.
Authorship and Shared Views Benefit Relationships in Recovery
Ebels-Duggan’s concept of a shared-ends view has superior advantages over the benefactor view and when applied to couples impacted by addiction. Not only is the shared-ends view preferred when both partners are deemed capable of effective decision-making, it is also preferred in those situations where one partner’s decision-making ability is compromised due to active addiction. In our experience, couples who focus on listening over problem-solving, respect each other as adults, and follow the principle of authorship – all of which is embodied in the shared-ends view – have the best chance of sustaining their relationship in recovery.
Note: This article has been reduced and summarized for public and online reading. For the full essay version of this article, contact the author, Daniel Jordan.