Based on a Workshop Presented at the 2004 Conference of Evergreen International
Who Supports Whom
When we think of support in terms of dealing with addiction, we think of the spouse supporting the addict. In order to truly understand the concepts presented here, you will need to break free of that notion. The principles in the article are for the addict and spouse to support each other. All principles apply to both.
“Break in the Cup”
Folk singer, David Wilcox, wrote of a break in the cup that holds love inside us all. We can try to fill each other up with love, but it runs out and we still want more. The message of “Break in the Cup” is an important one for couples touched by sexual addiction. (You can find the song on two different collections of David Wilcox’s works: Big Horizon and Very Best of David Wilcox.)
What Support Is
For the purposes of our presentation, we mean the word “support” to refer to the emotional support of another’s feelings, struggles, and aspirations.
While you can support facts with other facts, opinions, and anecdotes, you cannot emotionally support facts.
The essence of support is to encourage another to self-expression with authenticity of emotion and enlarge rather than diminish another’s soul.
Support is listening, respect, boundaries, and responsibility.
What Support Is Not
Support is not advice, rescuing, control, or blame. We hope to encourage you to replace these behaviors in your marriage with supportive behaviors.
Listening Versus Advice
Advice is not support. The first and foremost aspect of support is listening to the flow of authentic emotions from another human being. Therefore, anything that interrupts that flow is not support. Giving advice is just such an interruption. Receiving advice as feedback takes the speaker out of the mode of feeling legitimate emotions and into the mode of defending actions.
Imagine that a friend has just shared her feelings about a difficult situation. During and after sharing, she is feeling legitimate, authentic, and understandable emotions about the situation she faces.
Based on your own “vast” experience and wisdom, you give her some superior advice that is guaranteed to solve her problem. What will her reaction likely be?
Chances are, she will reply by explaining to you why your advice won’t work. She will probably clarify her situation to prove it to you, only now, with slightly less emotion.
So, now that you know more about her situation and why your first advice won’t work, you modify your original advice based on the new information.
Once again, you have given her the benefit of your vast experience. How will she now react?
What will she be feeling after several rounds of this pattern of communication? What will you be feeling? In all likelihood, if she was frustrated with someone else in the situation she first described, she will now be frustrated with you instead.
If, instead of offering your original pearls of wisdom and counsel, you chose to accept her feelings, encourage her to keep talking, and listening to what she feels, what would be the outcome?
In the first scenario, you both end up frustrated. In the second scenario, the chances are that somewhere in her sharing, she will clearly see the solution to her own problems. Your only problem will be that you won’t get the credit. Don’t worry. It won’t kill you.
Respect Versus Rescuing
Rescuing is not support. As with advice, rescuing is often born out of selfish motives. Wanting to be respected as a good problem-solver with deep insights is not wrong, but when someone comes to you with a problem, is receiving respect a real priority?
Rescuing takes two forms:
- Rescuing from emotions
- Rescuing from natural consequences.
This is not respectful. This is actually disrespectful. The message it sends is, “I don’t believe that you have the capacity to solve your own problems or learn from the natural consequences of your own behavior.”
You might argue that the atonement rescues us from our feelings and the consequences of our actions. As the scripture says:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him as stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4–5).
Though there is no more important truth than this, we find in our daily lives that we still experience sorrow and suffer from the natural consequences of our actions. The atonement does not preclude us from suffering those consequences. The Lord does not rescue us from these things. He only provides comfort and bears that part of our grief and punishment that is too great for us to bear, the eternal punishment. The rest he respects us to be able to handle.
The problem we experience in relationships is that we want to take it farther than the Lord does. We want to help people escape their own legitimate and understandable feelings and dodge the natural consequences of their own behavior.
Consider what happens when we slip in our recovery. We hopefully experience sorrow for our sins. Depending on how serious the sin is, the sorrow will be more profound for those sins that require such godly sorrow. What happens when well-meaning people in our lives are uncomfortable seeing us experience this sorrow and make an effort to rescue us? They are rescuing us from the very thing that will probably help us the most.
Boundaries Versus Control
God Sets Boundaries
Controlling is not support. The Lord made it clear in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants that controlling another was contrary to his plan. The truth of the matter is that controlling someone does nothing of any value for that other person and only gives the one doing the controlling a false sense of security. A person who does something under mental or physical duress only does it as long as the pressure is applied. That pressure builds the longer it is held until the controller relaxes and the person being controlled bursts free.
Boundaries, on the other hand, leaves the decision where it belongs. Coupled with refusing to rescue someone from the natural consequences of their behavior, setting boundaries can free the person to make his own choice and reap the natural consequences of that choice. The main natural consequence of negative behaviors in a relationship is the loss of trust.
Responsibility Versus Blame
Blaming is not support. Though each person is responsible for his own behavior and the consequences of that behavior, situations in real life tend to be more complex than that. It is important for each person to accept responsibility for his own mistakes, but that acceptance is only the beginning of solving a problem.
Playing a waiting game for the other person to be the first to admit fault is no better than making an outright accusation. No relationship can remain healthy where one person taking responsibility for his actions waits for the other person to do it first.
Perhaps the most important way to take responsibility and avoiding blame is to take responsibility for our own feelings. It is easy, but inaccurate, to say, “You make me feel…” The truth is, the feelings we experience in response to situations are based on our own issues. The other person did not create those issues. The feelings belong to us. Blaming them on another person is not supportive.
The real task of life is our own personal, spiritual growth. Sometimes, however, a difficult struggle that affects a relationship can put both parties in the mode of trying to solve the other person’s problems while ignoring their own.
In a relationship, both individuals must adopt the course of seeing to their own individual personal growth needs while supporting the other person in their best efforts to do the same.
Take a look at the four pillars in this picture. These are the things that support someone. Notice that below each pillar is a bomb that threatens to knock out that support. Without these pillars, the person we want to support has little choice than to fall.
Compare the principles in the four pillars to the ideas in the four bombs. The four pillars are selfless things, even godly things. Heavenly Father listens to our prayers. He respects us and does not rescue us from the natural consequences of our behaviors. He sets boundaries in the form of commandments. He expects us to take responsibility for our own mistakes and feelings, but not try to force others to take responsibility for theirs.
Often, the reason we fail to choose the supportive alternatives in our reactions is not because we want to help, but because we are uncomfortable being present during another person’s sufferings. Sometimes, we give advice knowing full well it will stop another person’s emotions in their tracks, not because we think their emotions are hurting them, but because we are afraid their emotions are hurting us. The same happens in rescuing someone from their feelings or even the natural consequences of their behaviors. Our innermost desire is not so much to be helpful as it is to rescue ourselves from the pain of being present during their pain.
The bombs, on the other hand, are selfish things. People give advice out of pride and a desire to be seen as a problem-solver. They rescue others to be seen as a hero. Often, we try to rescue another person from the emotions they feel because we ourselves are uncomfortable with them expressing how they feel. When we try to control others, we are trying to give ourselves a sense of security. When we blame others, we take all of the focus off of our own part in the problem.
Finally, there needs to be some effort on our parts to give our spouses something that can be supported. For example, if we spend all of our time giving facts, it is very difficult for the other person to support us emotionally. If, instead, we share our feelings, struggles, and aspirations, we give them something they can support.