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What Couples in Conflict Can Learn from Twelve-Step Recovery Programs

Dealing with an addiction - such as alcoholism and chemical dependency, or compulsive spending, sexual behavior or gambling - can be extremely challenging for any couple. For those who enter individual addiction and partner recovery "Twelve Step" programs, however, significant growth and gifts come from working programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, Sexaholics Anonymous and S-Anon, or Gamblers Anonymous.

Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA), is a Twelve Step program dedicated to helping couples who are coping with addictions of any kind. RCA addresses the common issues that cause many couples to be on the verge of separation and/or divorce .

Managing conflict is one of the most challenging issues for couples. RCA's "Creating Healthy Agreements" booklet (which is available for purchase by anyone on the "Resources for Members" page of the RCA website: recovering-couples.org) includes guidelines for and samples of Healthy Agreements for Respectful Conflict and Fair Fighting.

The chapter on Respectful Conflict and Fair Fighting states, "Conflict is healthy and an essential part of intimacy." This statement is often a surprise to those who view conflict as a "negative" in a relationship, rather than as a way to grow as an individuals and as a couple by seeing different perspectives and solutions rather than just the one perspective or solution each person believes is "right".

Healthy Agreements for Respectful Conflict and Fair Fighting are designed by each couple for their particular needs and may include agreements such as:

  1. If one person raises an issue to discuss, we agree to set an appropriate time and place to discuss it.
  2. We agree to keep the focus on that issue. If other concerns come to mind we will schedule a separate discussion.
  3. We will use "I-statements" such as "I feel ..." or "I want ...". We will not tell each other what "you think" or "you feel." We will not assume we know what the other thinks and feels. We will not presume to "know" the other person's intentions.
  4. We will not raise our voices, use name-calling, foul language or baiting-statements. We will avoid case-building statements designed to show the other person why we are "right".
  5. We will not say "you always" or "you never".
  6. We will not use dramatic exits - door slamming, huffing out of the room, etc. We will not threaten separation or divorce.
  7. We will ask for a "time out" if we are feeling too upset, hungry, tired or sad to have a productive conversation. We will agree on a later time to continue the discussion. If we need to leave to "cool down," we will tell our partner where we are going and when we will be back.
  8. We agree to not discuss potentially emotional topics before 9:00 AM or after 9:00 PM. These may seem like common sense guidelines, yet many couples struggle to consistently adhere to them. Doing so creates a feeling of safety when strong emotions come into couples' conversations. No couple can claim perfect adherence to these guidelines, but with practice couples build up a "track record" of having productive conversations that don't become volatile or "go sideways ". Having respectful conflict helps couples move forward together, rather than avoiding the hard conversations or inflicting emotional damage on each other and the relationship.

Create an Agreement for Respectful Conflict and Fair Fighting for your own coupleship and see what a difference it makes!

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