This is what really close relationships are all about: enabling the good times and positive feelings to outweigh the bad times and negative feelings and gradually learning to trust. Closeness is a continuing process, not an event.
Families are equally protective of their ethos and prejudices. They have laws on how things should be said and done. Sometimes that is very positive and mutually supportive. At other times it is very negative and very destructive. Throughout it all we are our own worst enemies, saying too much to the wrong person and doing the wrong thing in order to triangulate (get support for our own self-justification). All this comes back to us in spades in due course.
I married Pat before telling my family that I was going to do so. Our choice is nothing to do with them. I am glad that they do like her (why would they not?) but I would choose her irrespective of their opinion. I do not give them the right to determine my future choices.
By the nature of my work, I am not an easy person to live with. My telephone goes with me at all hours and in all places. There are few boundaries to my personal time or space. As I see it, that is the nature of my professional life: my commitment to my patients. After all, they put their lives in my hands. I am not merely earning my living. At times this can be very wearing but I accept it as a consequence of the nature of my work.
It is difficult for Pat to come into that established pattern of belief and action – at mealtimes, in bed, when having some precious personal time in amongst difficult days (either because I am so busy – sometimes eight or more hours of consultations in a day – or because the work itself can be very demanding – dealing with people who want to change others, including me, rather than themselves).
But this is my work and it is me. I would not be the same person – not have the same values, principles and ethics and therefore the same attitudes and behaviour – if I were not the man I am. Pat knows that, just as I treasure the person she is – as she was before getting together with me. Nowadays we focus on developing a progressively closer relationship, tolerant of each others’ foibles, introspections and even stupidities.
The central belief of my life is that I am an addict. If I forget that, and the daily disciplines of recovery, I would soon lose my marriage and my work. I spent 45 minutes one day last week with my sponsor (for whom I had prepared a typed summary) and two hours with my supervisor (whom I pay) yesterday. Pat came into our relationship with no knowledge of my ethos in clinical practice, no understanding of addiction and no family. I came into it with no knowledge of her professional and personal perspectives and experience. We continue to grow: that’s the fun.
This is what I should like for other couples – a belief that our primary relationship is central to our lives and that nothing and nobody gets in the way of that. And we can continue to grow each and every day.