Coach Heidi Bilonick McGuirk tackles the issue: How to handle when your spouse keeps bringing up your past.
Dear Coach Heidi,
My question is; I have been in recovery for approximately 8 months. While I was in active addiction, I did a lot of things that I’m not proud of that hurt a lot of people, especially my husband. Recently I received a tax form showing that I had taken a large amount of money from my retirement account that I truly don’t remember doing. My husband is not happy and I can completely understand. The problem is this: I get mad at him for getting upset with me. Like, he tells me I should be very thankful that he still wants to be with me given the horrible things that I have put him through when I was in my active addiction. I continued to hurt him when he is the one I love dearly. How do I reply to him when he brings up things I did without getting mad at him? I have told him I’m sorry a million times. This is now affecting every aspect of our 5 year marriage, including our sex life.
What advice can you give me?
I absolutely LOVE this question! And I love it because it’s a question so many people recovery have. Kind of like asking: How long do I have to pay for my sins? Or how long do I bite my tongue? Or how many times do I need to say “I’m sorry.” My take is coming from a place of having almost 20 years of coaching couples into happier relationships. So, I would ask you, how can both of you decide to act more loving towards each other and assume the best about each other?
For example, if you were to assume the best about your husband while wondering why he brings up the past or why he tells you that you are lucky he stuck it out, what is his POSITIVE intent? In other words, if you were to look through a loving lens, WHY would he be doing that? Most of the time, loved ones remind us of the past because they truly believe that by doing so, we will be shamed enough not to repeat old patterns. They don’t want us to forget the hell they went through so we don’t forget and “do” it again.
This thinking is flawed in so many ways. First, addiction is a disease, not a character defect. And no one is choosing it.
The other issue is that you are getting mad at him and then feeling bad for being mad. Perhaps, instead of telling him how you feel, you are acting out in other ways, like withholding sex. An important lesson to learn in recovery is that you are entitled to your feelings. Feelings are a great way by which to measure the health of your relationship. Think of them as a kind of barometer that measures the stress, pressure, and overall ‘temperature’ of the relationship.
Remember, your anger is legitimate however, make sure that you are not making yourself a martyr or victim of your feelings. Instead, take ACTION by initiating open communication about your feelings. Being passive-aggressive or acting like a martyr won’t cut it.
Talk to your husband. Let him know how the constant reminders make you feel. Take responsibility for how these feelings then have you act out in certain ways. But at the end of the day C, your feelings are YOUR feelings and no one can MAKE you feel anything without your permission. You’re the one who decides to get angry. Could you get grateful instead? I say ‘yes.” By focusing on where you are when he focuses on where you’ve been.
So many choices! That’s the beautiful thing.
Heidi Bilonick McGuirk is a Master Certified Relationship Coach. She has consulted for several top Matchmaking and Dating companies around the world. She has served as the Director of Operations for the Matchmaking Institute in NYC and has been in private practice for over a decade. She is one of the Life and Relationship Coaches here at Palm Partners and has supported many clients in their pursuits of sobriety, health and happiness.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.