Can unity exist in relationships? Yes! Of course, that didn’t seem at all possible to me at the beginning of my journey in family recovery.
When my husband and I first met, we both knew something very important about relationships: how not to have healthy ones. With a combined three divorces between us, we could clearly see the impact addiction had created. We knew that if we wanted to have a fighting chance, we would have to approach things differently than we had in the past.
Luckily, both of us had been studying the recovery Traditions with our individual sponsors. In addition to the Steps, the 12 Traditions were created as guidelines to help keep our groups and fellowship healthy. When I first heard about the Traditions it was in the home group I attend. Honestly, at first I wasn’t interested in them at all! I only wanted to focus on the Steps - that seemed to be where all the action of recovery happened! Once I was a further along my path in my recovery, I started to hear the value of the Traditions more and more. They weren’t just about how to work things out in our meetings, they could also be applied in relationships of any kind. As I started learning more about them, I started to use them in friendships, with co-workers, and with my family members. As things got more serious with my husband (my boyfriend at the time), we decided to try them as a couple, as well.
The wording for the first Tradition in Al-Anon is “Our common welfare should come first; personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity.” My husband and I had two completely different understandings about what this meant, based on our two completely different outlooks on the world!
When I considered the term “unity”, I realized that my behavior was to practice “peace at any price”. I had learned this as a child, and I had carried it with me into my adult years. I thought that unity meant that we should all get along all of the time, and that no boats should ever be rocked. I thought it was my job to acquiesce to situations so I would not create any conflict. I thought that “common welfare” meant I should sacrifice myself so that everyone else could be happy. That is not what this Tradition is about.
When my husband started practicing this Tradition with me, he would wait until we were disagreeing about something, and would exclaim “Unity!”, as though that meant he should magically get his way. Apparently, we had some work to do…
As we started to practice this Tradition together, we found that we were able to communicate better with each other. There was something that happened when speaking about the Traditions that made it safe to talk about things that would have typically felt vulnerable to discuss. Our conversations felt like at-home meetings, and we found a way to trust that we were on the same team, and that each of us was showing up with the best of intentions.
The more that we started to implement this Tradition in our marriage, the more we came to learn what it meant. Unity is about communicating and listening, without feeling threatened, and letting everyone share their point of view. With the information we gain in these conversations, we can decide about our common welfare, and what will create personal progress for us as a couple. Sometimes we’ve decided that the advancement of one of us in our individual personal progress, even though it meant the other person might need to compromise, would be better for the health of our marriage overall. We’ve used this in deciding on employment opportunities, and how we spend money. We used this to decide about whether or not my husband should go back to school. We’ve used this to discern who which side of the family we’ll be spending holidays with and when. We’ve intentionally practiced this Tradition so frequently that in no longer feels like effort. In fact, if either of us tries to make a rash decision without using this Tradition, it instantly feels off to us.
One of the definitions of unity is “a condition of harmony”. The Traditions give us the an additional set of tools to find a way to live fully into this harmony, putting our Higher Power in the center of our relationship, and showing up as the people we want to be with those that we love.