Myself and my partner, on the surface, can appear to be very toxic. We both have toxic elements to our personalities, she has an alcohol problem, I am a domestic abuser. What I have noticed from treatment is that it is all managed in silos. There is the silo of her alcoholism and my silo as an abuser. The agencies that we are using to treat these two major problems do not appear to be that interested in a holistic, environmental, cultural approach.
We as a couple have assessed an analysed our situation, yet we are still to join the dots to change the environment and culture that causes our major family problem. Both of our toxic behaviours are intertwined and feed one another. She gets drunk, I become abusive, because I’ve been abusive she gets drunk. A difficult circle to break. The thing is though that this is not a relationship between two people as there is a third entity in this, that of the relationship.
There is one final solution to a situation like ours and I used the phrase final solution because it is evocative of a time when “Final Solution” was a euphemism for total eradication. We could eradicate our relationship, brake the circle completely by separating and move on as individuals. But does that really solve the root problems. I’ll walk away from the relationship, not healed and still with abusive characteristics. She’ll walk away from the relationship still with alcohol abuse issues.
I never though that I would ever become a domestic abuser, it came as a complete surprise to me that I had become one. I though that because of growing up in an abusive family, I would not enact the behaviours I knew as a child. Yet I did and that was a total eye opener to me. I became what I believed I wouldn’t be. On the other hand, my wife entered our relationship with alcohol abuse issues, she’d started abusing alcohol as a teenager.
So each of the agencies that we’ve been involved with to change our behaviours have always gone on about accountability. We each must hold ourselves accountable.
Easier said than done.
What is accountability though and how should we use it? This is what the agencies never go on to describe or show someone what needs to be done.
I came across this article in the Harvard Business Review today
The first question any of these agencies who step in to “help” people like myself and my wife should ask is this.
Do we have the capability to do what is asked.
Do I have the capability to stop being a domestic abuser, Does she have the capability to resolve her alcohol problem. I would like both of us to be able to answer yes to those first questions and to follow that with what is our actual capacity to do that.
So am I capable of being mindful, not being aggressively angry and to hold back on all those other micro behaviours that add up to being abusive? I would like to answer yes to that and I am trying very hard to practice that on a hour by hour basis. Sometimes, I stop being mindful and the micro abuses creep in, then I introspect, have a moment of accountability and stop.
One of the reasons we continue to be together is that I believe that my wife has the capability to manage her alcoholism, many would say to me that I’m being foolish and that people don’t change, but I am an optimist. People do change, I’ve changed dramatically since I was a teenager and I continue to change. I thought I would never change into a domestic abuser having lived through a childhood of it. Now I’m trying to reconcile my childhood (where our core beliefs are set) to what I experience now.
So what can I lean from the HBR article about accountability.
First there is setting clear expectations. My family has the expectation of a life free of domestic abuse, insults, aggression and fear. I have an expectation on myself to behave in such a way and to be mindful of myself so that they do not experience that.
Next there is the clear capability. I have the capability to not behave the way that I have done. I hope that by putting these words down for people to read shows that I have that capability.
The third step in the HBR article is clear measurement. This is a tough one in a family setting, there is no balanced scorecard, no metrics, no KPI’s that can easily be applied to this. The actual measurement will come much later when my wife and children are living the expectations set above. This can’t be easily measured, but the outcomes over time will become a measurement. If in the next few years, I’m still writing about this and I’m being mindfully reactive. Then my expectations have failed, and that will become the measure. In years to come will this period be seen as an aberration or the norm.
Clear feedback, again like the measurement, it a tough one to achieve, people who live in fear of domestic abusers won’t be able to give clear feedback because they will be in fear. So frankly, that actually becomes a measure too. The capacity to give open and honest feedback free of consequences.
Finally, clear consequences. It’s discovering what are the consequences of all this. A wife who can only have sex with me when she’s drunk. Unhappy children who lack confidence. The consequence that our relationship fails, the consequence that I could go on to affect future relationships. The ultimate sanction of going to prison. The consequences are very clear.
So when any agency, counsellor or support group talk about personal accountability, these are the things that they need to explain and and I (or you if your an abuser reading this) have to be mindful of.