The trouble starts when you accommodate the wrong thing.
Partners deserve accommodations. Reasonable compromise is at the heart of friendship, much less love. It’s better to give than to receive. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. There is no greater love than to lay down your life.
If your girlfriend had the flu, you would make her chicken soup. You wouldn’t pout if your one-legged boyfriend didn’t take you out dancing. You’d soothe the nerves of a phobic spouse, cheer up a depressed one. You’d get them to the doctor, remind them to take their medicine, not walk so fast if there’s a struggle to keep up. Few people would begrudge such kindnesses; most are willing to sacrifice quite a lot. Even those who freely break other wedding vows take in sickness and in health quite seriously.
However, there is a danger that, if you accommodate the wrong thing, it’ll change the character of both the ill person and the one taking care of him. It ain’t pretty.
It starts in a chicken or egg type manner. It’s hard to say what comes first. You have a person who needs accommodations, but the needs are so great that they push aside all other needs. All the time. Then there’s the helping person whose identity, the very core of why they matter as a human being, can be wrapped up in caring for others and in being what they think is a good person. To stop caring is to provoke an existential crisis.
This is how addiction takes over. Caring for the addiction is so absorbing, nothing else you do matters.
The addicted person believes the addiction is all powerful, its demands insatiable, so she obeys. He drinks, she shoots up, he gambles, she screws around, he shops, she smokes, he’s mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, because they feel they must. They have a craving, an urge, a reason, so they obey.
Obeying the addiction gives it power. Addiction, or any illness, is fed by the accommodations we make. The sick person who doesn’t eat because all she does is throw up, gets weak. The paraplegic who doesn’t push himself in his physical therapy, withers away. The anxious person who lets his fears control him, puts his fears in control. The depressed person who doesn’t open the blinds, does not receive the healing properties of light. The alcoholic who makes everyone else responsible for his recovery will drink again because others cannot stop him.
The sick person may not have given himself the disease. The paraplegic may not have made herself paralyzed. Anxiety, depression, and addiction may all have a genetic component, but when a person makes themselves more ill, my word for that is madness.
Madness is a good word for the things ill people do to make themselves more ill. Having alcoholism is not madness, but drinking when you know you have alcoholism is madness. Being depressed is not madness, but not getting up to start the day is madness. Having anxieties is not madness. It’s very normal, and may even be advisable, to have anxieties; but letting your fears control you is madness.
Once madness takes over, the non-sick partner, if he does not already derive satisfaction in self-sacrifice and helping, finds that’s all he can do anyway. The needs of illness push aside all other needs. The non-sick partner stops listening to his own desires. It makes little sense for him to acknowledge, for instance, that he needs to get out and see friends when he’s not going to be able to do it anyway. He has to stay home with his sick wife. He becomes more attentive to the madness than to himself, until, at last, he’s a hostage and there is no self left.
It’s hard for the non-sick person to take action though, without feeling as though he is betraying his partner. It’s a very delicate matter to stop feeding an illness, even if it’s an addiction, because it looks as though you have stopped caring for a sick person.
So, let’s talk about a way out.