To begin to deal effectively with any challenging problem, it’s vital to understand the problem: where it came from, what contributes to keeping it in place, common features of the problem, how it is affecting you and those you love, and what to expect going forward. When you walk into a dark room, you need LIGHT so that you don’t stumble around in the dark, banging yourself up and breaking things. We think of Understanding as the light you need to navigate the room you are in with your partner. Yes, action matters too! And this guide is loaded with suggestions about how to take effective action when it comes to helping, but understanding is the tool you need first to be effective with the rest.
We explore all of these topics much more fully in our book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change. In The 20 Minute Guide we cover the essentials of understanding, including a brief overview of new approaches for helping that have been supported by research studies over and over, as well as a discussion of the idea that this struggle is different for each person and for each relationship they have, and that finding your unique path is what matters.
Next, we discuss the idea of “reinforcement”, that people (your partner included) use substances for reasons. It is helpful to understand this fact as it will help you gain the important perspective that changing behavior is not so easy. Next, understanding the role of ambivalence (your partner wanting to change and NOT wanting to change), as well as providing some clarification about language you have probably heard (like “enabling”) will take you even further down the path of thinking differently about the problem you face. We also review ways to think about conversations… how you talk about the problem with your partner, how to notice when it’s going well, when it’s not, and how to work with that. Last in this section on Understanding is a discussion of practice: these are new ideas and skills, and you’ll need the time and patience (with yourself!) to practice all of these skills in order to be helpful to you and your partner. Why take the time to understand all of these new concepts? Because doing so will help you take more effective and strategic action to help your partner, which is what we know you want to do!
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