Step 12: Having a relational awakening, we commit to helping others in completing these steps, and to continue practicing recovery in our lives together.
Prior to attending graduate school, my wife and I got started in the counseling world by volunteering at our church and a new marriage ministry. We helped to pilot a marriage enrichment group experience where couples got together once a week for dinner and discussion. We would all answer two questions out loud and then discuss. The two questions were: This week, how have you been selfish, and how has your spouse blessed you? Because we knew that we were going to address these questions every week, they became a guiding light for all of us throughout our week.
It was through this group and then our eventual involvement in leading couples through pre-marriage counseling that two things happened. First, it uncovered a gift and interest in getting more training on helping people. Several years later this led us to move our family from Nashville to Seattle for grad school.
Secondly, and more importantly, our marriage grew. We were confronted with our own flaws and assumptions about each other as we counseled other couples and their upcoming marriages. It brought up issues for us that we didn’t know that we had with each other (and ourselves), and because we both leading and participating in marriage work with others, we were kind of forced to deal with these issues. I don’t think that we would have done as much work as we did early on in our relationship if we didn’t have this community group of other friends, and pre-marriage couples that we were working with.
The best thing we’ve ever done for our marriage is to meet with other couples and give our time away to them. I think this will be the best thing that you will ever do for your marriage as well.
Something amazing happens when we productively turn our gaze from the problems we are facing to the problems that others are facing. Now, I think there are a couple of ways this can go. We can see others problems as a way to dismiss our own, perhaps saying or thinking something like, “They’re way worse off than we are, we don’t need to worry about the conflicts we are having.” The other way we can view others problems is that our marriage and challenges we face might be something that is of help to others.
In our marriage enrichment group, Stephanie and I didn’t start out as the leaders of the group. We needed a community of other couples along side of us because we’d had a pretty rough go of marriage for the first few years. We didn’t form and participate in the group to help others, we did it because we didn’t want to be alone in the difficulties of our marriage. Perhaps helping others with what they are facing doesn’t have anything to do with the advice or direction you’d offer someone, but just the presence and honesty of your own relationship challenges.
Weight watchers discovered that their clients had way more success in their goals when participants were in a community of others as compared to those who attempted to go at it alone. Cancer treatment rooms are communal as the experience of sitting all day in a room of others doing the same thing actually improves the outcomes of the treatment. Marriages are no different. We need others around us to help us on our way, and for us to help others on their way.
I think most folks get to step 12 and they see it as the “rewind button” at the end of a favorite song. I often hear people or couples say “I don’t have anything to offer anyone, we’re struggling too much ourselves.” They think that they need to play the previous 11 steps over and over again, until they “figure it all out” and then they’ll do step 12. I think it works the other way around. I think doing step 12 will lead you to doing all the steps over and over again to keep engaged in figuring things out, because to arrive at “I’ve figured it all out” is when you stop working, striving, or trying.
There are countless individuals and couples in your community who have never talked about themselves or their relationship in any kind of structured or productive way. Take these 12 steps and use them as a guide to get together with other couples who are wanting to grow and get better. Start a group and ask the two questions above that we used in our marriage enrichment groups. Find a young couple in your community and offer to have dinner with them once a month to talk about life and their relationship. It doesn’t have to be a grand production.
The grass is greener where we water it. Step 12 is an invitation to take the green grass that you’ve watered, and share that with those around you. I think you’ll be surprised with how much greener your grass can become when you share it with others.
Journal Reflection Questions:
- What are the three biggest takeaways for me about this 12 step process?
- Who can I share this process with?
- Who can we invite into a group or community gathering and talk about marriage?