Step 4: We make a fearless and courageous moral inventory of ourselves, and of our marriage.
The majority of houses in America are different, but they almost all have one thing in common: The junk drawer. This drawer has perplexed me for as long as I’ve had my own place to live. Why does it always get messy even when I clean it out, put those little plastic organizers in there, and do my best to not make it into a junk drawer again.
The problem of the drawer has many layers, but here are a few that make sense to me. We have too much stuff and not enough room to put everything. We need to clean the counters quickly, and throw everything we can into the drawer. Mostly though, the junk drawer exists because things get broken and the pieces of objects get found in random places around the house. So we pick them up not knowing what to do with them and then put them in the drawer for some later time.
Some time ago I got fed up with the junk drawer in our house. I was determined to make it a collective goal of our family to keep it cleaned out. To do so, I sorted all the items into neat piles that corresponded with each individual person in the family. Sadly I had to fight off the desire to blame everyone for why the drawer was so messy, but that wasn’t going to help with the cleanup process. What we all needed was to see our piles and then to decide what to do with each of the items.
Marriages that are in need of recovery might resemble the junk drawer and the reasons why it is junky. Things are and have been broken. You might not have realized what you were doing but you stored the broken pieces away to deal with at a later time.
Today is the time to take the broken pieces out, name them, create an inventory of what is present, and begin the process of deciding what to do with them. We cannot do with what we do not know. Healing happens when we name things. When we tell the truth over and over and over again until the truth doesn’t hurt as much as it did the first time.
Before we can begin to address what pieces need to be kept, and which ones are unrepairable, we need to take stock of what we have. This process of naming what is present in you and in your marriage is different than what you will be asked to do in step 8. In that step, you will work on a list of your responsibility regarding your actions and inactions.
Step 4 is not about assigning judgement, blame, or responsibility. It is about naming what I have and what we have together. It is important to note that the attention of this step needs to be 98% on what is in you and 2% on what is in the marriage. Don’t spend any time thinking about the flaws or shortcomings of your spouse. If you find yourself struggling with that, revisit steps 1, 2, and 3.
To this point in the process, the 3 previous steps have had actions associated with them, but they have been more contemplative in nature. This step requires an action of dedicated time and attention, and might feel more like work. Here are a few guidelines (not rules!) to keep in mind as you work through this step.
- Get a journal or some paper to write down your thoughts.
- View this as a living / working process. Don’t try and do it all at once.
- Be completely honest. If you think it, write it down. Write as though no one will ever read this. It might, but just because you write it down does not mean that you need to share it!
- As you work through these questions and inventory, you might notice some resentments, flaws in self, or need for amends that show up. On a separate page, write down these three categories: Resentments, Amends, Flaws (see list below). Begin writing these ideas/words on this page as they come up during this and any future step. You’ll be referencing this later in the 12-step process.
- Share this list with a trusted friend, therapist, sponsor, or guide first before you share it with your spouse. Invite someone else into the process with you so that you don’
- In the next step, Step 5, when sharing this with your spouse, do not use this as a space/time to talk about hurts, betrayals, sharing of any kind of damaging secret, etc. This is about naming, not shaming (self or others).
To help you along the way, here are a list of question and writing prompts to consider as you work on your step. A moral inventory of yourself and of your marriage is kind of like inviting a sociologist into your home (and your head).
What would they observe about your thoughts, your energy towards each other, and your love (or lack thereof)?
What are you proud of about yourself as a husband/wife?What are you ashamed of?
What is present in your thoughts and attitude towards your spouse? What isn’t present that you want?
How do you feel about yourself?
How do you feel about your marriage?
Is marriage what you thought it would be? Describe what you thought it would be.
What other losses have you experienced and your way of coping with these losses (doesn’t have to be a literal death).
Marriage researcher John Gottman writes about 4 responses to a spouse that will kill a relationship: Contempt, Defensiveness, Stonewalling, and Criticism.
- Which of these are present in you? In your marriage?
He also speaks about the ration of 5:1. You need 5 positive interactions to counteract every 1 negative interaction you have.
- In yourself, do you tend towards naming the positive or negative things about your marriage?
What kind of attention are these categories getting in your life and marriage today?
- Friendships / Other Relationships
- Substance Use
- Media Use
- Family of Origin (parents, siblings)
Here is a list of some character traits that might feel like flaws to you or others. Which of these resonate with you? Where do you think you learned these? What benefit are they to you life?
- anger, hate, rage, contempt, envy, jealousy, unkind, irritable, victim
- sloth, jealousy, procrastination, pessimism, depressed, laziness, aimless, avoidant
- anxious, stressed, insecure, afraid, panic, impulsive, impatient, hopeless
- cowardly, hedonist, resentful, inconsiderate, amoral, posessive, spiteful
- apathetic, indifferent, self-pity, self-centered, approval seeking, thrill seeker
- gossip, self-righteousness, arrogance, judgemental, impulsive, rigid
- selfish, unreasonable, unrealistic, stubborn, smug, indulgent, foolish
- vengeful, abusive, bigoted, cruel, intolerant, pretentious, chaotic, disorganized
- right, disagreeable, contrarian, despondent, evasive, aloof, withdrawn
- complainer, negative, control, manipulative, impatient, martyr, innocent
- childish, dramatic, gossip, lies, naive, obnoxious, loud, skeptic, tactless
Celebrations and Gratitude are always present and a welcomed relief from what sometimes feels like an impossible situation.
What are you grateful for about yourself? Your marriage?
What needs to be celebrated in your life? What is good in your marriage?
Lastly, Fredrick Beauchner says this: “We are only as sick as our secrets.” What secrets might you have that is ailing you or or your marriage? Is there anything you have kept a secret that no one knows about? If so, consider writing it down and sharing it with someone.
Reflection Questions from Step 4
- What was this step like for you?
- What did you notice about yourself in naming your inventory?
- Did you feel any wins or losses in doing this?
- Where is God in all of this for you?