top of page

Stop Playing Tug of War with Your Loved One

Drop the Rope and Stop Playing Tug of War with Your Loved One.

Therapy dogs

No bones about it – addiction is a gnarly disease that is very challenging to cope with, especially when the addict is someone close to you and lives in your home.

It is so easy to get caught up in the drama that addiction can bring that you may find yourself in a tug-of-war with the addict, yet it is no game and certainly no fun.

Are you tired of nagging, scolding, complaining, and dominating?

If you find yourself doing things for the addict that they should be able to do for themselves, trying to control everything and everyone around you. If you are exhausted from trying to do it all on your own or feeling like the addict (or anyone else for that matter) never appreciates how much you do, you are caught in the addiction cycle of drama.

The good news is that there is a way out and you can start living a life you love again!

A Simple Tool to Help You Drop the Rope

One of the most helpful and straightforward tools to use when trying to refrain from engaging in unhealthy behaviors with the addict is following a list of do’s and don’ts, another Al-Anon tool that is used widely in many recovery programs.

The Do’s Are:

  1. Forgive;

  2. Be honest with yourself;

  3. Be humble;

  4. Take it easy; Tension is harmful;

  5. Play; Find recreation and hobbies;

  6. Keep on trying whenever you fail;

  7. Learn all the facts about addiction;

  8. Attend recovery meetings often;

And the Don’ts Are:

  1. Be self-righteous;

  2. Try to dominate, nag, scold or complain;

  3. Lose your temper;

  4. Try to push anyone but yourself;

  5. Keep bringing up the past;

  6. Keep checking up on your addict;

  7. Wallow in self-pity;

  8. Make threats you don’t intend to carry out;

  9. Be over-protective;

  10. Be a doormat.


Many of these may seem overwhelming or counterintuitive to you if you’re beginning your recovery journey.

How can you possibly play and have fun when it seems like your whole world is coming down around you? How can you forgive the addict for all the pain and suffering they are causing you and the rest of your family? How can you stop trying to dominate, nag, scold, or complain? If you stop, everything will inevitably fall apart.

If you don’t keep checking up on the addict, who will make sure they are still alive/at their meeting/at work/not drinking or using or fill in the blank?

These are undoubtedly understandable concerns that will require support from others who have walked this path before you.

Quite honestly, it is challenging to be able to see our behavior, especially in the beginning.

Attempting this list of do’s and don’ts can be daunting and should not be done alone. And you’re not alone; we are here to help!

You Have Choices

You get to choose when to have a challenging conversation with your addict and when to bow out gracefully, calmly, and without drama. Part of the addict’s behavior includes wanting to pick fights, some while intoxicated or high, others during moments of sobriety, and often this behavior can persist even when the addict becomes clean and sober in the early stages of recovery or if they do not have a recovery program.

Usually, this is around a need to justify their bad behavior, alcohol consumption, or drug use.

But it can be about anything with those above as the underlying motivation.

For instance, they may become verbally abusive with you about how you’re doing the laundry or failing to unload the dishwasher, whatever seemingly unrelated small thing they can criticize you for.

What they are trying to do is take the focus off what they are doing and put the emphasis on you to deflect attention to their addictive behaviors.

If you can recognize this, it is possible to drop the rope instead of engaging in the tug-of-war game the addict is trying to play. Simple statements such as, “I’m not able to discuss this with you now but am happy to do so at a later time” or “You might be right. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

You can then politely excuse yourself from the room or the house if necessary, particularly if the addict continues to come at you verbally or otherwise.

This is all part of creating healthy boundaries and taking good care of yourself in what can be a very challenging situation.

You never have to accept verbal or physical abuse of any kind.

This is very important to understand as you may feel like you deserve abuse out of feelings of guilt that can be present in loved ones of addicts, stemming from a misunderstanding of the disease of addiction and thinking that they somehow caused their loved one to drink or use.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Three C’s – Understanding and Accepting the Disease of Addiction

tug of war

The three C’s according to Al-Anon literature are: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.”

It is so common for loved ones of addicts to misunderstand the disease of addiction and feel guilt and even shame believing they somehow caused their loved one to drink or use, walking on eggshells around the addict so as not to trigger them to drink, use, or fight.

Loved ones of addicts may also believe that if they find some way to be perfect in their behavior, the addict in their life will stop drinking or using.

This is just not the case at all.

Addiction is a disease plain and simple. Just as you cannot cause someone to get gout, a thyroid condition, or cancer, you cannot cause someone to drink or use drugs.

No matter how perfect you try to behave, you can’t control the disease or cure it either. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases that can be arrested but not cured.

The addict is not to blame either – no more than they would be if they contracted any other disease.

Addiction is a disease and a gnarly one at that. It is challenging to arrest, and the only way to even start the process is for the addict to have a sincere desire to stop drinking or using and become willing to seek help to do so.

This is not a decision you can make for them. This is not something you can push them into.

Even if your addict is a minor, while you can send them to rehab, you cannot force them to do the recovery work or to want to stop drinking or using. They have to be ready to do so on their own.

The sooner you can understand and accept this truth, the sooner you will regain your sanity and serenity, or at least begin to in some degree. As you practice acceptance in this regard, your own life will become increasingly better and more manageable.

The Four M’s and How to Stop Doing Them

What are the four M’s and what do they have to do with addiction and recovery?

According to Al-Anon literature, the four M’s include manipulation, managing, mothering, and martyrdom. These are behaviors that loved ones of addicts most commonly engage in as a result of “catching” the disease of addiction.

They keep you in a cycle of drama with your addict, the proverbial tug-of-war.

Being willing to drop these behaviors (and the rope) is the first step in stopping them and can get you out of an exhausting, sometimes even life-threatening cycle of drama.

Manipulation is a tricky one – sometimes we are at least somewhat conscious that we are manipulative, but many times we aren’t. Manipulation can take many forms including setting up a situation to achieve the desired outcome, passive-aggressive behavior, and even people-pleasing!

Are you surprised by the people-pleasing? Think about it – why do you people-please?

It’s because you want to manipulate the other person(s) into liking you, loving you, or giving you their approval.

Managing is typically a situation when you try to control your environment such as continually taking the temperature of the room and walking on eggshells around the addict so as not to “cause” them to drink or use. You may also try to hide the addiction from others that don’t live in your home putting on the air that everything is perfect when it’s far from that.

Mothering often appears in the form of taking on responsibilities that are not yours to do – like cleaning up vomit from the addict’s latest binge, paying their bills, or dealing with their boss instead of letting the addict suffer the consequences of their addiction.

Martyrdom is when you try to do it all and all alone and then feel that your sacrifices and efforts go entirely unappreciated.

A good question to ask yourself is, “Did they ask for my help with this?”

If the answer is no, don’t be surprised they don’t appreciate what actually may be unwelcomed meddling.

Another tip to keep in mind is that a martyr is someone who is continuously suffering and, while pain is a normal part of life, suffering is optional.

Changing Your Behavior with Everyone

time for change

If you have been engaging in any or all of the behaviors above (the three C’s, the 4 M’s), chances are you’re not only doing them with the addict in your life but with everyone around you!

You may be mothering a coworker, playing the martyr with your boss, managing a volunteer situation where your help isn’t wanted or manipulating another family member or friend.

The first step in stopping these behaviors is becoming aware of when you’re doing them. Then look at your real motivation behind them.

What is it you’re hoping to get out of each situation or interaction? What are the emotions that may be driving your behavior?

Often when we feel life with our addict is so out of control, we pick up these self-defeating behaviors to create the illusion that everything is under control when it’s not.

And control is precisely that: an illusion.

The sooner you’re willing to admit you are powerless over the disease of addiction, the sooner you will be able to start dropping these exhausting and ineffective behaviors in favor of acceptance, peace, and serenity and the self-care and self-respect that goes along with them.

Asking for Help Is Key

Isolation and shame are bedfellows that can keep you in the disease of addiction instead of in the serenity of recovery.

Just like your addict needs to seek help to stop drinking or using, you need to find help as well. The disease of addiction doesn’t only affect the addict; it infects everyone around them too.

Although you may not pick up the drink, the needle, or a pill, you have become sick too, not unlike a domestic violence situation where the abuser is ill, and the abused also becomes sick.

Do not despair, there is help, and you are not alone! So many loved ones of addicts have sought help through Addiction Recovery Center support groups designed just for them and through 12-step programs like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.

The miracle of these recovery programs for loved ones is that as you heal, often the addict in your life may either seek recovery for the first time, return to recovery, or simply do better with their recovery as you learn to drop the rope, one knot at a time.

But even if they don’t, you will have healthier tools with which to take care of yourself, no matter what the disease of addiction may bring to your household.

You will have a loving support network of individuals who truly understand because they are going through the same things too.

You can learn to live life again, one that is happy, joyous, and free.

Our Recovery Center has talented and skilled professionals who understand the struggle and how it impacts the recovery and treatment of addicts.  They can help you with your recovery efforts and understand how to deal with shame.

If you need help with your recovery, you can get in touch with the admissions line at our Recovery Center where trained and experienced professionals are available to assist you in every way. The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment.  Call anytime.

Phone: +1 435-654-1082

about chateau

Chateau Blog Posts

contact chateau

** Referenced From Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics, by Al‑Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. **
bottom of page