7 Best Ways to Love an ACOA Well
Are you in love with or married to an adult child of an alcoholic or addict? Are you having a hard time relating to them because your childhood was as normal as they come? Navigating a relationship can be challenging, but factor in the dysfunctional past of your loved one and this proves to be near impossible.
As an adult child of an alcoholic in recovery, I can tell you it’s not easy being one either. We have constant struggles with self-esteem, past trauma, and feelings of unworthiness just to name a few. The ACOA can also suffer from bouts with depression or an addiction themselves.
Loving an ACOA well can be difficult, but it is possible. Following these 7 best ways to love the ACOA can change your relationship.
1. Don’t tell them to “get over it”
Believe me, we have tried this. A painful past or traumatic childhood is not something one can easily “get over”. It takes years of therapy and recovery programs in order to accomplish this. If your loved one is struggling to overcome their past, it important to assist them in seeking help. This should also be done with caution. Some of us are not ready for help. Lovingly tell him or her that there are others that struggle with their dysfunctional pasts and there are groups available if they are interested. Leave it at that. Don’t try to push them into getting help. Pray for God to work in their lives and for Him to show you how to be supportive.
2. Help them with a new normal
ACOA’s are confused as to what “normal” looks like. Their childhood was likely filled with chaos, turmoil, and possibly abuse. That is the normal they are used to. Show them what normal should look like. Serenity, understanding, and supportive is what a normal relationship consists of. If he or she is not in a recovery program yet, the thought of serenity is far from their mind. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
3. Show them Christ-like love
An ACOA could feel they are completely unworthy and undeserving of love, especially unconditional love. Show them love. If you are married, follow the biblical principal for husbands,
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her”
or for wives,
“To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”
If you are not yet married, these principals still apply. Coming from a household filled with addiction, sacrificial love was not present. An addict only thinks of him/herself and the way they are going to get their drug of choice. The child is often left behind to figure things out on their own. By showing Christ-like love to the ACOA, you are re-framing their mindset of unconditional love.
4. Fear and anxiety is a way of life
ACOA’s are filled with fear and anxiety. We are fearful of so many things, but most of all we are fearful of being alone. I can speak from experience when I say, for years I feared people being angry with me. If my husband was quiet I automatically assumed I did something to cause his silence. This is what we are used to. It could be your loved one is fearful of yelling, screaming, cursing, throwing things. This type of anger outburst will only cause an ACOA to further withdraw. We don’t want to be fearful or anxious, but without being active in a recovery program, fear and anxiety is likely to continue.
5. Some of us have a hard time finishing things
As a result of this, there may be many projects that are started, but not seen through to completion. It is important to not condemn us for not finishing something, instead, encourage us to work on it. It would be even better if you would offer to join him or her with the project. This is a great way to grow in your relationship.
6. ACOA and co-dependency goes hand in hand
We have this incessant need to fix everything and everyone. Likely in our childhood, we were the responsible one in the family. Therefore, we felt the need to be the fixers. We would walk on eggshells so Dad wouldn’t get mad, drink, and yell or hit. We tried our very best to be perfect so Mom wouldn’t get upset at our failure. We blamed ourselves for the actions of, happiness of or discourse of others. When we attempt to fix a problem, it is important to let them know they are not responsible for it. It is God’s job to do His work in our lives.
7. Don’t take it personal
It is likely your ACOA loved one has a difficult time trusting you. Don’t take it personally. Maybe your ACOA keeps things from you. It’s not because he or she wants to lie to you, we are used to keeping secrets because we can’t trust anyone. Let your loved one know that keeping secrets is not the way your relationship needs to be and it is not healthy. Be that one person in their life they can trust with everything. This may take time and may even require counselling on some level, but it is important to know it is not a direct attack at you or the relationship. An ACOA needs to learn how to trust, especially someone new.
If you think your loved one could be struggling to overcome their past as an adult child of an alcoholic or dysfunctional family, they are not alone. It is important they know it. There was a time I didn’t know being an ACOA was even a thing! Maybe they don’t either. There is help available.
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