You sense that something’s wrong, but you don’t know what.
It can be a relief to realize that some of your struggles are common among ACOAs.
Amy Eden, an adult child of alcoholics and long time writer and teacher on the subject, offers insight into navigating the waters of being in love with an “ACA.” Have you heard the one about the confused man whose girlfriend of a year and a half suddenly got mad and left him? The skills that had served her so well in childhood weren’t working. We commit to someone who’s interested in us because we’re the ever-loyal children of dysfunctional, rigid parents, and then we buckle up and enjoy (or something) the feeling of rushing along, fast, on a course to…wherever.
It was too much to continue faking a perfect self, being pleasing, affable, not having needs, or sour moods. For people who grow up with an alcoholic parent, getting into relationships is like getting on a fast ride with a one-way ticket.
The feelings, personality traits, and relationship patterns that you developed to cope with an alcoholic parent, come with you to work, romantic relationships, parenting, and friendships.
They show up as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, stress, anger, and relationship problems.
Not too long ago this number would’ve really bothered me.
Many ACOAs are very successful, hard-working, and goal-driven. Your needs must be met consistently in order for you to feel safe and develop secure attachments. You really can’t understand addiction as a child, so you blame yourself and feel “crazy” because your experiences didn’t line up with what adults were telling you (namely that everything’s fine and normal).
mean your partner has a mental illness, but the effects of having an alcoholic parent can greatly affect your partner’s mental health, especially if the parent is still abusing alcohol (or other substances…addiction does not discriminate!
) The effects of parental substance abuse are far-reaching and often last for the adult child’s entire life.
As a child, your partner may have had the following characteristics: On the other hand, your partner may have swung to the other end of the spectrum, trying to make everything perfect, being the peacemaker in the family, striving for perfectionism, taking on adult responsibilities, and denying their own needs in favor of protecting the alcoholic parent.
The Adult Children of Alcoholics website has a list of fourteen characteristics of ACOAs, called “The Laundry List.” Either way, it’s likely some of these characteristics have lingered into your partner’s adult personality, and may be showing up in your relationship.
While the confused man stands shell shocked, we can examine his fiancee’s perspective. He had his life together, treated her kindly, and wanted a future with her. Everything seemed to be going well, and although she’d never had a healthy relationship modeled for her, this seemed good.