WHEN COUPLES OR EX-PARTNERS ARE BEING DISRUPTIVE WHEN ATTENDING THE SAME MEETING – suggestions for handling this disruptive situation

The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question:
One of our long-time members had his wife leave him and request a divorce a year ago. During this time, the member got involved with another member of one of our groups and has had a long relationship.  Recently, his wife has said she is coming back to him and he told her he was involved with someone in the program. She is quite unstable and took it upon herself to start attending these meetings, to find out with whom he is spending time and to intimidate her.

Now, we have several issues. One, this has made several other members quite uncomfortable and they say they cannot attend the meetings, while both the husband and wife are attending. One is the secretary of a meeting and the girlfriend of the husband.  They have since broken up and she cannot attend.

Second, the wife keeps attending meetings, which makes many members uncomfortable and several have stopped attending.

Third, the husband is a likeable and well-respected attendee, but he has no boundaries and shares about his wife and girlfriend openly, making his girlfriend and everyone else very uneasy.

Some of the members have decided to address this issue through group-conscience at the meeting. They are going to tell the husband, he and his wife are disruptive to many recoveries and ask they do not attend.   We would need some advice on this situation.


This question is very similar to a situation which occurred in the area in which I live a few years ago. In that instance both the husband and wife were members of S.L.A.A. with differing bottom lines. They would often play off the other in the open sharing portion of the meetings which made a number of members uncomfortable. At one meeting, it was determined at a group conscience meeting that they be asked to no longer attend the meeting. The threat was made that the police would be called to remove them if they returned to the meeting. The situation was handled very badly because neither of them is any longer attending. It could have been suggested that they attend separate meetings or that only one of them share at any given meeting; this would have eliminated the perceived conflict in the meeting.

This instance, however, appears to have a different dynamic. It is unclear as to whether the wife is also a member of S.L.A.A.  In any case, the relationship between the husband and wife is an outside issue, for which, according to Tradition 10 we have “no opinion”. Because of the nature of this family conflict, there could be divorce proceedings forthcoming and this could create public controversy if other members were to be called as witnesses in a legal proceeding. This relationship should be worked out between the husband and wife, perhaps with the assistance of a professional.

If the wife is not a member of S.L.A.A. and is there to learn who is attending so that it might be used against the husband, I can see a violation of Traditions 11 and 12 regarding protecting the anonymity of our fellow S.L.A.A. members. If a member of the fellowship were to be called as a witness in a divorce hearing, that member could be asked to reveal his/her affiliation with S.L.A.A. It is not the business of any outside person as to who is a member of the fellowship and who is attending the meetings.

What troubles me about the information in the question is the reference to Group Conscience (Tradition 2). Group Conscience should be used to decide issues or practices relating to a particular meeting. It should be a place where everyone has the opportunity to be heard and express their personal feelings regarding a matter. In this case, the Group Conscience is being called but, it appears that the decision as to how to handle this particular situation has already been decided by a few members prior to Group Conscience. Group Conscience decisions should be made by substantial unanimity and not by the feelings of a few members. Each member should seek the guidance of his/her Higher Power in this situation. To take a vote to ban them from a meeting could be a violation of Tradition 2 in that it would be an act of government.

For me personally, I would suggest an easier approach. I would suggest that a few members volunteer to speak to the husband and wife to let them know that their behavior is disruptive to the meeting, as well as the recovery of those in attendance, and ask them to handle their disagreements and personal issues outside the meeting rooms.

We have previously discussed situations where there were disruptions and these could be helpful to resolving a situation such as this. These discussions are found on the FWS Website on the Conference Steps and Traditions pages.

I would offer my suggestion that the meeting itself begin a regularly scheduled discussion on all the Traditions, beginning with Tradition One, taken from a sampling of many kinds of 12 Step literature. If the meeting as a whole becomes more familiar with the 12 Traditions as principles to protect and guide their business, the overall health of the group will become more stable, and it will no longer attract unstable participants of any kind.

I was sorry to see this story in my Gmail account when I logged in this morning.

It shows me the incredible need in all our groups for some operative materials on the 12 Traditions. We do have such a resource if we want to make use of it – a series of articles written in 1997 and 1998 by a woman named Carmelita B, published in the Journal Magazine. They could easily be collected in a pamphlet like the ones we have published for Anorexia, Withdrawal, The Steps, Healthy Relationships and Triggers and could be made available to the entire fellowship in a timely manner, while the process of completing the S.L.A.A.12×12 comes to its predestined conclusion.

First of all, I must say I have not witnessed such situations per say. I guess I did attend a couple of meetings where ex partners were in the same meeting, but it didn’t feel like this situation was taking the group as hostage.

So I will base my answers on whatever knowledge I know and understand of the Traditions.

First of all, according to the Third Tradition, the only requirement to attend S.L.A.A. is a desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction. In this particular situation, one could question the wife’s “qualification” to attend meetings. But who is qualified to decide of anybody else’s willingness to recover. The pamphlet Addicted to Sex, Addicted to Love does say that “Only the individual can’t tell if he or she is physically, mentally, or emotionally addicted to sex and/or love.”

However, when a member or a couple of members behave in a way that threatens the whole group and members start to leave, a group should consider Tradition One “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon S.L.A.A. unity” and Tradition five according to which “Each group has one but primary purpose, to carry the message…”. Hence a group should consider its survival in order to carry the message, before accommodating one or two single members. The way to work around it is  through Tradition Two, the Group Conscience.

However, in such a situation, the Group conscience would provide the opportunity for people to respectfully express their feelings about the situation and explore solutions in the presence or not of the individuals per say. A round robin without crosstalk and the use, if needed, of a spiritual reminder could be effective.  In the end, if the group decides that one of the people involved should not attend, or should attend under certain conditions, I think courtesy should be the way to address the situation, placing principles before personalities (Tradition Twelve). If the people are present, one could speak for the group, if not, an individual could be identified to speak to either the husband, the wife of the ex. Basing the decision on the Traditions and explaining it that way could be a good way to approach the situation, respectfully.

I agree that regular study of the Traditions can only help members and groups altogether raise their awareness about them and their benefits. I certainly learned to behave more respectfully getting to know them and applying them in all aspects of my live.

Deciding to address such situation through a group conscience is a good example of staying focused on the fifth tradition of carrying the message and addressing whatever might be preventing that. Although you might think this is not a unique situation, each group is unique and the experiences that they have may vary.

Letting the home office know about what is going on with your struggling group is appreciated. I want to let you know that an important tradition that we consider when corresponding with groups is Tradition Four – “each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or S.L.A.A. as a whole.”  The S.L.A.A.        Organization is an inverted triangle, which filters from the membership down to us at the Board level. We do not govern. That said, we are here to point to, and guard the Steps and the Traditions.

Before a meeting such as the one you are going to have, one of the things that many groups do is call for a moment of silence, a spiritual reminder of the Second Tradition – “For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority- a loving God as this Power may be expressed through our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

Finally, your group will do well to remember the First Tradition, “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon S.L.A.A. Unity.”


What do you think?
The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.