“A” marks the beginning of the alphabet. But it can also mark the end of a relationship.

There are three circumstances, beginning with “a” that can tank a relationship, and they are (1) abuse, (2) addiction, and (3) an affair. When any of these things are going on, problems in a relationship cannot even begin to be addressed.

Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse is about power, control, and violence. While the abuser always puts a different spin on it, the essence of abuse is irrefutable. Relationship is not possible when one person regularly hurts, demeans, or attacks another, no matter how many times he apologizes later. If the behavior continues, the apology is bogus.

Nor is relationship possible when one or both partners are addicted to a substance, like drugs or alcohol, or to a behavior, like gambling. An alcoholic’s primary relationship is with his bottle, and the same goes for other addictions. If one of the spouses is using, marital counseling is useless, no matter how skilled the counselor or how motivated the spouses. With sobriety, counseling can begin.

The final “a”, an affair, also undermines the possibility of relationship growth, even if the one partner is unaware of the other’s dalliance. Trust is one of the bedrocks of any healthy relationship. When one partner is lying to the other on a regular basis, trust is destroyed. Couples can most definitely come back from an affair, sometimes better, but they cannot do so until the cheating partner comes clean, ends the relationship, and takes full responsibility for re-building trust.

It’s also worthy of note, that if any of these “a’s” are occurring in the life of an individual, he or she cannot work on their relationship with themselves. If I’m an abuser or being abused, if I’m an addict, or if I’m actively having an affair, genuine personal growth is halted. If I resolve these issues, however, I may begin to grow personally at a great rate, especially if I allow myself to learn from my mistakes and my experiences.