What to do when you're married to an alcoholic
Are you married to an alcoholic, or are you living with a partner who has an alcohol problem?
Are you increasingly worried about your partner's drinking?
If so, I really hope the information here will help you to get a better insight into the relationship dynamics. And perhaps it will also help you to make some important decisions.
I can only imagine how desperate you may be feeling. And so the very best I can do for you right now is to give you the information you need to start feeling strong again. I want you to believe in yourself - I know you can tackle the problems. Doubtless you’ve been through tough times before. You can do this too!
Let’s start by taking a look at the warning signs of alcoholism. Then we’ll look at the issue of codependency, and at ways to help you cope.
Are you really living with an alcoholic spouse or partner?
If so, I imagine that all too often you're feeling hurt, frustrated, angry, worried, sad and disappointed. I suspect there have also been times when you’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed.
If you have children, you’ve no doubt worried about the impact of your partner’s drinking on them too. You may even have wondered whether it’s you who has the problem. It's likely that your partner's tried to make you believe that his or her alcohol intake is no more than normal, and that you’re being melodramatic.
You need to know that you can trust your own judgement. You need to know that it’s not you. You may want to know if there’s anything you can do to help stop your partner sliding into the abyss. Or perhaps you're looking for help with ending your relationship and getting over your relationship with an alcoholic.
Let’s start with boosting your confidence by confirming what you probably already know ...
Signs that your partner is a problem drinker
10 Ways you're affected by your partner's drinking
1. You're avoiding functions
You've started trying to avoid going to functions together. You suffer from anticipatory anxiety - you worry about how much your partner will drink. You no longer want to feel let down, embarrassed and ashamed on account of your partner’s behaviour. You prefer to go on your own, or not at all.
2. Your finances suffer
You're becoming more and more concerned about the financial impact of his or her excessive drinking. The relative weight - or perhaps in later stages, all - of the household and food expenses falls increasingly on your shoulders.
3. You're being emotionally and possibly physically abused
You feel increasingly exposed to angry outbursts, hurtful remarks and mood swings. Your partner is becoming progressively abusive. See my articles: Signs of Emotional Abuse and Signs of an Abusive Relationship.
4. You're concerned about safety
You’re worried about the potential or real impact of your partner choosing alcohol over safety and sense. Maybe your husband, wife or partner has no qualms about getting behind the wheel after having a drink. Or maybe he or she is in charge of the children whilst under the influence. You’re aware that your partner is at risk of making bad decisions in general.
5. You're feeling alone in this relationship
You’re increasingly feeling on your own as your spouse or partner appears to look for opportunities to drink on his or her own. He or she no longer seems interested in spending time with you or going on family outings.
6. You feel unloved
You’re likely to feel abandoned and bereft of any loving attention as your partner appears to increasingly turn inwards, and focus only on their next drink.
7. You don't trust your partner
You’re likely to have trouble trusting your partner as their behaviour becomes more troublesome at home, on social occasions and at work.
8. You're finding secret stashes of alcohol
You're increasingly on the lookout for new places where he or she may have hidden any bottles.
9. You no longer find your partner attractive
You may find it more difficult to find your partner attractive. He or she no longer seems to care for how they look, and personal hygiene may also have become a problem.
10. You're considering a breakup
It's becoming more and more challenging to have a relationship with him or her. You no longer recognise the person you once loved and perhaps married.
I can so understand if you've given up hoping that things will ever improve. You may have already tried caring, loving, shouting or crying more, or telling them how you feel over and over again in the hope they at least moderate their drinking even if they don't stop altogether.
Unfortunately, all of that has put you too at greater risk of longer-term psychological problems. And it probably hasn't made the slightest bit of difference. Any attempt at a change of behaviour is likely to just have been a temporary one.
If you're still not sure that you're living with an alcoholic, do also read my article: Stages of Alcoholism.
So, what to do when you're living with an alcoholic
There’s only one thing you can do when living with an alcoholic that's likely to bring about any change. It’s if you make a really important and significant decision.
You decide that from now on, you’re going to take responsibility only for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. It’s the only way to make living with an alcoholic manageable.
This change in your behaviour may prompt a change in your partner’s, either for better or for worse.
Nevertheless, you’re going to be focusing on yourself. You’re going to get back in the driving seat of your life and create the life you want.
It might mean breaking up - even if it’s just a temporary separation whilst the two of you go for counselling together or individually.
Help for when you're married to an alcoholic
It’s okay to confront your partner with how you’re feeling, and let them know that from now on you’ll be focusing on you. That may include telling them that you’re considering ending the relationship. That's not to try to shock him or her and manipulate them into taking action, but to make it clear that you may have to split up to simply give yourself a chance to heal.
You may find my Comprehensive Relationship Test helpful in actually making that decision - even if you’re not ready to take action right now.
Does the very idea of making a life for yourself, including potentially ending your relationship, fill you with horror?
If so, the two of you may be codependent. Read on!
Oh, before we go on... If you're not married yet, but you're wondering whether you should get married to an alcoholic, please do yourself a favour - talk it over with a therapist.
Its very easy to connect with an online professional these days. See my article on online counselling for further information.
Codependency when you're married to and/or living with an alcoholic
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary⧉ defines codependency as:
For sure, codependency is a problem in many such relationships - to a greater or lesser extent.
However, I have a real problem with the blanket statement that if one is an alcoholic, the other is co-dependent!
What does a codependent relationship look like?
You may see your partner as a taker. The question is, then, to what extent are you the caretaker. In a healthy relationship, both partners take from each other and take care of each other. In a codependent relationship, both partners are on opposite sites of the continuum: one only takes, and the other only gives.
Here's a test to help you become aware of where you are on that spectrum...
(Oh, just before you have a look - this is in no way designed as a judgement of you. You'll have your own entirely valid reasons for thinking, feeling and acting the way you do.)
If you've decided that you're definitely breaking up with your alcoholic partner you may be wondering how you'll ever get over it. If so, do keep the above list in mind and focus on the future.
For a ton of tips and advice, see my article: How to get over someone you love.
Do you need codependency counselling or treatment?
Let me answer the latter first. No, you don’t need treatment. You’re not ill, but your partner most likely does need treatment!
However, if you’ve discovered that you are codependent, then codependency counselling is the best way to help you overcome it.
Here's what else you can do when you're living with an alcoholic:
1. Share your concerns with a professional
Sharing your concerns with a professional counsellor and getting their support and advice can certainly speed up your recovery. You can (re)create your identity - free from what’s happening with your alcoholic partner.
2. Focus on the positives
If you've decided to stay together, you'll find my Loving Communication Kit for Couples really useful. It will help you focus on what is still positive in your relationship and improve your communication.
You could also consider self-hypnosis with the help of a professional hypnosis download, such as Living with an alcoholic husband. For further information, see my article: Hypnosis FAQ and downloads.
For more tips and advice for when you're living with an alcoholic - read on!
Save $12 and your relationship
Get the Loving Communication Kit and the Comprehensive Relationship Test together
Only $36 (saving $12)
Self-help for when your partner, husband or wife is an alcoholic, and/or you’re in a codependent relationship
I would love you to seek counselling to help you get over that codependency. But, I would also like you to choose something right now from the following tips for spouses of alcoholics by way of self-help...
You too can set boundaries when you're married to an alcoholic
Here's why and how you can stop being a caregiver, yet still be a loving partner...
Breaking up with an alcoholic?
I totally understand if you can longer stay in a relationship with an alcoholic. Doubtless his or her dependency is affecting your mental health too and perhaps you no longer see a future for the two of you together.
If your partner is also abusive towards you, I urge you to seek the advice of a professional or trained volunteer from a specialist agency. You'll find the contact details of such organisation below my article on the signs of an abusive relationship.
For further information and advice on how to end a relationship, see my articles:
- Ending a long-term relationship or marriage
- How to break up with someone you live with
- How to get through a breakup
You can also learn more about what you can do to help by contacting Al-Anon, a group set-up by and for people just like you. You may find it a relief to know that other partners are going through much the same as you.
You probably already know your wife or husband is an alcoholic. Do yourself and them a favour now - focus on yourself. Don’t wait any longer before you take some decisive action when you know you're living with an alcoholic.