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.
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.
It’s 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 Merriam-Webster dictionary (opens in a new tab)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.)
25 SIGNS THAT YOURS IS A CODEPENDENT INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
- You’ve paid for stuff your partner wanted or needed but couldn’t afford (or said they couldn’t afford), or to buy his or her affection. The latter means you’re really manipulating the situation. I say that without judgement as I can so understand it. Being loved is an essential emotional need, but… it has to be the right kind of love you receive, and for the right reasons.
- You’ve got into debt to support your partner.
- You say ‘Yes’ when you really mean ‘No’ and vice versa, to avoid potential trouble.
- You’re unable to focus on anything else but your partner’s next move.
- You’re abusive towards your partner, or your partner’s abusive towards you.
- Your self-esteem is in your boots and you’d do anything at all to get a little bit of – what appears to be – loving attention.
- You end up feeling guilty and ashamed, hating yourself for having succumbed to your partner’s requests for help.
- You either want to win every argument, or you don’t even realise you have an opinion, let alone have the right or confidence to state it.
- You’ve lost all interest in anything that could be personally fulfilling or rewarding. All your energy goes into managing your relationship.
- You try to control situations to avoid being confronted with – and exposed to – your partner’s troublesome behaviour.
- You help your partner get out of trouble with work, friends and family – you make the phone call with the excuses, you pay off the debt, you write the letters and the cards, you make the apologies.
- You feel resentful that he or she doesn’t realise how much you do for them.
- You stay in the relationship, despite knowing there’s no hope that the situation will improve.
- You blame your unhappiness on your partner, or you claim responsibility for his or her alcoholism.
- You make excuses for your partner’s behaviour – (s)he’s had a tough day/time, (s)he’s had a troubled childhood, (s)he’s suffered a trauma.
- You believe that with your love, care and attention your partner will heal and eventually overcome their addiction.
- You feel guilty when you do manage to do something for yourself.
- The idea of being alone really scares you.
- If you’re really honest with yourself, you can’t see yourself ever breaking up and striking out alone.
- You know you’re avoiding facing up to your partner’s dishonesty, abusiveness and general selfishness.
- You allow your own emotional and physical needs always to come second to those of your partner.
- You manipulate your partner and/or events in order to be able to save your partner from getting themselves into trouble.
- You often feel hopeless and depressed.
- You stay, even though your partner is often abusive towards you. See my articles on the signs of an abusive relationship and the signs of emotional abuse.
- Despite making your mind up often that you should end your relationship with the alcoholic, you don’t see it through.
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!
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…
- The only materials you need are a pen and paper. It's best to write down what you've decided to help hold yourself accountable.
- Kindness and compassion towards yourself, patience and a willingness to change.
- Decide what you do have control over
Ask yourself, in your heart of hearts, what it is that you really want for yourself that you do have control over? Take a few days and write a list - think small and big, here, now and in the future. What is and isn’t acceptable to you?
- Decide what your values and beliefs are
Know what you stand for and what you believe in, and check your own feelings and behaviours against those.
- Set boundaries
Once you’ve done the above, start learning to say “yes” and “no” only when you really mean "yes" and "no". Learn how to stick to your guns and not give in when you've given your answer (see the video further down)
- Practice assertiveness
I know, it's much easier said than done. However, once you’ve decided what you stand for, what you want to do, what your values are and what your boundaries are, it really does become much easier to stand up for yourself.
Talk all of this over with someone you really trust to get some feedback. Once you're comfortable with your decisions, it's time to practice your assertiveness. You're now going to have to be strong with your spouse or partner.
Do also read my article on how to stop arguing for extra tips and advice.
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Living with your alcoholic spouse – or without
It’s time to focus on yourself, challenge yourself to do better and become the best version of yourself with these tips:
10 tips to heal yourself and grow
- Get creative
Re-engage with some abandoned and long-forgotten projects and get creative again
- Invest in relationships with friends
And (re)connect with extended family. You’re a parent, child, aunt or uncle, neighbour, friend, acquaintance, volunteer, mentor, teacher, etc. Invest in that role but be careful not just to give – accept from others as well! (But do be aware that those you give to may not be givers themselves.) Remember: there’s life outside of being married to an alcoholic. You’re important!
- Plot a different future
Invest in yourself. There are so many free lessons offered online in just about any subject you can think of. Start expanding your horizons and investing in your self-development.
- Be fearless in your honesty
Towards others, of course, but specifically also towards yourself
- Reward yourself
– for every tiny step, and all your achievements, big or small
- Look after yourself
Become your own best friend. Aim to meet your essential emotional needs in balance
- Focus on yourself
Focus on your feelings, activities, work and interests. Bring back that focus immediately if you find it shifting towards your partner. That’s the most important thing anyone can learn when living with an alcoholic.
- Stop blaming your partner
Your parents, your work, your friends or anyone/anything else – including yourself. Blame won’t help you – or your partner.
- Learn to accept yourself
You’re imperfect – we all are! :-)
- Learn how to relax deeply
I know you may think it’s impossible, but that’s only a thought. There’s no need to believe your thoughts! You can help yourself to relax immediately with the breathing exercise on my page: Tips to Relieve Stress
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:
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.