Discover if you're married to - or living with - an alcoholic and what to do about it
Category: Better Relationships | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 25-11-2016 | Modified: 15-04-2018
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 to make some important decisions.
I can only imagine how desperate you’re feeling. And there’s little else I can do for you, other than to give you the information to help you feel strong. 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 - from your perspective. Then we’ll look the issue of codependency and at ways to help you cope.
I want to be upfront with you - I may earn a commission from Better Help. You pay the same fee, regardless.
Good to know...
- To connect with a licensed therapist - see blue box further down this page
Are you really living with an alcoholic spouse or partner?
If so, I imagine that all too often you've felt hurt, frustrated, angry, worried, sad and disappointed. I suspect there’ve 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 have even wondered whether it’s you who has the problem. Your partner is likely to have tried to make you believe that his or her alcohol intake is no more than normal, and that you’re being stingy.
Now you’re looking for some confirmation of your suspicions - you want to know you can trust your own judgment. You want to know that it’s not you, and if there’s anything you can do to help stop the slide into the ‘abyss’.
Let’s start, then, with the warning signs from your perspective...
There is much you can do when you're married to an alcoholic. But... it requires you to create and focus on your own life.
10 Warning signs that your partner is a problem drinker
- You’re now finding yourself trying to avoid going to functions together. You suffer from anticipatory anxiety - you worry about how much your partner is likely to 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.
- 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 costs of household bills and food falls increasing on your shoulders.
- You feel increasingly exposed to angry outbursts, hurtful remarks and mood swings. Your partner is becoming progressively abusive.
- 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 of a car 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.
- 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.
- You’re likely to feel abandoned and bereft of any loving attention as your partner appears to become increasingly turned inward, and focused on ways to ‘top up’.
- You’re likely to have trouble trusting your partner as their behaviour becomes more troublesome at home, on social occasions and at work.
- You're finding hidden stashes of alcohol.
- 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 too has become a problem.
- 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 that you keep hoping that things will improve. That if only you cared more, loved more, shouted, cried more or told them how you feel yet again - they would moderate their drinking.
Unfortunately all of that would put you at greater risk of longer-term psychological problems. And it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference. Any attempt at a change of behaviour would almost be guaranteed to be a temporary one. I suspect you’re already aware of that.
Overthinking is counter-productive!
The most important decision you can make
There’s only one thing 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 that can make dealing 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 may even mean instigating a breakup - even if it’s a temporary one. And it’s the very best thing you can do for your spouse or partner!
There’s nothing else you can do about your alcoholic spouse
It’s okay, though, 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 you’re considering ending the relationship. 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 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 a separation, fill you with horror? If so, there may be something else going on...
Codependency and symptoms of alcoholism
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘codependency’ as:
“A psychological condition in which someone is in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship that involves living with and providing care for another person (such as a drug addict or an alcoholic)”
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 and take care. In a codependent relationship both partners are on opposite sites of the continuum.
Here is a test to help you become aware of where you are with that...
(Oh, just before you have a look - this is not to judge you, you'll have your reasons for thinking, feeling and acting the way you do.)
23 Signs that yours is a codependent intimate relationship
- You’ve paid for stuff your partner ‘wanted or needed’ but couldn’t afford, or to ‘buy’ his or her affection. The latter means you’re really manipulating the situation. I say that without judgment as I can so understand it. Being loved is an essential emotional need, but… it doesn’t need to come from your partner
- You’ve got into debt to support your partner - a step further
- 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
- 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’re 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 that phonecall with the excuses, you make that contribution towards to the cost, you write the letters and the cards, you make the apologies
- You feel resentful that he or she doesn’t realise all you do for them
- You stay in the relationship, despite knowing there is 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 after those of your partner
- You manipulate your partner and events to save your partner ‘getting into a situation’
- You often feel hopeless and depressed
Do you need codependency counselling or ‘treatment’?
Let me answer the latter first. No, you don’t need ‘treatment’. You’re not ill!
However, if you’ve discovered that you are codependent, then absolutely codependency counselling is the very best way to help you overcome it.
In any case, the very fact that you’re on this page means your husband or wife is most probably an alcoholic. Sharing your concerns, therefore, 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 partner.
To help you both (re)build a healthier relationship and focus on all the positives, you'll find my Complete Guide to Building a Happy Relationship really useful.
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 get counselling to get over that codependency. But, I would also like you to choose something now from the following by way of self-help...
15 Self-help strategies and tips
- Ask yourself in your deepest of hearts - what is it that you really want for yourself that you do have control over? Take a few days and write a list - think small and large here, now and in the future, what is and isn’t acceptable
- Decide what your values are
- Set boundaries - once you’ve done the above, make a careful start with when you can say “yes” and “no”, really mean it and keep to it, without giving in
- Become assertive - I know, easier said than done, but if you’ve decided what you stand for, what you want to do, what your values are and what your boundaries are, it become much easier
- Re-engage with some abandoned and long-forgotten projects and get creative again
- Invest in relationships with friends and extended family. You’re a parent, child, aunt or uncle, neighbour, friend, acquaintance, volunteer, mentor, teacher, etc. You’re important! Invest in that role being careful not just to give, but to also accept. Be aware that those you give to may not be givers themselves. There’s life outside of being married to an alcoholic!
- 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
- Challenge yourself to do better
- Reward yourself for every tiny step, small and large achievements
- Aim to meet your essential emotional needs in balance
- Focus on yourself - your activities, your interests. Bring back that focus 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/thing else - including yourself. Blame won’t help you - or your partner
- Learn to accept yourself as imperfect - we all are! :-)
- Learn how to relax yourself immediately with the breathing exercise on my page: Tips to Relieve Stress
You too can set boundaries when you're married to an alcoholic
Here's why and how you can stop become a caregiver, yet still be a loving partner...
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 go through much the same as you do.
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
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Stages of Alcoholism
Symptoms of Alcoholism
Alcoholism and Depression
Signs of a Nervous Breakdown
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Hello you! :-)
It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.
Do feel free to ask for help. I would be delighted to write a few lines to help you.
Alternatively, scroll back up to discover how you can connect with another professional counsellor. Or, for further information, see see my article on online, professional, mental health and relationship advice.