alcoholic-spouse

“Frankly, I was horrified by life, at what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep, and keep himself clothed. So, I stayed in bed and drank. When you drank, the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” -Charles Bukowski

When someone you love suffers from an addiction, it can tear you apart. What’s more, the mere presence of the addiction completely removes your ability to communicate honestly. In marriage, it’s even worse. There are so many feelings involved, and the people you love have the power to hurt you more than anyone else in your life.

Living with an alcoholic is traumatic. You’re affected from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night. Still, when you know how to deal with your alcoholic spouse, life can become better. In fact, it can even lead to your spouse getting the help that’s needed to recover. With that in mind, here are seven tips that you must read, review, and remember to help you cope with your alcoholic spouse.

1. Remember that alcoholism is a disease

It is very hard to believe that your spouse is no longer making an active choice to drink. However, when someone is an alcoholic, the choice to drink is no longer within their control, at least to some extent.

Alcoholism is a disease. And in order to fully understand it, it can be helpful to think of it the way you think of any other disease, such as cancer or heart disease. It is possible to make a choice to recover from alcoholism. But until the individual makes that decision, the disease remains in place.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than a third of U.S. adults who were dependent on alcohol are now in full recovery. So, recovery is possible as long as your spouse is willing, and that may eventually be the case, even if it isn’t right now.

2. Don’t become angry

Your instinct is to respond to your spouse with anger when you know he or she has been drinking. It becomes tiring to cope with the stress, and at times, it may even become unbearable. Even so, maintain a sense of peace and patience. It may help to find a friend you can vent to about your anger but avoid targeting your spouse with those feelings. It may help to continually remind yourself that what you’re really angry at is the disease, not your spouse.

Remember, a good temper is much more likely to have a positive effect on your spouse in the long run. What you really want to accomplish is recovery from the disease of alcoholism, and maintaining a positive attitude—even if you eventually have to leave your spouse, for one reason or another—is the best way to achieve that.

3. Focus on yourself

If you allow it to, your spouse’s alcoholism will take over your life. In fact, in a 2013 study by the University of Buffalo in New York and supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it was found that 50% of all marriages that involve one alcoholic spouse end in divorce.

There is nothing you can do to change your spouse’s alcoholism. That type of change has to come from within him or her.

However, what you can do is make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Invest in your relationships with other people, with your children, and with your extended family members. Treat yourself to something you enjoy on occasion in order to give yourself a break from the turmoil at home, such as a pedicure or a night out at the movies with friends. Doing these things will give you the stamina and resolve you need during this difficult time.

4. Have a simple, honest discussion but do it the right way

It’s good to talk about how your spouse’s alcoholism is affecting you, and even your marriage, but make sure you choose your words carefully.

Statements that begin with “You always…” or “You make it hard to…” are only going to make your spouse defensive. Instead, choose “I” statements to convey how you feel, such as, “I’m having a difficult time sleeping at night because of the late nights you’re keeping.” Be gentle, but be firm in your statements. Above all, don’t become angry or accusing.

5. Don’t enable your spouse or try to prevent consequences

One of the mistakes many people make is enabling their alcoholic spouses or trying to prevent consequences from occurring. This does nothing to solve the problem, and it only prevents your spouse from experiencing the results of his or her actions, which may eventually lead to recovery.

6. Allow your spouse to explain his or her life choices to others

Your spouse may ask you to lie for him or her or try to cover up a bad choice involving alcohol. Politely decline to do so. Remember that it is not your job to shed a good light on your spouse, and this forces him or her to take responsibility, which may lead to a quicker recovery.

7. If your spouse is interested in getting professional help, encourage this to happen quickly

Eventually, your spouse may come to you and express an interest in recovery. This is the time to encourage him or her to do so. You can provide website links or phone numbers to help. It is important to act fast because the determination to get help can fade as quickly as it appeared.

The bottom line

Living with an alcoholic spouse might be one of the biggest challenges you’ve ever undertaken.

Related content: Alcohol, not Opioids, is America’s Most Abused Substance

However, if you’re careful to keep these tips in mind, and you remember that alcoholism is a disease, keep your anger at bay, focus on yourself, discuss the problem calmly, honestly, and rationally, don’t enable, and act quickly when professional help is sought, you’ll find that you can overcome it.

7 Tips to Help You Deal with an Alcoholic Spouse InfographicAre you living with an alcoholic spouse? What tips or advice would you give someone who is going through this experience right now?

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This story was first published Nov. 12, 2016, it has been updated for republication.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Alcoholism is a voluntary disease, so I have a hard time treating it as a disease. The alcoholic cannot have it both ways: disease that they can’t help and not seeking treatment, which you would if you had a “real” disease like cancer.

    My husband was sober for 6 months this year and was feeling, looking and doing great. Now in a couple of short weeks, it’s like he went back worse than ever.

    I personally don’t want to deal with this, so I follow almost all of these tips, except for the “disease” thoughts. I can’t reconcile that one.

    He (we) just lost his mom last week. The funeral is Saturday. He is supposed to do the Eulogy. I hope he makes it. :( such a sad state of affairs. His family is half-way informed and is starting to lose respect for him. Too bad, as he had been held in very high esteem.

    If you could spare a couple of prayers, I would be grateful.

  2. Alcoholism in the family is a terrible thing. I know that very well. We struggled with it for many years until my dear friend recommended the guide by Ellen Petersen called “How to Help an Alcoholic You Love.” Excellent approach, which turned out to be a godsend!

    • This guide is brilliant! I’m surprised that I haven’t heard of it before. It was so worth to spend a few $ to read this guide and change my perspective. I’m glad it’s a short guide and not 300 pages. Thanks!

  3. I am living with an alcoholic husband. When he is sober he is wonderful, kind, charming the best friend/lover I have ever had but when he starts drinking (Friday, Saturday) he becomes a monster, a disrespectful, nasty, mean asshole! He typically passes out after hours of his nastiness…he is buck wild and doesn’t give a shit. Hung over during the day so there goes the weekend, then when he is sober during the week I get a bunch of apologies and him saying he is not gonna stop drinking. It is so fucked up….the kids hardly stop by because they can’t deal with their drunk father. He starts of funny…and 4 shots of Tequila later…he is a complete asshole! I don’t know what to do????

  4. Thanks for the article. Those are much needed! I was dealing with someone who got into alcohol, difficult task to do. Help comes from different sources. I recommend “How to Help an Alcoholic You Love” by Ellen Petersen. Thanks.

  5. After 34 years of hard drinking His health is finally showing the Alcholic health problems, No sex , swollen joints and legs, red nose, swollen elbows, swollen lower legs, his mind is loopy, memory is lame. I stay married to him because I remember the great intelligent man he was. It’s been a bumpy road we’re both 52 years old he looks much older. I follow these rules and I do take good care of my health. I cope.

  6. I have an alcoholic husband which has ruined most of our relationship. This article helps ,they always thinking they are normal and the best human beings in the world after acting out as jerks and being an irresponsible freaks .lol .

  7. You could have mentioned Al-anon which is there to help all those affected by another’s drinking. It helps to know you don’t face this alone.

  8. You have mentioned about the treatment of drug addiction, which is the most trending global issue in present. It’s necessary to convey this type of solutions to all who are addicted or known people who are addicted. I strongly believe if each person shares this then ultimately we are achieving or able to destroy the addiction.

  9. what a weird HELPFUL (not) article. I can’t believe that you were allowed to post this. Shame on you. I live with this nightmare every fucking day, and I am dying because of HIS alcoholism. Where’s MY help. Where’s MY understanding. I HAVE A DISEASE. Not the alcholic. he CHOOSES to drink. You say he has NO choice?? Bull shit! We ALL MAKE CHOICES DAILY! I am dying, I have no choices left, I cannot ake care of myself, he cannot either, and I certainly am not insane, hearing voices, and hallucinating all his verbal, physical, emotional and mental abuse while he is blacked out!!! IT NEVER HAPPENED he says!! omg i am completely sober for 30 years, for chrisssakes, I quit when I started blacking out. quit immediately. He’s been blacking out every single night, he only drinks for 3.5 hours…Blacked out and passed out. and I am the insane one. HAH only sane one around apparently. You are nuts writer of this artivle. Nuts.

  10. Shame on you for implying in any form or manner that the sober partner has any responsibility in the alcoholism. Don’t get angry because it will ultimately keep the person away from treatment? Really? Disgusting.

  11. It’s so hard to live with an alcoholic husband. Because understanding that is a sickness makes it more difficult for the drinker to accept it. I will try my best to invest time on myself because that’s the only control I have. Thanks for the advice.

  12. My brother is an alcoholic. My mum and the rest of the family are trying our best to help him out. Apparently, he doesn’t talk to any of us because we expressed our dislike of his drinking.
    I admit our approach may be mean sometimes but it hurts to see someone you love destroy themselves.
    I pray these tips brings a solution

  13. Dealing with Alcoholic Husband …Lost his Mom then two Brothers the drinking started and it has not stopped…been clean for 10 yrs..I ‘m ready to walk away the man I know only shows up sober..He is ugly hateful disrespectful when he drinks..Pray for me.

  14. My husband abused alcohol his whole life.Stopped drinking completely for 7 minth,now relapsed telling me he’s fine and he’s not an alcoholic.Im physically affected from the pain all day long.Trying to find out how to cope.Thanks for the tips.

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