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.

31 COMMENTS

  1. I have been married 43 yrs to a severe alcoholic. Oh sure he was dry for a long while but is back at it right where he left off… He went into shale only to come out and stop again only made it 6 most this time around and has continued daily to drink. He sobers up only when he knows Ill be home from work I can’t tolerate this behaviour any longer. I have asked him to leave and he digs his feet in and tells me to get out he isn’t leaving HIS home.. I see where your calling this a disease. Ha. well I have a disease also its called cancer, my life isn’t turned upside down in a bottle. I had to get some help for my disease. Sad to see he has the choice to stay sober and feels its ok to make me continue to have more stress then I can stand. Im miserable and have a lot of things to work out with me before I can find my peace Im also an enabler. when I needed him the most he chose his bottle to over helpings so much for 43 yrs a person you were to look up to one that was to be there for you one that was to be the strong person well that surely didn’t happen. Im the one taking care of the household and my disease and I get no help out of him I come home e to daily a drunk some one that cant even get up and walk straight his drinking had caused him to have 3 serious accidents so far. I have come home to 2 inch gash over his eye then next day he fell again and his entire face was black and blue and. just 2 days ago drunk again he sliced his finger to the bone came home from work to find a note he was at the hospital. So I ask how much more does it take to get away from some one like him why cant I make that move. I have a very serious disease Im battling also but at least Im battling it,. So you may all call his a disease but geez when do they help themselves.

  2. The behavioural suggestions no doubt “work” to smooth over the atmosphere in the alcoholic marriage, but these suggestion do not acknowledge and inadvertently dismiss so many cultural expectations – that the alcoholic is the “disease victim” and has no moral responsibility; that the spouse – the majority although not all are women – has the role of soothing and smoothing, of taking care of the needs of the alcoholic (which are strikingly similar to those of the narcissist). In short, a lack of cultural and social criticism here – that many readers have noted and found unhelpful.

  3. As hard as I try, as much as I’ be read….I just cannot believe this is a disease. My brain just won’t accept it. So I have little sympathy for my husband when he is drinking…and dwindling tolerance for his behavior. When he is sober( on the days he has to work) he seems miserable. A beer or two….he is a funny, happy guy. But it never stops there…and he goes to obnoxious, needy, loud A hole. Lately I am ashamed to say, I have put another drink in his hand just so he will pass out and give me some needed relief. I love him…twenty years together…but I find myself leading my own life most of the time. I don’t have friends over…no way! He would totally embarrassing me. I have told him flat out, if he gets arrested, he will have wasted his phone call if he dials me. Alcoholism is selfishness…..and this article seems to encourage people to coddle the offender….,” don’t get angry”. Temper your choice of words…….I did not find this helpful at all.

  4. I have trouble with the advice to keep anger at bay. The spouse of an alcoholic is already suppressing her/his feelings to keep peace most of the time, why encourage them to suppress it more? It is not healthy to suppress one’s feelings to benefit the alcoholic. Anger is normal in this situation and it can be expressed in a healthy way, therapy has helped me to see that. It’s important to express anger before it becomes rage. There is nothing wrong with being angry at your alcoholic AND at the alcoholism. The alcoholic’s actions are not separate from the disease and they are accountable for them whether they were sober or drinking. My husband does and says horrible things when he is drinking and I am fully aware that it is due to alcoholism but after a time, when they are drunk more than they are sober and doing mean things more than they are doing nice things, are they not one and the same as their disease?

  5. 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.

    • There is nothing voluntary about it. You know nothing, and are clearly no expert. I am. It is over 52% genetic. It is also due to the brain rewiring after severe trauma. A very, very difficult disease to overcome. People like you make it harder. Please inform yourself before making comment which will be read by widows and people in deep grief. Your comments were thoughtless, but worse they were incorrect.

  6. 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!

  7. 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????

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 .

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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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