"I am so concerned about my husband’s drinking," my client sadly confided in me. "I know that he’s abusing alcohol. But whenever I bring up the subject, he tells me that I’m overreacting."
This client’s problem is certainly not unique. Many husbands and wives are rightfully concerned about their partners’ alcohol abuse. Whether their mates are getting drunk with buddies on the weekend or drinking too much whenever they go to a party, these spouses feel powerless to make changes in their partners’ behaviors.
Spouses’ lives can be severely affected by their mates’ alcohol abuse. A wife may lose her job, forcing her husband to become the sole support the family. Or an inebriated man may become sexually aggressive toward other women, thoroughly embarrassing his partner and creating tension with their friends.
When troubled spouses try to discuss these problems with their mates, they are usually met with intense resistance. A partner may respond with denial, such as "I don’t drink too much. I’m just relaxing after work."
Alcoholics often become angry at the allegations, telling well-meaning partners to "Mind your own business," or "Quit trying to control my life."
They may even blame their nonabusing mates, saying, "If you didn’t yell at me so much I wouldn’t need to drink."
Whatever they are told, concerned spouses feel powerless in their relationships and find themselves walking on eggshells when they’re at home.
In spite of their worries about their partners’ behaviors, some people are unsure if they should take action. Ask yourself the following questions to determine what you should do next:
Do you worry about your partner’s alcohol abuse?
Do you have money problems because of your partner’s drinking?
Do you lie to cover up for your partner’s alcoholism?
Do you feel that your partner would quit drinking if he or she really cared about you?
Do you frequently make threats, such as "If you don’t stop drinking, I’m going to leave you"?
Do you blame your partner’s alcoholism on his or her friends?
Have you been hurt or embarrassed by your partner’s drinking?
Have you refused social invitations out of fear about how your partner will behave?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then now is the time to take action.
The strategies below may provide you with guidance to get you the help you need.
Recognize your limits. You cannot control your spouse’s drinking behavior. But you can control your response to it. Redirect your efforts toward more productive ways to reclaim the power that has been lacking in your life.
Confront your partner. Let him or her know you are troubled by the alcohol abuse and that you are going to make changes in how you respond to the behavior. If you are concerned that your partner may become aggressive during the discussion, hold the talk in a public venue.
Do not make excuses for your spouse’s behavior. Stop covering up for your partner’s inability to function because of alcohol. Your well-meaning efforts only enable the abuse to continue.
Stop nagging. Nagging and whining are weak and powerless attempts to control the drinker’s actions. Not only are they ineffectual, but they foster hostility in the abuser and promote a sense of victimization.
Set limits. Decide which limits you are willing and able to enforce, then convey them clearly to your partner. For instance, you may say "I will not drive in a car with you when I know you have been drinking." Or, you may announce that "I am unwilling to stay in this marriage if your drinking continues. I need for you to quit drinking and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings."
Be strong. Your partner may become verbally or physically aggressive with your new plan, or blame you for making things worse. Know that you are not responsible for his or her actions. And instead, insist that your spouse get into treatment.
Protect yourself and your children. If you ever feel that you or your children are endangered by your partner’s drinking, it’s imperative that you take all necessary steps to ensure your safety.
Get help. Al-Anon is an organization for people who are affected by their partners’ drinking. Attend an Al-Anon meeting in your community or visit them online at www.al-anon.alateen.org.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, go to lindalewisgriffith.com.