Alcoholism And Marriage
May 21, 2012 Alcoholic Partners
Living with an alcoholic in your life is difficult, but what if that alcoholic is more than an acquaintance? What if the alcoholic is your spouse? Trying to broach the topic of alcoholism is hard enough with someone you barely know. How do you handle alcoholism when it is in your own home and sleeps in your bed with you every night?
Being married to an alcoholic is a tricky situation. You need to get to a point where you realize the truth and figure out how to face it. Denial, although easier at first, will not solve the problem. Problems as big as this one do not go away on their own.
There is another concern. If you are living with an alcoholic then it is probably not just their problem. Odds are, you have been brought into the mix somehow and are playing a role in this drama. Alcoholism does not develop overnight. It usually begins with more innocent drinking that grows into an addiction over time.
Because you share a life with this person, you play a part in this drama of alcoholism. You are not to blame. You must always remember that even though you play a part. You are not to blame for someone else's drinking problem. You only look at the role you play so that you can choose a healthier one both for yourself and your spouse.
When you are married to an alcoholic, it is likely that you have been called in to protect your alcoholic spouse, probably more than once. You may have had to cover up for bad behaviour, for missed social events, or just as an accomplice who sits by as though nothing is wrong as each drink is consumed. You feel like something is wrong, you know that something is wrong, and you watch the problems unfold.
It may be worse. You may be drinking with your alcoholic spouse in addition to other behaviors. This can make it hard to talk to your spouse about their drinking when you were the one drinking along with them. Still, whether you drink or not, alcoholism must be identified and faced. You cannot let guilt keep you from trying to help someone you love.
You may be taking a more direct approach. You could be making outright demands that your alcoholic spouse change their drinking patterns. If your insistence that your spouse quit drinking solves the problem then that is a miracle.
Alcoholics need professional help. There may be anecdotes of those who quit alone, but they are the minority. Alcoholism is a disease. It is bigger than just you, your spouse, or your marriage. It is not a question of your partner being able to love you enough to quit but a question of what it really takes to become sober.
The shame of alcoholism can lead to increased isolation. As friends and extended family realize that the problem exists then they may shy away from social activities, or the alcoholic may tire of ongoing questioning regarding his or her behaviour. The alcoholism is ingrained and seen as necessary to the one suffering from it so anyone who suggests another way of living is a threat to it.
You may become depressed. Repeated attempts to help your spouse, if they are unsuccessful, can wear you down. You want to help, but you may not know how to do it. Many alcoholics refuse help even as their lives fall to pieces. Many have the best of intentions yet continue to perpetuate the patterns that have been dominating their lives for so long.
The alcoholism becomes all consuming. Your partner cannot see beyond his or her addiction, and you feel like the unwanted third wheel in your own marriage. It has become about more that alcoholism. Your marriage could be in trouble because your spouse is in trouble and is taking you down too.
WHAT YOU CAN AND CANNOT DO TO HELP
Knowing what to do in a situation that is this rife with emotion can be a challenge. You know what you want to do. You want to help your partner to end the alcoholism, but is it that simple? What can you do to help, and what things are impossible for you to do to help? Knowing the line between being supportive and giving too much is crucial.
You cannot control another human being. Do not even try. This is especially true in the case of an alcoholic. This does not mean that you should not make efforts to help, but realize that you cannot control an alcoholic. If you try to then you will make yourself angry, depressed, and burn yourself out.
This is not to say that you should stand by and do nothing while your spouse is a victim of alcoholism. It just means that you should not expect to be able to control the situation. You are not in control. When you accept this, you will stop making yourself feel worse for not being able to fix it on your own.
Do not shield the alcoholic from the repercussions of his or her actions. You may want to help the alcoholic to maintain their life and to keep up appearances, but this may actually prove counterproductive. Some alcoholics begin to see the effects of their actions when lives begin to fall apart around them.
If you run around holding everything together then this realization may never come. You have no doubt heard of people who are able to turn their lives around only once they hit rock bottom. This may be true.
If you continually shield a person from the consequences of his or her actions then you may also shield them from the reasons to change those actions. You may keep your spouse from seeing the truth and from wanting a new life badly enough to do something about it.
Do not make yourself into a victim. You are in control of your life. You may not be in control of another person's life, but you are always in control of yours. Make yourself aware that you are constantly making choices. They may not be pleasant ones and they may not seem like much, but they are your choices to make. You are not a victim in this.
Falling into this role just allows the problem to continue and possibly get worse. If you assume this position then you are only helping to perpetuate the downfall of both your lives. Even if you cannot make much of a difference to help the alcoholic in your life, you can still make changes to your own life.
Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and the others in your life. Focusing your entire life around someone else's problem will wear you down and when you are worn down and unhappy then you are unable to give yourself fully to anyone. Your job will probably suffer as will your relationships. You can offer help to the alcoholic, but you need to take care of yourself. That is one thing that you can do.
To this end, you want to refuse to put up with any negative effects of the alcoholics actions. When you allow the alcoholic to harm you, either directly and deliberately or indirectly and by accident, then you communicate to that person that his or her actions are okay. You make it acceptable to treat you in this manner. You make it acceptable to continue the drinking. You make it acceptable for this person to take your dignity as they lose their own.
These abusive actions must not be tolerated. It is your responsibility to confront the alcoholic with the consequences of their actions. If the abuse is a more direct kind, such as physical abuse, then it is your responsibility to remove yourself from the situation immediately. If there are children involved then you have a responsibility to remove them from the situation too. If you stay then you are choosing to be abused. You know that if it happens once then it will more than likely happen again.
Abuse is not a one time occurrence. It is a cycle. It repeats. If you allow it to happen once then it may very well happen again. And again.
It is easy to find yourself consumed by your spouse's alcoholism. It is such a large and looming problem that it can overtake your thoughts, your days, your life. You may find yourself becoming isolated because you are devoting so much time to your relationship with the alcoholic.
You may be running around trying to make everything okay, or you may be having constant fights over the repercussions of their alcoholism. Either way, you are being consumed by the addiction just as surely as your spouse is being overtaken. You need to know more in life than the after-effects of alcoholism.
Make new friends or reconnect with old ones. This may sound simplistic, but it is vital. With an alcoholic spouse, your world can get smaller and smaller. Your view of the world can become distorted as all that you know is the darker sides of life.
By connecting with those who exist outside of this situation, you can not only have a break from the distorted and stressful lifestyle of an alcoholic, you can remember what life was meant to be. You will have parts of your life where you are not caught up in the constant drama that is alcoholism. You will not be spending all your time around someone who is searching for their next drink or trying to explain why they had the last one.
You can try out new fun things with these friends or on your own. Your spouse's world may be growing tinier by the day, but yours does not have to do the same. Rediscover the joy in life. Seek out new experiences. Your life must march on, and you would do well to create fulfilling parts of your life even if at this point in time your alcoholic spouse cannot join you in these endeavours.
When your spouse is an alcoholic then there are probably many who collaborate to keep this dysfunction going. As you take the time to improve your own life, you may come to discover that there are other destructive relationships in your life that could be holding you back from a full life. Taking a second look at these relationships is an essential part of you moving forward.
Make changes to make your own life healthy from your relationships to your eating and exercise. If you choose to allow your life to become limited to the point where it is overrun by your alcoholic spouse then that is your choice, and it is a choice. You will not only be contributing to your spouse's alcoholic patterns, but you will be destroying your own life and health in the process.
No one is asking you to pretend that there is no problem or that you will not be affected by it. You just need to realize that the problem of alcoholism is theirs. Your partnership does mean that you are in it together to an extent, but you have your own life.
Your life is your responsibility just as their life is their responsibility. Both of you have a responsibility to take care of your own lives. If you do not then you will not have a chance of helping the other if and when they can admit that they need help.
The end point is this. You cannot control your spouse's life. You can be supportive without protecting them from repercussions, and you can be there without being consumed. The one thing that you do have control over is your life. Make your life into one that brings you happiness.