Thursday, April 2, 2015

Questions about coping with an alcoholic spouse

I received this comment the other day:
"I need help coping with my alcoholic wife. I hardly speak to her anymore, not sure if I love her, getting sick and tired of the antics that surround the drinking, manipulation and embarrassment. Trying to answer questions from my 7 year old daughter, "why is Mommy acting funny again?" or, "Mommy's being rude".

I don't know where to begin. I have an alcoholic wife who we will call Samantha or Sam for short. When Sam's not drinking she is very un-pleasant, doesn't say one positive word to anyone if she speaks at all. She uses her alcoholic behavior to get what she wants or what she believes will solve the problem. We have been married for 14 years. I was a social drinker then so we had a lot of fun, but I started to notice she was more than a social drinker and started making comments about slowing down. God forbid that I asked a question like that! The subject is not up for discussion sober or otherwise. Her parents are both alcoholics so they are no help. We tried to have children for several years depleting our savings account with fertility Drs. to no avail. She was saying things like "if we have a child I will quit drinking because I will have a purpose, or "if you buy the house with a few acres we can have horses then I'll stop drinking" and so on. We successfully adopted a beautiful baby girl at birth 7 years ago. Now I have realized all the enabling I have done and I'm so mad at myself for bringing this little girl into this mess.

Sam isn't very pleasant until she has a few drinks, then becomes somewhat pleasant until she has more than a few and becomes unreasonable and difficult to deal with. She starts arguments with my daughter and I close myself off in another room and try to ignore the situation which eventually spirals out of control at which time I lose my temper at both of them.

I have started to threaten Sam that I can't live in this environment any longer and she needs help. She reluctantly went to a counselor for 5 or 6 weeks to discuss her issues but that has stopped. Sam tells me that the counselor says she doesn't have a drinking problem and that the problem is that I am such an asshole. She even went to a few AA meetings only to come home and get drunk.

I'm out of patience and considering divorce. I have worked so hard for everything we have and hate to think about losing it all in a costly divorce but something had to happen. Sam doesn't want to get help so is it time to back up the idle threats by actually leaving?

This is my first time reaching out to anyone or writing on a blog so I'm not sure what I doing here."

First off, thank you for reaching out.  That was one of the hardest things for me to do.  I thought for so many years that I could handle what ever was happening. I had to because I certainly didn't want to let anyone know what was going on at home.  I was filled with shame and wanted to cover up the drinking.

I think that you are hoping to get some answers.  I can tell you what worked for me.  When my wife was actively drinking, she too denied that she had a problem. She refused to get help and lied about how much she was drinking.  But, I could tell her exactly how much she had and frequently did.  My nagging her about drinking only made her angry.  I didn't accomplish anything except to make her more unreasonable and irritable when I asked her not to drink.

So after many years of nagging and worrying, I finally got to the point that I started to not care about her.  She was becoming more of a problem to me because her actions were causing me to also be angry and unreasonable.  She wouldn't do anything I wanted! No matter what I tried, she simply wouldn't stop. After one particularly terrible evening at a party where she got drunk and drove off, leaving me to walk home, I decided I had enough.

I told her that I was going to move out.  I wasn't angry when I told her this, simply resolved.  I knew that I was at the end of my ability to cope with alcoholism.  So I told her that I didn't want to live with active alcoholism and that I was going to get an apartment.  I didn't mention divorce, although that was certainly in my mind.  I simply wanted to get away from her.

She became hysterical and begged me not to leave.  She asked if I loved her.  I said that I wasn't sure.  She asked what she could do to get me to stay. I didn't know, but mentioned that a good friend who had been sober for many years told me to tell her that if she would go to AA and really work the program, she would come to know great happiness.  But the other part of the message was that I needed to go to Al-Anon because I was suffering from the effects of her drinking.

So I told her what I was going to do regarding going to Al-Anon.  I also reiterated what my friend said about AA.  She agreed to go.  I went to Al-Anon. We decided to give our marriage another try.  But I set a boundary that I would not live with active alcoholism.  I believe that she was ready to quit drinking because she has not had a drink since before that first meeting nearly 9 years ago.

Our marriage is much better than it has ever been because we have mutual respect for each other.  It has taken a lot of work in the programs of AA and Al-Anon for us to be where we are now.

I do believe that you have to speak your truth to Sam.  Trying to get her to stop drinking is not going to work, but telling her what you are going to do to take care of yourself may actually get her attention.  There is a saying in Al-Anon that "changed attitudes can aid recovery".  I can attest that is true.  My changed attitude of taking care of me and not focusing on what my wife was doing helped our marriage.

So my suggestion to you is to go to several Al-Anon meetings.  You will find people there who will understand what you are dealing with.  I tell people to try at least six meetings to see if Al-Anon is right for them.  Hopefully, you will hear what you need in order to put the focus on you and your children.

Finally, I want to share one of my favorite readings from Al-Anon literature. This is from the book From Survival to Recovery (pg. 269):
"If we willingly surrender ourselves to the spiritual discipline of the Twelve steps, our lives will be transformed. We will become mature, responsible individuals with a great capacity for joy, fulfillment, and wonder. Though we may never be perfect, continued spiritual progress will reveal to us our enormous potential. We will discover that we are both worthy of love and loving. We will love others without losing ourselves, and will learn to accept love in return. Our sight, once clouded and confused, will clear and we will be able to perceive reality and recognize truth. Courage and fellowship will replace fear. We will be able to risk failure to develop new, hidden talents.

Our lives, no matter how battered and degraded, will yield hope to share with others. We will begin to feel and will come to know the vastness of our emotions, but we will not be a slave to them. Our secrets will no longer bind us in shame. As we gain the ability to forgive ourselves, our families, and the world, our choices will expand. With dignity we will stand for ourselves, but not against our fellows. Serenity and peace will have meaning for us as we allow our lives and the lives of those we love to flow day by day with God's ease, balance and grace. No longer terrified, we will discover we are free to delight in life's paradox, mystery and awe. We will laugh more. Fear will be replaced by faith, and gratitude will come naturally as we realize that our Higher Power is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Can we really grow to such proportions? Only if we accept life as a continuing process of maturation and evolution toward wholeness.

Will we arrive? Feel joyful all the time? Have no cruelty, tragedy, or injustice? Probably not, but we will acquire growing acceptance of our human fallibility as well as greater love and tolerance for each other. Self-pity, resentment, martyrdom, rage, and depression will fade into memory. Community rather than loneliness will define our lives. We will know that we belong, we are welcome, we have something to contribute-and that is enough."


  1. This was a great post. When we have newcomers, there are so many things that I wish to tell them all at once, that I often fail to point out both sides of the equation--my part and their part. I think that I will print this off so that I can remember.

  2. You are a living example of how Al-Anon can work. And your wife a living example of how AA can work. You both probably help far more people than you know.

  3. Hi Syd, nice to stop in and see you carrying the message of hope. You inspire many, thanks for what you do.


  4. Husband of Sam has a child to think of. He should talk to a lawyer about getting out and getting custody. It's no longer about just his sanity. It's about the safety and well being of the child. I hope he gets help soon.

  5. I speak from the Alcoholic's standpoint ... it always makes me so sad to see what distruction our drinking causes for others ...and we live for years thinking "I'm only hurting myself !" I pray that he follows your advice Syd and that his wife has the courage and the strength to get, and stay, sober.

  6. Nice article. I live with an alcoholic whose drinking is making him sick. His heart is failing, his arms are failing, and he is miserable. He doesn't make the connection between smoking and drinking to his health. I went to Al-Anon for the first time two months ago. I bought a book that day. Within a week I had downloaded the same book from Audible. I've listened to it over 50 times. Baby steps turn into bigger steps and then serenity. I get it. He is not changing because I am doing Al-Anon. He is disparaging toward Al-Anon or any 12 step program. I'm not holding out for sobriety although I now believe it is possible no matter how far he appears to have sunk. But I find joy on my little homestead among my flowers and gardens and chickens because I'm learning to take care of myself. I am learning to love myself in such a way that I will think too highly of myself to ever walk into a relationship like this again. I want to recognize it from the start. He was so charming for quite a while, generous, kind and he's awesome cook. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It should not be overlooked in a new relationship.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.