It’s like being married to two people. For an alcoholic, there is the important marital relationship with his/her spouse and then there is the relationship with alcohol. The progressive disease of alcoholism is not only detrimental to the physical health of the addict, but also detrimental to the marital relationship, as one partner is exchanged for another. It’s a sad story that is repeated millions of times, as alcohol becomes the wedge between marital partners and marriages are destroyed as a result.
People will sweep their drinking problems under the rug by saying, “I’m not hurting anyone but myself,” or they will point out that their drinking isn’t a problem at all and that everything is under control. Denial is the game and alcoholics become good at playing it, but little do they realize that they are causing damage, sometimes irreparable damage, to their marriage, their family and their future. It’s bad enough that alcoholics abandon their spouses for alcohol, but all too often they neglect their children as well.
Alcoholism marriage, it’s a progressive process
Alcoholism doesn’t just burst on the scene and wreck marriages. It’s a process. The best way to avoid the dreadful ramifications is to recognize the symptoms early on and take action. In so many cases people are very passive and consider the alcoholism to be their partner’s problem. Guess again. Alcoholism is a family disease and all members are impacted, so the drinker isn’t just hurting him/her self, they are hurting everybody.
Not everybody that drinks is going to become an alcoholic and not everybody who even drinks heavily is going to become an alcoholic. Statistically, about one in nine will develop the disease with prolonged use. Sometimes the symptoms are rather subtle, but if you watch diligently, you’ll learn to pick up the signals.
Think of alcoholism as a relationship between the drinker and their drug of choice. Because we’re talking about alcoholism in the context of marriage, think of the disease as a form of emotional adultery. That sounds extreme, but alcoholism’s progression means that more and more time is demanded of the alcoholic to tend to the needs of the disease.
Think of it as a mistress, who starts out seeing her lover once a week for an hour, but winds up demanding attention every day for two hours. People go down the disease path and follow a cycle. They just drink at first, then over time the drinking increases and things start to get out of control.
Suddenly they're drunk every night and no one remembers when it started, alcoholism marriage has gotten it grip.
Alcohol is the third person in a marriage
The notion that alcohol is the third party in a marriage isn’t far -fetched at all. As the disease progresses it becomes more and more the center point of a person’s life. They may start out by having a few beers with friends after work, but then wind up coming home very late, sometimes missing dinner and that important time with children in the evening. The progression continues and soon the parent is not there for the child’s birthday party, or if he/she is there, they are drunk.
They may miss work, calling in “sick” or they may lose interest in their job or professional. Performance issues begin to crop up and the alcoholic, although “functioning” on a day-to-day basis is on the track to lose his/her job and fall into a difficult pit. Sometimes people function for years and nobody really knows that there is something wrong, but an alcoholic cannot sustain this masquerade forever, and eventually something is going to crack.
I know of a woman who recently lost her job after years and
years with the same company. She began
missing work, doing poorly, all because her alcoholism finally caught up to her
and took over. Her employer was
heart-broken, but he had to let her go. He husband is in the same place, alcoholism marriage is destroying everything.
Spouses often don’t understand
Spouses do not necessarily understand alcoholism. In fact, offs are they don’t understand it at any level. Toby Rice-Drew’s best-selling book series “Getting Them Sober” points out the reality of being married to an alcoholic and the steps spouses must take to try to help the situation. If you’re married to an alcoholic, it’s required reading.
Because they view alcoholism as a behavioral problem, a lack of will power, or a moral failing, they do not recognize the disease aspect of it and are carrying serious emotional baggage. They have an emotional attachment to the alcoholic, to their family and it’s difficult, if not seemingly impossible, to be objective.
But if the husband or wife looks at alcoholism as the enemy, not their spouse, they can be part of the process that brings the alcoholic back to sanity and helps them see the reality of what they are doing to themselves.
Al-anon can certainly help the family
Husbands and wives will benefit from Al-Anon, an organization dedicated to providing emotional support to families of alcoholics, to help them through the process, connect them with resources and be a sounding board for their feelings. Once spouses and family members can make the transformation from “victim” to “player” in the battle against the disease, they can see themselves as a part of a team and learn how to be effective in helping the one they love.
AA can help the alcoholic if they go and work the steps
Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous knows exactly what the
alcoholic needs. They have helped
millions of people for over 70 years and despite claims that there are cures
for alcoholism, or that alcoholics can still drink and not be alcoholics, the
AA’s 12 Step process, which is used by over 250 different self-help groups
worldwide, remains the gold standard for helping alcoholics climb out of their
pit and get back to a healthy and productive lifestyle. It can also sometimes save alcoholism marriage.
Alcoholism marriage, spouse should not be a victim
The mistress of alcohol, the unwelcome third party in a marriage, can be removed through treatment and a good recovery program. Spouses do not have to be victims and they can do a lot to save their marriage but knowing the right steps to take and being willing to make a stand and remain firm. Too many times alcohol wins because people don’t have resolve. It doesn’t have to be that way and there is hope for anyone willing to persevere.
Common Alcoholism Marriage Question:
I kicked my spouse out of the house a year ago, but he/she says they are not using anymore. Should I take them back?
This is a tough question and one that may produce an answer you don’t want to hear. If you’re asking this question it tells me that you still have feelings for your spouse. Your inclination is to give it another try, but you’re not sure. Let’s go over a few things.
Understand that alcoholism is never conquered, it’s just controlled. I used to smoke cigarettes. I have not smoked for 20 years. I am still a smoker because I know the addictive power of nicotine. If I smoke again, I will go right back to where I was when I quit. The same is true with alcoholism. Without going into all of the factors, which are discussed on another page of this site, when people are in recovery they are not immune to alcoholism, so any using will take its toll.
When your spouse was with you I can only imagine some of the fights that preceded his/her departure. You argued. Doors were slammed. He/she walked out many times to be with “friends.” It didn’t do any good, did it? You’re probably hoping that he/she has changed, when in fact you are also in need of change. What was your part in this relationship and what have you changed that will make the relationship work if your spouse returns? You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute. I’m not the alcoholic. Why to I have to change?” Your approach to your spouse and the alcoholism has to change.
You need rules. You need a strategy. And most importantly you need to have the backbone to follow the plan. You love them, you feel for them, you don’t want to hurt them, but do not enable them. Get help from professionals and from people who have walked down your path with their spouse. Your spouse needs to have the help and support of other recovering alcoholics, so a 12-Step program, or other alcoholism support groups are very good pieces of your plan for your spouse. That’s an example of a new rule you might use. They go to group. Likewise, you are not an island and you need support. Groups like Al-anon are made for you. Other people have asked the same question and have similar experiences, so why not allow them to share with you and support you?
An alcoholism counselor can give you excellent advice for your plan and help you implement a strategy that will be the most effective for your situation. No matter how you feel emotionally about your spouse, when it comes to alcoholism, you need to be the boss. Establish firm ground to stand on, don’t give in, and allow others to support your plan.
That completes our page on Alcoholism Marriage, visit our home page for more information.