Alcohol Addiction: How to Cope with Your Partner’s Drinking Problem
So what can you do?
Everyone knows that communication is the key to a good relationship. But a partner with a drinking problem is not the world’s most willing communicator. It’s hard, but it’s on you to be extra supportive so that the conversation doesn’t end right after it starts. Here are some tips to make talking a little easier:
1. Try to find something positive to say. Look for a reason to give a genuine (be sure it doesn’t sound back-handed!) compliment.
2. Be prepared to acknowledge some negative things about your own behavior, even if it doesn’t seem quite fair. “I know I’ve been hard on you in the past, honey. I love you and I just want to understand,” or a similarly tailored phrase might help your loved one open up to you about his or her drinking problem.
3. Similarly, acknowledge his or her statements and thank your partner for sharing his or her thoughts. You’re not a psychiatrist, but a lover.
4. This one may seem obvious, but its worth stating because it is pretty important: if your partner is not sober or is already in a bad mood, wait until a better time to have this conversation.
These tips assume that you or your children are not at risk of violence because of the drinking problem. It is important to be aware of safety risks and to set boundaries. Some people are afraid to do this because the drinking problem is so severe, they think their partner will choose the alcohol over them. Nevertheless, it’s important to find an appropriate time to establish boundaries such as not riding in the car or being intimate when he or she is under the influence. These boundaries can form part of a safety plan that involves having a place to take your children where you can spend the night away from your partner if need be.
Your safety comes first. A licensed family addictions counselor can help you cope with your partner’s drinking problem and figure out what type of intervention might be necessary.
Since drinkers usually start thinking about stopping when they see that the costs of drinking outweigh the benefits, it might seem logical to reason with your partner. This puts an uncomfortable and counter-productive hierarchy in your relationship. Plus, it gives him or her a chance to come up with some counterarguments. While those counterarguments might not convince you, they’re meant more to justify the drinker’s behavior to him- or herself anyway. As mentioned above, your role is not to psychoanalyze. Some behaviors or strategies might seem logical to you, but are actually not helpful when dealing with your partner’s drinking problem.
Three things to be sure to avoid:
1. Avoid placing blame. This is not going to help you move in a positive direction and may actually encourage your partner to step up the drinking.
2. No labels. Identifying your partner’s problem with words like “denial” or “alcoholic” does more harm than just being confrontational or making him or her angry. He or she will likely internalize your words, making them a self-fulfilling prophecy.
3. Don’t be an enabler. Right now you’re probably thinking “of course I’m not going to buy my partner any alcohol!” But it is also enabling if you try to do the work for your partner. If he or she is on a program and has trouble sticking to it, let him or her handle it at his or her own speed. Don’t count the drinks or grab the bottle out of your partner’s hands if you catch him or her drinking on a planned abstinence day.