Coping With an Alcoholic Spouse 

Coping with an alcoholic spouse is an emotionally taxing journey. Navigating through challenges often feels overwhelming and isolating. Finding support, setting boundaries, and understanding the complexities of alcohol addiction are crucial steps toward maintaining your well-being.  Fostering a path towards recovery, for yourself and your partner is vital for the overall health and well-being of you both. Whether it’s a spouse, partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend, there are some guidelines for dealing with a partner who drinks.

Woman receiving advice on coping with an alcoholic spouse during therapy.

Knowledge is Power

If you have a partner who drinks, arming yourself with the power of knowledge makes a positive difference. Additionally, understanding the power that you hold while coping with an alcoholic partner is key.

The word Powerlessness comes from Al-Anon (the support group for families of a person dependent on alcohol). You do not have the power to do something or to say something guaranteed to make your partner quit drinking. This is important because you can spend many sleepless nights wondering “What can I do to make the person change?”.

However, you do have power over your own life. Research has found that stress is reduced when you stop focusing on trying to change the person with the addiction. Instead, concentrating on getting on with your own life is much healthier. Al-Anon uses the phrase “Detach with love.” (The research with similar conclusions is by Richard Velleman in U.K., independently of Al-Anon).

Getting support for yourself while coping with an alcoholic spouse is a good idea. Resources include Family Support, self-help groups such as Al-Anon, counseling services, community-based services, parish groups, IBDI (Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative), Community Addiction Teams, your local or regional Drugs Task Force, etc.

Educate yourself with books or websites on topics like, “How to talk to your partner about drinking”. This way you’ll have a better understanding of alcohol-related problems and dependence.

Talking to Children About a Partner’s Drinking

While children are resilient, they still require attention when a parent or caregiver drinks.  We use the word “resilience” to describe the strengths that help children to do well despite home life disruptions. Research finds that there ARE things a family can do to help children to develop resilience.

Children are usually more resilient in families where drinking takes place away from the home, not in the home.

Furthermore, children are more resilient in families with regular routines like family meals (daily or weekly), set bedtimes, and where happy occasions like birthdays are celebrated.

Having an older person outside the family to whom they can talk, such as a grandparent, school teacher or an aunt/uncle is helpful.

Finally, if you are coping with an alcoholic spouse, talking with children and explaining dependence in a language they understand is therapeutic to them and you. The goal is to help children “detach with love”, getting on with their own lives as best they can.

How to Talk to Your Partner About Drinking

Starting a conversation with your about their drinking requires empathy, honesty, and patience. Start by choosing a time when both of you are calm and unhurried, ensuring privacy and avoiding distractions. When coping with an alcoholic partner, it is important to express your concerns in a non-confrontational manner, focusing on the impact their drinking has on your relationship and family life rather than criticizing or blaming them.

Use “I” statements to convey your feelings and observations without assigning fault. Offer support and encourage them to share their perspective without judgment. Emphasize your desire to work together to find solutions and seek help if needed, whether through therapy, support groups, or professional treatment options.

Ultimately, if you are coping with an alcoholic spouse, it’s crucial to prioritize open communication, understanding, and mutual respect as you navigate this sensitive topic together.

Planning an Intervention

It is possible to have a successful intervention and talk to your partner about their drinking. Be clear and specific. Planning and good preparation are key.

In terms of the Wheel of Change, Intervention aims to prompt the drinker to move through the stages of the Wheel of Change, from Pre-contemplation to Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance (as appropriate).

Extra Mile Recovery‘s Preparation Program is designed to help a family prepare for an intervention. The process of an intervention while coping with an alcoholic spouse typically involves the following:

  • The family members meet and make preparations for the intervention. Preparation includes clarifying who will take part in the intervention, what will be said, and what is the desired outcome.
  • The intervention is arranged for a time when the person with the alcohol problem is likely to be sober and drug-free.
  • Those present at the intervention express that they’re there out of love and concern and not out of anger or a desire to punish.
  • Those present in turn point out what they have observed that is causing them to be concerned. This is where the preparation is important. They should stick to facts. For example, the person drank 5 cans of lager and fell through a glass door. These are facts. Words like drunk, disrespectful, and alcoholic are not helpful at this stage, because they are not factual. They can be disputed. It is much better to stick to indisputable, observable facts.
  • It’s vital to go over what options are open to the person with the problem. For example, he or she could go for an assessment to a doctor or a treatment center. They could go to an AA meeting. They could make no change, and carry on as before. Reinforce that doing nothing will make the problem worse.
  • Lastly, outline what options are open to them. For instance, if the person gets help for the problem, the family will be supportive. If the person does nothing, they get worse and the family will take appropriate action.

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