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What You Should Do If Your Spouse is an Alcoholic

Alcoholic Spouse

If you’re living with an alcoholic partner, you’ve probably noticed the effect it has on your family. Maybe your spouse is hungover or angry half the time and your kids are scared and confused. Meanwhile, you’re stuck trying to navigate a wide range of emotions, protect your family and seek help.

While the entire situation can seem incredibly overwhelming, it’s important to take things one step at a time and gradually work towards a more stable home life.

Take Care of Yourself

It may seem counterintuitive, but taking care of yourself should be a top priority for anyone with an alcoholic spouse. The accompanying stress, anxiety, anger and sadness you might feel can quickly cloud your judgment and seriously affect your mental and physical health. And if both parents are down for the count, your kids will have no one to turn to. Therefore, it’s important to fulfill your own needs before trying to help your spouse.

Practice self-care to improve your ability to cope and be a better parent. Meditate, exercise, try a new hobby or spend time with friends. Making time for and prioritizing these and other similar activities might even inspire your partner to get clean so they can join in on the fun.

Do Your Research

If you haven’t yet worked up the courage to confront your spouse about their alcohol use, use this time to conduct some research. Educate yourself on what your partner is going through. What kinds of symptoms are they experiencing? How might quitting — or trying to quit — affect their mood, persona and overall health?

Understanding your spouse’s perspective may encourage you to grant more grace or maybe find support sooner. It can also help you prepare for an in-depth conversation about treatment options and resources if and when they’re willing to get help.

Encourage Open Communication

When your spouse is sober, carefully begin the conversation. Approach the topic from a point of concern and share how their addiction is affecting you and the kids. Refrain from shouting, judging or blaming — however difficult it may be — and refuse to accept that you’re the reason for their drinking.

Instead, simply express your feelings honestly and try to encourage an open line of communication. Allow there to be a period of reflection after the discussion. This way, your partner has time to consider how their addiction could cause the kids to experience academic and developmental issues and contemplate the very real possibility of you serving them divorce papers — if you’ve reached that point.

Seek Support

Whether or not your spouse wants help, it’s crucial that you seek support for both you and your family. While more than 17 million Americans have an alcohol addiction, less than 14% ever seek out any kind of help. With the odds stacked against you, you must take initiative and be the one to find treatment options.

Of course, support will look different for everyone. If your spouse doesn’t want to ditch their addiction, you might go to couples or family therapy to find ways to cope. Cognitive-behavioral therapy might also encourage your partner to quit drinking, even though this solution isn’t necessarily rehabilitative. 

Step Back

Have friends or family told you that you’re an enabler for your spouse? These accusations can cut deep but, if you haven’t considered it a possibility, you may want to take a step back and assess your role in your partner’s addiction. How often do you make excuses for your drunk or hungover spouse? Do you call in sick for them or drive them home from the bar?

If your honest answers reveal that you are, indeed, enabling your spouse, it’s time you let a crisis happen. While it can be incredibly difficult to watch your partner lose their job, driver’s license or freedom, allowing them space to make mistakes and suffer the consequences may be the only way to turn their life around. In other words, they must hit rock bottom before they’re ready to leave alcohol behind for good.

Maintain a Routine

When one parent sporadically comes and goes at all hours of the day and night, nailing down a routine can be difficult. However, maintaining some level of normalcy throughout your day is crucial to protecting your and your children’s mental health.

Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day and plan meals well in advance. Send the kids off to school, go to work and relax in the evenings just as you would if your partner was sober. Doing so will keep you grounded and help your kids know what to expect each day. Plus, your partner might start to feel as if life is moving on without them, which can give them a reason to get help and eventually quit.

Don’t Give Up

When your spouse spirals and things get out of control, it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed. At one point or another, you may even consider giving up on your spouse completely. However, if you still love them and believe they have the potential to change, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Instead, continue working through the steps above and lean on your friends and family for support. Whether you end up staying with your spouse or not, things will get better. It might just take some time.