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How to Live With an Alcoholic Spouse? – 16 Dos & Don’ts

July 27, 2020

Living with a partner who has an alcohol problem is a difficult task. You have to deal with them from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, even in the middle of the night.

It has both short-term and long-term problems. When living with an alcoholic, spouses may undergo domestic violence, emotional harm, physical health problems, or even can develop an addiction themselves.

If these go for the long-term, it may have a lasting effect on individuals, including mental illness, permanent-injuries, and damaged-relationships. 

But if you know ways to cope with your alcoholic spouse, it can result in positive effects in both of your lives and may lead your spouse to get help for this alcohol addiction problem. 

In this blog, we will cover the following information:

  1. 10 don’ts of living with an alcoholic partner
  2. 6 dos of living with an alcoholic partner

What You May Experience

One might face many complications living with an alcoholic partner, be it husband or wife. But these challenges are different for different people and circumstances.

Spouses or partners typically experience a vast range of emotional problems as they try to grapple with the complications and helplessness over their significant other’s alcohol problem.

As the disease progresses, the non-addicted spouse is likely to experience

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Disappointment
  • Guilt 
  • Mental disturbance

They may try to dominate their alcoholic spouse to the point that it brings conflict, or they may try to deal with the problem with denial. Neither approach will solve the  irresponsible behaviours or physical abuse, and it will affect integrity and happiness in the long run. 

Living with an alcoholic spouse can be extremely stressful. Spouses can develop a range of health problems as a result of the constant stress and uncertainty in which they are forced to live. 

Stress-related problems spouses may experience 

  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach problems

In addition to the physical stress, spouses of alcoholics often have to struggle with the social stress of substantial financial loss and legal problems which will further increase mental stress and may cause suicidal thoughts.

10 DON’Ts of Living With an Alcoholic Partner

Often these stresses can be worsened by your own actions and choices. If you can adjust your actions and approach, it may relieve you from some of the problems associated with dealing with an alcoholic partner. 

In some way, having control over your approach and attitude is empowering.

Here are ten things you should not do when dealing with an alcoholic partner.

1. Don’t – Blame Yourself

Alcohol users typically blame others for their drinking problems, especially those who are closest to them. 

Don’t let their blame blur your judgements. If your partner is an alcoholic, he/she will drink, no matter what you say or do for them. Alcoholism is a disease and not something you should take the blame for. So don’t feel guilty about yourself. 

2. Don’t – Take It Personally

Again, understand that alcoholism is a disease. When your loved one says they will never drink again but still goes back to drinking after a while, you may think that they broke their promises and are not worthy of your support. That’s not the complete truth. 

When someone gets addicted to alcohol, their brain chemistry alters in such a way that they can not stay away from alcohol for a long time, even if they wanted to. In a way, they lose their control.

3. Don’t – Control It

Many family members of alcoholics try to control their loved one and don’t let them drink alcohol. Unfortunately, this can lead to several physical as well as mental complications to the alcoholic partner like symptoms of alcohol withdrawal or depression.

You may think you are doing as much as you can do to help your alcohol-dependent spouse, but in reality, controlling them will do more harm than good. In fact, this is the time when you should encourage them to get help. Alcohol problems often need underlying issues addressed, rather than simple behaviour modification. 

When a person struggling with alcohol reaches their crisis point, sometimes that is the time when they seek help. But if you try to force them, it may scare them off and delay the decision to get help.

4. Don’t – Try to Cure It

Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disorder that can be fatal. Allow the trained professionals to treat your loved one.

Your responsibility here is to love and support the person dealing with alcohol addiction and encourage them to get the help they need to get healthy again.

Another way you can help your partner is to educate yourself and seek to have a greater understanding of what alcohol addiction is and how to help an alcoholic.

5. Don’t – Cover Up Consequences

Alcoholics typically don’t tell anyone about their alcohol misuse, because if anyone finds out about their problem, they will try to help them. And as a partner, if you decide to help them by covering up their drinking problems, It can lead to fatal outcomes.

6. Don’t – Accept Abuse

Alcohol brings out some unexpected behaviours from the people you love. 

As a partner, if you accept violent or abusive behaviours, it might get worse and worse and to a point where it becomes a full-blown abusive relationship.

Also, guard your children against abusive behaviours. Negative and harmful comments and actions can cause lasting damage in a child’s mind. 

7. Don’t – Have Unreasonable Expectations

When your partner promises you to not drink again, you might naturally believe that they will stand by their words. 

But without proper help, it is unreasonable to have this type of expectation, because alcohol addiction completely changes brain function and a person becomes incapable of controlling their drinking habits. 

8. Don’t – Enable Their Drinking

Often when you try to help your partner, you might be unknowingly giving them an excuse or making it easier for them to take the path of alcoholism.

For example, when your spouse comes home drunk or passes out, perhaps you help your spouse to go to bed. Instead, let them feel the natural consequences of their behaviour. 

That is, if you don’t help your spouse to come to bed, the next morning, they find themselves lying down on the doorstep. The only thing they are left to do is face their own actions. 

These kinds of choices are not easy for you as a partner, but it’s not your job to “cure” the disease or solve all their problems.

Again, allow these natural consequences to happen and let your partner face their reality. It will push them to see the problems alcohol brings and move closer towards getting help for alcohol addiction. 

9. Don’t Get Help

Many families and partners of alcoholics don’t reach out for help in fear of judgment and social embarrassment. But millions of people have found that support groups help to go through the recovery of alcohol addiction. So you should not hold yourself back from reaching out to people and asking for help. Support groups exist for both those who are struggling with alcohol and their family members. Al-Anon Family Group is one such organisation, which helps the friends and family of the alcohol addict person who are worried about their loved ones drinking problem.

10. Don’t Look After Your Health

It’s important to not let your partner’s problem dominate your life in a way that you forget to look after your own health. It’s ok, in fact, it’s healthy and good to make choices to maintain your own mental and physical health. 

6 DOs of Living With an Alcoholic Partner

Living with an alcoholic partner can be uncomfortable. 

It’s good to learn healthy strategies for helping your partner and for helping yourself cope with all the challenges that an alcohol problem brings. 

1.Do – Remember Alcoholism Is a Disease

It’s tough to believe alcoholism as a disease. But scientific evidence shows that when someone is an alcoholic, the choice to drink is not entirely in their control. 

For understanding alcoholism, it is helpful to view addiction like any other physical disease, such as heart disease or lung disease. And recovery is possible only when the individual takes the decision to get help; else the disease remains in place. 

2. Do – Be Loving and Compassionate

You may get the urge to respond to your spouse’s alcoholic behaviour with anger. It may become unbearable at times. But still, try to maintain your calm and quiet. Because if you vent your anger to your alcoholic partner, it may cause adverse effects on your spouse and they may drink more to soothe their feelings of shame and guilt. 

Always remember that you are fighting with the disease ‘alcoholism’, not with your spouse. And your goal is to help them get recovery from the disease. So maintaining a positive attitude is very important towards the journey to recovery. 

3. Do – Have an Honest Discussion

Discussion is essential when living with an alcoholic spouse. How will someone understand your feelings if you never tell them about it? 

But confrontations can result in adverse outcomes if the person with alcohol abuse is living in denial or has a history of physical or verbal abuse. During this time, stay calm and focused on the problem, such as how their drinking makes you feel hurt, for example, or ways you’ve seen alcohol change your partner. Do not get distracted by your partner’s behaviour, such as blaming you or anything else but alcohol. Remember that your primary objective is to encourage your partner to get well, and seek the best for your relationship. 

4. Do – Ask For Help

If you need emotional support or your spouse is interested in getting recovery, don’t hesitate to seek help. 

Ask friends and family for help, join support groups, work with medical professionals, anything that may help you and your spouse to get over this disease, you should not hold back from that. 

5. Do – Have Your Own Support System

Make sure you create a support system for yourself. Have people in your life you can trust and talk to and who support you. Having emotional support is essential when living with an alcoholic partner.

Talk to your parents, siblings, friends, or in-laws. Fight the tendency to isolate yourself from others or to pretend that everything is perfectly fine. 

6. Do – Set Strong Boundaries

Set firm limits for yourself and your kids. Such as 

  • No discussion when your spouse is drunk.
  • No drinking around the kids.

Set limits according to your needs and communicate those with your spouse very clearly so that he/she understands your boundaries very well.

Living with an alcoholic spouse may be one of the most difficult things you have to do in your life. 

Keep the above-mentioned tips in mind and remember that alcohol addiction is a disease, keep anger at bay, communicate with your spouse effectively, and act quickly for professional help.