Impact of Drinking on Couples
Alcoholism breeds an environment of secrecy, denial, and isolation within relationships. The addiction drives people to intentionally conceal the full extent of their drinking problem from loved ones. They may frequently make excuses to drink alone or openly lie about their activities and whereabouts. This chronic deception steadily erodes trust over time, sparking feelings of suspicion and resentment between partners.
Drinking severely alters moods, personality, and reliability in relationships. Partners painfully observe how the person they originally fell in love with seems to disappear, replaced by someone who becomes emotionally unavailable, acts irresponsible, and unpredictable when drunk. Open communication and physical intimacy often deteriorate sharply. Anger, depression, and social isolation frequently increase in the alcoholic partner as the disease progresses.
The sober spouse is left shouldering more and more of the duties related to childcare, household management, and finances. They feel trapped in the miserable role of a parent cleaning up messes rather than a true life partner. Codependency patterns can emerge within the relationship, with the sober spouse enabling or making excuses for the alcoholic’s destructive behaviors to avoid short-term consequences that could potentially motivate treatment. Unfortunately, this enabling allows the alcoholism to worsen unchecked over time.
As heavy drinking escalates over months or years, alcoholics often become increasingly defensive, irrational, or even verbally or physically abusive towards loved ones. The sober spouse may feel compelled to constantly walk on eggshells in hopes of avoiding triggering explosive outbursts from their partner. A persistent environment of fear, danger, and hypervigilance pervades the home.
Witnessing a parent struggle with alcoholism is also tremendously damaging for children emotionally and psychologically. A parent’s unpredictable mood changes leading to disconnectedness from the family in turn undermining kids’ fundamental sense of safety, self-worth, and security. Parental alcoholism is now considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that can elevate risks for a host of long-term mental and physical health problems throughout life.
Understandably, partners of alcoholics often feel deeply ashamed and isolated, afraid to reveal the extent of their problems to close friends or family who could provide support. Tragically though, this secrecy and denial surrounding addiction often enables it to progress unchecked. Concerned loved ones must seek out professional intervention guidance to collaboratively develop a plan for getting the alcoholic into treatment. Ongoing group therapy, 12-step programs, and sober support are all critical components for giving someone struggling with alcoholism the best chance at sustained recovery.
The traumatic multi-generational impact of alcoholism and addiction can span decades within families. Children who grew up witnessing a parent drink excessively are statistically more likely to develop drinking problems themselves later in life or marry someone who does. There is often a lingering sense of grief along with the feelings of powerlessness against fully breaking the painful cycle. But seeking help, connecting with others experiencing similar struggles, and embracing self-care and healing can help begin dissolving these dysfunctional familial patterns.
Rebuilding Trust After Addiction
The early weeks and months of sobriety after intensive treatment are well-recognized to be an especially unstable and vulnerable period with very high risks of relapse. During this turbulent transition, open communication and complete honesty between partners are essential to gradually rebuild lost trust and stability in the relationship. However, managing expectations realistically is also essential – trust that was slowly destroyed over many years of lies and secrecy cannot be restored overnight. The alcoholic must prove their commitment to sobriety through sustained actions over a significant length of time.
The recovering alcoholic must demonstrate accountability and transparency to achieve rock-solid consistency in their sobriety daily for trust to return. They should openly discuss details of their treatment program, any relapse prevention skills they learned, names of their sponsor and sober support network, and strategies for identifying emotional triggers or warning signs. Maintaining a daily journal to record thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can help illuminate unconscious patterns or vulnerabilities.
Entering couples counseling together provides a neutral and judgment-free environment to discuss grievances, betrayals, hurts, and fears that have built up over the years. An experienced counselor or therapist can help both partners better understand alcoholism as a complex physiological and psychological disease while teaching them to communicate their needs constructively without accusations or bitterness. The sober spouse may still feel justified in lingering resentment and blame towards their partner as they process painful past experiences. The counselor validates these feelings as normal, while also guiding both individuals toward the possibility of forgiveness through the cultivation of conscious empathy, compassion, and reconciliation.
Couples need to avoid falling into “all or nothing” thinking patterns when evaluating trust and progress in recovery. Instead of judging someone to be absolutely trustworthy or untrustworthy, look for incremental signs of positive growth and change. Even a small act of honesty, vulnerability, or compassion from the recovering alcoholic signifies that emotional healing is slowly underway. Building trust requires tremendous patience – it is an ongoing process akin to planting a tree. With consistent nourishment and care over the years, seeds of hope can grow into fruits of reconciliation.
Of course, realistic expectations must balance compassionate optimism. Those with long-term alcohol dependence will simply not miraculously transform all character flaws and issues overnight by getting sober. However, they can demonstrate a genuine commitment to their recovery program through steadfast accountable behaviors each day. With ample time, loving patience, and understanding, but also firm boundaries, even the most severely damaged relationships scarred by years of alcoholism can eventually begin to heal.
Relationship Counseling and Support
Continuing active participation in ongoing individual therapy, 12-step meetings, relapse prevention programs, and recovery support groups is crucial for any alcoholic hoping to achieve lasting sobriety. By working through the 12 steps, developing sober life skills along receiving continual counseling, the recovering alcoholic builds the social, emotional, and spiritual tools needed to effectively manage relationships and challenging emotions without turning back to alcohol. Ongoing peer support provides continuing care and a sense of community that is critical for avoiding isolation and relapse.
Partners and families of recovering alcoholics also stand to benefit tremendously from attending regular therapy sessions, Al-Anon meetings, or similar support groups. Al-Anon connects loved ones experiencing the difficulties of living with an alcoholic through shared stories, wisdom, and hope. Meetings help partners and family members learn how to practice self-care, establish healthy boundaries, release guilt, communicate constructively, and avoid enabling behaviors that may unintentionally help prolong addiction. This compassionate social support system helps empower partners to make positive changes in their own lives as well.
Shared healthy social activities outside the home can also help nurture greater intimacy for couples attempting to rebuild a relationship damaged by years of alcoholism. Enjoying new sobriety experiences together such as hiking, bowling, concerts, museums, movies, day trips, dining out, or attending recovery events allows partners to bond while creating positive new memories. Emotional bonds grow stronger when individuals can speak openly, and share feelings in addition to expressing hopes, regrets, fears, or vulnerabilities without feeling impaired or inhibited while completely sober.
For some couples, it may even feel like meeting one another again for the first time. Therapists help guide couples toward identifying unresolved conflicts, unmet needs, or emotional wounds that may have driven previous self-destructive drinking behaviors so that partners can work collaboratively to create a more fulfilling relationship built on empathy, respect, and compassion.
While certainly challenging, the process of healing broken trust and restoring an intimate relationship damaged by years of alcoholism is genuinely possible and worthwhile with time, wholehearted commitment, and effort from both partners. With the fog of active alcohol abuse now lifted, space opens up to dissipate previously ingrained negativity, toxicity, volatility, and isolation from the relationship.
Ongoing counseling paired with vigilant recovery maintenance allows couples to gradually but steadily cultivate more satisfying bonds reinforced by openness, honesty, and affection. There is always hope – healing is a journey available to any relationship impacted by addiction when both people embrace the possibility of growth and renewal.
If your relationship is currently suffering because of alcoholism, professional support is readily available. Please contact our caring counselors today to take the first step on the rewarding journey of hope, understanding, and healing. To gain information on finding motivation to quit drinking you can visit our block post to aid you or your loved one on the necessary steps to take in your path to recovery.