Having a spouse suffering from alcoholism can deeply strain even the strongest relationships. Alcohol abuse often leads to dramatic mood swings, irrational behaviors and shifted priorities – causing profound hurt and confusion for both partners. With care, courage and support, it is possible to cope constructively with a spouse’s problem drinking in ways that protect your own well-being. This comprehensive guide covers techniques for establishing firm boundaries, finding help and support for yourself, and seeking professional guidance when needed to navigate challenging situations constructively.
Setting Clear Boundaries with an Alcoholic Spouse
Implementing clear boundaries serves to protect you emotionally and physically from the chaos and instability caused by a partner’s alcoholism. Consider putting these specific boundary-setting strategies into practice:
Have an Open, Non-Judgmental Discussion About Your Concerns
Sit down during a time when your spouse is sober and try to have an honest, caring conversation about how their drinking is affecting you and your relationship. Express your specific worries about their health and wellbeing in addition to the relationship. Make the discussion about your feelings rather than attacking their character. Pick a time when you are both calm.
Outline Your Expectations for Acceptable Drinking Limits
Be very direct about what level of drinking you view as safe or acceptable, if any. For some this may mean only drinking on weekends or for special occasions, for others it may need to be complete abstinence. Explain clearly the importance of sticking to these limits, and that exceeding them will mean separating for an overnight timeout or leaving the situation. Enforce consistently.
Refuse to Make Excuses or Enable Harmful Behavior
Don’t shelter your spouse from the consequences of their drinking by lying to employers, paying off debts, cleaning up messes, or otherwise preventing them from experiencing the natural results of their actions. Allow them to see and feel the effects while remaining caring in your interactions when possible. Enabling prevents change.
Make It Clear That Abuse in Any Form Will Not Be Tolerated
Verbal hostility, emotional manipulation, physical intimidation, violence – none of these abusive behaviors are ever justified or acceptable, intoxicated or not. Make it known that these are zero tolerance dealbreakers even for one incident. Your and your children’s safety must come first. Consult domestic violence resources if needed.
Disengage Briefly If Arguments Escalate
If a discussion about drinking escalates into heated conflict, consider temporarily removing yourself from the situation to allow tensions to defuse and prevent things from turning into a pointless, circular fight. State your boundaries and then disengage – severe intoxication prevents productive communication anyway.
Protect Your Finances From Risky Behavior
Maintain separate bank accounts and have individual credit if possible. Don’t enable financial recklessness by taking on irresponsible joint debts or lending money that likely won’t get repaid. Alcoholism often leads to financial infidelity and volatility – take steps to limit your liability.
Enlist Support From Other Family Members
Have candid conversations with any trusted relatives or in-laws who know your spouse well. They may be able to apply loving pressure as concerned family to nudge your spouse toward accepting help, or provide temporary refuge from the turmoil when you need respite.
Maintaining consistent boundaries requires drawing on inner resolve at first, but does demonstrate caring through natural consequences that spur change over time in many cases. Alcoholic spouses often choose recovery when they stand to lose cherished relationships and stability otherwise.
Prioritize Getting Support for Your Own Wellbeing
When trying to cope with an alcoholic spouse’s destructive behavior, regularly taking time to care for your own physical and emotional needs is absolutely essential. Make nourishing your mental health, pursuing joy, and connecting with others a daily self-care priority.
Seek Out Supportive, Understanding Friends to Confide In
Turn toward friends who build you up with compassion, not judgment. Their empathy provides needed emotional strength when your reserves run low. Avoid isolating yourself in shame or anger.
Consider Individual Counseling Just for You
Get an unbiased professional therapist to talk to privately. They can teach coping techniques tailored to your unique situation, validate your feelings, and uncover unconscious dynamics contributing to the relationship patterns. Attend Al-Anon meetings for group support.
Carve Out Quiet Time for Soothing Activities That Recharge You Spiritually
Reading inspiring books, taking relaxing nature walks, enjoying favorite hobbies – build in small breaks doing things that calm your nervous system from the constant uncertainty. Even brief periods centering yourself refresh perspective.
Plan Dates or Activities Together That Don’t Involve Drinking
Get creative in planning fun romantic outings, shared hobbies and quality time that bring both of you happiness and connection sober. It reminds your spouse – and yourself – that joyful living exists without alcohol dependence.
Monitor Your Mental Health for Signs of Anxiety or Depression
The relentless strain of an alcoholic partner understandably affects your mood and outlook over time. Notice if you’re experiencing depressed or anxious thoughts, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, or emotional numbness and reach out for support right away if so.
Nurturing your needs requires drawing on courage, but ultimately provides renewed energy and resilience to cope. You deserve care and contentment even in adversity – prioritize self-compassion.
Seeking Outside Guidance From Experts
In destructive situations not resolving on their own, or cases of worsening reckless behavior, consulting professionals can help provide direction when you feel lost or overwhelmed. Some options to consider:
Encourage Your Spouse to Be Open With Their Primary Doctor
Their physician may be able to motivate honesty about drinking issues, prescribe medication to help reduce cravings, or refer to treatment programs or substance abuse counselors. Doctors can also monitor dangerous withdrawal symptoms if attempting sobriety.
Arrange a Formal Intervention with a Professional Interventionist
If reasoning and natural consequences don’t spur change, working with an interventionist expert to stage a structured, loving confrontation by family, friends and colleagues urging your spouse to accept treatment can be powerful. This pushes many resistant addicts toward recovery.
Carefully Consider Temporary Involuntary Commitment as a Last Resort
If severe health threats, violence, or unsafe behavior indicate your spouse is at risk of serious harm or death due to uncontrolled drinking, involuntary civil commitment for detox and rehab may be required as a life-saving measure when all else fails.
Understand Your Legal Options Around Separation or Divorce
For cases of adamant refusal to address alcoholism through treatment or make any effort at positive change over an extended time period, consulting a family law attorney helps you make empowered choices on protecting assets, legal separation, divorce and child custody.
Try Couples Counseling for Healthier Communication Patterns
Joint counseling with a substance abuse specialist helps unpack dysfunction and reveal unconscious relationship patterns fueling the addiction. A therapist can mediate learning to communicate with greater empathy, vulnerability and rebuilding fractured trust.
Gathering insight and guidance from those with experience navigating alcoholism complexities provides clarity when you feel directionless. Skilled interventionists understand the nuances of motivating resistant addicts toward hope and lifelong change. You and your spouse are not alone in this battle.
With Perseverance and Support, Serenity and Stability Can Be Found
There is no sugarcoating the challenges of living with an alcoholic spouse. The constant instability, unpredictability and anguish of watching someone you love slowly self-destruct strains even the most patient and loving partners to their absolute limits at times. However, by strongly asserting your own needs, fearlessly pursuing joy, and seeking help from both informal supporters and professionals, you protect your emotional and physical well-being. With compassionate detachment, firm boundaries, and treatment, recovery remains possible. There are always alternatives to hopelessness.
For more on getting treatment for a spouse struggling with alcoholism, see this guide to finding an alcohol rehab program that meets their unique needs and situation. Lasting change starts with the right help. You deserve peace and are stronger than you know.
About the Author
Bobby Newman, CIP, ICPS, ICDAC, is a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, Prevention Specialist and Intervention Professional with over 20 years’ experience in the addiction treatment field. Bobby is dedicated to helping families find the right treatment options to aid their loved ones in defeating alcoholism or drug addiction and embracing lasting wellness.