Hi, I’m Poe, and I’m married to an alcoholic.
I didn’t know he was an alcoholic when we got married, but I did know eventually his drinking would become an issue. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon — only a year and a half into our marriage. It was difficult, but I wouldn’t change it, as it has shaped our marriage and who we are as people.
I’ve had people ask us how we did it, how we made it through. Divorce among alcoholics is high. Though I don’t have the stats on me, my husband was told repeatedly while he was in treatment that he would end up divorced. He always answered back, “No, I won’t. You don’t know my wife!”
I’ll be honest though, I don’t know how we did it. We just did. If I believed in luck, I’d say we are one of the lucky ones. Instead I’ll say we’re blessed, and we are both aware of it. We don’t take it for granted.
Looking back, here are the things that helped me through that time.
Get Support for You
Being the spouse of an alcoholic can be very, very lonely. Many alcoholics don’t want many people to know they are alcoholics and that often means that you end up not being able to talk to anyone about it. There is a support group called Al-Anon. You’ll find support from others who are going through or have gone through what you are experiencing. Please, please, please don’t try to go through this alone. You need to take care of you. You need people to talk to who can relate.
Full disclosure: I’ve never attended an Al-Anon meeting. I found my support group from my family and friends. My husband is very open about the fact that he’s an alcoholic. I had his permission to share and in doing so people come out of the woodwork. I didn’t realize how many alcoholics I knew until this happened. This might happen to you, or it might not. But find people who you can relate to and who have been or are where you are.
Remember It’s Not Your Fault
You didn’t make your spouse become an alcoholic. Nothing that you did (or didn’t do), said, wore, etc caused them to drink. Oh, they might say it did but an alcoholic doesn’t need to a reason to drink. They just grab onto whatever excuse is handy. You are handy. But remember, it’s not your fault.
Right and Wrong
Don’t argue about right and wrong. If you think your spouse is wrong, let them be wrong. Arguing is only an excuse to drink. Sometimes as the spouse, the best thing you can do it is to keep your mouth shut. My husband often was aware of his sin and his faith was convicting him of it. Me harping on it didn’t help. It can be tricky balance to know when to speak and when to stay silent.
You Can’t Make Him Stop
Just like it’s not your fault that your spouse drinks, you can’t make them stop drinking. Trust me, if I could have willed my husband to stop drinking I would have. One of the hardest parts of being the spouse of an alcoholic is how little control you have. I felt like I had no control over anything.
It can be hard to remember, but try: nothing YOU do or say will make them stop drinking. It has to be the decision of the alcoholic. Everyday the choice to drink or to not drink is theirs.
Be Aware of False Promises
The alcoholic is a liar. Your spouse is no exception. You are going to be lied to, probably more than once. It can be really hard to not take it personally. It might get to the point where you don’t believe anything they tell you. My best advice is to hope for the best, but expect the worst. Remember the lies can be about anything. Often it’s about protecting their ability to drink.
Say What You Mean
In other words, don’t make ultimatums unless you REALLY mean it. Even then it’s a bad idea. But if you do say it, do it. Just like parenting, don’t threaten. The lack of follow through doesn’t help anyone, so don’t threaten to leave or get a divorce unless you are really going to do it.
Which brings me to my next point…
Divorce Is Not An Option
Before we got married we decided divorce was not an option for us. There were months while my husband struggled I wondered how in the world we were going to make this work. How do you stay in a marriage where one of you puts alcohol first — always? I don’t know, but I know there are men and women who have been in such marriages for years. I’m so thankful I wasn’t.
Two more thoughts on no divorce:
One — I can’t say for sure that if my husband had continued to drink, I would have been able to stick to this. I think I could have hung in there a good long time, but I can’t say for sure. In the years since, my husband has told me that knowing I wasn’t going anywhere made a difference. In fact, the first thing I said to him when he told me he was in trouble at work for drinking over the phone was I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to be there for him, and I reminded him that divorce was not an option. At times he hated that — there were times he wanted me to leave — but ultimately knowing he was stuck with me helped.
Two — If your alcoholic spouse is abusive in any way, to you or your kids, leave. Pack your bag right now and go someplace safe. Seek help. Under no circumstances is abuse ok. Divorce might not happen, but it might. If it does, there will be no judgment from me. Abuse is not OK, ever.
Take It One Day At A Time
This phrase is borrowed from AA, and I reminded myself of it often in the early days. I still do sometimes. You just take it one day at a time. Don’t worry about tomorrow for today has more than enough cares for you to think about. (Matthew 6:34)
The most important thing you can do is pray for your spouse. It might not feel like much, but there is nothing more powerful that you could be doing.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
There were days I spent hours praying. Praying in the shower, while doing dishes, driving…you name it, and I was praying. During this time I clung to God and his promises. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew that God knew. I had to trust God no matter what happened. So I prayed — for my husband, for me, for AA, for his therapy, for his work, for our families, for wisdom and discernment. I prayed on the days I wanted to give up and on the days I was positive he would overcome his desire to drink.
Every alcoholic is different. There is no bulletproof way to get sober (though AA does work if you work the steps!) Sobriety is possible. It’s a long, hard road for everyone in the family, often with many falls off the wagon.
It’s hard — so hard — but sobriety is well worth it.
Poekitten lives with her now sober alcoholic husband in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. They have two little girls and are members of their local WELS church. She blogs at Many Waters and you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.