HELP! I'm Married to An Alcoholic!
By Dr. Jay Asher - Licensed Psychotherapist
We live in a community where drinking alcoholic beverages is encouraged and even expected. We admire the gourmet or the gourmand who knows and appreciates the appropriate wine to serve with each course at dinner. We understand that meeting at a bar for a drink at the end of a workday is a great way to unwind. However, when you are no longer invited back to friends' homes, do you dare to ask why? When, in your heart of hearts, you know that your mends object to your partner's drinking, do you both discuss what is being said? If you find you no longer go out at all, is it time to be honest about what the problem is? Have one or both of you hoped that if it wasn't discussed, it would go away. Hello!
Yeah, alcoholism is a disease and all that, but how do I know if my partner is really an alcoholic?
He's a happy drunk; he livens up the party.
She's under so much pressure; it has nothing to do with emotional illness.
I help others, why can't I help my partner?
Is there something I have not thought of that will make him/her stop?
REMEMBER: You are not the cause and you are not the cure. Alcoholism is a noncommunicable disease; no one can cause alcoholism in another person. Loving a person MORE will not fix the problem.
Problems to think about:
If your partner started drinking seriously when he or she was 12-years old (as an example), you are probably dealing with an emotional preadolescent. And how does that feel during times of couple-stress? If we remember honestly, we have to admit that the times we grew the most were during times of trial. The happy times, the carefree times, are not necessarily growing times. If you shut down your emofionat responses with drugs and alcohol, there is no growth. Growth seems to come with a desire to develop and change, along with a discomfort about things the way they are. When you shut down your feelings of discomfort, you have emotional immaturity, tension, anger (which helps mask the game being played), and irresolution.
LOW FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE
Does your lover have a short fuse? Do you stress out over what may set him off? Does life itself ignite her fuse?
LIFE HAPPENS --> OUTRAGEOUS REACTIONS
The ordinary frustrations of everyday living are overwhelming to your alcoholic partner. If you're like most people, you can't help thinking that in some way it is your fault. You didn't have to leave the cup in the sink overnight; you didn't have to dent the fender of the car ... what you are not allowing for is the fact that if it wasn't the cup or the car it would have been another drama. See the pattem. Change your responses.
INABILITY TO EXPRESS EMOTIONS
Too many alcoholics drink because they cannot express their emotions. When they drink and become uninhibited, things get said that would not ordinarily be said. GOOD, you say. I say, But what about adult dialogue? Afterall, it is dialogue - COMMUNICATION - that resolves problems and leads to resolution. An alcoholic cannot reason while under the influence; in actuality, he or she is dumping and adding to the couple's turmoil. REMEMBER, this is not about you. Even though it sounds as if it is all about what you have done wrong, it is not about you.
Alcoholics generally have very little sense of self-worth. You wonder why your lover does not see himself as a person of value when he is handsome and well educated. You wonder why your lover feels worthless when she is obviously admired for her community involvement and is a successful professional. An intemational research organization located in Switzerland recently came out with the following statistics: worldwide, 32% of women and 29% of men were sexually abused as children. In our community those figures are even higher. A history of sexual abuse does not usually allow for a positive self-image (no matter what the successes). Do not fall into the trap of supporting your spouse's feelings of inferiority. Listen to the buttons you are pushing when you are upset or when you want what you want.
Guilt is a mainstay in the alcoholic marriage. Your partner is guilt ridden because he has promised to stop drinking. You are guilt ridden because you feel you may be playing a part in her "descent into hell". Instead of asking your partner to take the first step, you take the initiative. Find a support group that is convenient to work or your home (Al-Anon is for anyone who is involved with a person who is abusing alcohol). Talk about being a spouse of an alcoholic. Listen to other journeys of men and women living with an alcoholic. Stop being 50% of the problem and start being 50% of the solution. Set the standard for recovery in your household. Turn negative guilt energy into positive recovery energy.
Be alert to signs of excessive use of alcohol. Don't enter into a conspiracy of silence. Talk to your partner about his or her drinking. Talk to your partner about your drinking! SILENCE = PERMISSION TO ABUSE. Break the pattern of acquiescence and reach out. Alcohol appears to be a compelling force that obliterates life's problems. In reality, alcohol is insidious, it is "triangulating" your intimate relationship. It is no longer just the two of you. Now, it is you, your partner, and the bottle. The competing demands of this third influence will sabotage the love and affection (and sex) that were the foundation of your relationship. If this is happening to you and your sweetie, don't stick your head in the sand. Don't let alcohol be the boss of your household. Take action. Get help! Call the switchboard at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (563-9500) for names and phone numbers of support groups.
Dr. Asher is a livcensed psychotherapist in private practice in Fort Lauderdale. His office is located at 1040 bayview Dr., Suite 517, Plantation, (954) 565-1901. He facilitiates "Couples Together", the 2nd adn 4th Saturday of every month from 7-9pm at the Community Center