Your partner’s drinking again.
Before you know it, you are fighting.
You keep promising yourself “this is the last time!” Either you are going to leave, or you are going to stop fighting about the drinking.
Nevertheless, here you are again.
You are frustrated by the situation. The anger you feel today is fueled by the number of times it has happened before multiplied by a factor of 5. In your anger, you can’t stop yourself from making the same threats or repeating the same demands, even though it never seems to help.
If you’re sick and tired of the looping and ready to try something new, read on to learn how to break the cycle before it breaks both of you.
Notice Your Fighting Pattern
It’s no secret that most couples tend to have their own special blueprint when it comes to fighting. When you add drinking into the mix, the situation can become fraught.
Here is an example of a common pattern that couples fall into when it comes to a partner who drinks:
- You don’t want to say too much because you’re afraid you’ll seem controlling.
- Therefore, you fail to say anything at all.
- But then it eats at you and builds up so that you eventually explode.
- You threaten to leave.
- However, you don’t leave.
- You make up and both agree it won’t happen again. You even apologize for exploding.
- The cycle starts up again.
Does this sound familiar to you? If not, try to assess the cycle you and your partner repeat.
Identify your own Feelings
First, identify how you are feeling about your partner’s drinking:
- Disappointment in the partner and the relationship?
- Shame about being with someone who has a drinking issue?
- Concern for the partner’s health, wellness, and quality of life?
- Concern about how it affects the whole family?
- Angry that they won’t stop drinking?
- Sad that the situation isn’t changing?
It’s important to recognize what it is that you find troubling. Your feelings provide critical information in your decision-making quest. They help you sculpt the action(s) that need to be taken and what needs to be communicated to your partner.
Get Clear Whether You Plan to Stay
Take the time to determine whether or not you want to stay in this relationship. Are you getting enough out of it? Are you ready for the challenges ahead? What if your partner can’t or won’t stop? Are you willing to stay if nothing changes? Is your partner abusive or dangerous to self or others while under the influence? How does your partner’s drinking get in the way of you having the life that you want?
If you want to leave, then it’s time to do so. Chart a roadmap for yourself – what are the steps you need to take to leave? Call for reinforcements – reach out to your support system for help and guidance. If your support system is lacking, get professional help.
However, if you want to stay in it for the long haul, then it is time to for a new approach. Hard as it is, the changes begin with you.
Changes to Make Today
Stop Repeating the Same Things
Put an end to certain common behaviors.
- Stop the name calling. Never use the word “alcoholic”.
- Don’t ask them to promise to quit drinking. It only sets them up for failure. And sets you up for disappointment
- Understand that they may feel remorseful “the day after,” and will probably make their own promises to stop. Everything seems “clearer” mixed with a hangover. There’s a really good chance they’re making promises they’re unable to keep once the remorse is in the distant past.
- Never discuss drinking while they are drunk.
Talk Calmly about Your Partner’s Drinking
Get curious about your partner’s drinking. During a calm conversation, ask questions that show genuine interest. Make sure they are ready and willing to talk to you before you begin a conversation – check in with them first.
- What do you like about drinking?
- What would you miss about drinking if you stopped?
- How does drinking help you?
- Do you ever think about stopping or cutting down? What would be hard about that?
- Are there times in your life you drink more than others? Why do you think that is?
Most importantly, try to find out if there is an underlying problem causing the drinking.
Express Open-Minded Empathy
You are getting to know your partner in a new way. Therefore, simply listen. It is difficult not to judge their responses. However, you have to remain non-judgmental if you truly want things to change. Express empathy for their feelings, as well as for the difficulty of not drinking.
Share your Feelings
First, model compassionate listening. Then, ask if you can share your experience. Choose a time when they are sober, and you are feeling close. Use “I statements” to explain how you feel.
Maybe they fall asleep on the couch when they are drinking. Express that you prefer to go to bed together. Perhaps when they drink, you feel excluded or there’s a wall between the two of you. Tell them you miss them. Alternatively, their health may be of concern. You could share your fears about losing them early to liver disease or even about their current health status. Do your best to say what you are feeling in a non-blaming manner.
Engage them About Challenges They May Be Experiencing
When you do wish to express concerns, do so in a way that engages them, rather than blaming them. For example,
- You seem to have more frequent headaches. Have you noticed that?
- Are you having more difficulty focusing lately?
- You seem to be depressed and tired? Can I do anything to help?
- Is your work going as well as you’d like?
Emphasize the Positive
When your partner’s drinking persists, it is easy to point out everything that they are doing wrong. However, that doesn’t motivate them to change – it just gives them a reason to drink more. Instead, do your best to focus on the positive. Let them know when they do something you appreciate. Notice out loud when they are trying harder. Find out how they’d like your support by asking.
If you are in it for the long haul, then you want to do your best to be a supportive partner. Expect some backsliding but celebrate the small changes.
Throughout this process, be sure to take care of yourself. You can’t be there for your partner if you aren’t getting the help you need. Learn about how relationship therapy can help individuals improve their relationships.