My husband is an alcoholic. Should I leave him?
If you ask your friends, family, or anyone who cares about you, the answer is usually a clear yes. Staying married with a spouse who’s addicted to alcohol can make you feel hurt, disappointed, worried, miserable, and afraid. You may feel like your life is spiraling out of control, and you may even blame yourself for ending up in this situation. But it isn’t your fault. Alcohol abuse is, first and foremost, a disease. It can affect the smartest, kindest, and most talented people, and you shouldn’t feel responsible for what they are going through.
However, things aren’t always black and white. When you have been with that person for years, letting go doesn’t come easy, not even when you know that is the right thing to do. Most likely, you’ll be caught at a crossroads and your heart will be torn between freeing yourself and wanting to support the one you love.
Living with an alcoholic spouse isn’t easy, and no one will blame you if you decide to leave. At the same time, choosing not to leave and staying by your husband’s side isn’t a sign of weakness either. Many families are now healthy and happy because one spouse decided to stay and support the other one in the battle against addiction.
But how can you know if staying is truly worth it or if it’s the start of a co-dependent relationship that keeps both of you from growing and healing?
Understand what they’re going through
To realize if you should stay or go, first you need to understand what issue you’re dealing with. And alcohol is no easy obstacle. It’s an illness with complex causes that makes people lose control and that may take a lifetime to keep under control. Some fight it, some don’t, and, if they don’t, it’s not necessarily their fault. You have to understand that your husband’s drinking problem isn’t a switch that can be turned on and off at will and that his inability to quit can make him feel worse than you imagine.
The best way to figure out his perspective is to take advantage of the sober moments. Does your husband acknowledge that he has an alcohol problem and that it’s taking a toll on your family life? Does he want to get help? If he does, this is an encouraging sign and staying by his side as he tries to quit can be worth it.
However, if he negates the problem or, even worse, if he tries to make it look like you’re exaggerating, fixing him is not your responsibility. Addiction can change a person in many bad ways, but if your husband is being cruel, insensitive, and cold while sober, that’s not the alcohol speaking. Never stay in a marriage that makes you feel afraid for your safety or the safety of your children. If your husband displays violent behavior and you’re worried to physically be around him, get help.
Don’t become codependent – acknowledge the problem and care for yourself
If you do decide to try to save your relationship, learn to set boundaries and understand that there are things you cannot help with. Your support matters enormously and it can make his fight easier, but alcoholism is a medical condition that is best treated by a professional.
Suggest your husband to seek counseling or even consider rehab. Don’t try to replace the therapist, because there will be things that your husband will not be able to talk to you about. External help is the best way to overcome alcohol addiction, and you shouldn’t try to control or cure your husband’s problem, because that is his personal struggle.
Staying doesn’t mean you will have to sacrifice every moment of every day to help your husband avoid drinking. This will lead to co-dependency, which will only complicate your relationship even more and will force you to live in a permanent state of insecurity.
If your husband is a recovering alcoholic, you might feel tempted to be overprotective and do everything for him, forgetting to care for yourself. Not only is this damaging for you, but, in the long run, it prevents your husband from reaching emotional independence. Mothering a man who can’t be your husband will make you feel unhappy and him feel stuck, so let him know that you will want to focus more on yourself. Don’t neglect friends or work and don’t ever quit your job to stay home to care for an alcoholic spouse. Find time for self-care and meditation, invest in your hobbies and don’t let your children in the dark. If they’re old enough to understand, be open about what is going on and don’t force them to pick a side.
Take time away to reflect
When your partner is an alcoholic, you don’t have to choose between two extremes: continue on living with them, or getting a divorce.
It’s not an either-or scenario: you becoming their rock or erasing all contact. You may have been married for many years, have children, and many happy memories, and you may be looking for a way to cherish all of this without living in the same house. What you can do in this case is take some time away and reduce contact without making a decision just yet. Being on your own can help you sort out your thoughts and understand your priorities. For your husband, being alone can help him find his inner strength.
No one will blame you if you decide to get a divorce and a divorce doesn’t mean you are abandoning your family. You can continue to check on him from time to time and help in various ways, but you will gain the emotional distance to make your own choices and build a new relationship.