Wednesday 20 September 2017

Dear Patricia: My wife refuses to accept her drinking is a serious problem

Patricia Redlich

I KNOW my problem is not unique but it is causing me a great deal of distress. I reckon my partner is an alcoholic -- not a falling-down drunk, but what I think is called a "functioning" alcoholic. She always goes to work, and that is very important as we also have serious financial difficulties.

On a normal day she starts drinking within 30 minutes -- at most -- of getting in from work. Very often it's only after the bottle of wine, or half bottle of spirits, is empty, that she starts to prepare dinner. I have said to her on more than one occasion that it would be good to feel I was speaking to my partner rather than a bottle of alcohol. But she doesn't seem to understand that if there is something important to discuss, her contribution might be different -- as in less strident, more open to alternatives -- if she had no drink taken. I feel at times that I am treated with no respect in this regard.

We both have outside interests, but little or no social life together. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I feel that the biggest one is the fact that if we go out and meet other people, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the speed at which is is consumed, is limited. And if we ever do go out as a couple, there is usually drink taken in advance, or else a bottle bought and stored for consumption when we get home.

Our sex life is almost non-existent. Part of that is down to me as I have no interest in making love to someone reeking of alcohol and probably not in any position to give informed consent, to use a legal phrase. I also read somewhere that alcoholics can have a reduced sex drive, and my partner doesn't look to me for sex.

Because of her alcoholic intake, when the need arises to drive at night, say to collect one of our almost-adult children, I am the one who always does it as she is invariably incapable of driving. On evenings when her drinking has been heavy, I regularly point out that she shouldn't be driving the next morning either, as she would exceed the legal limit. But this falls on deaf ears.

Since I object to being asked to facilitate this habit by going out to buy more alcohol when she has run out, I am now seldom asked, but the children who are old enough to drive may be asked to do the job instead. I have objected to this, saying that is unfair to draw our children into this situation, but my thoughts on this are ignored too.

I have tried to be loyal and say nothing about this problem to anyone else, but I reckon our children realise at this stage that the situation at home is different from other houses they visit. I have never spoken to them in detail about their mother, and feel that I have damaged my relationship with them by trying to protect her.

At times I wonder what lies in store in the years ahead when the family have all flown the nest and it's just the three of us at home on a regular basis: herself, myself, and the booze. I love my partner and still want us to be happy together, but something has to change at some stage. How can I make her see that she is damaging her own health, our relationship and our entire family?

Patricia replies:

THE straight answer is that you can't. You can't make your partner see anything. Destructive as it undoubtedly is, drinking excessively is her choice. You can, however, make her choice less attractive. You can stop trying to protect her.

The obvious first step is to talk to your children, who are clearly all old enough to understand. Of course they already know their mother drinks too much. But by failing to discuss the issue, they are effectively colluding in her bad behaviour -- and you along with them. It needs to be nailed to the mast that your wife is an alcoholic. You and the children have to name it. And then all of you have to stop facilitating the drinking. Yes, I know it's scary to think that she would drive while under the influence in order to pick up more booze. But again, that's her choice. The children, like you, have to refuse to co-operate.

What you all need to realise -- I mean you and the children -- is that it is your own personal weakness which leads you to collude. I know it's done in the name of love, but it is not love. You are simply helping your wife to hide from the extent of her problem. Drastic and awful as it may sound, maybe your wife has to have that car crash before she wakes up. No, you would not wish that for her. But by trying to protect her from her own irresponsibility, you are perpetuating the alcoholism.

I'm sorry if calling you weak sounds harsh. Maybe I should talk instead of misplaced love. You are not helping your wife. Nor are your children. You are all simply avoiding the personal distress and heartache and anguish involved in leaving her to face the consequences of her own actions. You are saving yourselves, not her.

This is going to sound even harsher. You have to stop feeling you are a victim. You are in a very, very unhappy situation. You are not, however, helpless. Money problems or no money problems, you could walk away. Yes, I know you love your partner. But sometimes we are faced with unmanageable situations and have to make hard decisions. Even if you don't want to leave, you could create a vibrant life for yourself, separate from your wife.

You have great kids, and friends, and opportunities to socialise. Why not learn to truly enjoy all that, on your own. Why would you want your wife along with you anyway? Unless, of course, she changes. Don't you see? You have to stop crying for the moon, face reality and get on with your life. And stop nagging, which is merely an ineffective venting of anger. She knows the score.

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