Saturday 20 January 2018

Dear Mary: 'My husband almost passes out from evening drinking'

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O’Conor

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: I need some very tactful tips from you to help me deal with my husband's drinking.  He has retired from his very successful career although he still spends time on business opportunities.  He is highly regarded by his professional and social peers.

He is a prominent member of a local sports club and very much enjoys entertaining at our home. I believe this to be the description of a successful, popular man. My concern is that he drinks such huge amounts of alcohol at dinner parties, those at home and at our friends' homes, that he falls sound asleep in his chair at the dinner table or on a nearby couch. His attitude is not surly, controversial or mean. He just almost passes out.

We have had endless discussions about his extreme consumption of alcohol but it does not change his behaviour. He claims that he is not an alcoholic because he doesn't drink in the morning and doesn't even have a pint with his golfing mates at lunchtime after a game when everybody else is having one.

Read more: Dear Mary: 'I stalked my ex online and sent anonymous messages for months'

He thinks it's just fun for him to drink as much as he wants in the evening, even though he falls asleep an hour or two after dinner - and not in bed but fully dressed in a chair. If we are at home alone I wait up for him to awaken at 11pm or midnight so, even though he is in a stupor, I can direct him to get out of his clothes and into bed.

Aside from my serious concern for his overall well-being, you can imagine what this pattern has done to our sex life. It doesn't exist! Our children all have lives of their own in various places, so it is just the two of us at home.

I welcome any suggestions you might have to help me moderate my husband's evening over-consumption. Please don't suggest AA or Al Anon. I know all about them and that's not the route I want to go down.

Mary says: While your husband justifies his behaviour by saying it's fun for him, it is certainly not much fun for anybody else, particularly you. In fact, when you are in other people's homes he is missing all the fun, because some of the best conversations around the table happen when the food is finished and people do what we Irish are very good at - talking and telling yarns.

Read more: Dear Mary: 'We've been apart for months so how do I say I miss her?'

I realise that a large number of families in Ireland are affected by alcohol abuse, but you are not asking me whether or not your husband is an alcoholic. You are asking for some helpful hints on how to handle the situation regarding his problem drinking.

I wonder if you realise that you are contributing to the problem with your collusion - what is called enabling. Because for as long as you wait for him to wake up and then put him to bed he will continue to do exactly as he is doing. You also probably drive him home from your friends' homes, if you are not taking a taxi, so you are more in the role of minder than you are of a wife. Marriage is supposed to be an equal partnership, and I see nothing very equal about yours

If you want things to change, then you yourself will have to initiate some change. First, you should tell him once again that you are unhappy with how things are, and that you are proposing a few changes, starting with not waiting up for him. Presumably, you do a lot of the work when you entertain, so tell him that you will not be entertaining for the foreseeable future until his drinking is more under control.

Read more: Dear Mary: 'I stalked my ex online and sent anonymous messages for months'

He obviously has friends, and if there is one in particular to whom he is especially close you might consider speaking with him, and asking him what he thinks. If he is as concerned as you are - and he probably is - then perhaps he could have a chat with your husband regarding his anti-social behaviour. However the friend may be afraid of being in the 'shoot the messenger' category and may not be willing to help, but it's worth a try.

What demons are inside your husband that are causing him to drink so heavily? Have you probed at all as to what is going on in his head? If he tells you that he drinks for relaxation then suggest other things for relaxation. Do you go out as a couple and do things like go to a play or a film - things that don't include alcohol? If not, then it's time that you did.

Read more: Dear Mary: 'I have a great fear of sex'

You are right to be concerned about his physical health. More than likely, you share the same doctor, and your husband has probably never disclosed to the doctor the extent of his drinking, so this is something that you should share with the doctor so that he or she is aware of the full story. Your husband may listen to the doctor even though he doesn't listen to you. Ask him if he misses his sex life and tell him that you do, if this is the case. Don't forget that as you are the only two at home sex doesn't always have to be at night. It may be that because of his drinking he is having problems functioning sexually, and this may indeed be contributing to the problem drinking - a sort of vicious circle.

I am finding it difficult not to recommend AA and Al Anon for the families of those affected by alcohol, and whereas you don't wish to hear about them I have to suggest these wonderful organisations to other readers who may be in a similar situation. or


You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately

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