My wife and I have been married for 24 years and both our children have left home. Over the last two to three years, since our youngest moved out, my wife’s drinking has increased dramatically. Looking back, she always had a tendency to go too far, whether we were at parties or out with friends but I don’t think she drank alone at home. Nowadays when I get home from work, she has already had a few and is very argumentative. I’ve tried talking to her about it but she gets furious and it ends in a huge fight with her threatening to leave me. It’s getting so bad, part of me wishes she would leave but when she is sober, we get along well. I just don’t know what to do, please help.
Dear Concerned Husband
Coping with a loved one who has an alcohol problem is very stressful so it’s important that you take care of yourself and get the support you need. Being able to talk to someone about what you are going through is a good first step. Addressing your wife’s problems with her can be done in a non-confrontational way if you are prepared and choose your moment wisely. Firstly, ensure you are both in a good mood, feeling calm and neither of you have been drinking. Keep it simple but be specific, highlighting two or three incidents that clearly demonstrate the problem. Stay calm and caring and describe how you felt, for example, ‘it really hurt me when….’. You can also phrase the incidents as questions which can be less threatening, such as, ‘Have you noticed that since the children left, you have been a lot more tired and less enthusiastic about things?’ And avoid labels such as alcoholic which can stir up a lot of anger.
There may be resistance or denial as your wife is probably feeling frightened and ashamed even if her behaviour demonstrates the opposite. A number of conversations may be required so avoid trying to solve the problem immediately. Allow some time for reflection and hold on to your truth before revisiting the discussion at a later date. In the meantime, seek out help for yourself, whether it’s a professional counsellor or joining a group such as Al Anon, a support group for people who are coping with the effects of someone’s drinking. Know that you are not alone, alcohol issues are one of the major causes of marital conflict but there is a lot of help available.