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In Sickness And In Health? Alcoholism, Too?

drink.jpgAlcohol abuse and alcoholism harm a lot of marriages. When we take those wedding vows, pledging to stick together in sickness or in health, do we also accept the drunken rages, lost wages, and self-inflicted depression?

If staying and leaving were our only options, I would say no, we do not vow to accept all this harm. Fortunately, staying and leaving are usually not our only two options.

Al-Anon, that wonderful, free support group for those affected by someone else's alcohol abuse, offers this answer the to question What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is widely recognized as a disease of compulsive drinking, which can be arrested, but not cured. It is a progressive illness, which will get only worse as long as the person continues to drink. Total abstinence from drinking is the only way to arrest the disease. Alcoholism affects the entire family; indeed, everyone who has contact with the alcoholic is affected. Unfortunately, the only person who can stop the alcoholic from drinking is the alcoholic himself or herself. [emphasis added]

Some of the other options:

  • If you do not have enough money because of what your alcoholic husband or wife does, find some money and a safe place to keep it..

  • If you do nothing to bring joy into your life because your alcoholic will not join you, take your attention off the problem you cannot fix and pursue that joy.

  • If you do not feel safe in your own home, fix this, without waiting for sobriety. Set limits. If your wife or husband violates the limits, create a safe place for yourself and your children, whether a locked room, a separate apartment, a strong friend you invite to live in your home, or an abused spouse shelter.

  • If you have been buying alcohol or manufacturing excuses for your guy or gal, stop. Almost every serious illness comes with an unpleasant treatment we need courage to accept. We need the lifestyle consequences of the illness to motivate that courage. Getting in the way of the consequences of drinking is a lot like sabotage.

  • If you have been avoiding contact with friends or family to avoid feeling shame, invite them over and remind yourself you have and have always had almost zero control over your mate's drinking. Keeping touch with reality is especially important when you live with an alcoholic.


What does it mean to Assume Love when you are married to an alcoholic? It means you understand that the disease creates a disconnect between your spouse's intentions toward you and his or her actions. It means you can see and appreciate the intentions, but you are the only one who can protect yourself and your relationship from those disconnected actions that hurt you physically, emotionally, or financially.

At first, you will see the intentions in sincere apologies offered while sober for what happened while drunk. Take this as a serious sign that you need to act to protect yourself and your children.

As the disease progresses, you will see the intentions in the excuses invented to preserve your mate's self-perception as someone who cares for you. It is likely your spouse will blame you or outside factors for provoking his or her shameful behavior. You might want to find a therapist to help you with an intervention at this point, closing off the avenues of escape from the many consequences of the problem for your spouse.

If the situation reaches the point where your spouse loses all shame for what he or she does to you, remove yourself and your loved ones as far as you can from your spouse. Keep your distance until you learn he or she is sober and seeking to show love for you again.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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