Alcoholic husband is avoiding treatment

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have been married for almost 16 years. A few weeks ago, I had to get a protective order against my husband. His drinking had gotten to the point that I feared for my and my child’s safety. In court, he promised that he would stop drinking, go to treatment, do anything to get us back. He was out of our home for 8 days. During that time, we went to mediation and he promised in writing to go to treatment. I got a final protective order, but we are allowed to live together as long as he is not physically abusive. It has been 3 weeks and he has yet to schedule an assessment for substance abuse treatment. When I try to discuss this with him, he gets angry and tells me that “pushing” him will not help him. He had stopped drinking, but started again shortly after moving back in. His behavior is erratic. I never know if he will be loving and sweet or angry and defensive. It is making me physically and emotionally sick. My work is suffering and I am the sole breadwinner in the family. I need an objective opinion about what to do.

A: I understand this is hard. But I want to remind you that the reason you went for that protective order is that you feared for your own and your child’s safety. That hasn’t changed. Your husband made promises to get you back into the house but isn’t keeping his end of the deal. You are walking on eggshells around him. Your child is back in an atmosphere of constant tension. Your husband isn’t getting treatment.

Following through on his promises shouldn’t be something you need to discuss with your husband. He is either in treatment or he’s not. Believe the behavior, not the words and not the promises. Picking up the phone and getting an appointment with a substance abuse counselor takes 15 minutes, not 3 weeks. It’s not “pushing him” to hold him accountable for his agreements.

If you want to be part of changing this situation, I suggest that you decide on a deadline for him to go to treatment and decide what you will do if he refuses. Once you’ve made those decisions, figure out how you can deliver the message and stay safe. Then follow through. Your husband needs to know that you mean it or he will just say all the right things again and you’ll be back to square one.

I’m very, very sorry that you are in this situation. It certainly isn’t what you planned when you married this man 16 years ago. But that was then and this is now. It’s important that you not let the memories of the good times get in the way of seeing the current reality. You and your child deserve to be safe.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Oct 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Alcoholic husband is avoiding treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/10/07/alcoholic-husband-is-avoiding-treatment/