How to Talk to Your Alcoholic Partner
One of the many things that addiction takes away is the ability to communicate honestly and directly. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to begin with.
But intermarital communication can be even more of a minefield because of the hurt and anger and plain chaos wrought by addiction. Also, in most cases each partner grew up in a family where basic truths — the elephants in the room — were not okay to talk about, or where addiction’s tyranny meant that hurts and fears were ignored or ridiculed.
In other words, if you are now in a relationship with an actively addicted partner, or close to someone who is, try not to judge too harshly. Judgment just keeps the relational wheels locked in place. It’s not that those of us in such a situation are cowardly or weak, it’s just that we are most likely following an unconscious order (instilled in us from the beginning) to protect the status quo, even when that status quo brings misery and loneliness.
I thought I’d offer a suggestion for people who feel stuck or trapped in an alcoholic marriage, who may want to communicate how they’re feeling, even though doing so might be scary or uncomfortable. Unfortunately, if you’re interested in change — even baby steps — some discomfort is inevitable. Of course, one could argue you’re already uncomfortable, so why not be uncomfortable and at least speak the truth? Usually in taking a new action step, however small, there’s discomfort, then a shaky “was that okay for me to do?” feeling, followed by — over time, with repetition — a reconnection or repair to one’s own self-esteem and integrity.
The two rules of thumb here are: keep it simple and tell the truth. It’s so simple and pared down that it takes practice. (There’s no shame in practicing with a close friend, or in front of the mirror. This isn’t crazy; in fact, doing this takes great courage and is probably going against your early developmental “software.”)
Here’s what I mean by “keep it simple:” Imagine you’re the partner of an alcoholic who comes home late, drunk, wakes up the kids (who start crying) and then wants to argue about how you’re a lousy partner, unsupportive and all sorts of other stuff that all relates to your partner’s insecurity but is angry-making and hurtful nonetheless. You’re left feeling shaken, hurt and royally ticked off.
The next morning, your partner staggers out of bed and sits, hungover, at the breakfast table. This may or may not be the time to do this; you’ll have to gauge. (And the idea is communicating, not “getting even” when he or she’s hungover.) Whatever you do, don’t engage when he or she is still drunk. It’s just wasted energy, your partner is tanked and won’t remember anyway; it’s like shouting at the wind. Your best bet is to wait until your partner is sober enough to listen, so that you can sit down and say as calmly as possible, “I want to say something, and please just hear me out.”
This probably sounds like a very tall order, but any empathy you can scrape up (and this can be tough) will help; try to remember your partner is most likely (inwardly) frightened, ashamed and psychologically lost at sea. I think the idea you want to embody is, alcoholism is your (plural) enemy. Empathy and compassion for yourself is good too: Both of you are being held hostage by a demon.