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Is Alcohol Robbing You From the Relationship You Want?

While booze may not kill as many people as America’s opioid crisis, it has major consequences on relationships and children

When my marriage was falling apart, my former husband and I went to marital counselors to help us. The first one was useless. The second one patiently listened to our story, one that included infidelity — how common! — and keep saying, “OK, but let’s talk about the drinking.” My former husband didn’t want to go to her anymore (he didn’t want to talk about the drinking, of course!) and so after a few sessions we found someone else. But she gave me an aha moment I hadn’t considered — “let’s talk about the drinking.” Because I knew booze was a thing; I just didn’t know how big a thing it was for my family, and that it had a name — alcoholism. I went to Al-anon at that therapist’s suggestion, and the stories I heard there were scary and eye-opening. I didn’t want to live like that.

‘A central problem’

Couples are often leery of addressing a partner’s drinking — or their own — for a number of reasons, de Marneffe says, often because it’s been the way they’ve coped since they were young. And yet, it often works against everything we most likely want with a romantic partner:

It can also function as a way to take the edge off, yet in my model of how you need to actually show up emotionally if you’re going to have an intimate relationship, it usually works against that. I present it in a very nonjudgmental way, but at the same time in a confrontational way, like, don’t think this is kind of a detail; it’s probably kind of a central problem.”

Yeah. It isn’t “kind of a detail.” It’s totally “kind of a central problem.” You can’t show up emotionally when you’re dulling your emotions.

Drinking your way to divorce

Which is why I struggled silently. Alcohol has broken up a few friends’ relationships in recent years; it’s impacting a few more right now. I’m not surprised that 21 percent of divorced people named alcohol or drug abuse as a reason they split in a 2004 AARP study of midlife divorce. More recent studies indicate when one spouse drinks more than the other, the couple is more likely to divorce — especially if the heavy drinker is the wife (because it goes against — ugh — “proper gender roles for women.

So much of marriage, and life, is about sitting with uncomfortable feelings and not reaching for the quick fix that won’t work in the long run. This sometimes means confusion, lack of control, or feeling broken before you feel whole. It means understanding ‘not knowing’ as a positive capacity rather than as failure or ignorance. … Once we relinquish our substances, we’ll have to face ourselves before we can discover what’s possible in our relationships.”

Yes, not knowing, sitting with what’s uncomfortable, is essential. And facing ourselves? That’s powerful and scary. But I highly recommend it.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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