Table of Contents
Does it sometimes feel like you have three people in your marriage? In a marriage where a partner is struggling with drinking, alcohol becomes like a third spouse. Alcohol is the lover that one partner in the marriage cannot seem to live without. Keep reading to learn the warning signs of when alcohol ruins a marriage.
About Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) involves a range of disordered behaviors related to alcohol. These include alcohol abuse, alcohol dependency, and chemical addiction. AUD is a serious disease that impacts mental and physical health, relationships, careers, and finances. Alcoholism causes changes in the brain pathways over time, driven by the reward system prompting continued drinking. These symptoms are the result of the affects of alcohol on the brain. Symptoms of AUD include:
- You need to drink more to achieve the desired effects.
- You can’t control or stop drinking, even if you want to.
- You spend ample time drinking and then recovering from its effects.
- You hide alcohol and lie to others and yourself about how much you drink.
- You have memory blackouts.
- You neglect responsibilities.
- Your heavy drinking interferes with work and relationships.
- You isolate or withdraw from friends and family.
- You engage in high-risk behaviors.
- You have legal problems due to the drinking.
- You keep drinking even with the mounting problems.
- You have withdrawal symptoms when the effects wear off.
When Alcohol Ruins a Marriage
Alcohol abuse is toxic to a marriage. Whether the drinking problem is in one or both partners, it can wreak havoc on the relationship. Some of the ways when alcohol ruins a marriage include:
- Loss of intimacy between partners.
- Increased erratic, risk-taking behaviors, causing stress on the family
- AUD can lead to divorce.
- Increased health problems associated with AUD, placing strain on both partners.
- Decline in job performance may lead to job loss, putting family finances in peril.
- Spouse with AUD loses interest in activities once enjoyed with the family.
- Failure to fulfill family obligations.
- Alcoholic spouse becomes negative, angry, and depressed, impacting family dynamic.
- Possible escalation of physical abuse in the home.
- Alcoholic spouse stops caring about physical appearance and grooming habits.
How Alcoholism Leads to Dysfunction in a Marriage
Alcoholism brings a sickness into the marriage dynamic. The couple ceases to function as a healthy partnership. Two unhealthy behaviors that can develop include: Enabling. A spouse may fall into enabling behaviors, which is a habit of cleaning up the alcoholic’s messes. They may call in sick for them when they have a hangover, or lie and make excuses for them. The sober spouse takes over the household responsibilities and makes it easy for the alcoholic spouse to keep drinking. Codependency. Codependency is the lopsided relationship dynamic that is built on unhealthy neediness. One person, such as an alcoholic, has ongoing needs, while the other person finds self-worth and purpose by fulfilling their needs. Playing the martyr role, the long-suffering caregiver bends over backward to meet the sick person’s every need. In turn, they neglect their own wellbeing.
How to Help Your Alcoholic Spouse
Restoring a healthy dynamic in the marriage is essential. For the sober spouse who wants to help his or her alcoholic spouse, here are some tips:
- Offer your loving support. Learn to limit your support to giving emotional support versus paying their bills. They will be more motivated to find work or to get a better job when they aren’t being coddled.
- Resist the urge to find solutions. Enabling rests upon the belief that you are the one who can save the person, that you have all the answers. Realize it isn’t up to you to fix their life—that is their job.
- Learn how to say no. For many, it is very hard to turn down a loved one’s requests or demands. For both your sakes, you need to establish and honor healthy boundaries.
- Keep lines of communication open. Continue to be available to your loved one when they need someone trustworthy that they can talk to. If they are in recovery and feel their sobriety is threatened, they should be able to come to you for support.
The Role of Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is a helpful intervention for spouses to tackle the problems that alcoholism present in the marriage. This is true for a marriage with one alcoholic spouse or a marriage in which both spouses have drinking problems. Couples therapy assists partners in learning how to avoid enabling and codependent behaviors. One therapy that can be helpful in behavioral couples therapy. This is a type of therapy that is designed to help couples with substance abuse issues. Without the partner with AUD entering treatment, however, couples therapy will only help so much with the marital problems. Without seeking help for the addiction, alcohol will ruin the marriage. The AUD is the main issue to be addressed, and that is done through a treatment program.
Treatment for Alcoholism
If a spouse is ready for sobriety, a comprehensive treatment program can address the AUD and help them start fresh. Treatment elements include:
- Medical detox. A detox team offers support throughout the process and helps manage withdrawal symptoms.
- Psychotherapy. These one-on-one talk sessions allow the spouse to discuss life events or emotional struggles with a licensed therapist. They will engage in CBT and/or DBT to learn new ways to manage stressors.
- Group therapy. Small groups offer the peer support that is so very helpful during the treatment process.
- 12-step. The A.A. 12-step program is integrated into the treatment program.
- Education. Classes teach the spouse how alcohol affects the brain, as well as how to avoid a relapse.
- Holistic therapies. To round out treatment, rehabs include holistic methods that teach the spouse how to control stress, such as:
- Yoga classes.
- Art therapy.
- Recreational therapy.
- Equine therapy.
- Massage therapy.
AUD is treatable, so when alcohol ruins a marriage, do not hesitate to seek out the help you need.