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Triggers and Cravings

Help! Alcohol Is Ruining My Marriage

January 2, 2024
19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
January 2, 2024
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
January 2, 2024
19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
January 2, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
January 2, 2024
19 min read

The statistics are sobering: according to American Addiction Centers, verbal abuse in a marriage is twice as likely with alcohol in the mix, while the risk of physical aggression increases 3 to 4 times if either party has been drinking in the last 4 hours. Sadly, children often bear the brunt of the troubles: in 40 to 80% of families where children are physically abused, some form of substance misuse is part of the equation. Costs of intimate partner violence add up to about $12.6 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

Marriage is a partnership, but when alcohol misuse gets mixed in, things can go haywire quickly. Whether you’re living with an alcoholic spouse or you’re the one struggling with alcohol misuse yourself, the challenge can feel overwhelming. However, by understanding the dynamics and adopting some science-based strategies, each partner can help the other steer towards calmer waters.

Part 1. Alcoholic Behavior in Relationships

When it comes to relationships, alcohol can really shake things up. Scientifically speaking, it can alter brain chemistry, leading to changes in behavior by disrupting the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood regulation, decision-making, and impulse control. The result? Mood swings, aggression, or withdrawal — and a strain on the emotional connection that’s the bedrock of marriage.

For the non-drinking spouse, the repeated stress can trigger a cascade of psychological effects, including anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Alcohol drives the partners apart, creating an environment where both may feel misunderstood and alone.

Let's take a closer look at how alcohol misuse can affect relationship dynamics:

  • Emotional connection decreases. Alcohol slips into the nooks and crannies of a relationship, dampening the emotional connection between partners. It can make a partner emotionally unavailable or unpredictable, which, in turn, leads to loneliness or frustration.
  • Communication gets off course. Picture trying to have a meaningful conversation while someone keeps changing the topic — that's often what it's like when alcohol misuse is in the mix. Alcohol can lead to misunderstandings, unaddressed issues, and hurtful exchanges that leave both partners feeling unheard and undervalued.
  • Trust issues crop up. With booze in the equation, trust — a relationship cornerstone — can start to erode. This might look like broken promises, unreliable behavior, or deception about drinking habits. 
  • Intimacy takes a nosedive. Intimacy, both emotional and physical, can also suffer. Alcohol can dampen sexual desire and performance, leading to troubles in the bedroom — and beyond.

The Ripple Effect

The effects of alcohol misuse aren’t limited to just the couple — they can ripple out to affect family life, social relationships, and work. It's a chain reaction, with the strain in the marriage leading to tensions in other relationships.

Part 2. For the Partner Struggling With Alcohol Misuse

If you're the one grappling with alcohol misuse, know that your journey towards a healthier lifestyle is pivotal, not just for your own well-being, but for the health of your marriage. It's time to look at this challenge with fresh eyes and a determined heart. Here's how you can make significant strides in the right direction.

  • Acknowledge the challenge. First things first: Recognizing that alcohol is impacting your life and your relationship is a huge step. It's about understanding that your actions have consequences beyond yourself. This realization isn't easy, and it takes courage to admit. 
  • Set personal goals. What does a healthier version of you look like? Maybe it's someone who can enjoy family events without relying on alcohol, or someone who wakes up feeling refreshed and clear-headed. Set tangible, achievable goals for yourself. Whether it's being sober for a day, a week, or a month, each one is a building block towards a larger vision of your health and happiness.
  • Track your progress. Keep a journal or use an app to track how much you drink and how it correlates with your mood and health. Seeing things in black and white can be a powerful motivator!
  • Seek professional guidance. There's no shame in asking for help — it's a wise and brave decision! A therapist or healthcare provider can give you personalized advice and suggest treatment options. These might include therapy sessions, medication, or joining a support group. 
  • Focus on holistic wellness. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are interconnected. Try some activities that nourish all aspects of your well-being — exercise, meditation, and spending time in nature are all excellent choices to give your physical health a boost while sparking a sense of achievement and joy.
  • Communicate openly. Be open with your spouse about your struggles and successes. Honesty fosters trust and understanding and lets your partner be a part of your journey.
  • Remember, you're not alone. Finally, remind yourself that you're not alone in this. Many have walked this path and emerged stronger and healthier than ever! There's a community out there of people who understand and support you.

Part 3. Effects of Living With an Alcoholic Spouse

Living with an alcoholic wife or alcoholic husband can bring on a flood of intense emotions. It's a challenging situation, but your resilience and understanding can make a world of difference! Here's how to navigate this journey while maintaining your own well-being and nurturing your relationship.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. First and foremost, it's important to acknowledge your feelings. It's normal to experience a range of emotions from sadness to anger, frustration, and helplessness. Recognizing and accepting these feelings is not a sign of weakness — it's a healthy way to understand your own needs in the relationship. 
  • Learn about alcohol misuse. Understanding alcohol misuse can be a game changer. It's a complex issue that affects both the brain and behavior. This knowledge can foster empathy and patience, helping you handle the ups and downs more effectively. 
  • Seek support. This journey isn't meant to be walked alone. Seek support from friends, family, or join support groups like Al-Anon, where you can share experiences with others in similar situations. These groups offer both emotional support and practical coping strategies. 
  • Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is crucial. It’s about protecting your well-being while encouraging your spouse to take responsibility for their actions. Boundaries might include not accepting disrespectful behavior or insisting that your spouse does not drink during family times. Boundaries aren’t just about setting rules; they're about creating a safe, respectful environment.
  • Take care of yourself. Self-care is not selfish! It's essential. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself: engaging in a hobby, exercising, or simply enjoying some quiet time. Your mental and physical health are crucial, and nurturing them will help you cope better and bring a positive energy to your relationship.
  • Be realistic. Understand that change takes time, and there may be setbacks along the way. Celebrate small victories and be patient with the process. It's important to remain hopeful — but realistic — about the challenges of recovery from alcohol misuse.

Part 4. Turning the Tide

If this all sounds a bit daunting, there's good news: recognizing these challenges is a huge step towards addressing them. With the right tools, support, and a dash of perseverance, steering your marriage back to a healthier place is absolutely possible.

The Power of Communication

Open, honest communication can be a lifeline when it comes to marriage problems. The right approach can pave the way for mutual support and recovery.

  • Open and honest dialogue. Open and honest dialogue freshens and invigorates your relationship. It's about sharing your thoughts, fears, and hopes in a candid yet respectful way — without blame or criticism. Whether it's sharing how your partner's drinking affects you or discussing your own struggles with alcohol, these conversations are the bedrock of mutual understanding.
  • The right time and place. Timing and setting are key for effective communication. Aim for moments when both of you are calm and free from distractions. This might mean setting aside a specific time to talk when you’re both relaxed, not immediately after a booze-related incident.
  • Listening is as important as speaking. Good communication is a two-way street! Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and then remembering what is being said.
  • Use "I" statements. "I" statements are powerful. They allow you to express your feelings without sounding accusatory or confrontational. For instance, saying "I feel worried when you drink too much" is more effective than saying "You drink too much." It's a way to take ownership of your feelings and invite your partner to understand your perspective without feeling attacked.
  • Non-verbal communication counts! Communication isn’t just about words. Your body language, tone of voice, and even your facial expressions convey volumes. A gentle tone and open posture can set a positive tone for the conversation, making it easier for your partner to open up.
  • Keep it consistent. Make communication a regular part of your relationship. Regular check-ins or scheduled times to talk can help keep the lines of communication open. It’s not just about talking when there’s a problem; it’s about maintaining an ongoing dialogue.

Action Steps for Turning the Tide

Finally, here are some additional action steps to help you and your partner address the challenge of alcohol misuse head-on in your marriage.

  • Seek professional help. Engage with a healthcare provider or a therapist who specializes in addiction. This could involve medically supervised detoxification, individual therapy, couples therapy, and support groups like Al-Anon for the non-drinking spouse. Therapy provides a safe space to explore the issues and learn coping mechanisms while under the guidance of a professional.
  • Create a booze-free home. Remove alcohol from your home environment to eliminate temptation and triggers. While it might seem like a simple step, it is a powerful tangible symbol of solidarity, mutual support, and commitment to a new lifestyle!
  • Establish healthy routines. Incorporate regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep into your daily routine. These habits can improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being, making it easier to cope with any challenges that come up.
  • Set boundaries. Establish clear boundaries around alcohol. Discuss and agree upon these boundaries to make sure they’re specific and realistic. Boundaries might include no drinking during family events or deciding on a plan of action if things don’t go as planned. 
  • Develop a support network. Build a support network of friends, family, and community members who understand what you’re going through. They can provide emotional encouragement and practical help if you need it.
  • Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge and celebrate milestones in your alcohol journey — or your partner’s. Whether it’s one week or one year, recognizing these achievements can boost morale and motivate continued progress. Creating new, booze-free traditions to mark these occasions is a great way to celebrate achievements while bringing you closer and creating new memories.

Wrapping Up

Alcohol misuse can indeed put a strain on marriage, but it doesn’t have to be the narrative of your relationship. With the right tools, understanding, and action, both partners can work towards a healthier, happier union free from the shadow of alcohol.

It’s not just about navigating away from alcohol; it’s about steering towards a shared vision of your life together. Take it one step at a time, support each other, and keep your eyes on the horizon of a fulfilling, alcohol-free future.

Summary FAQs:

1. What impact does alcohol misuse have on a marriage?

Alcohol misuse can significantly strain a marriage, affecting communication, trust, and emotional intimacy. It alters brain chemistry, leading to mood swings, poor decision-making, and sometimes aggressive behavior, which can create a challenging and stressful environment for both partners.

2. How can I support my spouse who is struggling with alcohol misuse?

Support your spouse by encouraging open communication, setting healthy boundaries, and seeking professional help if necessary. Educate yourself about alcohol misuse, and consider joining support groups like Al-Anon. Remember to take care of your own emotional and physical well-being too.

3. I'm struggling with alcohol misuse. How can I start making changes?

Acknowledge the issue and understand the impact of alcohol on your brain and behavior. Set personal goals for sobriety and track your progress. Seek professional help, focus on overall wellness, and maintain open communication with your spouse.

4. Why is communication so important in dealing with alcohol misuse in a marriage?

Effective communication fosters understanding, empathy, and support in a marriage affected by alcohol misuse. It involves honest dialogue, active listening, using "I" statements, and considering non-verbal cues, which helps both partners feel heard and understood.

5. What are some effective ways to communicate with my partner about their drinking?

Choose a calm time and private setting for conversation, use "I" statements to express your feelings, actively listen to your partner, and practice empathy. Avoid blame and focus on how the situation affects you and your relationship.

6. How can setting boundaries help in a relationship affected by alcohol misuse?

Setting boundaries helps protect your well-being and encourages your partner to take responsibility for their actions. Clear, realistic, and enforceable boundaries, such as not accepting disrespectful behavior or insisting on sobriety during family times, create a safer and more respectful environment for both partners.

7. What role does professional help play in dealing with alcohol misuse in a marriage?

Professional help, including therapy and medical assistance, provides tailored strategies and support for addressing alcohol misuse. It can offer couples coping mechanisms, individualized treatment plans, and a safe space to work through the challenges in the marriage.

Improve the Relationships in Your Life by Changing Your Relationship With Alcohol!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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