The Dos and Don’ts of Dealing With an Alcoholic Partner

It can be extremely difficult to be in a relationship with an alcoholic. As the partner of someone who is struggling with alcohol addiction, you are likely experiencing a number of emotions on a daily basis ranging from guilt, anger, frustration and shame. [1]

There are a number of dos and don’ts to consider when dealing with an alcoholic partner and by reading this blog post, you are one step closer to taking back control of your life while encouraging your partner to seek help for their addiction.

The dos of dealing with an alcoholic partner

Although your partner’s addiction to alcohol is out of your control, there are a handful of specific actions that you can take in order to support yourself and your partner through this situation and encourage them to seek help.

  1. DO ask for help. You are not expected to deal with this situation alone, and reaching out to family or friends for support and advice can help to relieve the burden and view your experience through fresh eyes. It can be difficult to get past the shame and guilt that you may feel and speak openly about your partner’s addiction, but you deserve to be supported through this difficult time. You can also join local support groups for partners and family members of alcoholics or seek professional counselling if you feel that you would benefit from this service.
  2. DO take care of yourself. You will very quickly become run down and depleted if you neglect basic self-care, and this will make it more difficult to remain patient and supportive with your partner. Make sure that you are keeping up with your personal hygiene and grooming routines and ensure that you continue to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly while also making time to relax and recuperate. These simple rituals will give you the strength and energy to support your partner through their recovery and ensure that you stay sane throughout the process.
  3. DO make sure to stick to normal, healthy routines. You do not need to live a chaotic lifestyle even if your partner does – make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, eat regular meals and continue your usual daily activities. This is particularly important if you have children, as this will allow them to live a relatively normal and enjoyable life outside of your partner’s addiction and allows you to relax and thrive as much as possible.
  4. DO be compassionate and supportive. Your partner is more likely to want to recover if they feel that they are in a safe and non-judgemental environment in which they can make mistakes and learn from them. If you shout, blame and judge them for their actions they may withdraw from you and lean further into their addiction, as they are likely already feeling large amounts of shame and guilt regarding their behaviour and the effect that it has on you. [2]
  5. DO speak to your partner about your concerns. It can be helpful for both parties when you keep the conversation focused on your feelings and express the impact that their addiction is having on you. This is not an excuse to make them feel guilty about their behaviour – instead, it’s an opportunity for your partner to realise that their actions do have an impact on the people that they care about. You could say, ‘The children were upset and scared when they saw you drunk last night. I’m worried about the effect that this is having on them. What do you think we should do?’
  6. DO set boundaries. It’s possible to be supportive while still setting firm and clear boundaries such as, ‘You cannot see the children when you have been drinking’ or ‘You are not welcome in my home when you are drunk.’ While your partner is dealing with a disease, it’s important to remember that you also have feelings and needs that must be respected. Make sure to communicate these boundaries with your partner while they are sober and clear-headed to avoid any misunderstandings.
  7. DO remember that they are struggling with a disease. Their behaviour is not a personal attack on you and is not reflective of your ability to be a good husband or wife. It can be helpful to think of alcoholism as similar to depression or cancer – your partner has very little control over the disease and will likely not be able to recover until they take the necessary steps, many of which can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Being encouraging and supportive will be more effective than expressing anger and resentment, so do your best to be patient with them throughout their journey.

The don’ts of dealing with an alcoholic partner

Just as there are many ways that you can support and encourage your partner to seek help as well as taking care of your own needs, there are a number of actions that you should take care not to take when dealing with an alcoholic partner.

  1. DON’T attempt to speak to your partner about your concerns when they have been drinking. They may become defensive and combative, and likely will not be receptive to your words or even remember what you spoke about the next day. [3] Instead, choose a time and place in which you both feel relaxed and at ease, allowing what may be a difficult conversation to flow naturally and ensuring that you each get a chance to express your feelings.
  2. DON’T enable their behaviour. Many partners of alcoholics find themselves funding the addiction, driving them to and from the pub and cleaning them up when they vomit. Although these actions come from a place of kindness and care, the partner may be unknowingly enabling the addiction and allowing the alcoholic partner to continue their behaviour. By refusing to support their self-destructive ways, they may eventually realise that they are responsible for their own actions.
  3. DON’T try to cover for them or shield them from consequences. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of being with an alcoholic partner, and it’s natural that you will want to help them in any way that you can. If they get into debt due to their addiction, don’t offer to bail them out. If they become intoxicated in public and create a scene, don’t attempt to excuse their behaviour or laugh it off as a joke. Make it clear that there are consequences for their actions and be sure to stick to your word.
  4. DON’T blame yourself. You are not the cause of your partner’s addiction, and it’s important to remember that they would still be an alcoholic even if they had never met you. They may lash out in a fit of rage and attempt to shift their blame and anger on to you, but the fact is that alcoholism is a disease and you have done nothing to cause it, just as you can do nothing to cure it. Your partner may say things like ‘I drink because you stress me out’ or ‘If you would only stop nagging me, I’ll be able to quit.’ These statements are incorrect and untrue, even if your partner appears to genuinely believe them.
  5. DON’T stay in a situation that is physically, mentally or emotionally unsafe. No matter how much you care about your partner, you must be prepared to seek support and leave if they become violent or abusive. Your safety (and that of your children, if applicable) should be your immediate priority, and you are not obliged to remain in an unsafe situation as a show of support. Walking away from an abusive relationship does not make you a bad person – instead, it shows that you value yourself as well as your physical and mental safety.
  6. DON’T attempt to control their behaviour. Trying to physically prevent your partner from leaving the house and/or consuming alcohol can often do more harm than good. They will only truly be able to recover when they want to, not when they are forced to. Additionally, attempting to control their drinking can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if they are unable to properly detox under medical supervision. As difficult as it may be, it’s important to allow them to make their own mistakes and come to the decision to recover on their own.
  7. DON’T have unrealistic expectations. Your partner may promise to never drink again during a particularly emotional conversation, but holding them to their word and expecting them to cure their alcohol addiction overnight is unrealistic and puts a large amount of pressure on them. Instead, encourage your partner to take small steps such as speaking to their doctor or coming up with a list of potential rehabilitation centres. Addiction recovery often feels like one step forward and two steps back, but with a little patience and support you will be surprised at how far your partner can come.