Should I Stay with my Alcoholic Spouse?

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Alcohol addiction causes pain and suffering in a marriage. As you know from experience, addiction never just affects the addict; it affects you – the spouse – and your children, if you have them. When someone is addicted to alcohol, they’ll do anything to feed their addiction. This means hurting the people they love most; this means hurting YOU.

Leaving is a Personal Decision

At The River Source, we work everyday with desperate families who ask the same question, “Should I leave my addicted spouse?” The answer to this is personal, and it’s different for everyone. Some people choose to stand by their loved one no matter what, while others must pick up the pieces, move on and distance themselves from their loved one. Others choose to be a supportive person in their loved one’s life, but still continue with a marital separation.

What makes these types of situations so difficult is that every case is unique. You may have read stories about other alcoholics who were verbally abusive to their spouse and children or had several DUIs. But not every alcoholic has a DUI, an abusive track record, or even leaves the home when they drink. There is no “one fits all” profile for an alcoholic, so spouses are left with varying degrees of denial.

Why Leaving Can be Beneficial

Addiction and alcoholism are diseases, and when they are inflicted on family members, these individuals must cope as well. In order to deal with the pain and emotional suffering, you have learned to develop your own defense mechanisms. You may make excuses, play down the extent of the problem or be in denial. You may know that you’re enabling your spouse, but continue to do it anyway for fear of what could happen if you stop.

When other people start to take note of your situation, they may tell you to leave the relationship. Leaving can be a good idea. It protects the safety of you and your family, and it may be the motivation your spouse needs to seek treatment and make a real effort at sobriety. Leaving does not have to be permanent; in fact, you should support your spouse through recovery for the sake of your family. But, removing yourself from an emotionally damaging environment can help you see things more clearly. Since this decision can be so difficult, it's a good idea to enlist help from a professional. Looking at the situation from an objective standpoint can be done effectively during a consultation. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

Here are some questions to take into consideration when making a decision like this:

  • What is the cost of my leaving this relationship?
  • How will this decision affect others?
  • What will I leave behind?
  • What will I have to let go of?
  • What will I have to face in the future?
  • What are the benefits of leaving?

Now, ask yourself these same questions, except think about what the cost of staying in the relationship will be.

  • Who else is being hurt by staying in this environment?
  • What will happen to me if I continue to stay? In 10 years? 20 years?
  • What am I showing my children by staying in the relationship?
  • What are the benefits of staying?

Don’t Threaten; Just Do

Remember that it is ineffective to threaten your spouse with leaving. If you do and you stay, you will be reinforcing the behavior. If you are seriously considering leaving your alcoholic spouse, think about all of the things you will gain by leaving, and what you could lose by staying. If you do decide to stay, keep in mind that you will be allowing yourself to suffer in silence. This can lead to depression and isolation later on, and it will have both you and your spouse suffering the effects of alcoholism.

Remember You Need Support, Too

No matter what choice you make, education and support is vital at any stage. Not only does your spouse need treatment, but so do you. Over the years, you have suffered your own emotional trauma, and this may include abuse or infidelity. There are Al-Anon meetings, support groups and counseling that can help you build up your confidence and self-esteem, as well as teach you the tools for dealing with your spouse’s disease. Ultimately, you will learn to find contentment and happiness in your own life, instead of believing that it’s dependent on your spouse’s sobriety.

Dealing with an alcoholic family member is one of life’s greatest struggles. No one said that the journey would be easy, but with support, education and ongoing treatment, sobriety can be achieved, and families can start fresh. The important thing to remember is that leaving a loved one is never a threat or something that should be done out of anger. It allows you to remove yourself from a bad situation so that you can think clearly and be an advocate for your loved one, if possible. At the end of the day, we can only be accountable for ourselves.