How Can I Change My Partner’s Drinking?

The self-help field has become exactly that – self help. But I want to help my drinker instead!

If you have been around the field of recovery for a while this may not be a question that you would ever verbalise in public. You cannot change your drinker (drones the Greek Chorus in the background); change must be centred around yourself and your own world. ‘What can I do for them’ has become an outlawed question. We are told that the proper and correct question in this chaotic world in which we attempt to survive is ‘what can I do for me?’

Don’t get me wrong here; I personally think the latter is a really good and potent question. Answering this question wisely will bring a bit of health back into our exhausted bodies, a bit of calm into seemingly endless anxiety and a bit of fun back into the intense battleground that is often our  relationship and families.

I am a great believer in self care, even if I am, like many therapists, slightly more adept at the theory than the practical. I believed we were worth it long before L’Oréal took affirmation to a new marketing level and turned it into make-up for healthy egos!!!

But the real truth; if we dare to get it out on the table, is that our partners drinking is our true North. Send us on that relaxing walk crucial in our new search for well-being and half way through we’ ll be wondering if cousin Trudy could persuade our wife to go to AA because our entreaties have fallen on deaf ears. Walk out of our friend’s anniversary party and go home alone cos he s drinking too much. (Hooray for us!!We finally managed to achieve that firm boundary we’ve recently been in training for,) but almost immediately after a moment of triumphant self-congratulation we start worrying in case he is too hung over to get to work tomorrow. He is still there in the party but also coming home with us in our head. We diligently train ourselves to stop rescuing our partner, putting his congealing meal in the bin as we promised him we would but then we’ll spend half an hour trying to find the Chinese Takeaway menu so its around when he comes home hungry.

In short; we may have learned our lines………I need to care for ME. I need to address my OWN needs. It’s MY life that is important……… but our heart beats to a different tune deep down inside. Give us a healthy self esteem, a firm approach to boundaries and a PHD in emotional literacy and recovery but  many of us would trade it all in a heartbeat for some powerful answers for our alcoholic.

Perhaps its time to ‘live out’; and scream it loudly from the top of a city skyscraper……


 My particular story is that I lived with an alcoholic for many years, and now work as a therapist with partners and families of problem drinkers. Maybe I’m sticking my neck out a bit but I fear at times, that in highlighting the self care that is so obviously lacking with those that partner with alcoholics we have (by mistake) enforced a silence upon the true desire that motivates most searches for help. The spouse, the partner, the son, the daughter, the mum, the dad, the person we loved that used to make our hearts sing and our life better is being lost; stranded in dependence and WE WANT THEM BACK. Treasure hunters is not what we do, to be analysed and put away with; its who we are!!

 So maybe its kinder and wiser to work with what we know than the perspective we hope to produce. To point out to our beleaguered clients that they are not going to get very far with The Quest in the exhausted state they are in. That it would be good to take time to eat, rest and equip themselves for the journey ahead.

Maybe its kinder and wiser to explain that some of the paths they have been taking are circular routes that bring them back to the same place again and again and that there are other maps that have been navigated previously that can take miles off their journey. It is definitely kinder and wiser to explain that they can’t actually force their drinker to join them on the recovery trail but certainly he’s more likely to consider doing it if he sees them empowered and confident and picks up that they actually WANT him to come along because they care for him and miss him.

And if I may return to the initial subject of our self care, I confidently predict that if we also take on board the firm endorsement to spend more time with our mates, our family and ourselves we will remember how good it is to engage with life and some of the meaningful things that got lost along the way. There are many sorts of relationships that make our world a good place to be, other treasures that could be hunted and found, and other journeys to be taken. Believe me; I am right about this one. If we can find life in the middle of drink-chaotic relationship then of course we can find life beyond it.

 Whether we stay or go; or end up in the very common position of emotionally swinging wildly between these two, there are some very helpful lessons we can learn along the way that can form and shape our inner lives richly in the years ahead. Compassion and healthy anger; commitment and loyalty balanced by health boundaries and appropriate letting go. We don’t have to be stuck just because our drinker is, but nor do we have to walk away and let them squirm just because someone has told us that we should. The heart that loves, tries to find a way, before it walks away and there is no shame in that.

However; I urge you to ‘love well’ and to take time to find out what that looks like in a drinking environment. Much that is most helpful to promote change where there is alcohol abuse is counter intuitive to what works in the normal arena of a loving relationship. If we’re determined to make our drinker our specialist subject, then we must make sure we have the knowledge and understanding that you need to make it through.

Except of course for the caveat that must always be heeded. If your partner is abusing you or your children with physical or sexual violence the way is not through but out. As soon as you possibly can.

For more thoughts, strategies, help and support join Bottled Up.

2 Replies to “How Can I Change My Partner’s Drinking?”

  1. Greetings from N Zealand
    Absolutely brilliant…so well constructed and easy to navigate. Your words strike not one but numerous chords with me . Thankyou for providing the insights and advice which are invaluable when you are at rock bottom and can,t find a way forward when living with the omnipresent alcohol. I have always rebelled against the idea that we are powerless over alcohol, but after twenty years I have been worn and ground down to the inevitable…now there is a ray of hope.

    1. Fiona
      thank you so much for your kind comment, we really appreciate it.
      We agree with your rebellion against the idea of powerlessness. One the guiding principles of this website is EMPOWERMENT!! Our program is designed to help you regain some power over your life. So, we agree completely, there is HOPE. Come and join us and find out more.

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