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Alcoholism isn’t an easy subject to talk about. Not only does it affect the person with the addiction, it also affects their loved ones. It’s hard to know what the exact right thing to do is, especially when it involves your partner. This week’s reader, Maxine, isn’t sure if she should stay with her fiancé and go through with the wedding.
“My fiancé and I have lived a long distance for a year and a half. I had reservations because the one thing we argue about is his drinking and occasional drug use,” Maxine shares.
“I recently broke things off days before moving to be with him. I panicked at the thought of dealing with his issues and the support that he hasn’t given me. But I love him. I have never loved someone as much as I love him. I’m heartbroken and second-guessing my decision.
“I still want to be with him. We get along in every other aspect of our life. He’s an amazing person. His true self isn’t the one consumed by alcohol. I feel like he dismisses me. I’ve been there for him when he’s needed me financially and emotionally. But now when I’ve needed him he’s not there.”
Maxine obviously cares for her partner but is it time to move on? Counseling Directory member Andrew Harvey says that alcoholism and drinking problems can adversely affect many aspects of relationships.
How does alcoholism affect relationships?
Harvey explains that it can feel like the drinker is two different people. People often feel like they’re losing someone to alcohol, that they’re becoming less of the person they were before they drank.
“Problematic drinking can impede people’s ability to function, as family members, workers, partners and in their own best interest,” Harvey says.
“This can affect the wellbeing of those around them leaving them with lots of difficult feelings including anger, frustration, fear, shame, loss of hope and confusion.
“Alongside these difficult feelings are possible feelings of love and desire to have their loved one back, like they were before the drink became an issue. These conflicting feelings can be at the root of relationship struggles, how long do they hope for? How can they help the person recover? Can the person recover? These are difficult questions, the answers for which, often depend on the drinker.”
How can we support a loved one who is struggling with alcohol addiction?
First and foremost, Harvey says Maxine needs to support herself. “Compassionately holding boundaries and being clear about what is acceptable to them and what is not, is often a difficult but important aspect of helping someone with addiction,” Harvey says.
“Boundaries can help against enabling, colluding and further damage. One suggestion I make to clients is that they be there for the loved one in all things recovery, but not the drinking and resultant damage, said easier than done, but steps towards this can be helpful.”
Harvey believes a good place to start might be to ask the person with the addiction what they feel they need to achieve recovery. “This question assumes that they do see the need and want to make a change and that they recognize the need to change, for some with addiction this motivation for change can waver and is part of the addictive struggle,” he says.
Counseling or peer support could be helpful in helping someone address their addiction. “By providing ‘outside’ sources of support the person struggling with addiction might feel less isolated, connect with others who have additional insight into their struggle and be able to move into recovery,” Harvey adds.
What practical advice would you give this reader?
Maxine should think about if she can or wants to be with her partner and his drinking problem. “Are you holding on to the possibility of staying with him in the hope he sorts out the drinking problem?” Harvey asks.
“Hoping for the relationship you want, rather than the one, at present, you have? If your future happiness is reliant on stopping him or controlling his drinking, then maybe that must happen first. Counseling would give you the opportunity to do this reflection in a supportive space. There are also support groups for people struggling with a loved one’s substance misuse.”
Harvey continues: “You say in your question that he has a ‘drinking problem’, this may indicate that he has got into a problematic pattern of drinking, that could be addressed and changed to something less problematic, or he may be an alcoholic.
“In which case abstinence would be the safest option moving forward. Depending upon the degree of the issues he may need professional help before and when he stops.”
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