The infamous relationship question as a partner of a drinker is difficult for you to understand, and rightfully so. If he loves you as much as he says he does, why can't he stop drinking? He says he loves you and even gushes sentiments about how much he loves you, needs you and wants you, yet when you ask him to stop drinking, cut down or not drink for one night or at a party, he seems incapable of following your request.
We are well aware that it is not only males that behave like this. Female drinkers can and do let their partners and families down just as often. However, although things are changing, it is still more common for men to be the drinkers and women to be asking the questions. However, for an easier read, we will stick with one gender throughout the article. Please forgive us if you are a husband with a drinking wife, we really do respect that you have every bit as much disappointment and hurt.
Of course you are confused by the situation. If he really loved you, you would expect him to respect your wishes, to try and please you or at the very least, not hurt you, right? Yet he lets you down time after time, even though he promised, (again) that he wouldn't. So how can you reconcile what he says with what he does?
If you have ever asked your drinker the question "How can you say you love me and still drink like you do?", he probably looks at you with a mystified expression. He just does not understand what the issue is here. This is because he approaches this whole issue in a completely different way.
For you, the question is simple; you see that he has a choice between you and the alcohol, and he keeps choosing the alcohol. That must mean he loves alcohol more than you. It's not rocket science, right?
For him it is a different issue, though. In fact he does not even understand why you have asked the question. For him it is not as simple as a choice between you and the alcohol. For the drinker it is not a choice between the partner and the drink at all. An alcoholic drinks to feel better. If they feel scared, a drink will reduce that fear. If they lack confidence, a drink will give them the confidence that they are looking for. If they feel sad or depressed, a drink will make them feel happier or brighter. Whatever the feeling, a drink will make it all seem much better, more bearable.
For the drinker, the choice is not between disappointing you or the booze. For the alcoholic, the real choice is whether to continue hurting or to take something for that will stop the hurt. For this reason, drinking heavily to relieve pain has often been referred to as self-medicating.
A large part of the problem in an alcoholic relationship is the lack of understanding of each other's perspective. This is a real Mars v. Venus, Black v. White, Alcoholic v. Partner situation. It does not help that the drinker is usually reluctant to discuss his drinking and tends to deny that there is, or could be, any problem with his drinking. For the non-alcoholic partner, many of the apparent choices that the alcoholic makes seem very personal. They feel like they aren't good enough for their drinking partner to give up their addiction. For the alcoholic the choice is different. It is about whether to hurt or feel better.
In his mind, the alcoholic's choice is not one of rejection. Indeed and unfortunately, in that moment, the partner is not part of the decision at all.
One of the supreme ironies of alcoholism is that one of the main strategies for recovery is to live a day at a time, or more precisely, a moment at a time. This is not easy to achieve. It is very difficult to keep the past in the past and to keep from worrying about the future. The drinker's head is always full of these intruding thoughts.
However, the more the alcoholic can live soberly today, the easier it will be to control his emotions and cravings for alcohol. When an alcoholic is drinking, he can achieve this state very easily. Indeed, one of the problems is that he gives no thought for the consequences of his drinking, including your hurt or disappointment.
We do not offer this explanation to excuse or condone the drinker's choices. Neither are we trying to minimise the hurt that the partner—you—feel every time it happens. That kind of hurt is very painful indeed. All we are trying to do is to lessen that hurt, by explaining that this is not the personal rejection that it feels.
If you want to find out more about this topic or any other issue about living with an alcoholic, visit Bottled Up.
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