How to Approach Your Spouse Who Abuses Alcohol

Black Married Couple on Couch
December 18, 2019
|   updated:
July 26, 2023

Communication issues rank in the top five reasons relationships fail and are also commonly listed as irreconcilable differences in litigation. These communication issues can become severe when one party is dealing with alcohol abuse. Engaging with your spouse over these concerns about can be a difficult task. Expressing yourself with clarity and sincerity will determine whether or not your communication receives a positive reaction.

Matthew Worth, a Family Law Attorney at Strauss Troy Law Firm, focuses on collaborative divorce, complex divorce litigation, child custody, and other aspects of Family Law that put him in direct contact with couples experiencing strains in communication. His experience corroborates ways to effectively speak with a spouse regarding their alcohol use disorder issues.

Approach with Concern

“The best way to approach someone is with concern, not with demands,” says Worth. Entering into any conversation with blame and animosity only elicits anger and frustration, instead of preparing them for a discussion where they feel comfortable.

While it may be tempting in conversation to demand that drinking equates to divorce, this is not an enthusiastic approach. Instead, partners should consider both viewpoints, or else tension will likely increase. Concerned spouses should attempt to steer the conversation to include connections between the spouse’s drinking and the consequences associated with alcohol abuse. Noting how those consequences subsequently affect the relationship and emotions within the partnership is also recommended.

“Anger ultimatums only perpetuate the problem. They don’t fix the problem,” Worth concludes. Being able to display empathy and care for the other person’s issues as well as your own will establish trust.

Set Clear Limits

While it’s not best practice to outright demand a change, it is highly important to establish healthy boundaries within the relationship. The recovery journey is a lifelong process, and it’s essential to avoid making unrealistic promises that a spouse may have trouble keeping.

Accepting progress instead of perfection can help make both parties feel happier in the relationship. It’s critical to establish boundaries that allow each partner to meet halfway. “Setting boundaries and following through with consequences is absolutely essential,” explains Worth. For example, if the spouse is under the influence around the kids, limitations can be set around parenting time. That’s a respectable boundary that the spouse can understand will occur if they continue to exhibit the same harmful behavior that’s been deemed unacceptable.

Choose the Right Time

If possible, the conversation surrounding Alcohol Use Disorder should take place when the spouse is sober. It’s typical for individuals to become defensive about the severity of their drinking habits, and confronting them about the issue while they’re under the influence can often lead to increased aggravation. Try to select a time where the spouse is receptive to a conversation, and you are in a safe, comfortable environment.

Seek Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

“The way that alcohol affects cases is both the chicken and the egg,” says Worth of his divorce cases. “Alcohol abuse typically, or in a lot of cases, drives the other party to want to get divorced, and/or the divorce drives people to alcohol abuse.”

When the non-drinking spouse approaches their partner, having a plan in mind can help facilitate change. After communicating concern about drinking behaviors, setting out with a course of action can demonstrate substantial effort being made to show that the communication has been received.

Presenting a spouse with options helps display support and allows them the opportunity to see how Alcohol Use Disorder issues can be remedied with deliberate action. Suggesting a recovery group, program, and creating a network of family and friends can all help your spouse feel cared for in the communication process. Soberlink, a remote alcohol monitoring system, allows a client to customize their testing schedule and prove their sobriety without interrupting their daily routine. Alcohol monitoring is amongst several forms of treatment that can be helpful when determining practical solutions to combat alcohol abuse.

Seek Mental Health Guidance

Emotions experienced during divorce or a strained relationship can feel overwhelming. If either or both spouses need an additional form of support, talking to a counselor or psychologist can help alleviate some of the anguish.

A professional can guide you through exercises to help you feel more at ease, provide you with valuable communication skills, and help you cope with the turbulence you may be experiencing in your relationship. Couples therapy is a popular option to consider when it comes to improving self-expression within relationships and can also help you harness the tools to approach the subject with a spouse effectively. Combining empathetic communication with a strategic plan from the start can lead to a successful pathway of discussion.

Approaching a spouse who abuses alcohol may be a daunting task, but a thorough plan on how to navigate the situation can alleviate some of the stress. Communication, therapy, and establishing accountability all provide possible solutions to the situation. Systems like Soberlink help build that accountability. “Soberlink is a vital tool, and it provides a solution that never existed before…it gives them a level of trust and comfort like they never had before.” By empowering the client to take control of their sobriety, Soberlink enables clients to begin mending damaged relationships.

About the Author

Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.

Learn More About Soberlink

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