By Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes

You May Never Get Him Back

“I thought when he quit drinking…,” or “The program he went through says he’s successful, but…?” and “Is this all I have to look forward to?” The words vary but the underlying question is pretty much the same, “He was a drunk, now he’s a ‘recovering alcoholic.’ When’s he going to get over it?”

That’s the sad, and unnecessary, truth about most men who supposedly are “in 12-Step styled recovery.” They aren’t going to get over it. Indeed, they are continuously warned against even trying. Wives are warned against discussing it lest you interfere with him “working his program” and precipitate a relapse.

“Recovery” Is For The Men Who Don’t Want A Life

For some men it’s even true, except for the nonsense about your possible responsibility for his forever-pending relapse, of course. He is responsible for any future drinking, just as he was for his past drinking. Don’t fall for that red herring.

Still, a lot of men lack the maturity, the coping skills, the social supports, or the outside interests that make outgrowing AA-style “recovery” possible or desirable. It’s a crutch they could throw away along with their alcohol dependence, but it probably isn’t going to happen.

Men Have Been Brainwashed

A lot of them are just plain scared, and with good reason. They have been brain washed by treatment programs, Dear Abby, the minister, their fellow meeting devotees, “sponsors,” the press, TV and so on. They’re told they have “a lifelong, progressive disease for which there is no cure, only endless recovery in the form of ‘working the program,'” as a substitute for getting a life. It’s enough propaganda to scare anyone and it’s been around for fifty, mostly unchallenged, years.

What’s A Wife To Do?

If you want a real marriage while he’s still pursuing an affair with his “disease” your options are limited. There isn’t a lot of help out there to support you in seeking a better and more intimate relationship with your spouse.

Few therapists have the experience necessary for the task of refuting treatment industry ad copy and dire predictions. Fewer still can resist the temptation to simply “process” your frustrations with you for months or years on end, rather than help you formulate active solutions. Better to listen, nod sympathetically, and send the bill.

If You Still Want More – Change Yourself

Creating a more intimate relationship doesn’t come with a road map. The best you can manage is to head off in that general direction and hope that he follows along. No guarantees, just the possibility, which is something you don’t have now. Otherwise you’ll need to resign yourself to whatever comforts you current life offers. Many wives do. Some like it.

However, for you, remember that the basic rule of change is that you can only change yourself. The hope is that in doing so, he will also change and that this will bring you closer together. That’s the real process.

Try a few changes, see what happens, adjust, try some more, see where that goes. Assess your feelings. Add another change. Resist ultimatums, threats, and coercion. Change yourself and your circumstances for the better and see what responses appear.

Remember: Active, Assertive, Responsive

If you are going to be seeking solutions, it’s good to have some support, but finding it may not be easy. You won’t find it in the traditional “families of alcoholics” settings populated by women thrilled to have him sober and out of the house, or with others who are deathly afraid to rock the boat. Many counseling professionals don’t know anything to do with women except to “process” endlessly, consigning you to “contemplation hell” while you cover their car payments.

Get Real Support

This comes from those who facilitate short-term, focused and active change. It will also be found among women who are attacking their dissatisfactions in alternative and non-traditional ways.

Look for support in unusual places and activities. Take up strength training at a real gym, not a girly spa; head down to the gun shop and sign up for a shooting class (that’ll get someone’s attention); head off to a serious self-defense class; go whitewater rafting. Head on down to your local animal shelter and get a dog to train and trade affection with; or take community college classes in “guy” things like carpentry or auto mechanics.

Doing Stuff

Why? Not be meet guys (darn), but because this helps break our tendency to process rather than “do” stuff. You know what I mean – we love to sit around and talk about our problems, and talk and talk and talk and we rarely do or fix anything. Or, we take a class in “journaling” – which is just processing on paper, again without doing much to fix the situation. When you go do some “guy” things, you will not spend much time processing, but actively doing and learning. The women you meet will be those who like doing stuff. And doing stuff is both an empowering and a depression-avoiding prescription.

I’m my own good example. I joined a real gym, hired a smart, strong, woman trainer and consequently, I much stronger and healthier, feel safer, and I am empowered and happier. Feeling this way, I can better handle the problems life throws at me and I can also pursue opportunities that previously would have frightened me.

But He’s Still Missing In Action, “Working His Program”

As you actively develop your own life, you will have less need for him to complete your life and more opportunities to find fulfillment through other interests. And as your life becomes more interesting, perhaps he will also become interested in alternatives to endless meetings.

That’s the hope and the strategy is two-pronged: make yourself and your life more interesting regardless of what he chooses and prepare yourself for a renewed marriage if he becomes capable.

Re-exert Control Over Your Life

It is scary. Plotting an unpredictable course into your future takes nerve and the willingness to let the results unfold. That’s a lot of control – even false control – to give up. But it is also taking back control of yourself, for yourself, and taking it back from his obsessions with alcohol and recovery.

Regardless of the various outcomes, you will find that actively developing skills is self-enhancing in any case. You will be more independent, more confident, more capable, and more attractive to yourself and others. Your dependence on your current situation will ease and your expectations will increase as experiences grow. Life will get better if you allow it to.

Whether he’s stuck in the bottle or in recovery we can help you reclaim your life, with or without him. Call us today at 888-541-6350.