Last week we wrote about working with couples when you are both abusing alcohol. This week we want to look at working with spouses when only one of you is drinking destructively.

The first question is, to what degree do we involve spouses since all other programs exclude them?

The answer is, it differs, and is at the discretion of the client. You are in charge and in control, and you are the one best suited to determine the level of involvement.

That said, we have worked with clients whose spouses didn’t even know they were working with us. Never knew. Never will.

At the other extreme, we worked with a man whose spouse was a professional executive assistant who took verbatim notes of every session including follow-up sessions.

Between these two are the more usual choices though, again, you know what’s best for your individual situation and we fully respect that.

That noted, in the more typical weeks, spouses attend the Monday morning session which is largely anxiety reduction, logistics, a visit with one of our consulting physicians, a bit of history gathering, and some individual assessment of each of you.

On Wednesday spouses usually attend for a 90 minute session to discuss assessment results and what they mean and how to be supportive. The latter part is critical since most husbands, wives, and partners don’t have a clue as to what actual support looks like.

We also recommend that they attend the final Friday morning session so that they understand the plan we have developed and what part they may play in it. They also need a chance to have their own questions answered and this time provides them with an opportunity to do so.

It’s very important to remember that both of you have developed a relationship “dance” with drinking providing the music. Ending the drinking will change the dance and you will both be affected to the same degree that the alcohol abuse affected each of you.

Again, spouses or partners are often ill prepared for the adjustments they too will have to make in a new relationship unfettered by alcohol.

Please remember, however, that you are the one to decide the degree and type of involvement you believe to be in your own best interest. While all other programs tell you that you are incompetent to make any decisions, we adamantly disagree.

Drinking has been your choice. Ending the abuse is also your choice. How best to accomplish this requires that your wishes be respected and supported.

As always, when working with us, it’s your choice. And you choose?

While we’re on the topic of spouses…

It’s not uncommon for spouses to sabotage your attempts to stop abusing alcohol. Yes, they may, consciously or not.

But why?

In understanding their motivations, it’s important to realize that they too have benefitted from your drinking. These benefits may include such common ones as:

  • They look saintly;
  • You lose your vote in family decision making;
  • Your drinking obscures their problems;
  • They can intimidate you with threats re divorce or child custody issues;

Those are just the common ones but others that are specific to your relationship undoubtedly exist.

It can also simply be their discomfort with having to change too. As we noted above, they really didn’t see that coming when they demanded or pleaded for you to stop.

They really did believe that nothing would change except you would stop drinking. And when it turned out that everything changed, well, that’s a different story. Especially when it comes to the uncomfortable adjustments they too will be called on to step up to.

For example, a frequent outcome of treatment success is that you become assertive in your personal relationships. This is in contrast to your historic passivity or your passive-aggressive drinking. This can be very disconcerting – especially to a controlling spouse.

Yes, we help you prepare for some “push-back” and, when possible, help spouses to adjust as smoothly and with as much good humor and good grace is possible.

This really can be, and often is, an adventure into an unexplored and much better relationship.

Why not give it every chance?