Spouses, Sabotage, and Success

A major factor in your success can be having a supportive spouse – but, strange as it seems given the amount of complaining they’ve done about your drinking, many spouses find themselves sabotaging your efforts instead.

What’s going on here?

One of the exercises we ask clients to undertake is the creation of a “cost/benefit analysis” of drinking vs. not drinking. In reality, we all know the costs of drinking and the benefits of quitting, so we ask that you focus on the benefits of drinking.

After all, if there were no benefits, you wouldn’t be drinking, and the costs of quitting are replacing those benefits.

That exercise provides some useful information when it comes to developing alternatives to drinking. But we also take the process one step further and ask what benefits your spouse or significant other is getting from your drinking.

“None!” spouses adamantly say. But that’s not actually true – if it were, they would have left long ago, just as you would have given up the drinking if it didn’t serve you in some important way(s).


Your spouse gets to look like a saint. She or he also holds all of the power because you’re a drunk who doesn’t get a vote in family decisions. The non-problem drinker also also uses you as cover for whatever problems they may actually have.

Frankly, the list of benefits your partner gets from your drinking may well exceed the benefits you’re deriving from the bottle.

The result? When you quit drinking you both lose benefits and many spouses find themselves in the awkward position of trying to shove you back into the bottle in order to keep the benefits they’d never noticed they’d been enjoying.

Usually, with some degree of good will, good humor, and honest effort, this can all play out happily – and it’s a big part of why we prefer to work with couples, at least part of the time.

It’s also why most programs reject spouses’ participation – just one more way to help insure that you fail and have to come back again and again and again…

But if you’re ready to actually fix it and have a better relationship than you have ever had, then we’re ready and able to work with you. Let’s all work at coming up with a new analysis: the benefits of an unimpaired partnership.

Read more about our work with Couples.