Behavioral Health Consultant, Trainer and EAP Manager

Seattle, Washington

Should I Leave my Alcoholic Wife (or Husband, Partner, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, Addict)?

Question:

I cannot bear my wife’s alcoholism any longer. If I stay I’ll perish. But if I leave her I’ll be in the financial pits. And strangely, I still love her!  I’ve been to an Al-Anon meeting but it’s not enough. Most of my friends tell me to leave her, and my family tells me to stick it out. What do I do?

Note: I first wrote this answer as a way to talk about methods to approach tough dilemmas, and since that time it has grown into the forum you see now. 

I’m continually moved by the vivid descriptions of the carnage that addiction causes, and the impossible “you choose, you lose” dilemmas faced by exhausted, isolated partners. Often, finance, children and other circumstances prevent any simple solutions. But, I also notice that many describe their own addiction of sorts – to the partner. A love and attachment you cannot shake, despite the consequences. It’s something like finding yourself holding a hot panhandle and gripping all the more tightly the more it burns.

Please feel free to tell your own story.  I also encourage you to respond to other postings with a few words of appreciation, support and ideas.

Updates are appreciated.  There are many more readers of this dialogue than there are responders – you have an interested group here and we want to know what happens.

Thank you.

Answer:

You have a mighty dilemma. My first suggestion would be to treat with skepticism any advice to take choice 1 over choice 2. In the end, only you can decide. And only you will know just how much sadness and anxiety is going to be inherent with either option.

Try viewing your dilemma as four-pronged: Choice 1 would be that you decide to leave your wife and that you do so in the most careful, strategic manner, doing the most that you can to ensure this unfolds as becoming the right choice. Choice 2 would be that you leave in a way that magnifies the potential for a negative outcome, say by being mean, impulsive or passive, neglecting the care of your self, your social network, financial interests and so on. Choices 3 and 4 would be the most attentive, well-equipped approach to staying with her, vs. the approach that would leave you the most hurt.

In other words, the way in which you select a choice and then follow through on it what is important, and it is where you can make nitty-gritty choices on a day-to-day basis. The working out of those specifics might be where your attention is going to be productive.

There is another general rule in making a wrenching decision. Make the mistake you can correct. That is, whichever course is more reversible might be considered first. In your case, it is much easier to recover from the mistake of waiting a bit more, than to recover after discovering that divorce was a mistake. Naturally, this is a general guideline only.

One more thing. Loneliness and anxiety, among other troubles, are almost universally difficult for partners of alcoholics. Reaching out is good. More reaching out is better. Al-Anon is not for everyone in your situation, but those who do find it helpful would probably say that it’s the repeated attendance that makes it work.

760 thoughts on “Should I Leave my Alcoholic Wife (or Husband, Partner, Boyfriend, Girlfriend, Addict)?”

  1. Check out Rational Recovery. It says that the addiction expands to fill the space your tolerance provides, so create a zero tolerance. Start by creating healthy boundaries. I started by saying “if you’re going to drink, you need to drink elsewhere and you are not to be drunk around me”.
    I’ve had a restraining order in place that states this for two years but I never enforced it.
    Now I just leave the house if he gets nasty and text him asking him to leave when I’m safely away. I remind him that he is not legally allowed near me when intoxicated.
    Today I sent him off to live in my holiday house until he is sober.
    I decided on New Year’s Eve how I wanted this year to feel for me, and living in fear of the next eruption of rage is no longer tolerable.
    The rational recovery website gave me some back bone and resolve and a template for how to issue an ultimatum.
    I also looked up how to issue an ultimatum without sabotaging your relationship and I think I did it ok. I framed it as a choice.
    I also got to the point where I was ready to end the relationship if he didn’t get sober. I’ve had enough after 6.5 years.
    The addiction has taken over your loved one. Take back some ground. Set boundaries like, you are not allowed to act like such and such toward me. After repeated violations of this, you will have leverage to say “ you are unable to treat me the way I have asked you to, this is because you become someone else when you are drunk. You need to choose between drinking and living with me. She will not stop while she can get away with it.
    If she chooses to drink instead of change to keep you, then she was not worth it. Let her go. There are plenty of wonderful kind women out there who would love to meet a nice man like you.
    Good luck!

    Reply
  2. In the process of separating with my alcoholic wife of 13 years. We’ve had a l T of ups and down as any do, but the past 5 years she has been drunk almost daily. She became completely detached from the family and spends all her free time drinking and talking to other people; pushing me away and being mostly absent for our daughter. Finally after an ultimatum for rehab and realizing I can not continue like this and thinga have gotten undeniably bad for all involved, I pulled the trigger and told her I’m done. It was a reality check I guess and a blessing because she’s in AA now working the steps and making better choices. I’m not stopping the separation, but we are selling the house and getting apartments in the same community nearby. Just a couple doors down from each other. I have some doubts about the last part, but also think it’s going to work out well. Neither one of us is looking to really date anyone else right now. I don’t know what the future holds and this shit is definitely a huge change and scary; you get so used to your routines, but that’s the drastic change needed I think. Hoping for the best for us and for all of you.

    Reply
  3. We married late (I was in my 40’s she was mid 30’s),
    I was late owing to career, I always wondered why such a good looking woman might not be “taken”.
    I love her more than life itself, but she is alcoholic (so is her older sister, who is now at the point of liver failure and palliative care – which I wasn’t aware of before).
    I love her so much, she is my reason for living after decades of loneliness, but it is getting harder and harder.
    Any mention of alcohol abuse and she is very abusive / verbally violent.
    I don’t know what to do…
    I can’t leave her, I love her so much…
    Mike

    Reply

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