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. Been married for 11 years to my wife who like others have described a nasty drunk. As I write this, she is entering detox for the second time in one year. We have two children 9 and 10 who don’t want to be around their Mom because of her drinking. She just got fired form her teaching job for the second time in two years. We now have no health insurance and the alcohol wins again. I believe we abused sposes suffer the punishing hell described on this site partially due to inertia. Change is not easy. If my wife can’t be sober and get to the root of her problems that move her to drink, I believe she will end up dead. I’m done with the drama and daily shock of the things she says and does. Two months ago she was brutally raped behind a walmart. No doubt this is horrible. But last week in a drunken rage she tells me she would rather be with her rapist than me because of her blah blah reason. Yup it’s the alcohol talking, but man. We are human. I just can turn that off like a switch. There’s more: a few months ago she totaled her car at 4 in the morning on the way back from having an affair with another man. I feel the pain of all the commenters here. But I’m grateful to know that I’m not alone.

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  2. Tom, first a big thank you. I have read most of the posts over last several weeks and like many others stumbled upon this seeking information out of despair. For my situation- me (52), my alcoholic wife (50) of 25 years- three great kids, 20, 18 and 15…. like so many of you I thought I had stories NO ONE would ever believe – for example my wife’s DUI on the way to pick up my son, car pool no less, in the middle of the afternoon, which prompted my meeting with the principal, discussing why my wife can no longer be allowed to do car pool. I understood. Many, many more horrible stories…thousands spent on lawyers, car repairs, spending sprees, rehab (which I gladly paid and super proud she went), boxes, bottles and glasses of wine. She is now wine all day every day, eats very little, I think has signs of early liver disease. Really has ramped up in last 10 years. Where the hell did that time go? I also think my 18-year-old at risk. I seldom drink – never at home, maybe work function, friends are lean these days. What I realize after reading these posts is that you all could relate. I’m part of a club no one wants to belong. My wife and I have always been social drinkers, around a lot of friends that are social drinkers. But for her the drinking never stopped, always one more- especially when home alone, shame on me for not recognizing this sooner and where it would lead. I tried to out earn this madness, my wife has been a stay at home mom for last 20 years, which I greatly appreciate but also wonder if her not having a career and her own life exacerbated the problem. A defining moment was me coming home from the bank after I paid off the mortgage, her passed out on the couch not caring. Even suggested she start her own business, hell I wouldn’t even care if she lost money doing it, if she could find happiness and sobriety. By the way, she is very intelligent, college educated, I almost think that is worse because she knows what she is doing and knows it’s wrong but always has her “own plan”. I do support any treatment (she says I forced her), and she has tried a couple programs, but not for her. Money doesn’t matter and can’t fix this. In last couple years, I realize I need to be the best dad for my kids, best husband for an alcoholic wife and live a healthy life. We no longer alcohol in house; if I find it I dump it, and I don’t say a word about it- I used to but no more. Boxes/bottles of wine hidden in every place you could imagine. Lucky my high stress job is a walk in the park compared to my nightmare home life. It’s almost like I live three separate lives; work life, drunk wife life and sober wife life (awesome but very, very rare). I tell you I thought I was living in an altered reality until I read these many posts. I guess misery truly does love company.

    I few Learned lessons on this journey most of which are very recent, and the hard way. I read books on the subject. I went to a therapist a couple times- one who has walked in my wife’s shoes, and my pastor plus a few ALANON meetings has really helped. Keep yourself healthy; make time for your doctors appts; exercise, etc. I must look for positives in all aspects of life, especially from/for my kids. I know this is hard but if you don’t, you will get dragged down with the disease. If you get her/him to rehab (have an immediate plan once they are ready) – no matter how much they beg, do not let them come home early. Like my wife did after 1 week, drank on the plane of flight home. Not sure where I heard this, but I constantly repeat to myself “I can’t control, I did not cause and I can’t cure her drinking” this helps. Now instead of getting angry, embarrassed or trying to control I let her make her own decisions. It has helped me to be more at peace. I had friends tell me to stop her drinking, just cancel her credit cards- really?? they have no idea the slyness of an alcoholic. The more I tried to control the more she is entitled to drink. I know she will get another DUI, hopefully doesn’t hurt anyone in the process, but I (you) have to let go. Don’t hide the situation, encourage, embrace and be positive when they reach for help, let her support system know. Be honest with your kids- they know, even at young ages they know.

    My next steps; You all really have encouraged me to take more steps out of this hell and isolation. I have a call with my brother in law, he doesn’t know the extent of the problem, but he will. Made another appointment with the therapist, and will talk to a lawyer- not sure what I will do but I need a plan. The wonderful woman I married 25 years ago no longer exists- every now and then I get a glimpse of her but less and less.. I’m on the edge of giving up, but until that moment occurs I will try everything to help her. I know many of you have asked others should I stay or should I go. I am open to anyone’s suggestions but I think it is unique to all and it will be the toughest decision I (we in the club) will ever have to make. Thanks for letting me share, maybe some added therapy in just venting. – Carl

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  3. Married to one for 27 years.
    With much prayer, I decided to leave even though it would be difficult to support myself. And that he was not going to get better staying with me, I no longer wanted to be his crutch. Sold our house, and moved into a duplex. Three years later he is now with another dwi and now in jail. So glad I don’t have to deal with that, but in some ways I have to cause he still is my daughters father. and she is doing a great job , going through this but its very stressful for the both of us.
    So it will be up to the courts what they do with him, and my daughter and I are ok with that.

    They are codependent on us we are not codependent on them.
    so we must let go, so we don’t be the enabler.

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  4. GET OUT , don’t waste a minute of your life , I wrote on here june 2013 I was in the same place as everyone on here , well finally I left I’m free I wasted 10 years of my life hopping it would change , it wont, don’t kid yourself , don’t feel guilty for leaving , don’t make up excuses for them , ok I was fortunate enough to be able to leave and start again its been tough my daughter didn’t speak to me for over 2 years and still its not right , but that’s only because her heads been filled with lies of what I am or did , and I have never put her mother down too her told her the truth of all the beatings I took all the abuse I had to take
    I went to the lowest point of my life 6 months after leaving , even contemplated suicide, but that was also due to my mother dying me losing everything all at the same time, but I met a good woman who helped me through it and four years on I’m married with a successful business , my daughter speaks to me , and no one will ever put me through any shit ever again I had a hard life lesson ., I would go through it all again rather than live the life with a alcoholic wife , you may say this n that like yes but I cant leave because this and I cant leave because of that and its ok for him , but trust me that’s just a excuse you are kidding yourself , just leave its a hard path may be easy who knows everyone’s story is different , but if you stay everyone’s story is the same , abuse heartache violence unhappiness and a waste of your life , trust me GET OUT NOW TODAY DONT WASTE ANOTHER SECOND OF YOUR PRESIOUS LIFE , I hope my words and story give you the confidence to change your life , you can ask me anything I will answer you , good luck from
    Glynn

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  5. My wife and I have been married for two years, dating for three before that…the first six months were fine, we’d both enjoy an occasional drink but nothing serious. I still do enjoy a beer once in a while…she, well, she enjoys all the vodka all the time. We are both long-haul truckers, I’m terrified that some day she won’t have the restraint to pass a liquor store during her shift and kill us…or worse, someone else. Thankfully she’s “only” driven her car drunk a few times, at least that I know of…the thought of her drunk driving a loaded semi truck gives me nightmares. I’ve given the “me or booze” ultimatum…booze won that round, and like a dumbass I backed down. We live in Florida, so we have the Marchman act, and of course she’s told me flat out if I get her put into rehab she’ll leave. At this point I’d consider it a good thing. When we’re home she can clear a fifth of vodka a night…well, day, she wakes up and drives to the liquor store, comes back home and starts drinking. By the end of the night she’s screaming at everyone, talking loudly to herself about absolutely nothing (or at least nothing coherent), and if you have the gallon to suggest hey maybe can you try and slow down a little, well you just found the magic nuke button. Then it’s off to DUI her way to the liquor store for more.

    Thankfully we have no children together, she has five who are all over 18 so at least I don’t have to deal with that. They will all know I’m leaving her and not them. At this point I’m basically going to try and get her into rehab, despite it probably costing us the house and maybe the marriage too, because the only other option is just leave. I am so completely done dealing with the stress and anxiety and depression. I’m a grown ass man, a trucker and a veteran, and I sit and cry like a baby over this crap.

    I feel like a total idiot for even wanting to try and work things out. If this were anyone else, I’d tell them “dude just RUN!” But here I sit, paralyzed and not wanting to ruin a marriage that she’s already all but destroyed.

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