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.

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

  1. What a terrific forum. I just got married to an alcoholic and I underestimated her disease. We have been married 8 months and she has been sober 20%. She is loved. She was popular when she was young and toured the world. She does not work. We have no children. We are late 40’s. I drink too, it was fun when we joined mutual drinking forces, but the honeymoon is over and I am now the target of her torment. She got wasted at the wedding and she has been drunk ever since. She starts the day with a swig of whatever was last left in the glass when she crashed the night before. She smokes hard core. I am unable to take her anywhere because she gets drunk and becomes the favorite drunk chick, slobbering all over everyone. I wind up never enjoying myself because I am the chaperone. All I know is that I love her sober but she is mostly a drunk. No matter what I do, like stop drinking altogether, she remains a drunk. After reading this great forum…it’s almost like a prayer wall…I wonder if there ever has been a success story. Even when she stops drinking for a period I know that she is a bear trap ready to snap. The stories I could tell, but in my mind every single experience shared here, respectively, are all experiences I have witnessed in her (aside from kids). Anyways, I am glad I found this prayer wall. If anything positive comes from this I hope to followup.

  2. After being with a alcoholic for 23 years I just could not take it anymore. He already has 4 DUI’s and was forced to go to rehab or jail. He finally decided to get sober. Was sober for seven years and got bored. Met a woman that he had a affair with then he broke it off. The mistress came to the door drunk in front of our children saying he was cheating on me while HE was out with another woman. Could not take the manipulation lying untrustworthy behavior anymore. Before I kicked him out I would call the cops every time he came home drunk so it was documented. He served me divorce papers on my birthday, I kicked him out and changed the locks. During the court proceedings the police reports were submitted and I got custody of the kids and the house. he has been removed from the auto insurance because he is in a full on relapse living with one of his women. it was really difficult but I am SO much happier without crazy in my life.

  3. Update on my story: wife calls me 3 weeks into second rehab stint. She wants a divorce. I’ve accepted. It’s best for us to move on. Wish I would have left earlier to minimize some if the pain and suffering.

  4. This site made me feel better, just by hearing and seeing so many stories that’re similar to mine. I moved half a year ago and ended up moving in with a female friend of mine from way back. I was in a bad situation financially at first… no job, no place, staying with friends temporarily. She said she would help me out to get on my feet at first, I got a job within about a month and started paying half the rent and bills. Well we became more than friends, which was quite apparent and I knew she had a drinking problem beforehand, but it was not unbearable like it is currently. I’ve brought it up numerous times and she is quite a nice person when sober, but after a certain amount of alcohol, she gets very negative and verbally abusive, even physically. We live in a small apartment and I cannot get away from it when she gets like this. She will buy a six pack of ciders and a 40 of white wine, occasionally vodka as well (which is even worse) and a bit into that is when things get bad. I like to drink occasionally as well, I’ve had problems myself with drinking too much in my past years, but I’ve learned how to control it and that I’m a way better person when I pace myself and don’t buy too much and drink until I’m completely plastered. I also view drinking as a way to unwind after a hard day work, or week to unwind, not a solution to my problems and I only really feel like it once a week or two at most. Even though she knows how she gets somewhat, it’s started to wear on me badly, it gets to the point where I’d love to yell at her, but save myself the headache and just try to sleep. Even then, she usually is loud and talking out loud to herself and about me and calling me down, hovering around back and forth and waking me up until she finally passes out in the wee hours of the morning. I absolutely cannot reason with her and the worst part of it is, she claims to forget all the crap she says and does to me. Sometimes she’ll apologize, but she only seems to want to talk when she’s drinking, which is impossible for me and it’s basically pointless in my opinion and then the next day she claims not to remember and acts nice. She has a trust fund, or gets money from her parents, or something like that and hardly works. Phones into work regularly and gets away with it and lately has been drinking like 3 or 4 days of the week it seems. She doesn’t even seem to care how I’ve brought it up that she shouldnt buy the amounts she does and she knows I cant stand it and that having a few drinks should be a good time. I am getting my car going again, trying to cut down my debt and finally getting somewhat financially independent again. I feel like I am just going to have to get my own place, it is a really difficult situation. i feel terrible for anyone else constantly going through with this type of thing.

  5. Hello.
    I am not married or have kids but have been with my boyfriend for 2 years now. We both partied together but at one point I realized I had to stop drinking as much for my health. It was then that I realized how much he drank. He drinks at least 4 beers a day everyday. Him and I work a lot so I don’t even really know how much he drinks when I’m not around. He is not violent but I am starting to feel like his dysfunctional coping skills are not good for my mental help. I read all these stories about married folks dealing with this for years and decades before leaving. I would like to stay and support him but I do not know if I should throw in the towel. Is it too soon? Should I keep fighting for him for the sake of a good man?

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