Sage Advice: Spouse Considers Leaving Alcoholic Wife

By Amy Dickinson | June 17th, 2020

Being married to an alcoholic is never easy ... especially when the relapses occur


Man cooks dinner while alcoholic wife stares lovingly at her glass of wine Image

Dear Amy: My wife and I are in our mid-50s. We have been married over 30 years. She is an alcoholic, but is trying to stay sober through AA.

She has been successful for periods of time, but relapses, usually at difficult periods in our lives (like the current COVID-19 crisis).

We have seen several marriage counselors throughout the years. I can honestly say that we have both tried hard to make things work when many relationships would have broken up after going through what we have.

The problem is that I have laid out the criteria for me to leave. (You can’t have ultimatums in Al-Anon).

She has frequently crossed the line, and yet I have stayed.

Like all of us, she has traits that I would rather she didn’t have. But the worst is chronic lying. It is usually related to drinking, but it tells me she may never be able to stay sober for a longer period of time.

It has created a trust issue I fear I may never be able to get over.

She is currently away at treatment – again – and I am thinking of leaving when she gets back. I feel that I don’t have an equal partner in my life.

Do you have thoughts, besides more counseling?

– In a Corner

Dear Corner: There are different ways to frame what is basically an ultimatum. One way is: “Unless you stop drinking, I’m going to leave.” This is a way of seeking to control another person’s actions, by leveraging a threat, and tying her drinking to the consequence. Obviously, since you have never been able to follow through on your “criteria,” you have no way of knowing if your own behavior would influence hers, but you should assume that her addiction disorder is stronger than your criteria.

Al-Anon encourages you to find ways to accept your powerlessness over your partner’s addiction, while learning to take care of yourself.

Another way to frame your situation is to basically state your own truth: “Your alcoholism has become unbearable for me. I love you and I want the best for you. But we haven’t been partners for a long time now. I’ll continue to support your sobriety, but I’ve decided to move out.”

That’s it. Continued counseling (for you) would help you to cope with the challenges presented by your own choice.


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In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2020 by Amy Dickinson

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