One of the most common problems people run into when giving up drinking, and many other debilitating habits, is a sabotaging spouse, partner, girl/boy friend, or other significant person.
Even, or especially, when this person has been after you for years to break the habit!
How can this be?
While it doesn’t seem to make any sense at first glance, if you consider a typical “couple’s alcohol dance” you’ll begin to see what the actual dynamic is.
One of the common factors we see with the clients we work with is the use of alcohol abuse as a passive aggressive “FU” towards a controlling, dominating and exploitive spouse or partner. That same partner will be on your case to stop the behavior of course, which to them means they will have succeeded in exerting absolute control over you.
This means that you will stop drinking but nothing else will change – certainly not their manipulative, exploitive and/or abusive treatment of you.
So what happens when you stop drinking, cease being passive and passive-aggressive and step up for yourself and other family members and become assertive?
We’re sure you can guess. Your spouse or partner will suddenly do everything they can to drive you back to drinking since they are suddenly afraid of losing the control they’ve always exerted.
They also fear that you will:
- Want your voice back in family decision making;
- Stop making them look good;
- Suggest it’s time for them to attend to their own problems;
- Discover you don’t actually live in fear and walk on egg shells;
- Take back control of you own life and what that might mean.
Again this is not universal and there are couples for which it’s not an issue. But to varying degrees it affects many of our clients, regardless of gender, or other factors.
Is it time for you to step up? It’s why we do assertiveness training with clients, and, when they are willing, help spouses learn to back off and tend to their own problems instead of using you as a scapegoat.
That ultimately leads to greater intimacy, happier relationships, and more interesting and productive personal lives.
Why not give it as shot? All you have to lose is the current miseries that keep you both trapped and unhappy. Is that really how you want to spend the rest of your life?
And about your children….
Some years ago I was walking my dog on the beach on Kodiak Island where I lived before coming to California. A neighbor boy, about 14, was also walking there and I asked him what he planned to be when he grew up – expecting the predictable answers of commercial fisherman or joining the Coast Guard.
Instead, he said, “Oh, I’m going to be an alcoholic.”
“What?” I thought, “Why do you think that?” is what I asked.
“Well,” he said, “my mother is and my father is so I guess that’s what I’ll be. It’s an inherited disease, you know.”
I was left speechless. But eventually I did talk to him again, and noted it wasn’t an inherited disease and he wasn’t doomed to replicate his parents life style if he didn’t want to. That he only needed to become an “alcoholic” if he chose to.
Yes he may indeed have become an alcoholic, but only because he believed it and therefore chose to follow his parents’ example.
That’s not to say that the children of alcoholics may not incur real problems associated with their parent’s drinking, including deep-seated emotional reactions. The following is a list of the more common problems seen in some adult children of alcoholics:
- Guessing at what normal is;
- Difficulty in following through with projects;
- Lying when it’s just as easy to tell the truth;
- Judging themselves without mercy;
- Having difficulty having fun;
- Taking themselves very seriously;
- Having difficulty with intimate relationships;
- Overreacting to change;
- Constantly seeking approval and affirmation;
- Feeling different from others;
- Are super responsible or super irresponsible;
- Are extremely loyal even when that is undeserved.
To demonstrate just how hazardous parental alcohol abuse can be to children, consider the fact that many of the characteristics described by adult children of alcoholics are among those also reported by children who were physically or sexually abused by a parent.
Is that really the legacy you want to leave your children with?
We didn’t think so – so how about minimizing and/or reversing the damage. Remember, by the time as child is four years old, they are well aware of what you’re doing, even if you think you are successfully hiding it.
Believe us, and every child protection worker who ever lived, you aren’t hiding anything where it matters most – at home.
But it’s also not too late to fix it, set a different example, and free your child to grow up healthier, more resilient, and more independent than most children.
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