Alcohol is a common cause of disagreements between couples, especially if one partner drinks more heavily than the other. Often, these disagreements spiral into unproductive arguments about whether one partner is or is not an alcoholic, and whether they need to quit drinking. Tension and resentment can build up, leaving both partners frustrated and unhappy.
If these arguments sound familiar, or if your wife simply wants you to quit drinking, it can be hard to know what to do—especially if you aren’t sure you agree. But whether you feel you have a problem or not, if someone you love is bringing it up, it’s worth giving your drinking a serious look.
Let Go of the Labels
Although the term gets thrown around a lot, it’s not really about whether you’re an “alcoholic.” In fact, most people who struggle to control their drinking are not alcoholics. Drinking exists on a spectrum, and problem drinking takes many forms1.
So, start things off by reframing the conversation. Forget the categories. Simply ask yourself if alcohol is hurting your relationship, or other aspects of your life. If so, change is worth considering.
Consider Your Wife’s Perspective
Depending on your wife’s delivery, or on your own perspective, it might feel like you’re being judged or attacked during these conversations. Feeling defensive is normal, especially if you don’t like the way someone is talking to you.
But when considering your drinking, it’s also important to step back and consider your wife’s motivation. Regardless of whether your wife is communicating well, or poorly, it’s likely she’s coming from a place of love and concern. She cares about your health and well-being, and she wants to maintain a happy and healthy marriage.
Viewing your wife’s request as loving instead of judgmental can help in getting the two of you on the same page. Listen to her concerns with an open mind, and respond with “I” statements instead of “You” statements2 to avoid blaming. With a few simple shifts in communication, you may have a productive and healthy conversation, instead of getting stuck in the same argument over and over.
Check In with Yourself
At the same time, be sure to check in with yourself. How do you feel about your relationship with alcohol? If you’re being honest, has it become a problem for you? If you’re sure, read through these 18 signs you’re drinking too much and see how it fits with your experience.
This is especially important because, if you do have a problem, recognizing it on your own terms is crucial in making a change. If you’re thinking, “I need to quit drinking to save the marriage,” or, “I guess I’ll quit drinking to save my relationship,” your efforts likely won’t work for long. You need to want to make those changes, both for your family and yourself.
If you’re struggling with that motivation, take a moment to list some of the things you’d be able to do if you were drinking less. You may find that cutting back is something you really do want to do.
Make a Compromise
Perhaps you’ve noticed our use of the phrase “cutting back” on alcohol—rather than strictly “quitting.” That’s because the idea that you have to quit alcohol completely is outdated. There are new treatment approaches that can let you reduce your drinking, at least at first. This may be more achievable, and it may also make a big difference. If you’re more comfortable with the idea of cutting back, see if your wife is open to a compromise.
Once you’re communicating productively, discuss drinking in moderation as an option. Talk about limits and boundaries, and work towards a compromise you’re willing to stick to, that both of you are willing to accept.
If you don’t know how to start quitting or cutting back on alcohol, or if you find you need some extra support, Ria Health is here to help. We take a modern, evidence-based approach to alcohol treatment, and it’s all accessible from an app on your phone. Whether you decide to cut back or quit, we provide a variety of tools—including medication, online coaching, and a digital breathalyzer—to help you reach your goals.