You have the best intentions when you decide to get married, and while your heart wants to believe in ‘forever,’ what happens when things get so bad that you feel like giving up?
Alcoholism is one of the top three reasons for divorce, and it leaves a trail of problems in its wake. Among these problems, domestic violence frequently emerges in relationships strained by alcoholism, adding a layer of complexity and danger to the decision of whether to stay or leave.
Yes, marriages can survive trauma, but at what point do you throw in the towel?
How Do You Know When To Give Up On An Alcoholic Husband or Wife?
Giving up on an alcoholic spouse is justified when you’ve tried everything to help them, and they aren’t willing to commit, or when you can’t take care of yourself or your family anymore. If you and your children are at risk or exposed to uncontrollable, unpredictable behavior, it’s time to leave.
I get it.
It’s hard. Possibly one of the hardest decisions you’ve ever had to make.
You’ve likely been through extensive back-and-forth with your spouse over this issue. Promises can be made – and even kept – for periods, but if you still find yourself asking if it’s okay to leave an alcoholic spouse, there has clearly been no long-term change.
Heavy drinking and divorce go hand in hand. Research has shown that “a consumption increase of 1 liter of alcohol per capita brings about an increase in the divorce rate of about 20%.”
So how do you know if your marriage is at an impasse?
8 Signs That It’s Time To Leave An Alcoholic Husband or Wife
So how do you know if it’s officially time? I can’t answer that question for you definitively, but I can give you some signs to look out for.
1. You Feel You Are In Danger
One issue that often comes along with alcoholism is domestic violence and aggressive outbursts.
Behavioral changes from alcohol can see the loving, kind spouse you know turn into an angry, violent person you don’t recognize. Studies show that alcohol use can trigger intimate partner abuse and compound, aggressive tendencies.
Why does this happen?
Alcohol messes with our judgment and can ramp up emotions. Imagine a situation already on edge, and then alcohol comes into play – it’s like throwing fuel on a fire.
In fact, it’s so common that 40-60% of people who’ve experienced violence from their spouse say that alcohol was involved. That’s a huge number and something you can’t ignore.
Whether the violent outbursts involve physical confrontations between you and your spouse or them being destructive to furniture or other items around the house, it is no longer safe for you.
Too many people stay in these situations hoping it will get better.
If you fear for your safety or worry that your children are in danger when your spouse is intoxicated, you have every reason to leave.
Your physical safety and that of your kids are paramount. Even if you’re going for the short term, getting out is most important.
2. Your Health And Wellbeing Are Negatively Impacted
As the closest person to your spouse, you often have to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.
When a partner is in active addiction, you are exposed to the stressors of their behavior. This includes the financial impact of their drinking. Many alcoholics cannot sustain their careers and lose their jobs. And, if they manage to keep working, finances are channeled into feeding the addiction.
The implication is that you must solve financial problems and carry the burden of making ends meet.
Additionally, watching the person you love deteriorate and become a person unlike themselves is draining. You may find your mental health suffering. If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, insomnia, or even suicidal thoughts, it’s time to leave.
Emotional Abuse and Alcoholic Husbands and Wives
When we talk about the toll of living with an alcoholic spouse, it’s not just about physical safety. There’s another kind of hurt that’s less visible but just as real – emotional abuse. This kind of pain doesn’t leave bruises, but it can leave deep scars.
Living with an alcoholic partner often means facing a daily barrage of emotional challenges. You might be on the receiving end of verbal aggression – harsh words, criticisms, or humiliating comments, especially during times of heavy drinking.
It’s like walking on eggshells, never knowing what to expect but always bracing for the worst.
Manipulation is another form of emotional abuse that’s common in these relationships. Your partner might use guilt-tripping or gaslighting – making you doubt your own reality – to keep you in a state of confusion and dependency.
It’s a way of controlling you, and it can be incredibly disorienting and damaging to your sense of self.
It’s important to recognize these signs of emotional abuse. Just because they aren’t physical, it doesn’t mean they’re any less damaging.
3. Your Children Are Being Affected
It’s hard enough being married to someone who abuses alcohol. When children are involved, it takes everything to another level.
As a parent, we have to have our children’s best interests at heart. Children who grow up in a household where alcohol is abused are 50% more likely to develop an addiction later in their lives.
Research has also shown that children who experience alcoholism in their daily lives are more likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral issues. Problems at school are also common, and it stands to reason that they would act out if their home, which is supposed to be a safe haven, isn’t a safe space.
Behavioral challenges you may see include fighting with peers, petty crimes like shoplifting or vandalism, or even isolating themselves from the world.
If your children are exhibiting any of these signs, it may be time to leave.
4. Nothing Has Helped So Far
Most alcoholics want to get better and can see the negative impact their drinking has on those around them, and many will try to improve.
But sometimes, their issues and trauma are so severe that it seems like nothing works. If there have been several interventions and still no improvement, what else can you do?
Sometimes when we try to rescue or fix those we see struggling, they cannot take responsibility for themselves. This frequently happens in codependent relationships with alcoholics.
Only when they realize everything is at stake can they make decisions to help themselves. Leaving may be the only way they realize how bad things have gotten.
5. They Don’t Want To Get Better
Sometimes we find our spouses aren’t willing to admit or even recognize their drinking problem.
Maybe you previously suggested rehab or counseling, only to be met with ridicule or denial. Alcoholics need to be ready to accept help for it to make an impact, but at the very least, your concerns should be taken seriously.
If your partner is not hearing your pleas and concerns and won’t even consider how their behavior impacts you, the problem is more significant than just their drinking.
A successful relationship requires compromise and meeting the other’s needs – and if they can’t take your needs and concerns seriously, where does that leave you?
As the saying goes, you can’t help those who won’t help themselves. If they won’t help themselves, there’s nothing you can do.
6. You’re Not Able To Take Care Of Yourself Or Your Kids Anymore
Having an alcoholic husband or wife in your home has such a negative ripple effect. It impacts everything from finances, time, relationships, and personal health.
You may find that you’re spending all your time doing damage control at your job, with friends and family, or dealing with the fallout from the drinking.
If you cannot take care of yourself anymore, and your children are being neglected due to how much time and effort you’re putting into simply keeping things afloat and putting out fires, you’ve reached rock bottom.
It’s not sustainable and you deserve better.
7. You’re Staying For The Wrong Reasons
Any relationship requires mutual trust, respect, forgiveness, and love to have a chance at succeeding, and when you’re in a relationship with an addict, these core elements are tested.
It’s tough to justify that there is trust, respect, and forgiveness when the aftermath of alcoholism is causing havoc in your life.
Loving someone is not enough to sustain a marriage when the other elements are missing. And, being afraid of your spouse hitting rock bottom if you leave is not a good enough reason to stay.
If you’re staying just because you don’t want them to get hurt, you’re sacrificing yourself – and your children – for them.
I say this as someone who almost put my husband in this situation. If he had left me, he’d have been well within his right. My drinking put a terrible strain on our marriage and it was hurting us both.
8. Your Support System Is Begging You To Leave
One final sign that it’s time to leave is if your support system and those close to you are urging you to take the step.
The perspective of outsiders is often a lot clearer than the views of those within the emotionally-charged situation; when external observers tell you it’s time to leave, they are seeing something you’re not.
If you have support and can safely leave, it’s a good time to step away from your spouse. And doing so doesn’t reflect poorly on you – your responsibility is also to your children and yourself. And, if you’ve done everything you could to help, the rest is up to your spouse.
If you’re struggling right now, feel stuck, or don’t know what to do next, talk therapy can help. Getting started with BetterHelp is easy!
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Consequences of Living With An Alcoholic in Active Addiction
Deciding to leave is hard, especially considering all the things you’ve likely been through with your spouse. It won’t be easy, and you may have second thoughts about whether it’s the right decision.
But despite your guilt, you need to keep in mind that there are many risks if you choose to stay.
1. Sacrificing your own well-being.
The impact on your own health and mental well-being if you stay will continue to affect your ability to function in your job and parent your children. Naturally, if your partner is physically violent, the threat to your safety and that of the rest of your family remains high.
But even if they’re not, the impact of chronic stress on your health can’t be understated. You will make yourself sick in the process. If you’re a parent, it’s important to give your children the best version of yourself.
You can’t do that in this kind of marriage.
2. Ongoing financial problems.
Understand that if you choose to stay, it means financial struggles and facing the challenge of making ends meet while dealing with a spouse who refuses to get help. It’s so hard to dig yourself out of that kind of hole.
One study found that 20% of alcohol users had over $1,000 in credit card debt. Beyond the financial losses, there are financial costs measured by productivity loss at work from hangovers and absenteeism related to drinking.
So long as you stay with your alcoholic spouse, you’ll be sharing the responsibility for those bad decisions.
3. Putting your children at risk.
As I previously mentioned, the effects of children growing up with an alcoholic parent can’t be overstated – it is vital to break the cycle.
Children of alcoholic parents are twice as likely to end up with addiction issues in their lives – so even if you’re struggling to make this decision for yourself, remind yourself that you are protecting your children from a lifetime of struggles by choosing to leave.
How To Leave An Alcoholic Partner
Deciding to leave an alcoholic partner is an emotionally complex and daunting task. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, these guidelines are meant to offer a more nuanced approach, considering both the immediate and long-term challenges you may face.
1. Develop a Comprehensive Plan:
- Safety First: If there’s any risk of violence, prioritize your safety. This might mean leaving secretly or at a time when your spouse isn’t around. Always inform someone you trust about your plan.
- Emotional Preparation: Leaving an alcoholic spouse is an emotional rollercoaster. Consider speaking with a therapist or counselor beforehand to prepare mentally and emotionally for the journey ahead.
- Legal and Financial Considerations: Gather important documents, understand your financial situation, and, if possible, consult with a lawyer to understand your rights and options.
2. Create Distance and Clarity:
- Temporary Housing: Identify a safe place to stay, whether it’s with family, friends, or a shelter. This space should offer you peace and a chance to think clearly about your next steps.
- Maintaining Boundaries: It’s essential to set and maintain clear boundaries with your spouse during this time, whether it’s regarding communication, finances, or interactions.
3. Set and Respect Clear Timelines:
- Realistic Expectations: If you’re leaving in the hope that it spurs your spouse to seek help, set clear and realistic timelines for change.
- Assess Progress Honestly: Be honest with yourself about whether your spouse is making genuine efforts. If they’re not, consider more permanent steps, such as divorce.
4. Stay Consistent and Strong:
- Avoid Enabling: Remember, returning to a situation where nothing has changed can inadvertently enable their behavior. Stay firm in your decision for both your sake and theirs.
- Emotional Resilience: It’s natural to worry about your partner, but prioritize your well-being and stay committed to your decision. Don’t let them drag you back into their drama (which they will inevitably try). This makes the next step critically important.
5. Seek and Accept Support:
- Emotional and Practical Support: Surround yourself with a support system that can offer both emotional and practical assistance. This could include counselors, support groups, friends, and family.
- Prioritize Your Healing: Remember, your journey to recovery is just as important as your decision to leave. Engage in activities and therapies that help you heal and regain your strength. Put your needs and your children’s needs first.
Where To Find Support
You need to know that your experience with an alcoholic spouse is traumatic and damaging to you and your children.
There is no shame in admitting this, and while you’re likely feeling guilty for deciding to end a relationship with an alcoholic, it’s essential that you know your feelings are justified and valid.
You need to find support during this process – not just to help you heal but also to help you remain strong and committed to your decision. Finding a therapist or counselor to help you process things will be essential.
There are also excellent resources online that can help you deal with the aftermath, including forums and groups that share experiences and help to uplift each other:
- For women: Women for Sobriety
- For those who want to share their stories: Soberistas
- For adolescents and teens: Alateen
- For families: Families Anonymous or NAMI Family Support
- We also have a great private Facebook group for Soberish.
For more resources and support groups that you can physically attend, Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous offer local chapters where you can get the support and guidance you need. These are not just for the one struggling with addiction but for their family.