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My partner has a drinking problem

Our agony aunt, Mary Fenwick, offers a new perspective on whatever is troubling you

by Psychologies

Drinking problem

3 minute read

Q. When we go to events, my wife often drinks too much and (I think) makes a fool of herself. I understand why she does it – she’s shy and alcohol gives her a feeling of confidence, but I’m embarrassed by her and, when she’s drunk, she can be unpleasant to me.

We’ve talked about it and sometimes she improves, but not for long. She says I’m controlling but I don’t want her to be like this. I love her wholeheartedly – when she’s sober. What can I do? Name supplied

A. We’re not quite at the nub of this problem, I feel. My instinct is to put more effort into naming what is going on, aiming to be both accurate and kind. The underlying principle is to separate the person (the human being) from what they do (the human doing). It may sound mechanical but, if we insert the word ‘behaviour’, we have more room to manoeuvre. An example: ‘I’m embarrassed by her behaviour’ is less hurtful than ‘I’m embarrassed by her’.

Considering your letter, I have an image of watching a play, and I wonder about backstage – the stories, memories and fears in both of your heads as you get ready to go out. How much do you talk about those, or is it like stepping on a wordless conveyor belt? When drinking at home, are there similar issues? I raise this because your use of the word ‘unpleasant’ could mean a number of things, up to and including an abusive relationship, or one where you don’t feel safe to speak your mind. I’m not suggesting that’s the case, but if you were a woman writing this about a man, my antennae would be on alert.

Perhaps the key is hiding in plain sight and you are both right – it’s about alcohol and control. My gran identified as an alcoholic, although her drinking was only at a low level, but she didn’t want to feel alcohol was about need rather than desire. It’s not for me (or you) to say if this applies to your wife, but this is something that is clearly bothering you enough to write to me.

One route to support is Al-Anon, for people affected by someone else’s drinking. There are a number of stories on their website involving men talking about their wives and alcohol; see if any of them resonate for you. There is also free live chat on the Relate website, which may help. The famous prayer linked to alcohol asks for ‘the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’. I hope you apply courage and wisdom to honour your feelings, too.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Image: Getty

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