How Do You Stay Sober When Your Partner Drinks?
In a perfect world, once you realize you have a problem with drugs and alcohol and decide to quit, your friends, your family, and especially your significant other would all respect your struggle and quit drinking too, at least around you. However, reality is seldom so obliging. We live in a drinking culture where the majority of Americans and Europeans drink at least occasionally and often regularly.
For people who are capable of drinking moderately, that’s not a big deal but for you, it can be terribly frustrating trying to stay sober when the people around you are drinking. It can be especially challenging if your significant other continues drinking in your presence, especially early on. However, you will often find that in recovery you have to make the best of an imperfect situation and this is no different. If you are trying to stay sober and your partner still drinks, here are some tips for making the best of it.
It’s crucial to communicate and not every couple is good or even competent at this. There are several reasons for this. First of all, you can hardly expect your partner to help you out if they don’t know what you need. Maybe you’ve said, “Hey, would you mind not drinking around me for, say, the next six months while I’m just getting started?” And they said, “Sorry, no,” and that was the end of it.
Maybe you just assumed they would quit drinking too but the thought never crossed their mind. Even if you did raise the issue and they said they wouldn’t quit drinking, there may be other ways they are willing to accommodate you but you have to learn to communicate to work these things out. You may even need couples therapy to work on communication in general.
The second reason communication is important is that poor communication leads to more conflicts, and frequently arguing with your significant other is one of the biggest ways to ratchet up your stress--one of the most powerful triggers of cravings. Learning to communicate better reduces stress and reduces cravings.
Know Your Triggers
It’s always important to know your triggers--the people, places, and things that cause drug and alcohol cravings. While there are some general things that tend to trigger cravings for most people--stress, for example--other cravings can be very specific, such as a friend you always used to drink with, a favorite bar, or even a particular holiday or anniversary.
The good news is that the more aware you are of your own specific cravings, the more information you can give your partner and the better you can work out effective compromises. Maybe one particular restaurant triggers cravings but another similar restaurant doesn’t. Maybe the smell of tequila triggers cravings but the smell of gin puts you off entirely. The more you are aware of these things, the more you can work around them.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
As with communication, maintaining healthy boundaries is always important in a relationship and it’s especially important when you’re recovering from addiction. Simply put, healthy boundaries are when you respect your partner’s values and autonomy and they respect yours. So while it’s important to express your needs and ask them to help, it’s also important to realize that you ultimately can’t control what they do.
It’s also important to assert your own values and independence. It’s fairly common for people with substance use issues to get involved in codependent relationships, in which one person forsakes their own needs and desire to care for the other, which is bad for both partners. If boundaries are a problem for you, you may need couples therapy or you may even need to consider separating.
Involve Them in Recovery
As noted above, it’s often a good idea to participate in couples therapy when communication or boundaries become a problem. Often, family therapy is even an integral part of addiction treatment programs. However, involving your significant other in recovery goes far beyond that. Many programs offer education sessions to help family members better assist their loved one’s recovery. Just having a better understanding of how addiction works and the roles family play can make them feel more engaged in the process and better able to help. They may also benefit from participating in a group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, which can help them better understand what you’re going through while also offering them some emotional support.
Move Things Around
One major challenge in having a partner who still drinks is if they want to keep alcohol in the house. While it’s better to keep alcohol and drugs out of the house entirely, you may be able to reach an acceptable compromise. For example, maybe they can keep their beer in a different fridge, perhaps in a room you don’t go into very often, so you aren’t confronted with a case of beer every time you want to make a sandwich.
Maybe they can drink something you’re not especially fond of, rather than your go-to drink. Perhaps there are other triggering items in the house that you could get rid of, put in storage, or put somewhere you’re less likely to see them. As discussed above, it all comes down to knowing your triggers and being able to communicate.
Make a Plan for Socializing
Home arrangements aren’t the only challenge. If you’re going out, especially with friends, you may have to strategize on how best to avoid triggers and temptations. For example, you might take separate cars, in case you want to leave early. You may prefer certain friends to others. You may decide that for some occasions, it would be better if you stayed home or did something else while your partner goes out. When you do go out together, it may be a good idea to remind your partner that they shouldn’t let you drink. Get them to promise, if necessary.
Remember That You’re Ultimately Responsible
It would be great if your partner was completely committed to helping you stay sober and willing to do whatever it takes. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and even supportive partners don’t always know the right thing to do in every situation. The important thing to remember is that although support is nice, you are ultimately responsible for your own recovery.
Life is often messy and sometimes you just have to weigh up all your competing motivations and make the best choice you can. It’s possible that your partner won’t stop drinking but is still, on balance, good for you and good for your recovery. Communicate your needs as well as you can, maintain healthy boundaries, and make strategic compromises, and most of the time, you should be able to stay sober, even if your partner drinks.
At The Foundry, we know that no one recovers from addiction alone. Having a strong sober network as well as a supportive partner are among the greatest assets you can have. Our program aims to involve the family in recovery as much as possible, providing both emotional support and educational opportunities for the people closest to our clients. For more information, call us today at (844) 955-1066.