How to Talk to an Alcoholic Spouse or Partner

For most married couples communication is a constant work in progress. Add alcoholism to the mix and this delicate dance becomes much more complicated. You may be nervous or simply not know how to talk to your alcoholic spouse about their drinking. It will take work and forethought, but it is possible to have an honest conversation. Here’s how.

1. Avoid Being Judgmental

For marital communication to be successful it’s important that neither person talks down to the other, even when talking to an alcoholic spouse. It’s also key to find common ground, keeping in mind that the enemy is not your spouse, but the addiction. Your alcoholic partner will be ready with a firmly held line of defense for their behavior if they sense a personal attack. The conversation can easily turn into a painful counter-attack where you are blamed for everything. Voicing your love for your partner while discussing the hurt you feel is being done to the relationship can make a difficult conversation feel less threatening.

2. Keep Things Short, Sweet and Honest

When you talk to your alcoholic spouse, a conversational tone of voice is vitally important. While it’s difficult to separate emotional involvement from what you have to say, a calm tone can be mirrored by your spouse and lead to a calm atmosphere. It’s been wisely said that the powerful person is the one who doesn’t need to resort to shouting. Let your spouse know that you have some things you’d like to say and you would appreciate them listening until you are finished. Then state the facts about the most recent time their drinking negatively affected you and the family. If there have been multiple past events a single statement such as “This isn’t the first time” is sufficient – don’t voice a litany of all their past mistakes. You can be very plain about how their drinking makes you feel. Let them know you feel frightened, embarrassed or hurt. Tell them if they are mean when they drink, or if the kids are confused or scared by their behavior. It’s okay to let them know that you grieve over what has been lost in your relationship. But don’t make ultimatums that the relationship is on the line unless they change – at least initially.

3. Don’t Make Plans or Promises at First

Let it be enough at first to let your spouse see what is going on in your heart. Then let them sit with that information for a while. You may be met with stony silence. You may receive a counter-strike like, “It’s your nagging like this that makes me want to drink.” Or you may hear over-the-top promises of change. Don’t go there. Say what’s in your heart and then let your partner process it without allowing them to lead you further. It can feel so hopeful to hear a partner’s promise that things will never be repeated, but just remember that even hoped-for words can be unconscious devices to end a distinctly unpleasant conversation. Harsh words can spring from the same goal, so don’t let them get you too discouraged either.

4. Let Action Come After Reflection

This conversation is so important that you might even write down what you want to say. Edit it, remembering that shorter is not only clearer, it’s also better. Then practice saying it out loud until you can say the words without becoming agitated or without raising your voice.

You Can Learn How to Talk to Your Alcoholic Spouse Again

It will take courage to confront your spouse. No matter how things seem at first, you can feel good about working to re-establish solid understanding. You can learn how to talk to your alcoholic spouse again. It’s really only after solid lines of communication are opened that a viable action plan can be created. Don’t forget: you might need support, too. Addiction affects everyone.

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