Relationship Advice

Tough Love

young woman

I do love your column, but I find that the merit of working out troubles is not presented sufficiently. I am an alcoholic, and I am married to one. We have been married for 10 years. With all the problems of marriage, alcohol, and other things, I think it is very important to work things out.

People who write you have problems, and you always suggest breaking away. We have two lovely boys. I can't just walk out on this. So I quit drinking, but he didn't. I still have faith in him. He will in due time, though I keep getting back to drinking when he doesn't quit.

He has not been in trouble with the law over his drinking or drug use so far, so he feels infallible. I haven't either, but I feel it's important to try to quit before it's too late.

Everybody has their problems, you too probably, so don't let people give up hope, because there might be hope. If there is no hope, there is not life. I wish you the best. Keep up the good work.

Noelle


Noelle, it appears you don't think we should tell people they can get out of a bad situation they are powerless to change.

We don't crush hope. We encourage it. We encourage people to make changes for themselves. We tell them they can change their lives. Often that means doing the hard thing and leaving behind a person who chooses not to change.

On the surface it appears you have compassion for your husband. That compassion comes at a grave price to your sons. Alcoholics and alcoholism define their world. It's only reasonable to assume they will grow up with the standard outcomes from living in an alcoholic household.

They will only guess what normal is. They will be impulsive and struggle with intimate relationships. They will have trouble completing projects, judge themselves without mercy, and suffer from a deep, undiagnosed depression.

Even if your husband finally quits, your boys are likely to be grown before it happens, and the damage will be done.

You don't address an obvious undercurrent in your letter. Your husband is your excuse to drink. Staying with him allows you to drink because he is drinking, and neither of you will quit for the sake of the children. Parents define a child's world, and you are both under the influence of alcohol.

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge receives a visit from three ghosts. The first shows him the past, and the second the present. After each visit Scrooge can still say, "Bah, humbug." It's as if Dickens tried to be nice to Scrooge, then realized he had to be hard to be kind.

Only the third ghost can change Scrooge. That ghost shows Scrooge his own death and desolate gravestone. In desperation Scrooge cries out, "Why show me this, if I am beyond all hope."

But Scrooge was not beyond hope. As Dickens explained, "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change." If you want a different life, you must do different things.

Don't tell us it's hard. We know that.

For your own sake, for the sake of your sobriety, and for your sons' sake, you must act. But we won't stop telling people they can redesign their life, and that the only person they can change is themselves.

Wayne & Tamara