Your husband drinks too much, and it’s affecting your family, finances, and future. Should you give up on an alcoholic husband, or keep hoping and praying he’ll stop drinking? Leaving isn’t easy because you have so many things to consider: wedding vows, children, extended family members, health issues, your financial future, household concerns, aging parents, and even your pets.
I can’t tell you if you should put your energy toward helping an alcoholic husband or focus on finding happiness in a loveless marriage. But, I can share a few things to consider when you’re thinking about leaving your marriage. These tips will help you see if you’re ready to give up on your alcoholic husband or keep moving forward in hope, faith, and prayer.
Every marriage and situation is different, but it’s important to remember that alcoholics do stop drinking and husbands can change. “Every day men, women, and adolescents take their first steps on this journey,” says Joe Herzanek, author of Why Don’t They JUST QUIT? Hope for Families Struggling With Addiction. “Dramatic changes do happen.”
I don’t know your specific situation – but even if I did, I couldn’t tell you if you should leave your alcoholic husband. This is a huge life decision that you have to come to on your own. If you take someone’s advice about your marriage, you risk making a decision that isn’t yours. It’s good to listen to other people’s stories and reflect on how other families coped with an alcoholic husband or drug-addicted wife. It can be especially helpful to talk to wives who decided it was time to leave when husbands wouldn’t stop drinking.
It’s also important to get the support you need. Being honest and open about your marriage problems is painful, embarrassing, and even shameful for many women. But this isn’t a road you should never walk alone! Sometimes the simple act of sharing your experience can help you see what to do, how to cope, and when to leave a marriage that was long ago destroyed by alcoholism.
6 Signs It’s Time to Give Up on Your Alcoholic Husband
I was inspired to write this article when I was working in a residential recovery program for men who are alcoholics and drug addicts. Most were husbands who had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for years, often decades. Some had relapsed many times; others were first-timers who just needed an intense recovery period.
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease. The proponents of Al-Anon believe it is a family disease, which means everyone is affected when a husband can’t or won’t stop drinking. Al-Anon’s belief is that a wife can help her alcoholic husband stop drinking. I’m not convinced this is true in every case. I believe that sometimes it really is best to give up on an alcoholic husband, walk away from the marriage, and move forward into a healthier, happier future.
But, as I said, the decision to give up on an alcoholic husband has to be yours. These signs it’s time to leave a marriage destroyed by alcoholism might help you see your own situation more clearly.
1. Your husband hasn’t hit “rock bottom”
Alcoholics Anonymous operates out of the foundational belief that alcoholics have no power over their drinking. This means that alcoholic husbands do not have the power to choose not to drink. Alcohol is more powerful than their will; alcoholic husbands are weak and helpless in the grip of the disease. Only when they hit rock bottom do they realize they need help.
Your alcoholic husband has to come to the painful, desperate realization that he has to stop drinking but he can’t do it alone. An alcoholic can’t overcome the disease of alcoholism by himself or through willpower. Has your husband hit rock bottom? Does he realize he is helpless in the face of drink? Some wives choose to leave their marriages when they believe their alcoholic husbands won’t or can’t turn to God or a Higher Power for the strength and they need to recover.
2. You haven’t tried a trial separation yet
If you believe your husband is a long way from admitting he has a drinking problem, you might consider a trial separation. You don’t have to think of it as giving up on your alcoholic husband or even leaving your marriage. Rather, you are stepping back, giving yourself and your husband space to think, and praying for wisdom and guidance as you consider your future.
If you don’t have the financial resources for a separation, read How to Leave Your Husband When You Have No Money.
If you’ve already left your alcoholic husband and are wondering if you should give him another chance, read What You Need to Know About Reconciling After a Separation.
3. You tried the interventions recommended by Alcoholics Anonymous – and they failed
You may be hesitating to give up on your alcoholic husband because you haven’t tried everything to save your marriage. Maybe you’ve heard of an intervention, or even tried a family intervention to talk to your husband. But, have you tried an intervention recommended and even planned by an Alcoholics Anonymous representative? During an intervention, a special interventionist can help you talk to your husband. You’ll learn effective, clear ways to express how your husband’s alcoholism is affecting you and your family. You’ll also be honest about the reasons you want to give up on your husband because of his drinking problem. With interventionist’s help you may even be able to get your husband to admit that he is an alcoholic and that he needs help if he wants to stop drinking.
Some women choose to leave their alcoholic husbands after one or more interventions. An intervention – especially with a specialist and other family members – can help you see if you should give up on your marriage.
4. You’re tired of hiding and lying to protect your husband
Lying is one of the most powerful signs it’s time for a wife to leave her alcoholic husband. She has to cover for her husband’s drinking problem by telling her children, friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers lies.
It’s more difficult for the wife of an alcoholic to see the lies she’s telling herself. She wants to believe her husband will stop drinking, will change, will get healthy and sober. She desperately wants to save her marriage and to live in peace with her husband and children. So she tells herself this will be her husband’s last drinking binge, last fit of rage, last stint in the bar or downstairs with the bottles.
If you’re asking yourself “Should I give up on my alcoholic husband?” then you’re getting ready to admit the truth about your marriage. But if you’re still making excuses for your husband to his employer, coworkers, children, family members, neighbors, and friends then you may not be ready to see the truth yourself. You may not be ready to leave your marriage – and this is understandable! Leaving your husband, even if he’s an alcoholic, is very difficult and painful.
5. You’re learning how alcoholism affects marriages and families
The more you learn about addictive behavior, the easier it’ll be to decide if you should give up on your alcoholic husband. The less you know about alcoholism, the more confused you’ll be.
In Why Don’t They JUST QUIT? Hope for Families Struggling With Addiction, Joe Herzanek answers the most common questions people have about addicted loved ones. He describes how to effectively intervene, why an alcoholic husband doesn’t have to hit rock-bottom, and when helping is actually hurting.
Before you leave your marriage, learn why quitting drinking isn’t the same as recovering. Learn how to deal with your husband’s possible relapses into alcoholism – because even if you leave your marriage, you may still have to co-parent your children with your husband. Even if you give up on your alcoholic husband, you can’t give up on your children and family. Learn how important faith and hope is in recovery.
How to Change Your Drinking, A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol is a great resource for alcoholics who want to stop drinking. If your husband wants to recover, you and he might learn about harm reduction together.
Harm reduction may be the single most effective approach to drug and alcohol problems. It uses pragmatic, evidence-based strategies that work for alcoholics. How to Change Your Drinking also offers innumerable practical tips from alcoholics who know what it’s like to struggle with this addiction, and who have turned their drinking habits. This book is the first comprehensive compilation of harm reduction strategies aimed specifically at people who drink alcohol.
6. You have support from a counselor or organization such as Al-Anon
Have you talked – more than once or twice – to experienced survivors and people in recovery? The more you talk to recovering alcoholics and people who understand how drinking problems affect marriage, the closer you’ll get to a decision. If you haven’t talked through your thoughts about giving up on your alcoholic husband, find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon group.
Talk to a counselor who specializes in addictions and even alcoholic husbands. Learn about the difference between giving up on your husband versus saving your marriage. Talk about helping your husband deal with this disease without falling into a codependent relationship.
What do you think – have you come any closer to deciding if you should give up your husband? Alcoholism is a painful, complex disease that doesn’t just affect him…it affects you, too. How are you coping with this decision? Your thoughts are welcome below.
If you’re not married but you are dating a guy with a drinking problem, read How to Love an Alcoholic Boyfriend.
Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.
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