Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Feeling stuck: My husband has recently started drinking very heavily. He has always drank, but it was always socially and only a few nights a week. Now he’s drinking every day, and even on work nights he will drink 4-10 beers.
He’s not physically abusive, but when he has had too many drinks, he gets himself in embarrassing situations, picks arguments, and takes any opportunity to drink more. In the last few months alone, he has broken things in our home, urinated on the floors, and has fallen asleep in bars. I’ve tried talking to him about it, and he has acknowledged that he drinks a lot but he tells me he only drinks to let off steam and he doesn’t feel the need to stop. He says he has always been like this, and that it is only now unacceptable as he is getting older. He has depression, and I’m concerned about how the drinking is impacting his mental health further.
I want to be a supportive spouse but I’m at the stage where I don’t know how to help him. My own mental health is starting to decline due to the constant stress. He was going to therapy, but has skipped his last several sessions as he says his therapist doesn’t help him. I asked him if he was willing to try another therapist, but so far he hasn’t committed to booking an appointment. How can I help him get the help he needs? Beyond approaching this with understanding, and encouraging him to get help, is there more I can do? Or is this something he has to do on his own? If so, when do I take myself out of this situation for my own health?
A: I know you want to get him help more than anything, but you seem to know the hard truth about this situation—only he can decide that he wants to get help. You can’t make him do anything. You said he was going to therapy. What about you? That would be the perfect context in which to get some clarity about how much you’re willing to put up with and where you will draw the line and leave. But, spoiler: If you’re asking “when do I take myself out of this situation for my own health,” the answer is probably “sooner rather than later.” That doesn’t mean you have to divorce, but you can separate and save yourself the stress of dealing with his behavior every day. Even if you’re not able to make it to therapy, a group like Al-Anon might be beneficial to you. If nothing else, you’ll get regular reminders that others have been in this situation before, and you’re not alone.
My fiancé comes from the home of an alcoholic parent and an absentee parent. As a result, he is incredibly uncomfortable around alcohol. I come from a family where wine is drunk nightly and alcohol isn’t a big deal. When we first started dating, he would also drink wine or beer with me. However, now he very rarely drinks (maybe once a month and only if we are going out) and dislikes it when I do. I like to have wine usually on a nightly basis, but these days, it always becomes a big deal between us. He says that it is wrong for me to drink every night (two-to-three glasses of wine over a five-to-six hour period) and that I have a problem with alcohol. I do not feel this is the case, but sometimes won’t enjoy a glass of wine just to avoid an argument with him. I also now think about alcohol much more than I ever have before, but is it because I have a drinking problem or just because of the issues it causes between us?