Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Addiction, your spouse's real partner.

Marriages fail for a myriad of different reasons.  Some fail because of addiction.  Addiction can be to gambling, to shopping, to pornography.  I have worked on divorces in 50 plus year marriages which are coming apart because of a recently surfaced sex addiction.  But the most common addiction is drugs or alcohol.  Tonight I'll talk about alcohol.

People are often isolated.  They come to me with their own stories, their own experience.  They know what they live through but they don't have the advantage of hearing thousands of stories.  They can't see their story in the context of our larger culture.  Almost always the client and I will consider the question of whether the spouse is just drinking or is addicted.  "Does the drinking interfere with your relationship?"  I'll ask.  If the answer is yes, then there is a problem whether it is from addiction or from mores against alcohol.  "Can your spouse put it aside at any time, not touch it for days or weeks?"  If the answer is no, there is a problem.  That may be simplistic but I think it boils down to that issue.  If you can't leave the alcohol alone for a significant period of time, there's a problem, an addiction in some form.  "If your spouse drinks sporadically when they drink, do they often get inebriated, affected?"  A purely social drinker only drinks on social occassions and rarely drinks to excess.  If your spouse often gets trashed when they drink, a binge drinker, there's a problem.

People who come to see me with this issue have often been living with a raging alcoholic for years but haven't really wanted to face it.  Like Battered Women's Syndrome, there is an inherent denial in it.  This is why groups like Al-Anon exist, to help you get out of that co-dependency.  And alcoholics, like all people everywhere, are on a continuum.  I have worked with folks who have been institutionalized for alcohol abuse and I have worked with folks who can't finish out the day without a couple of stiff drinks, though they don't slur their speech and they don't miss work because of it.  Both, I think, are alcoholics.  I don't know if the APA would support this, but in my practice it's a pretty safe charge. 

Some people are violent when they drink.  Some just fall asleep in their recliner by 7:00 p.m.  All are removed, more distant than they would be without the drink.  All are less engaged, less committed to their partners, because they are committed to their addiction.

Their addiction is not rational.  This is the nature of addiction.  It takes over rational thought.  Rational thought is not a rational proposition in the face of addiction.  Addiction is something else entirely.  It can't be argued away.  The addiction is the spouse's partner, not the person they are married to.  And being the third wheel is very lonely.  There is no intellectual adjustment that can be made.  If your spouse won't get help, you will either live with it forever, in all of its forms, or you escape.

Addiction is not a fault in a moral sense.  It is an illness.  But at the same time, it is not a sinking ship with which you must perish.  You can save yourself; that's fair.  If you have kids, you must save them.  Maybe leaving your addicted spouse will be the wakeup call they need, but that is irrelevant.  You don't leave your spouse to get their attention, you leave your spouse to save yourself, to save your children.

I'm not being melodramatic here.  It is a question of saving yourself and of saving your children.  The life your children will live, growing up in the home of an alcoholic, is a brutish life in the best of circumstances.  It's a short life in the worst.  The abuse, even if it is purely psychological, is something no one should ever have to endure, certainly not the children.  You don't want your children to grow up to be like your addicted spouse.  But you make that outcome all the more certain by staying.

Addiction is a ground for divorce in Georgia, though most people still just claim "Irretrievably Broken" in their Complaint.  You are permitted to end the marriage when your spouse is married to the bottle.

Michael Manely

No comments:

Post a Comment