Here is April’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
When I met my husband he had been sober about a year. I was nervous when a few months ago he decided he wanted a drink. I feared it was a slippery slope. He assured me he had no intention of going “back there”. Tonight he called me to come pick him up from a bar because he couldn’t drive. I’m glad he called and didn’t drive. But, I am angry, scared, hurt and emotional. I don’t really know what to do.
Signed, Angry at Alcohol
As a marriage and family therapist, I work with a lot of couples around problem drinking. I use the term “data collection” often. What data did he collect from this experience? What did you learn? In cases like what you describe, I’m curious with my clients about the motivation to try drinking again. Is it the taste? The socializing? The feeling of “being normal?” Stress management? In the experiment to have “just one or two,” what was the outcome data? Seems like in your case, maybe his experiment shows that it leads to uncontrolled drinking, so maybe he shouldn’t drink. Then he gets to decide what other healthy means he can use to feel social/normal/de-stressed. I also stress that this isn’t a moral or character issue, but a relationship issue: his relationship to himself, his relationship with alcohol and his relationship with you. How does he want to manage those relationships? Most of us, after having more than two drinks, are no longer fully present in our relationships. We are dulled, blurred, or amped. It’s like being in a relationship with someone who is always texting. They’re in the room with you, but they aren’t engaged with you in an authentic way. Problem drinking is scary (for health reasons, violence, driving, etc.), but it is also lonely, for the drinker and those in relationship with him.
I would recommend finding a therapist who can help you two navigate this road. It’s true–the alcohol use/abuse is his problem to figure out and manage, but you deserve some support and guidance about how to partner with him, how to love him and yourself in the healthiest ways possible while he figures out this aspect of his life.
I wish you the best,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.