Ask Allison: I resent my husband’s drinking but I stay quiet for the sake of the kids. Is this really the right thing to do?
Question: My husband drinks a lot — at times about a bottle of wine a night, more on weekends, and I have kind of made my peace with it as it hasn’t encroached on my life too much in the main. I myself don’t drink — probably because of how much he does. We have four kids — teenagers now, so someone had to stay on the ball when they were young. The thing is, it is a massive bar to our intimacy. I do love him but I hate alcohol, if you get me. I feel alcohol always comes before me and I resent that he won’t even consider giving it up to be closer to me. So I don’t feel like getting close.
e has been drinking more over Christmas, which is to be expected, and we haven’t argued about it because I haven’t said anything — which I often do, as saying something usually ends in the most unholy rows. I have been suppressing how I really feel in the interest of peace, primarily so my children can grow up in a peaceful home. But is/was this the right thing to do? Keep the peace for the sake of the kids? Or should I start thinking of myself?
Allison replies: Keeping the peace is something that is done with the good intention of protecting the children. You have tried to talk about your husband’s drinking in the past and when you already know how the argument will end — invariably not well — you naturally stop having the argument in the first place. The cost of ‘keeping the peace’, however, may be a high one — and not just to you.
No one knows what this is like for your family except you. People ascribe harsher moral judgments upon other people and think ‘if this was me, I wouldn’t put up with this’, further shutting down people’s willingness to share vulnerable information with others. It’s a humbling honour to hear the private stories of people’s lived experiences. I would love people to be kinder and less black and white to the suffering people endure or suppress. There is nuance and dynamics in people’s private everyday life that are compounded when addiction is present.
It makes sense that you can’t be intimate. Intimacy asks us to show up and be connected in a way that feels safe and honest about how you feel. Even within your home if you keep up pretences to stave off circular arguments, that façade drops in the privacy of your bedroom.
You may be able to smile, or not call out what is upsetting or frustrating you with the drinking in front of the kids, but your body can’t and doesn’t want to pretend in private. I imagine a bottle wedged between the two of you. Its presence is visceral and raw. It feels almost like a betrayal when he chooses drink over you as I’m sure he’s aware that you are not happy with it.
The word you used is resent. Resentment takes time to build and is deeply destructive to the health of any relationship. I understand why you have stopped voicing how you feel but perhaps rather than it keeping the peace, it has further created a major gap over what you know is acceptable and not to you.
What do you want? What do you think needs to happen? Here’s the hard part: if he is not willing to consider working on his issues with alcohol, what does that mean for you now and in the future? This is an exceptionally hard and important question for you to ask yourself.
The lack of arguments sounds like silent suppression of how you feel. It may get you through the day as you put the family face on but it can’t allow you to connect intimately when it’s just the two of you. What would you like to say to him? As an exercise, write it all out. What would you say to a friend in a similar position? This isn’t to refute the earlier comment of people being harsh on those in difficult circumstances but to allow you to see this from a more objective perspective.
Being in the relationship, marriage and family makes decisions so much harder. I’m going to approach this gently — I understand that you want your children to grow up in a peaceful home and that all your efforts haven’t had the behavioural impact you are hoping for. This is because you are dealing with an addiction that he hasn’t taken responsibility or ownership of yet, and this is something only he can do.
What are the consequences of staying silent? It is more than the inability to be intimate. It is showing your teenagers that you accept things that I’m sure they are aware you aren’t comfortable with. They are learning that if you do voice your concerns, the conversation will be shut down with anger. They are learning to accept and suppress emotions and to silence valid concerns in a relationship. Suppressed ‘peace’ leaves a pyrrhic victory in its wake with short-term peace but long-term devastation.
There is never a good time to do this. But sometimes after an intensely alcohol-heavy time like Christmas, it can provide the possibility of an intervention where you could set boundaries in a clear and consequential way. Ask yourself, what would that look like? Becoming clear on this is your first step. Moving out of denial is one he will need to contend with. Dealing with the fallout of that if he isn’t willing to consider changes is something perhaps you need to work on. What that would mean to you? You mentioned you feel he chooses drink first — now ask when you last chose yourself first.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column, email [email protected]
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