Picture this scene:
A young, newlywed couple has an argument. He says she won’t listen. She says he is domineering. Tensions rise and the argument leads to the husband walking out the door. Perhaps he walks around the block or goes to a friend’s house to blow off steam. Maybe she calls her mom for some comfort and insight. Later that night, he comes home and they make up. It wasn’t pleasant, but this couple has experienced a milestone of married life: the ability to have an argument and get over it.
Now imagine a twist in the story: The husband struggles with drinking. The fight ensues and he leaves for a bar instead of a friend’s house. He doesn’t get home until 2 AM. Smelling like beer and smoke, he sways into the apartment, smashing glass objects off of the buffet as he enters. Of course his wife is awake, worried and angry. The fight escalates further and if he stays the night, they sleep on opposite sides of the bed or in separate rooms. The next morning, he doesn’t remember much and she pretends it never happened. This couple has experienced a milestone of an alcoholic marriage: the habit of coping with drunken behavior with denial.
In both scenes, learning new skills for their relationship could help a great deal. The couple not affected by addiction could have their share of extra stress if they don’t learn new communication skills and the lack of those skills could, indeed, eventually ruin their relationship. But what they do have is two people who actually remember what happened and hopefully have the consciousness to consider getting help if they have a hard time getting along.
The second couple however, has an added dilemma. If the sober spouse does NOT learn a new way to take care of herself and communicate with her spouse, and the drinker does not learn alternatives to coping with alcohol, there will very possibly be life threatening, marriage destroying behaviors growing over the years. For them, catching this pattern early and dealing with it wisely may be a matter of life and death.
This, my friends, is the challenge of an alcoholic marriage. Its behaviors approach insidiously, sometimes just an extension of the bachelor party brought into daily life. The non-drinking spouse may try everything from going along, to scolding and shaming, to crying and begging, to leaving for a long weekend with mom. If the marriage survives the first year, there may be not only a spouse, but children may come into the mix.
Working with families affected by addiction is the key to saving lives. As a wise friend once said, “Very few addicts wake up one morning and say, ‘It’s a beautiful day! I think I will go into treatment.’” Therefore, it is often left to the family to see what is unfolding and take action. This can be done first by changing their own actions and reactions in relation to the behaviors of their struggling loved one.
Changing a family environment from toxic to sane and healthy is one of the most powerful ways to help addicts get and stay sober. Yet, many treatment programs, focused intently on helping their addicted clients, either ignore or pay minimal attention to the people most influential in their clients’ lives: their families. While this focus is understandable in an era of cut budgets and so many addicts to help, someone has to fill in the gap. And the time is NOW – For those already in treatment, and just as importantly, for those families whose addicts have no intention of going into treatment at all or who have had multiple relapses. Ignoring the challenge of empowering families to wake up and learn new, more helpful ways to relate to their addicted loved ones, leaves countless addicts, who could have gotten help, mired in toxic relationships and environments that only serve to inadvertently encourage their continued use.
Beverly Buncher, MA, PCC, CTPC, Family Recovery Coach, helps family members of addicts turn their chaos to sanity, through her Be a Loving Mirror (BALM) Family Recovery Coaching Programs. She is the originator and host of the Daily BALM, a weekday teleseminar that helps family members around the world learn practical recovery principles and tools. Author of the BALM E-Book series, Coach Bev is internationally recognized as a Professional Certified Coach by the ICF (International Coach Federation). You can learn more about her work on her website at www.familyrecoveryresources.com. To contact Bev; you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 786 859 4050.