Healthy Boundaries With Your Alcoholic Spouse

set-boundaries

Imagine for a moment your neighbor decided to toss his garbage into your yard.
What would you think?
How long would you put up with it.
One you made it clear the garbage didn’t belong to you or in your yard, what if it continued?
You might find you need to have a boundary you can monitor and maintain with your neighbor.
Let’s look at a few things you may want to know about boundaries and your alcoholic.

Must be clear

You may be intimidated or reluctant to speak your mind with your alcoholic.
It does take courage to say in very clear words you will no longer tolerate specific behaviors.
To be sure when you set down a boundary it’s imperative you are willing to stand by it.
If you set a boundary then break it or allow it to be broken without consequence it becomes permission to ignore is.
Actually it reduces your efforts to an idle threat.
We all know those don’t work.

Must be consistent

What you need to avoid with your alcoholic is the infamous double message.
Example- You tell your alcoholic you won’t buy booze any longer to help with the addiction.
Then sooner or later you buy alcohol because s/he’s out of money.
Double messages remove all of the benefit of a set boundary.Not only do you need to say the boundary clearly but you need to respond to it consistently.
The longer you keep it the more likely it will become understood by your alcoholic.

Must have consequences

This is where you may find it most difficult.
It’s a place where initially you may believe you are willing to follow through only to decide later you really are unwilling to do it.
I encourage you to think through a boundary and the consequence when it’s violated.
Weigh the pros and cons of follow through.
Only when you are willing to see it to the end is it a valid boundary to impliment.

Must serve a purpose

There are many reasons to set a boundary.

  • Self respect
  • Avoid harm
  • Maintain values

Just to mention a few.
If your motivation is simply to control you’ll more likely than not find it difficult to follow through with your alcoholic.
The ALCOHOL is what’s in control and you don’t have control of your alcoholic.
You only control what you feel, think, say or do.
Nothing more.

Must be worth it

If a boundary has importance to you, there’s a better chance you’ll protect and keep it.
You have to be vested in the outcome.
It takes energy to fight for boundaries.
This is why if you don’t find it to be important, there’s no need to set the boundary.

I know it’s hard to establish boundaries with your alcoholic.
When you get to the place you’re willing to defend yourself you may be ready to build a fence in some areas of your life.

In what ways have you been able to establish healthy boundaries. Please let us know in the comment section below.




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  1. Christina

    This is helpful

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      I’m glad it’s helpful. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Ross

    This is a good article ! Thank you !

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      You’re very welcome. Glad we can help.

  3. Annie

    Hello:
    Could you give some concrete examples of what you mean by setting a boundary? I am really struggling with this because I know I can’t make him change his behavior. So how can I set boundaries that will help me deal with living with him and what are some examples of specific boundaries that might help?

    Here is our pattern: he drinks most nights, and he usually drinks a six pack. He gets to the point where he is drunk, walking weird and slurring, then he goes to sleep. Oh, and he also plays his music loudly when he’s drinking, and smokes a lot of pot. I feel like I am living in a frat house and I hate, hate, hate it. I want a calm, neat orderly home not to feel like I’m always at a party. He was recently out of town for a week and I felt this deep sense of relief and calm and I got a TON of stuff accomplished. So his drinking and this party atmosphere is affecting me and my ability to get stuff done and live a calm life.

    The last straw for me was when he did this again on Monday night. What boundaries can I set so that I have the calm and eace I need without making a futile attempt to “make” him behave a certain way. I was just about to tell him I’m moving out if he continues to drink like this, but then I saw what you wrote about how most temporary separation leads to divorce and I don’t want that. I just want him to wake up, grow up and stop this.

    Thank you,
    Annie

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Annie,
      Let me clarify. Even though the statistics favor divorce when you enter a temporary separation, there are times it’s just what needs to be done. On the other hand why should it be YOU that leaves? If it were to end in a divorce and you left you’d likely not get the home.

      To the issue you asked. Here is a simple boundary. I’ll not buy alcohol for you at any time. This can be a hard and fast rule. Don’t buy it along with the groceries, don’t run into the corner market or liquor store to pick up a little booze for the friends. The answer is NO! This is a clear boundary that you can determine to keep.

      Another… I’ll not stay around when you’re drinking. One of us has to go. This one is more difficult because you need a place to go or he must drink away from home. If you set it down you need to follow through with it. If he starts to drink, you ask him to leave. If he doesn’t leave you leave. Simple as that.

      Yet another… You may sleep on the couch if you choose to drink, no exceptions. This means regardless of how amorous he gets he’s on the couch.

      The calm home isn’t going to happen with your alcoholic in the same home unless he gets into recovery. Even then it’s likely going to take time before you reach a place where it becomes peaceful.

      We do offer free consultation with a donation

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Tom

    Thanks,Reading this did help.
    I’m fortunate that I was able to to move out. I left 2 years ago. I’ll call that step one. Step two, I told her she can continue drinking, but not under my roof, and after 2 years of her poping in and out of my apatment (She has a house) I told her that she could continue drinking, but I needed to move on. I’ll call that step 3. She did get help in March, (Intensive in and out)and now she has been MIA back at the house, just this past week. (So sad what this addiction does, she seemed so happy sober) Now I’m at the hardest part, the last step, because I told her this was her last chance, and I need to stick to my guns. Over a dozen years, about 10 hospital stays for her, and now I need to take care of myself. 3 or 4 years and I’m retiring, fearful of being alone, but like the above mentions, there is no real relationship, and I am really already alone. This is very hard, because when she is sober, we have so much fun together, rarely argue, laugh all the time. Such a waste!

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      I think you said it well in your last sentence. What a waste. Some of the most wonderful people in the world are those who are addicted. It’s the alcohol that simply takes the very life and essence from them and make it nearly impossible to have a meaningful two way relationship. I’m sure it breaks your heart knowing what could be vs. what is. That’s the story of addiction. Thanks for your comments.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the share Tom. I feel like you and I walk the same road. I have been apartment hunting this week to check out prices. I wanted to do it to get my 5year old away form her completely just when she’s drinking. (Right now we just go out till bedtime) She doesn’t drink all the time but she will binge for a week straight now. she and I have an amazing relationship when she is sober. Our sense of humor is the same, many of the same goals, likes, wants. But she has been spiraling downward with the drinking while I have been going upwards with my business. I don’t know where we are going but I have to set boundaries like you did and hope she is able to respond. Your comment “such a waste” really hit home for me. Thanks again for the sharing, it shed some light on where I’m at. (My first time posting anything)

      • FreeMyAddict Team

        Thanks for your comments You can do this. Set the boundaries it’s worth it.

  5. Ellie

    Perhaps what I’m going thru can help – I’m the alcoholic, with God’s grave I am in recovery and sober 85 days today. My husband has done everything he possibly could to get me to stop drinking. He is not a drinker. He has poured out liquor, kept me away from certain places and has been begging me to get help. I did not listen. In December he took out a no-harass order of protection that simply said I could not be near him or our child when I was drinking. As an alcoholic, I violated it. I was arrested for violating it in the beginning of Jan and I have not lived home since. I checked myself into a 30 day inpatient, have done an intensive out patient, I now do out patient and work the 12 steps of AA. My husband has not lifted the order or protection so while I do get to see our daughter I have not been able to speak to him. I can honestly say that I did not mean anything I ever said to him when I was drinking. Sober me loves that man more than anything in this world, I just couldn’t control my drinking. I don’t know if I will get a chance to show him me sober and be a family again, I pray that I do. What I do know is that for today I will not pick up a drink. I realize by tough love the seriousness of my drinking. I never want to put anyone in that position again, let alone myself. I am so much happier with my sober self. Maybe my husband thinks I still haven’t felt enough pain, it’s been 3 months. I pray for the opportunity to hold him tight and never let him go again. He’s my “one” and I miss him terribly. Going thru this on my own has been so hard but I was given the chance to do it with his support and couldn’t. I have been able to build a foundation in AA that I need but I’m also ready to go back to my family now. Good luck to all of you. Alcoholism is a real disease. Tough love worked for me.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Ellie, Thank you so much for sharing your story. When drinking alcoholics perpetually seek to drink again. They avoid consequences for their behavior and often regard negative outcomes of their own behavior as a reason to use. I trust there will be a day where your husband’s tough love results in long term sobriety for you and that your family can be restored. Whether that happens or not you MUST keep sober one day at a time because it’s best for YOU, then your daughter, then your husband. You don’t stay sober for them, but rather because it’s right and best for YOU. It’s the only way it works. I hear your heartfelt desire to reunite with your husband. I hope it happens for your sake.

  6. Ellie

    Thank you for your kind words. In the past I always tried to get sober for him or for our daughter and of course it never worked. I needed to hit the rock bottom I did to throw in the towel and beg for an inpatient to take me. I was finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. I wanted this for myself. In sobriety I realize that anything I put before my sobriety I will lose. I’m sure that my husband will be happy to know I will be spending an hour at an AA meeting rather than disappearing with our dog for endless hours. It was really hard to break the cycle. I needed to get away to do it. This time away from my family has given me the opportunity to build a strong foundation in AA. Whether God gives us another chance or not I will stay sober with His good grace. I am not giving my sobriety count back for anything. I feel absolutely amazing in three months and I know that as long as I stay sober the rewards will just keep coming. I finally feel free of all the pain that alcohol caused me. I’m now learning other ways to deal with life’s “things”. Alcohol was my solution, not my problem.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      I applaud you on your sobriety. As they say around the table ‘life happens’. It happens to all of us. Things break down, people hurt us, we are disappointed and now in sobriety you face these things with hope that life will get better without booze. Thanks for sharing on our site.

    • Jessica

      What beautiful words. I don’t know you but I support you and pray that your desire to be sober and your sobriety brings you the best blessings!

      • FreeMyAddict Team

        Thanks Jessica for your kind words.

  7. Mischa

    I am desperate to set boundaries and stick to them. My husband was admitted to an institute this past summer for attempted suicide with scripts & alcohol. He spent 5 days in inpatient treatment and then a month in outpatient. The entire time he refused to accept he was an alcoholic. He was drinking within days of being released from inpatient. And continues now. He was given a dual diagnosis – clinical depression and alcoholism. He has been on antidepressants for years however he continues to drink and so the antidepressants don’t work. There have been times that he attempted to quit drinking and there is obviously a big difference in his behavior attitude and mood for the better. Because he was successful at abstaining from alcohol for two or three weeks he assumed that he did not have a problem with it. For approximately the last 6-8 months he barely works to brings any income into the household. So now everything is on me to provide a living for the two of us. My income is not enough to meet all of our bills. And now when he does get money from a job (he owns a business )he just uses it on alcohol and doesn’t contribute towards anything financially. I have stopped buying groceries. I did not Pay cable bill- allowing it to get shut off. I am considering having his phone with data shut off just because I feel he is getting very comfortable with me working and somehow the bills get paid. I have put $10000 on credit cards over the past few years just to make sure bills get paid. Oh and also 2 different DUI LAWYERS for 2 arrests. I have been working a second job storing away money just in case I cannot put up with being the sole provider for someone who refuses to contribute. I am about at the end of my tolerance. I have grown weary. I go to AL-ANON and see a therapist. I am in need of courage to set boundaries. If I only knew what those boundaries would be. Anyway thanks for listening.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      You indicated your finances aren’t enough to go it alone but on the other hand you indicate your alcoholic isn’t contributing. This double bind is so common with codependency and addiction. No doubt you love him and want him to get better. You’re exactly correct about needing to set boundaries. Make sure the boundaries you set you’re able to keep. Speak truth to him and tell him what you expect from him. Treatment isn’t always successful. The key is for him to change his thinking about alcohol, his drinking buddies, and is support system for recovery. He really can’t do it alone. Here’s an article on this site that might help. How to cope without leaving your alcoholic.

  8. Rose

    Hello,
    My husband and I have been married 21 years and we met young and drinking. His father was an alcoholic. Five years ago through our partying and getting off track we almost divorced. We accepted Christ in 2010 and our lives significantly changed. We are very active in our church but have continued on and off to struggle with alcohol. My husband use to drink like three nights a week. Mostly the issue was when we were socially drinking we wouldn’t stop. We continue to drunkness. As we have become more involved in church and a striving to be more CHRIST like, I feel like I have tried everything. i stopped for over six months and was able to control it, having 1-2 and then stopping. However for me even two times a year going to the extent of drunkness is not who I wanted to be anymore. I have begged him to stop together 100%, I’ve asked him to hold me accountable. Which he doesn’t (as if I do) it’s ok for him. Anyway here is where we stand now. I have decided to stop all together with or without him (as I can only control me). He continues to drink a few times a week and when in a social setting drinks until I’m embarrassed. He doesn’t believe it’s a problem, as he doesn’t get nasty. He doesn’t abuse anyone. However, if I’m working late and hear it in his voice it’s and automatic physicalogical effect on me. My stomach churns. He becomes different, embarrassing, words slurring, dropping his drink, ect.
    I recently informed him I was no longer going to take part in the drinking. I was done, not even glass of wine with dinner. ( I enjoy that) but know now it has to be done for me to make my point. I then have told him I will not stay in his presence when he crosses that drunknen state. For first time I left a big family event 2 weeks ago when he became intoxicated, stumbling, and dropping his drink. His sister drove him back from this family event. I’m struggling with how I leave family events when he doesn’t really have way back? I will also feel like I’m abandoning him. What about of we are at social event? Do I leave $$ for cab and go? How do I handle it next time it’s in my home? Do I go in bedroom for night or do I take my kids to hotel? I’m trying to set boundaries and stick to them but becomes hard to remove yours led from situations. I also am struggling becaus I love his family, but they are all drinkers and like now I don’t even want to go to EASTER because I’m already trying to plan my escape. However I feel i have to pre-plan to be ready to handle it. Suggestions ?

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      You and your husband set out on a path that inevitably would lead to alcohol being in charge. The first cue is alcoholism in husband’s father results in an extremely high percentage of alcoholism in the children. There isn’t a way to recover from alcoholism and socially drink. The studies that attempted to prove you could had flawed samples that didn’t screen accurately for alcoholism. Abstinence is possible and there should be support among your church family to help. There are a couple suggestions for support groups where they understand your struggle. Celebrate Recovery in in many communities and is hosted by local churches and also Alcoholics for Christ. Both are excellent organizations.

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