The Art of Forgiving An Alcoholic Spouse

Monkey looking up

Ever try to catch a monkey?

Recently I read a biography where a man referred to a story his father told.

I thought it related well to dealing with an alcoholic husband.

Tribesmen in Africa hallowed out a coconut, filled it with rice and secured it to the ground.

The monkey put its hand in the small hole, but couldn’t remove it because the hand was clenched around the rice.

The monkey was trapped. To be “free” it simply had to “let go” of the rice and the monkey’s hand would slip out of the coconut. But it didn’t want to “let go,” instead it remained trapped.

How does this relate to you?

“Letting Go” Can Set You Free

It’s impossible to forget what he’s done. But you can forgive. And if you don’t you’ll only hurt yourself.

A common phrase from used by people who get free help through our Free My Addict email is, “He’s a good person when he’s not drinking.

So, why not blame the addiction and not him?

When you forgive him, you’re free from being “trapped” by his behaviors.

Forgiveness is about being able to ”let go.” It puts the responsibility where it belongs, on your husband instead of you.

To Err Is Human… To Forgive Divine

You might have heard that already, but I’d like to add another line.

“To not forgive can be one of the worst choices you can make.” It makes a lot of sense…doesn’t it?

He may continue with his behaviors because he’s an alcoholic. He just wants to drink and doesn’t care if you forgive him or not.

Forgiveness is something I personally work on, especially when someone “does me wrong.” That person’s behavior consumes my thoughts and every time I think of them I get angry.

Can you relate?

Meanwhile, they go on with their life not concerned about me. Then I ask, “Who am I hurting if I don’t forgive?” And the reality is I only hurt myself!

Anger Won’t Solve the Problem

It’s important to understand that nothing is solved if you hold on to anger.

Apply the basic principle of forgiveness and the anger will be gone long before it turns to bitterness.

Your husband’s behavior is the result of the addiction.

It’s time to unclench your fist from the rice inside the coconut so you can be “free!”

What are your thoughts on forgiveness? Let us know in the comments.

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Here’s What 31 Other People Thought...

  1. I’ve already forgiven him. But I’m still worried for him. When I think of him I can’t help myself from smiling. What I’m worried about is, will this make him think that his behavior is okay? Accountability to key to recovery. Of course, so is wanting to recover and as of yet, I don’t see any indication he’s come to that conclusion. I think carrying around my pain made me think I could affect him with it, move him by showing him how hurtful he was being. But it doesn’t. And it only made me feel worse. I’ve already forgiven him. But I won’t trust him until he decides to get sober. I’m rooting for him though.

    • Tom

      That’s great you’ve forgiven him! And the worry you have, along with always thinking of him, is natural because how much you care. Regarding him thinking his behavior is okay…let me relate to myself when I was in my addiction to alcohol. I knew my behavior wasn’t “okay” but I didn’t care. I was afraid to get honest with myself and make the decision to change. Deep down he probably knows how hurtful he’s being to you…but a characteristic of an alcoholic are self-centeredness. It’s sad to say…but it’s true. It’s also good that you won’t trust him until he gets sober…and remember he has to earn that trust with consistent behavior. He’s lucky to have you’re support. But he has to get sober for himself, and a healthy relationship with you will be a result of getting sober.
      Keep “rooting” for him!

  2. Ross

    I am having to work on the forgiveness part. My husband moved out, while taking our IRA and spending it. We’re talking, but I wont let him move home unless he’s sober and been in recovery.I still dont know how to talk to him about the IRA. I dont know what it would accomplish. But i still am bothered by it…

    • Tom

      Forgiveness can take time, but at least you’re willing to work on it. The fact your talking is good…and the fact you’ve put up a boundary about him not moving home until he’s sober and in recovery…well, that’s great! Regarding the IRA, I’m not going to tell you what to do…but maybe it will be helpful to mention what it was like for me while in my alcoholic addiction regarding talking about “delicate matters.” Basically, I didn’t want to hear it…and would walk out of the room…didn’t listen…and sometimes got very defensive. I knew I had made bad choices, but didn’t want to be reminded of it. But when I got sober…began to be honest with myself…and accepted responsibility for my actions, it was easier to discuss those matters. I just wanted to shed a little light on how he could “possibly” react. On the other hand he may be very remorseful and it could encourage him to get help. The timing of that conversation is something you’ll have to decide.

      • Ross

        I was wondering if talking to him daily is sort of enabling him?When he’d moved out in Oct.2011, he found another enabler to distract him from the painf of any consequences of his drinking, I’m told.He has dropped her(or her-him) since we began talking. I am wondering, am I picking up where the other person left off? By being there to talk? How can he miss us(family) if he talks to us and gets to see his son sometimes? I just dont want to
        go about this wrong. See we’d had an intervention in Oct.. He got mad and moved out.(we’d hired a professional-but had gotten a rookie and didnt realize that at the time)Anyway, we’d initially agreed to not speak unless he went into recovery.But i was financially dependent.He said since we werent talking at all really, he thought we were over with. And had gotten into a fling, filed seperation papers,which he’d given up on once we started talking..I suppose.We were headed for a divorce and I wasnt ready for that yet and so I began talking to him and here we are.Thanks for letting me share..

      • Tom

        Ross,
        I feel that how often you talk to him is a choice you need to make. If it were me, I would ask myself, are the conversations productive? Is he talking about what he needs to do to change? Is he ready to get some help? Or is everything he says “superficial.” It’s good you’re talking but I feel it’s important to have some direction in your conversation. Many years ago I was somewhat in his situation and in my phone conversations I’d verbalize good intentions and “paint a good picture,” but I never took the action. It was all talk! Hopefully, your conversations are productive.

  3. JoAnn

    It is great how you can relate your own story to others to help them with their addiction. Sobriety for many is a life long process. My best friend, admits she is an alcoholic. She starts drinking straight vodka at 7 AM. I offer to go to AA with her, but she won’t go, she says she can kick it by herself. She has tried many times and failed. I am going to tell her about your website and see if she will follow through. When people try to help her she gets upset, so I don’t know. She is down to 100 lbs., not good. You are a great person to help all of those people out there. God bless you. Jo Ann

    • Tom

      Your friends words that she can “kick it by herself” isn’t surprising. That’s a typical response of an alcoholic when they’re confronted about their drinking. I used it for many years (lol). But it wasn’t until I admitted total defeat, and suffered enough pain, that I decided to put those words into action. It’s great that your friend has you in her corner, and hopefully you can say or do just one simple thing that will motivate her to seek help.
      And thanks for referring her to our site.

  4. Theresa

    Forgiveness is what can see you through any situation you face in life and give you peace that surpasses human understanding despite the storm you are going through in relationships because if you don`t you are just hurting yourself and making your life more difficult when the other person is not bothered at all. Like I said before the bible tells us to forgive seventy times seven and I repeat “Rome was not built in a day” When you forgive the other person it also helps you to focus on yourself rather than focusing on the other person and wasting time not concentrating on other things that are most important for you. Forgive the person, get on with your life, let them sort themselves out, give them the support if you can but without taking their problems and make them your own.

    • Tom

      Thanks for your comment Theresa. It appears you’ve used your relationship with God to help get through the troubled times. I especially like the last part about forgiving and getting on with your life without making their problems your own. Isn’t it amazing how much we learn about ourselves when we make it through chaos and drama in our lives.
      I’m happy that you’re focusing on YOU!

  5. Lorri Tisdale

    Hello, I read all of the comments and have gained some insight. I just buried my mother last Friday and was trying to grieve. However, my alcoholic husband would not allow me to do that. He had tantrums everyday before the funeral and immediately following the next day we got into it and I hit him and he hit me back and roughed me up a bit. See, I caught him in a strip club near our house. (He is on disability and has to do community service and go to DUI class but is drunk by 7 or 8am. Also we are fortunate to have the opportunity to live in my mother’s house where I pay just about everything and am the only one who works. Just a little background info.) I called 911 and they came out and arrested him for Domestic Violence. He is not normally violent but I was violent with him. Not defending him just saying I provoked him which I should not have done, however, there is no excuse for him returning the hit. He has been charged with a Felony and has since been released from jail and the charges have been downgraded to Misdemeanor Spousal Battery. I filed a temp restraining order to keep him away so that I can think and to give him time to see if perhaps he will think about getting sober. Who knows, I do know I cannot live like he lives any longer and will not allow him to come home until he gets some help. I told him before the police came that I love and forgive him, as does God, because he knows not what he is doing. I have always been forgiving and I know that none of what happened was my fault. He makes the choice to drink and smoke marijuana and not face things and I understand now more than ever there is nothing I can do until he decides to make the necessary changes with himself. I will always be there for him and pray for him everyday but will not take him back until he is in recovery, if that ever happens.

    I want to thank you Tom for always talking to me and the fact that I could submit a comment that might help someone else. I am having such a difficult time right now but i know it is temporary. All of you keep your heads up. : ) God is good all the time. All the time God is good. I apologize if I offended anyone with the God stuff.

    • Tom

      Lorri,
      I’m sorry to hear about your mother. It’s important to go through the grieving process and it’s apparent your husband doesn’t understand that. You did all the right things regarding the law and a restraining order. Despite your anger at him, he has no right to physically abuse you. I understand that you’re going through a tough time right now, but to encourage you…I’ve found that it’s through those tough times we grow. Being there for your husband is important, but he also needs to suffer the consequences for his behavior. His choices may cause him a lot of pain…but pain is a good motivator to change. Maybe he’ll get some help. Until then…don’t give up hope and do what you need to for yourself. Also, no need to apologize for talking about God. These comments are yours…and you’re free to say what you wish. I’m sure some of our readers will understand and relate to what your going through.

  6. kimie

    the letting go and forgiveness part is not difficult for me, I can walk away with love and support still available, but I am worried about the effect it will have on our 2 r old daughter, i really believe that if she sees me happy and taking responsibility for myself and my own well being, it is the best thing i can provide…not being able to see her for 3 days out of the week is a really heart breaking thought and keeps me wavering on what to do…remaining in the relationship right now doesn’t seem an option, i’m not strong enough to avoid getting hooked into playing the role of an enabler somehow.

    • Tom

      Kimie,
      That’s great that you can forgive. What’s also cool is that it appears you have healthy boundaries by still focusing on your own happiness…and concerned about wanting your daughter to be happy. On top of that, your desire not to enable is also great. I understand your feelings when your daughter isn’t with you. I hope she’s in a healthy environment at that time. Boundaries are about being responsible for yourself…and protecting what you value. I feel it’s important for spouses of alcoholics to stand firm in their beliefs and values…and it seems your doing just that. Stay positive and continue to be good to yourself and your daughter.

  7. Denise

    I’ve been with my husband for 15 years. I can’t begin to explain how draining and hurtful our marriage has been and how worse it’s getting. I am in a crossroad right now with the decision to stay or go. I knew it was bad but I recently found out he was spending over 20,000 a year in the bar and it just floored me. I’m a stay at home mom and he keeps telling me to take the kids to get out knowing I have no means or no where to go. The nights in the bar are getting later and later. Every night he comes home he abuses us verbally and emotionally and now he’s showing signs of rage destroying my things,throwing dishes in the sink and is getting physical which started when I began looking for employment. I am scared to death! Not knowing what he is capable of and the thought of me having dependent children and venturing out on my own. I feel trapped with no money for a lawyer and dread the thought of going on welfare coming from a upper middle class home. I read many books on alcoholism,I go to al_anon,I been seeing a couselor for many year and even get support from my church with a support group on the matter. He refuses any help and I have to admit I have been unhappy for a long time and struggle about leaving because I’m a christian and took my vows seriously. I know he is ill and I am torn because I can’t help him and I’m ready to let go. Forgiving him has come hard. I am angry that he is forcing me out of this marriage and that the kids don’t even know him. But I know I must forgive him for my own health. I have days where all I want to do is leave and others of I’m not going to let this destroy us. But like I said the abuse is effecting the whole house and is getting worse. I don’t see that I have any other choice anymore. I am in the process of forgiving myself for my decision and than maybe I can forgive him.

    • FreeMyAddict Coach

      Denise,
      To forgive is one of the most important things when you live with an alcoholic. It’s also one of the most difficult. This is partly because it happens again and again. This means you have to release your alcoholic again and again. If you can really accept these behaviors are a result of the illness it may become easier. It’s a journey. Take one day at a time.

    • Tom

      Denise,
      I can feel the pain in your words. A real concern is the physical abuse. Do you have a safety plan for when he gets violent? Regarding your unhappiness…I don’t blame you. I learned a long time ago that I’m responsible for my own happiness. What choices do you have to make so you can be happy? You certainly don’t deserve to be in your present situation. Apparently, he’s made the choice of alcohol over you and the kids. What choices do you have to make now for your own security?

  8. Liz

    I am reading through these comments and thinking to myself, how lucky I am compared to others. But since the topic was learning to forgive I have to comment because I am stuck… I want to forgive but don’t know how… What do I do to finally believe I forgive my husband and stop being angry?
    A little background my husband is in rehab, after a relapse which lasted 9 months. He was sober before that… Anyway he went into rehab because the law got involved. No matter how much I asked before the incident, he would not go! Now he says he is there to save our marriage, and he is right… There is too much at stake with the law and now thanks to this latest incident child services! I feel like I have been put through h€££ and he doesn’t even remember it. He put our kids at risk and said he regretted marrying me last year, while drunk.
    Now in rehab he just says “it wasn’t me” and tells me I have to get past it, because he can’t live with me if I resent him… That sounds so selfish to me! I just don’t feel his apologies were enough! I am angry! I am stuck here trying to hold down the fort with kids, and responsibilities while he gets to meditate, have massages, therapy, meals made for him etc! Tonight I have no heat or hot water because he didn’t order oil a month ago! He had the nerve to say ” you have to order more oil? That’s more money down the toilet” …. What??? I am pretty sure more $ went to vodka these past 9 months than will go into the oil tank! And he can’t say that’s not him talking! He’s been sober a week now!
    If I don’t forgive it clearly won’t hurt him! Right now he doesn’t care that the kids and I have no heat! He just wants to through another pity party… “We have no money because I don’t work”
    Well guess what… Stop drinking and start working… He is self-employed… So he does even need to find a job per se, just need focus on his business. Which by the way I am running to him too while he is at “the spa”!
    So clearly I am hurting a lot… And I don’t feel like he loves me… Despite what he says!
    At the beginning I said I feel lucky compared to others and I do because he IS in rehab and does realize what he has put in jeapardy but he still wants me to just get over it!

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Liz, your anger is totally understandable. Your husband has neglected you and the kids for sake of his addiction to alcohol. Let me sort a few things out for you. 1) What an alcoholic says drunk isn’t necessarily related to how they feel sober. Inhibitions are lowered. Let me give you an example. Most people have ideas pop in their head but they don’t say or act on them. If an alcoholic who is sober thinks about streaking across the football field he wouldn’t do it. If he was drunk he just might try it. 2) There’s nothing more important to an alcoholic than preserving access to alcohol. This means the compromises toward you and the children were about his addiction not an intent to hurt you. 3) Judgment is impaired for the alcoholic and it takes time for them to recognize the impact of their addiction on those who they love. In recovery there’s a necessary step of recognition of those who you have wronged. If an addict wants to have a stable recovery it takes making this inventory and making amends.

      Now to the bigger issue…forgiveness. The only person you are hurting is YOU. In order for you to go forward with what you want and/or need to do you need to not be bound by your husbands issues. If your husband had cancer you wouldn’t take his limitations and treatment personal. In this situation he’s dealing with an illness. He’s in rehab, thank God. I trust you speak truth to him about the hurt the family has experienced and allow him opportunity to make amends. This doesn’t in and of itself build trust. My favorite definition of trust is consistent behavior over time builds trust. When you forgive him, you still may not trust him until he establishes verifiable behaviors you can count on.

      It’s not easy to get past the anger but you are facing it head on. I’m sure you’ll make it through. Thanks for your comments

  9. Amy

    Hi, I’m looking for answers. I’ve been with my spouse for four years. A year into it, a girl came knocking to tell us that she believed he was the father of her baby. He is the father. He had gotten drunk and slept with her prior to our relationship. He knew there was a 50/50 chance the baby was his, but did not tell me. It was difficult to accept, and I have finally just recently been able to say that I am truly free from it, and able to rejoice happily in the situation. However, since then, he has continued to drink, more and more and more. He hid it so well at first that I had no idea he was an alcoholic. Only when I got pregnant with our second son did I really realize that there was a problem. Of course I tried all the approaches, pleading, withholding, arguing, begging..etc. He’s become violently verbally abusive- telling me everything is my fault, that I’m a waste of space, etc. Any time I have taken a stand saying that I won’t tolerate the alcohol anymore, he seeks out a female for comfort. He has now blamed me for his alcoholism, and told me he wants nothing to do with me. That I’m a “waste of space, and should exit his life.” So far, to my knowledge, he has not actually slept with another woman, but yesterday I found a conversation between him and this girl- they are planning to meet up in tomorrow night, and their conversation was laced with sexual innuendos and inappropriate flirtation. I am beyond heartbroken…again.. I am trying to be a good wife. My children and I live with my mom after he burnt down our apartment because he was intoxicated. I am trying to love unconditionally. Any other time when he’s talked to a girl, I’ve sabotaged it by confronting him, and/or the girl telling her that he’s an alcoholic and has a family. Stay away. But this time, I just can’t do it anymore. Especially when he says he doesn’t even want us anymore. I know it’s the addiction and selfishness talking, but that doesn’t make the wounds he inflicts any less painful and any easier to forgive. My question is- how do I forgive infidelity? How do I forgive knowing the words that have come out of his mouth in the attempts to sleep with all these women? I have 2 small children. I am young. I do not want this to be my life, but I do love this man dearly. Any advice for me? Thank you.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Bottom line abuse is unacceptable. There’s no reason why YOU need to accept verbal or physical. In the case of verbal abuse I recommend you walk away. In the case of physical abuse I recommend you file charges. Zero tolerance for physical abuse.

      When it comes to him being flirtatious with women, you need to set a boundary you’re willing to keep. It’s inappropriate for him to turn to these women while abusive to you.

      Unconditional love does not mean you need to accept anything he dishes out. You don’t deserve it. If he wants to be with this other girl then you might think about suggesting he might want to choose which relationship he wants to be in.

      The absence of alcohol won’t necessarily make your alcoholic a faithful person if his eyes and heart is wandering to others now.

    • I’m not easily impesesrd but you’ve done it with that posting.

      • FreeMyAddict Team

        Thank you for your kind words.

  10. Beth

    My boyfriend &i have been dating 2 years. I have a 15 year old son from a
    Previous marriage. We moved in together & I discovered he was a functioning alcoholic.
    He was in denial , but drinking every nite keeping booze in our bedroom
    Beside the bed. We would have to walk on egg shells to not upset him or he would
    Obsess all nite in anger about what a failure he was & how he works so har
    And how little we contribute to his life. He would yell & rant for hours on end & deny every thing. Me& my son emergency moved out and are same now. I love this man for what he
    Could be sober…. Have seen glimpses. But I don’t trust him….. He has promised to get sober
    Soooo many times & is confused by my hurt & distance when he drinks
    He says how dare I not give him a shoulder to cry on when he fails. To me that seems like I would be enabling him if I had no boundaries…. He is soooo difficult and
    Thinks I let his addiction cause me too much pain…. Lol… He accuses me
    Of not handling the pain from him properly. I wish him well….. But how do you
    Support an alcoholic without enabling them? Thanks!!!

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Here are three articles to help you with enabling:
      5-Tips If You Live With An Alcoholic
      3 Tips To Quit Rescuing
      Quit Enabling Your Alcoholic

      I think you’ve already made some very sound decisions. YOU are not the problem here ALCOHOL is. If you really expect to have a good relationship with him he needs to get sober and have a support system in place to keep him in recovery.

      Anything short of this will result in much emotional pain for many years. Anything less than recovery diminishes your chances of a good relationship.

      Thanks for your comment.

  11. grace

    I threw out my abusive and alcoholic husband from my house three months ago and he rings me up to 20 or 30 times daily though I hardly answer his calls. he has been crying and begging for forgiveness and asks for another chance to prove he has changed and is now born again. im confused because I don’t know if its real and he is always crying and begging me to take him back. im thinking of filing for divorce but im wondering if I should give him one last chance

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Grace, if he’s serious you should be able to expect him to get professional help for his addiction to alcohol and his abuse issues. This needs to include establishing a support system he regularly participates in following professional treatment. If things are not they way he wants it to be and he’s committed to change this is one way to know if he’s serious. Key: He doesn’t come home until he has worked his issues out for an extended period of time. Thanks for your comments.

  12. Amanda

    My husband lost his license for 3 years when he got pulled over for DWI. I was still on maternity leave after having our 3rd child. How can I forgive him for putting all this added pressure on me to drive him and the children around for 3 years while he continues to drink. Is it rational for me to hold this grudge the entire 3 years? Will it be easier to let it go after this time has passed?

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Amanda, it is understandable you are angry about the situation your husband’s drinking has put you in. The fact that he is still drinking suggests he has learned nothing from the punishment. The grudge doesn’t help anything and it’s not likely to go away unless you find a way to forgive him. It’s his alcoholism, the addiction not him that is causing the problem here. He needs help to get well. If he had cancer or heart disease you might be extremely inconvenienced by the disease but you would likely blame the disease not your husband. That being said you wouldn’t expect your husband to do nothing about the disease. In fact you and he might try everything available to assure recovery. No less is recommended here.

  13. Vickie G

    My husband became an alcoholic after being forced into early retirement. He had no hobbies or interest in volunteer work. He must always be in control of everything and is bad with emotional communication. He turned to the bottle. Would not go for any treatment, walked out of counseling after a 10 min session and threw anti-depression meds in the garbage. I would come home to him passed out on the floor, bleeding from hitting his head and not even realizing he was hurt. His binge drinking finally ended with a stroke. He was in detox for 3 weeks before they could treat him for the stroke with rehab but then he had complications including pneumonia and heart failure and needing a pacemaker. He can’t speak, can’t swallow and is on a stomach feeding tube. He is slowly learning to walk with a walker but it takes 2 people to help him. He’s angry at me for not bringing home but I can’t handle him in his current condition. He is getting angry, striking out at nurses and staff and not co-operating. We’ve been married 48 yrs and yes, I have forgiven him. Don’t know what the end results will be but it’s up to him now.

    • FreeMyAddict Team

      Vickie G, just remember it’s NOT YOUR FAULT what happened. I can appreciate the pain of being forced out of his work situation. However, turning to alcohol is a choice. Becoming out of control is a disease. The complications to alcoholism, the stroke and heart issues are all things beyond your control. At this point in your life and his he needs proper medical care. It appears you are securing that for him. You are doing what you can and that is commendable. I hope you don’t carry guilt for his behavior even though you may feel sad or sorry for him.

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