I never doubted that my husband loved me.
Having a loving relationship is a great gift — to know that you're special and important to another human being. I also never doubted that my husband wanted me to be happy and that when he made me feel miserable.
He was very miserable too.
For a start, we were very, very different. He was sensate, I was intuitive. He was an extrovert and I was an introvert. He was black and white — I lived in a world where new shades of grey were discovered on a daily basis.
This, of course, led to a huge clashing of gears on a regular basis when we were first married. Misunderstandings that blew up into distressing rows, my value systems trampled under foot resulting in tears and tantrums with scintillating reconciliations and heart-warming reconnections.
It became completely clear to me over a period of time that my husband didn’t set out to trample over my finer feelings, he just wasn’t very good at noticing they were there.
I introduced him to the concept of the process which was never his favorite thing to do. It was a strategy that could be helpful in making this new marriage harmonious and thriving.
In short, we learned to talk things through.
If we could adopt words or behavior to help the other partner feel less threatened or distressed then it made total sense to do so. Yes — that was sometimes easier said than done but if the intent was clearly visible it went a long way in oiling the wheels of forgiveness.
As the Bible points out, love does cover a multitude of sins. So when the drinking began, I can’t say that I was unduly bothered.
I'd been a student in the sixties. Those days when it was said that if you remembered it then you weren’t truly there.
Bringing the excess to the process was the obvious thing to do. And as habitual drinking had not really become entrenched at that point, alcohol misdemeanors were followed by contrite periods of moderation or sobriety.
On reflection, things worsened with the pressures of responsibility and commitment. Kids began to swallow up our energy and our time and, to be honest, I had a sneaking sympathy for him when a bottle of wine disappeared at the end of a stressful day.
Until it become worse, and my husband disappeared into the bottle of wine unlikely to surface until the alarm went off the next morning. Or worse still — stay and wind the kids up with over-the-top banter or pick a fight with me when I had got them safely into bed. Now it was becoming intrusive and abusive.
Alcohol may well have been de-stressing him but it was causing a hold load of stress to us as a family now. It was time to call a halt. And so I sat him down.
I sat him down as I had successfully done many (MANY) times before and told him how awful it'd become. How dreadfully distressing I was finding his drinking. I didn’t pull my punches.
This was the big one, the honest and tearful disclosure that would bring my loving husband back to his senses and get him to SERIOUSLY take stock. And he was mortified. He had never realized how bad it was and, of course, he wouldn’t do it anymore.
I cannot tell you how relieved I was. I knew my husband well and I knew he was shocked and unhappy that I was so distressed. This unhappy episode in our family life was heading to a close.
And then three weeks he did it all AGAIN.
I was devastated. I'd meant it and I thought he had too. I've never felt so incensed, so distressed, so bewildered.
My pleas seemed to have fallen on deaf ears and now I had to face the fact that he no longer loved me like he did or else things would have turned out differently.
Then I closed my heart down little by little as the drinking continued. Now I know that simply because he loved us all so very much, he couldn’t bear the guilt and shame or shoulder what felt like an even greater responsibility of keeping us all happy.
In Bottled-Up we talk about the four Ps. This is the first one that we want to tackle. The one we call Pleading.
Much of the change needed in a household where there is a problem drinking feels counterintuitive to the good solid principles of a good relationship. The very things that work in other areas will NOT necessarily work when tackling this issue.
Here's the good news...
If you have asked your partner to stop drinking and he hasn’t — it isn’t because he doesn’t love you its because he hasn’t yet figured out how to stop.
It all feels intensely personal but it isn’t. Of course, the fallout from his actions affects you and your family in a very personal way but don’t let the alcohol cause even more devastation than it already has. Maybe you're one of the unlucky ones and your partner truly doesn’t care, but the chances are your partner, parent or child loves you very very much. It’s themselves they don't care for.
Dr. John McMahan and Lou Lewis run Bottled Up, a site that's mission is to bring help and support to individuals and families who are experiencing problems due to problem drinking, whether it is their own drinking or the drinking of a significant other.