It can be hard to navigate quitting drinking if your partner is still drinking. Here are 3 tips to make it easier!
It was a hundred days. A hundred days without a drink. When I started this journey, I didn't think I would make it to 20 days. 100 felt like a lifetime.
When I shared this with my boyfriend, all I got in response was "that's great babe" followed by "where do you want to go for breakfast?" I felt unseen and unsupported.
Looking back, I now know that John wasn't unsupportive. In fact, he loved me and cared for me so much. It's just that he didn't get it. He didn't know how hard this was for me or how scared I was that I wasn't going to be able to do it again (I had been sober for a year in the past). He didn't know how much courage it took for me to share with my friends and family that I was no longer drinking again. He didn't know how hard it was to go to three weddings that summer and not have a drop of champagne. He didn't know that this was the hardest thing I'd ever done and that 100 days alcohol-free felt like my personal Everest.
I learned a lot from that experience, mainly from mistakes I made and things I wish I would have done differently. As they say, with experience, comes wisdom. It can be hard navigating quitting drinking with a partner who still drinks.
Here are 3 tips to make it easier:
1. Find the right support.
So often when we quit drinking, we turn to our partners for support, only to realize they might not be the best person for that role.
John loved and cared for me deeply, but he also didn't think I had a problem. He didn't understand the extent of my drinking and how it was impacting my life. He also missed his drinking partner, the fun Jess, the girl he fell in love with.
Sometimes our partners are too close to us to see what's going on or they don't want to see what's going on. It can be scary to acknowledge that someone you love is struggling with alcohol use. Sometimes partners can become enabling. I've seen this quite a bit with clients where they want their husband to be their accountability partner. However, the husband is the one buying the alcohol and bringing it into the home.
On the flip side, some partners can become controlling when they realize their loved one is struggling with alcohol use. Out of fear, they start policing their partner, monitoring their alcohol intake, becoming suspicious. This typically doesn't end well and leads to resentment and mistrust.
Finding the right people to support you is invaluable when quitting drinking. I actually hired both a coach and a therapist who specialized in alcohol addiction around the 90 day mark. I needed people who understood this journey. Sobriety becomes a lot easier when you surround yourself with people who truly understand this journey and who can support you every step of the way!
2. Set boundaries.
This was something I didn't do, but wish I had. I remember John waking me up at 2 AM drunk as he stumbled uninvited into my condo. Instead of putting him in a taxi and sending him home, I tucked him into bed. He was quickly sound asleep while I tossed and turned all night.
I didn't realize at the time how much I was struggling with codependency. I've always been a natural caretaker hence why I went into nursing and now why coaching seems like such a natural fit. I've always been good at knowing what others are feeling and anticipating their needs. The problem is that I would often put others' feelings and needs above my own, leading to resentment, feeling unseen and uncared for in relationships.
Many women struggle with codependency. They fail to realize that their feelings and needs are equally important to their partner's feelings and needs. In early sobriety, it can be helpful to assert your needs to protect your mental and emotional well-being. This could look like asking your partner not to bring alcohol into the house. This could look like declining to go to social events if the event revolves around alcohol or telling your partner that you will go, but you are leaving early. (Pro-tip: bring your own car!) This could look like asking your partner not to get drunk when it's just the two of you on a date.
Of course, your partner can choose to respond however he/she likes and with that information, you can then decide what is best for you. How someone responds to your boundary can tell you a lot about a person. You get to decide whether or not you want to stay in a relationship with someone who does not honor your boundaries. Setting boundaries, taking care of yourself, and asserting your needs is 100% necessary if you are going to get and stay sober and have a healthy relationship!
3. Be direct with your partner as to how they can support you.
So often our partners want to be supportive, but they don't know what support looks like. When I first quit drinking, many people didn't know what to make of it. Should they ask me about it? Should they not say anything and act like everything is normal? Many people aren't sure of what to say and do when someone quits drinking.
Being direct as to how your partner can be supportive is incredibly helpful. This helps to build intimacy and trust in a relationship. No matter how connected you and your partner are, your partner can't read your mind. Expecting your partner to intuitively know what you need is a breeding ground for resentment and disappointment. For me, I would have felt supported if we planned alcohol-free dates such as hiking or running together. I would have felt supported if he took a genuine interest in this part of my life, like if asked what this was like for me, and how I was really doing. You get to decide what support looks like to you. Share with your partner direct ways you would feel more supported. Your partner will likely appreciate your directness as he/she wants to make you happy!