What you can do if your partner is drinking too much

16 June 2020

Feeling your partner drinks too much can create tension and upset in your relationship.

You may feel your partner is ‘being taken away from you’. Perhaps you resent the amount of time they spend out drinking – and feel they’re a completely different person when they’ve been drinking.

Maybe you’re unsure how to broach the topic – or maybe you have, and it’s not gone how you would like. Maybe they’ve accused you of nagging, or they’ve disagreed that there’s a problem at all.

For many couples, this type of issue can bubble beneath the surface for years before becoming a big point of contention.

What can I do? 

The first thing – as with the vast majority of relationship issues – is to try to talk about it. Although it can be difficult to do, especially if you feel it’s been a problem for a long time, it’s important to try to get things out in the open. Otherwise, you risk resentment building up over time and eroding your relationship.

Set aside time to talk about things and talk about them properly.

Another issue with drinking is that it’s not an issue you can reliably address at the time – in fact, it’s often a bad idea to do so, as your partner’s behaviour may be different when they drink. Instead, find a moment when you’re both sober and in a normal mood – that way, you’re much more likely to be able to talk constructively.

What if they disagree?

There’s every chance that your partner will feel that there’s nothing wrong with the amount they drink – and resent that they’ve been challenged.

We all grow up with different values surrounding alcohol. What might be normal to one person may not be to someone else. Some people grow up in families where drinking alcohol – even to excess – is completely normal. Some people can consume different quantities of alcohol and feel more or less of an effect than others.

Sometimes these are legitimate defences – but not often. It’s complicated by the fact that drinking is sometimes triggered by life events, such as losing (or gaining) a new job, having children, and any other significant changes. Before broaching the topic with your partner, you may like to consider if there is a specific reason why they’re drinking a lot. It could be that this will be an important part of addressing what’s happening together.

Depending on how strongly they disagree with you, it might be that you’re able to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle. This might mean them drinking slightly less when you’re out together, even if it doesn’t mean them cutting it out entirely. Or it could mean making sure you’ve got one evening each weekend put aside for you to both enjoy sober.

What if this isn’t possible?

In some cases, you may unable to agree. They may feel you’re being a total killjoy, whereas you think they’re being totally unreasonable. In more extreme situations, it might be that they’re in denial about the amount they drink and unable to consider any alternatives.

Applying extra pressure is then unlikely to yield positive results. The focus at this point has to be your own welfare and happiness: if you feel you’re unable to continue with things the way they are, you may want to consider getting support for yourself.

Organisations like Al-Anon provide help to people affected by others’ drinking. They run groups where you can meet people who are experiencing the same situation.

Although this won’t necessarily change your partner’s views, depending on how serious their habit is, it will send a message that, regardless of how they feel, you do feel it’s an issue and one that you need help coping with.

Likewise, talking to friends and family may help you figure out what you want to do from here, and will help you feel less isolated. One risk with this kind of relationship issue is that it can stay behind closed doors, hidden. It’s important you have a support framework to help you think about options and to give you relief from any tension or stress the situation is creating.

If your partner is ever violent when they drink, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 if you are a woman. Their all-female staff will give confidential support and can provide information on local refuges. Men can call the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 8010 327. They operate a confidential, national service.

How we can help

Relate counsellors regularly speak with people for whom drinking is an issue in their relationship. If you think you’d like help figuring things out, you can come in for one-to-one or couples’ counselling.

Your counsellor won’t tell you what to do or take sides: they’ll simply listen and help you talk things over together. If you think this would be useful for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly appointments team on 01234 356350.


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