When One Spouse Quits Drinking

This morning my guest appearance on the “Your Kickass Life” podcast with Andrea Owen was released and one of the topics discussed was managing life with a “normie” (aka a normal drinker).

I get asked about this a lot. In fact, just this morning in the comments section as a matter of fact. Tracy wrote:

I have contemplated my drinking over the past 16 months and have tried to cut back. My issue is not drinking ever when your spouse drinks! It is a truly huge trigger for me and I feel like a kill joy when everyone wants to go to happy hour and I am looking for alternative drinks and I get soooo bored sitting there after a bit. How do you handle spouse drinking when I want to quit?

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of variables in every relationship, and my experience is limited to my own marriage to someone who drinks “normally” (society views “normal drinking” as that which is asymptomatic of addiction – ironic when you consider alcohol is an addictive substance). Additionally, our relationship is stable and relatively uncomplicated. So when we had to face my decision to quit drinking, there weren’t a lot of compounding issues. My husband was supportive of my decision.


Here are some of the ways that I manage those times when we are out socially in situations that involve alcohol:

  • First things first: I ask myself if I really want to go. Do I need to be there? Want to be there? Will it be a safe environment for me? Am I likely to enjoy myself or will I just be tolerating it? It is totally okay to pass on things you really don’t want to attend. I promise.
  • Then I make a plan: Is there a way to make it work better for me? Should I take my own car so I can leave if I feel uncomfortable (I did this A LOT in early recovery. I made sure to discuss options before we left with my husband: “Are you willing to take a cab home alone if I decide to leave early and you want to stay? Could you walk home or get a ride with a friend?” Because we had discussed it ahead of time, it was easier for me to slip away knowing he had my back and that there would be no conflict about it later.)
  • Go prepared: if it is a house party, I bring my own drinks as well as a hostess gift. I make sure my glass is always topped up with my alcohol-free drinks, which limits the amount of attention other people pay to what I am drinking. When people are offering you drinks, they’re usually just trying to be good hosts. Your empty glass is their cue to pour, so make it easier on everyone by keeping your own glass topped up. Even if you don’t want more to drink – especially if you don’t want more – set a full glass in front of yourself. If anyone offers point to it and say, “I’m good here, thanks!”
  • I allow my husband to be my knight in shining armour, protecting me and my sobriety. At events with a bar, he will go and speak directly to the bartender to ask for a non-alcoholic drink for me and then watch the preparation to ensure there are no mix-ups. It is so sweet when he hands me a drink and whispers, “It’s tonic and lemon, I watched them pour to be sure.” Be still my beating heart!
  • One thing that really helps me is to build some “treats” into the evening, even if that means driving through DQ for a sundae on the way home as a reward for staying sober. It is hard to watch other people have treat after treat in the form of a drink while you are sitting there stirring your Shirley Temple. Order some damn chicken wings, you deserve them! Get up and dance, go work the room, take your phone to the bathroom and read sober blogs. Try not to feel like you are missing out, instead give yourself a different experience than others are having.

As I understand it, existing problems in a relationship can be highlighted when one partner seeks sobriety. Sometimes a spouse will undermine their partner’s recovery because they feel threatened by it – perhaps because they have gotten comfortable with the role of victim, villain, or hero that they’ve cast themselves into in relation to the other person’s drinking. Perhaps because it makes them feel uneasy about their own drinking. Perhaps because one or both were drinking to cope with unhappiness in the relationship. Counselling can be very helpful, at least for yourself if your partner won’t participate.

Please share your experiences. Was your spouse helpful? What made you feel supported and what didn’t? What are your best tips for socialising?

My interview on Your Kick Ass Life isΒ here.



About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on January 3, 2017, in Family and Marriage, Getting Sober, Insights and Lessons, Insights for Supporters, Life After Alcohol, Marriage and Alcohol Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Whew, this was amazing. Thank you for sharing this! I don’t have a personal experience of being in a relationship with another alcoholic, because the last relationship I was in, I was the only alcoholic. Which was tough in and of itself. But, this is an interesting read for possible future relationships! πŸ™‚


  2. These are all great, and while my husband says he supports my wanting to stop drinking, when reality hits, he wants me to drink with him. He wants to share wine, and then I drink it all; he wants me to go on the brewery tour, until I get drunk and need to leave early. He isn’t going to want me to drive separate, but if I need to leave, he’ll feel pouty that his night was cut short.

    I know these all sound lIke excuses, and they probably are. I just need to do it for me and hope his support changes focus.


    • I hear what you are saying. You want to make your husband happy, and you want to be able to drink. The addicted part of your brain says, “go ahead, it’ll be fine” and maybe your husband says that too, because he just can’t imagine that it’s impossible for you to drink. So you’re out numbered. Your highest self gets outvoted by the other voices you put first. The only way to change this equation is to make your guideline a committee of one: your highest self. Honour your desire for freedom, your will to live. The way you drink right now won’t stay the same — addiction doesn’t self resolve, is just escalates until something else stops it: crisis, death, or sobriety (by choice or by force). Some really shitty things happen to people – bed wetting, impaired driving charges, losing a job. Imagine your spouse having to cope with those things vs being annoyed that you’ve left a party early. I feel I’m being harsh but I hope I’m helping you see that my valuing your own voice more, you’re making both of your lives easier. Take charge. You can totally do this and it will make both of your lives better.


  3. Your advice is great! I am not the alcoholic in the relationship, but choose to be sober for my husband and I haven’t had a drink in almost 8 years. I do not miss it. It is funny how the alcoholic can feel uncomfortable and thinks others are watching them. I do not feel uncomfortable not drinking in any situation I have been in and am proud of my sobriety and support of my husband. It is interesting to see our different points of view. He thinks he makes others uncomfortable and I could care less how I make them feel. I am not judgmental of others imbibing, so why should they care what I am doing. Needless to say, I do realize the alcoholic has those feelings and I watch out for my husband. I am always happy to leave early if he is uncomfortable in a situation. I am always happy when I can tell he is having fun and wants to stay πŸ™‚

    FYI, I bought your tank top “Unpickled.” I proudly wear it to sporting events mostly because I like the cut of it. No one has ever asked me what it represents. Maybe they know πŸ™‚ Happy healing to your foot!


  4. I really like the advice re taking your own car to the social event, and also that it’s ok to say no to going! My significant other has been pretty unsupportive and those two things have been lifesavers for me over the past few months. If I say no and stay home, I spend the evening pampering myself ❀


  5. Wonderful podcast Jean! I really had a good laugh when you mentioned that your husband was a little concerned about you meeting up with strangers. Mine had the same response when I set out to meet Anne! I had to convince him that she wasn’t going to kidnap me or anything like that! He has been very supportive of my sobriety so he’s not an issue, but socializing can be. My best strategies are 1) always have my own drinks, 2) tell people right away that I don’t drink at all, and 3) I make myself busy and useful at the event. If I get itchy, I leave.I have my awkward moments, but they pass.


  6. Day 28 (recounted today and i was off by a couple of days). After listening to the Bubble hour yesterday I decided to be kinder to myself. I am back to work and know that stress is a real trigger for me. In the long term I need to figure out a game plan to destress. Excercise is a good one, but right now I need to focus on tackling one thing at a time. I am glad that I won’t have as many triggers in the immediate, save for a small get together tomorrow which I am 85% confident I will be able to say no to with little problem. The excuse will be i am going to be around for only an hour and need to work when I get home so no thanks. I’ll bring something yummy for me to drink (An elderflower, Rose and lemonade (forgot the brand) drink sold at Whole Foods is amazingly good and a great substitute). That’s ok for now. The other major trigger will come on the 19-21 when I take a trip with my buddies. Although I am just focusing on today I can’t help but fear that upcoming day. “How will I say no? How will they react, what will they think?” What I need to keep retelling myself is that I cannot control what they think or how they react, the only thing I can control is my commitment to my journey and that is all that matters at the moment. And by then I will have had 43 days under my belt and I hope my resolve to say no will come much easier. But being realistically cautious if it doesn’t I will need a plan to restructure my thoughts: notice the mind body split and that feeling of splitting off that happens, it’s only temporary; my muscles will tense up, breathe through it, the wave of accompanying anxiety will go down eventually; as the night goes on you will feel better and proud of yourself; in case of emergency go to the bathroom and read a blog; bring a worry stone or something tangible that you can touch, squeeze, or fidgit with in order to redirect your attention and help you stay grounded in your body. Remember that feeling of gratitude the next day in knowing that you managed to make it to day 45! By doing this I will be a better girlfriend to my partner who has been sober 9 years and counting, that’s what truly matters: living a life in advice of my values.


    • Edit: “living a life in service of my values”


    • And it’s day 29 not 28! Can’t keep my count straight haha.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Great job – knowing that you can only control your own journey is an important insight. When we shift our perspective, we change how we experience everything else. You’re doing so well! Thank you for sharing these powerful messages.


      • Thanks Jean. I absolutely loved the ass kicker podcast I heard it this am as I got ready for and on my way to work. It was such a breath of fresh air to hear the humor. Humor is soooo important in this journey, another great way to reframe and shift perspective. You two made a great duo! The resolutions podcast was also great! I absolutely love the idea of SMART goals, though in my career I talk to others about this concept AD NAUSUEM, of course it’s so much harder to apply to my own life. I really appreciate your today-focused SMART goal “my goal is to not drink today”; present focused and a salve for the “what ifs” and uncertainty-related anxiety pangs. Onward to day 30 tomorrow! We’re in this together ya’ll.


  7. I can relate to feeling bored sitting at a bar without drinking- it made me realize how effing boring it is to sit at a bar, and it was only made tolerable by drinking. People are loud, repeat themselves, etc. and without booze it is really annoying to me. I would have no interest in going to happy hour with my boyfriend, who does drink. When we do go out to dinner I try to order some decent tasting non-alcoholic drink, though sometimes options are very limited. It was not always this way, as we drank together for years, and at the beginning I felt left out, but now it is the new normal for me. I make healthy choices, and I am worth it.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Terrific advice.

    To be honest my wife was hugely supportive and still is. Only once early on do I remember there being any issue. That was only weeks after I’d left rehab – I was in a mess still emotionally and mentally. I still was obsessively thinking about drink – that continued for me on a daily basis for months. Anyway we went on a family holiday that had been preplanned and booked before my staggering off to rehab. One thing we often did on holiday was see a nice country pub on a drive and decide to eat there and then or later on the way back. The latter happened. My wife spotted a lovely thatched pub as we drove to our destination for the day. On the way back we pulled in for some food. But it was a pub and my mind wasn’t in the best state to be in a pub. I should have called it off then and said I’ll find anywhere else to eat etc. but I thought I’d be alright. I wasn’t! I was going nuts sat at the table waiting for our food to arrive. My wife bless her went to the bar to order and returned with a non-alcoholic drink for herself too in solidarity. But I was clucking like mad. Food arrives I wolf it down and encourage everyone including my 8 year old daughter to eat up so we can get out. We did but not without a row in the car on the way back to where we were staying.

    So for me – two points stand out in that lesson. 1) if I feel I’m not safe then I don’t go into a pub/bar at all or if already in there and that feeling comes in – I get out and get out quick. (See my blog for a recent tale of having to do just that even after 12 years sobriety – it’ll never fully leave me). 2) Always have an escape route/plan. That has at times meant taking two cars to parties or my wife arranging a backup lift back home if I have to bale out.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. UnPickled, would you follow me on Twitter, so that I can send you a private message? @swarm_catcher


  10. My husband is a normal drinker. He keeps his beer, etc in a separate fridge in the garage. He’s extremely supportive. Thankfully his beer is not triggery for me at all; I suppose because I never was into beer. Anything else he might consume he does so discreetly and I never see it. I am extremely lucky that I no longer crave alcohol but I don’t feel the need to test myself.

    In early recovery going out to dinner was a HUGE trigger for me. Go to dinner, sit down, order the wine immediately, right? So I knew I needed a diversion. I started ordering herbal tea. And if it came with the little pot of hot water, a selection of tea, maybe a lemon and honey, all the better. This was a great “trick” for me. My wine had always felt like a treat for me. The ritual of tea was a perfect substitute and I still order it often today. It also serves to interrupt that dangerous line of thinking and redirect one’s attention. Sometimes that’s all you need to get through a moment. Nowadays I’ll make a pot of herbal tea at home right around the time I used to start drinking wine: dinner prep time. If you’d told me in my first 30 days that something as simple as this would actually work I wouldn’t have believed it. I urge anyone who’s struggling to give it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

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