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Reader Mailbag – How to Escape from an Alcoholic Relationship

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A reader writes in and asks:

“I am with a “functioning” alcoholic. He owns a business, has a million dollar home and all the nice things that come with it. He is an angry alcoholic – toward me, his kids, whoever gets in his way. His dad was an alcoholic and he doesn’t see the similarities in himself. The biggest problem is that he has never had any consequences to face except for an occasional scrape. I would love to move out and not enable him, but with no where to go and no money how I can I do that in the same house?”

Hi there…..I’m not sure there is an easy answer for you because you are in a tough situation. It sounds like you are saying that you are trapped because you have a dependency on this man, and that is limiting your options.

If you approach this in a healthy way then you have to set limits and boundaries. If you set these boundaries and push comes to shove then eventually you might end up walking away from him. You might take a break from the relationship, leave him entirely, or simply tell him you need some space for a while because you find his behavior unacceptable. Regardless of the situation, you won’t have any leverage to make these kinds of decisions unless you have some options open to you.

This is not about making threats to him. Instead, you should set healthy boundaries that any reasonable person would agree with, and then follow through with your decision. For example, you might tell him that if he gets belligerently drunk that you will go somewhere else for the night until he has sobered up. This is not a threat to him and it is not unreasonable on your part. So in addition to setting these boundaries, you need to have a way to follow through with your decisions. (By the way, don’t ever set a boundary that you don’t intend to enforce. Doing so will create huge problems).

So at this point, you need to assert some level of independence and find some way that you can walk away from him for a while if need be. There is no way you can possibly make any progress unless you have the ability to walk out the door and be OK for a few days on your own. This requires either money or some alternative support system, such as a friends or relatives nearby that will take you in.

If I was in your situation and I really wanted to see things change, then I would start exploring my options and work towards independence. If you develop the ability to walk away from the relationship then that changes everything. Not only does it empower you, but it might make him reconsider his drinking if he sees that you can walk away and still make a life for yourself. In other words, your achieving independence might eventually influence his drinking.

You say that he has never really had to face any consequences. If he gets drunk and you leave for the weekend, that is a consequence right there and these are the kinds of things that it might take to make him take a look at his drinking.

It is possible that he could get sober one day and things would work out. But you should not count on it. If you are counting on this, then it will never happen. The only way it can possibly happen is if you are strong enough to walk away from the relationship and make a life for yourself. Start working towards independence and look out for your own life. He will either continue drinking or make a decision to stop. Ultimately his decision will not affect your well being because you are going to start putting your life first.

In order to do this I would recommend 2 things to you:

1) Consider going to Al-Anon - they can help you with the kinds of ideas I’m talking about here.

2) Seek employment - if you are trapped and dependent on him, then getting a job might be the easiest way to assert yourself. If you have steady income coming in then this empowers you to change your situation as you see fit.

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  • LivZen


    I am currently in a relationship with an alchohlic. I have been with him for 5 years and I love him but I am at my wits end with this drinking and lying about when he will stop. The past four years I envolved my family and friends in my relationship, tryin to find an outlet. But this year haven’t involved anyone. Last year I went to Texas and stayed there for two months so that I could get some space from him. He promised me that he would stop this behavior and when I came back everthing was the same, my credit is ruined, and I’m not sure if an apartment complex will except me. I want to move out ASAP because I see this behavior will not stop with or without me. Please help. what should I do?

  • gottalive


    My situation is much like that above. There are no moments of complete peace. I’m always waiting on the last shoe to drop. The only solace right now is he works; however, he is preparing to retire and for me that is beyond scary. We cannot have a conversation of any sort as it is impossible to come to a meeting of the minds with someone whose mind is riddled with alcohol. When I approach him about the drinking he admonishes me. We can’t leave the house for a road trip without a cooler, it’s all so very sad-:-( Oh how I want out of the situation, for the past 28 years, the challenges have gotten bigger and bigger. I feel so very helpless and insignificant, feels like my life has been wasted on someone who was never accessible. This makes me feel as if I have lived the ultimate lie. I feel like a failure, empty, hopeless and do not want my “golden years” to be spent the way my youthful years were spent. Really feels as if I have been robbed of my Soul and a worthwhile life:-(. He has NO IDEA what a raging, angry, alcoholic he is. it’s shere torture to watch or live… He really believes that he can see everyone else; however, no one can see him… what a joke. Saddest thing ever!!!! :-(