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Right or wrong, alcohol and socialising go hand-in-hand for some of us, so it can impact a relationship when just one person stops drinking – as much as you want to support them.
This week’s reader Kelly says her husband has stopped drinking and it’s affecting her social life.
“My partner and I have been together for over 10 years. A few years into the relationship he gave up alcohol as he felt he had an unhealthy relationship with it,” she says. “It explained a lot of behaviours and communication that had confused me previously and things communication-wise got a bit better.
“However, I am outgoing and have a lot of friends that I like to party and socialise with. He does not. I still want to go out, have a dance and a drink and party occasionally and he seems to resent me doing this.”
Kelly says her husband prefers quiet activities like walking and watching TV these days – which they enjoy together – but she’d like to go out-out too, so now they’re “in a state of gridlock”.
“Can you help?” she asks
Counselling Directory member Jo Clayton says we all experience things differently, and recovery from alcohol and substance misuse isn’t any different.
“You found some of your partner’s behaviours and communication confusing whilst he was drinking and it’s fantastic that he’s been sober for six years,” Clayton says.
“I wonder what this journey has been like for you both and how it feels to support him. You say communication has improved and yet you’re in a state of gridlock: is there a way to negotiate an acceptable outcome for you both?”
Clayton asks Kelly if the resentment is about loss. “He knows you are able to drink; does he miss it? Is there jealousy here or perhaps he questions your relationship with alcohol?”
“You spend ‘quiet’ time together and there is love for one another. I’m wondering if other things are at play,” Clayton says.
“Could your partner have unprocessed, traumatic events that are triggered when you drink, or is something else going on? I’m also wondering about the power dynamic in your relationship: does one person predominantly hold power, does it shift, or is it equally shared?”
How does alcoholism affect relationships?
The journey to recovery isn’t an easy one, there could be conflict, vulnerability, volatility and unresolved trauma ahead, according to Clayton.
“Confidence and self esteem could be impacted, there may be guilt or shame, or longstanding unresolved issues that are no longer being masked with alcohol,” she says. “Addiction can impact on how we see ourselves, our identities and how we navigate the world and often runs in families.”
Clayton says the relationship may still be reeling from the consequences of events that played out during the addiction.
“Was the behaviour abusive and is abuse present now?” she asks.
“It can be challenging, navigating the shifting landscape of our relationships and lives as we tentatively learn what our new ‘normal’ looks like. The word ‘responsibility’ comes to mind; your partner is responsible for his recovery and sobriety, however, does this mean you play no part in his recovery?”
There may be issues surrounding co-dependency and addiction and the role that alcohol may have played in your relationship. “As you may know, co-dependency can have negative consequences for both parties and setting healthy and appropriate boundaries will help your partner to avoid engaging in destructive behaviours. Is there some middle ground here?” Clayton adds.
How can this reader encourage her partner to go out and socialise?
It may be time to accept the differences and make alternative plans. “Perhaps he’s more introverted, content connecting on a one-to-one basis,” Clayton says.
“You may need to have some honest, open dialogues to understand if your drinking and socialising impacts on his recovery, or if there is something else at play here.
“It feels like there is some boundary work to do if you are both to feel as though you are being listened to, respected and understood, with needs being met on both sides.”
Clayton continues: “It may be difficult to have this conversation in a non-defensive way so it might helpful to speak to a counsellor. Conflict is rarely resolved by avoidance; your world simply becomes smaller.
“Be patient, learning to regulate and sit with emotions without numbing them takes time and practice. You may both be bringing learned experiences from the past into the present; trust in the therapeutic process and ask for help if you need it.”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.
(Photo: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK)
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.