5 Alcoholic Behaviors That Show Up In Relationships
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Alcoholism is a disease that can ravage a person’s body and mind, taking their physical and mental health. But anyone who has been in a relationship with an alcoholic can tell you about the collateral damage. Someone addicted to alcohol will often find his or her relationships falling apart, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. These relationships can become incredibly toxic, causing harm to everyone involved.
This is true not just of intimate relationships but of family and friends as well. Certain alcoholic behaviors show up in every such relationship, leaving a lot of pieces to pick up once the dust settles.
The following 5 alcoholic behaviors are common in intimate relationships, and affect the family as a whole.
1. A Breakdown in Trust
All intimate relationships need a foundation of trust. If one person does not trust the other, they will struggle with jealousy, insecurity, anxiety and other feelings which can derail a relationship. Their partner, on the other hand, will feel resentment at not being trusted.
But a person struggling with alcoholism is difficult to trust. They may lie or even steal to support their habit, fail to meet their commitments, and let their partner down on a regular basis.
Trust breaks down and neither partner feels safe in the relationship. Instead of it being a safe-haven, where each member can get emotional support, it becomes the source of the problem.
Many spouses of alcoholics have described nights through which they've waited anxiously for their partner to return home. When they eventually show up, the spouse is unable to trust their retelling of events. With the truth up in the air, their minds are left to fill in the blanks. Thus, even when the reality isn’t so bad, every hour unaccounted for can seem like a total betrayal.
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The breakdown in trust does not necessarily lead to more distance between a couple. On the contrary. In many cases, the alcoholic and non-alcoholic member become codependent on each other. The alcoholic uses their partner’s support to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, while the non-alcoholic member becomes secure in their role as the fixer.
Often, we end up with a scenario in which neither really want the alcoholic to get sober. The alcoholic would have to make what looks like a monumental effort, while the other fears that a sober partner may stop needing them.
In larger families, this can extend to all members, who each get accustomed to a certain role in relation to the alcoholic.
4. Financial Problems
Finances play a major role in the wellbeing of any relationship. After all, secure financial circumstances allow for couples to plan for the future. They make decisions on everything – from whether to take a vacation to whether to have another child – based on their financial situation.
Alcoholism has led to countless financial meltdowns. The alcoholic spends more and more supporting his or her habit, often losing work in the process. They steal from their partner or other family members. They may even end up with legal fees, as their addiction causes them to make reckless mistakes. Treatment ultimately costs time and money as well.
A couple secure in their finances ends up struggling to pay the bills, dreams are no longer realistic, and life begins revolving around money matters.
5. The Impact On Children
I once heard a lady in a group describe how her alcoholism was affecting her children. Recently, she had turned off her phone and gone on a bender that lasted a whole weekend. It had also happened to be her teenage daughter’s birthday that weekend. She’d returned home sheepishly on Monday morning to a relieved but angry and unforgiving family.
She was fully aware of what she’d done wrong and her guilt was tremendous. But she had not simply let her daughter down. She had flipped their roles, playing the part of the irresponsible child while her daughter waited at home like a distraught parent.
Her husband’s relationship with his daughter had also subtly changed. At least for the weekend, she had become akin to his coparent.
This case demonstrates just one of many possible scenarios. The impact of an alcoholic parent on their children cannot be easily predicted, but it will definitely be significant. Some children grow up with low self-esteem, along with an increased likelihood of becoming addicts themselves. Others take on more responsibility than they can manage. Their own future relationships will inevitably be affected, for better or worse.
In many cases, the reality is much worse. Children become the target of their parents’ misplaced anger and resentment. They may be neglected or abused, physically, mentally, or sexually.
One thing in common in all these relationships is that chaos is the rule, rather than the exception. It is impossible to make plans and stick to them when one partner is struggling just to make it through a day without drinking.
This can easily lead to a feeling of helplessness. It is not always possible to see a way through. In order to regain a foothold in the relationship, and in a shared life, one needs to confront the issues which have come up. For this reason, it is crucial that the individual suffering from alcoholism is not the only one who seeks help. Partners and children have carried much of the burden, and need guidance if they are to deal positively with the consequences.
Individual therapy as well as couples counseling or family therapy are important resources in rebuilding healthy, positive relationships. Partners and families are part of the journey, whether or not they chose it, and deserve help in getting back to normalcy.