Your partner drinks and you think they should quit – how do you talk about this? It could just be that your partner’s drinking is a cry for help.
“No one approached me, and I wish they had,” are the words of a secret drinker. A mother who had a secret – she hid her drinking from her kids, her husband, her parents.
“I was so ashamed,” says this mother, friend, daughter, lover. A normal person, just like you and me. What if she is your partner? You never broached the subject about their drinking because you did not know how to. How do you do this anyway, without causing denial, anger, sadness, and shame?
So, your partner drinks and you think they should quit. But you don’t know how to talk to them about their drinking. You think that their alcohol consumption is unsustainable. But this is entirely your opinion and perception. Their perception and opinion could be something completely different.
Tips to Prepare for a Conversation About Your Partner’s Drinking
Let’s look at some steps to get ready for a discussion or conversation with your partner about their drinking.
- Look firstly at your own feelings. Maybe the reason you find your partner’s drinking so triggering is that you too had a problem. You have stopped drinking; you have been there and done that. Now, your partner’s drinking has become a bit of an issue for you.
The latest literature concerning drinking alcohol clearly states that no amount is good for you, not even that one glass of wine a night that you thought was good for your heart. That was just the alcohol companies having a blast with your addiction levels.
In some partnerships, the one partner just never drank or both partners used to drink together until one stopped. Maybe your own partner pointed out your drinking problem to you and that is what made you stop? Now they too have a problem! How do you start a conversation with your partner about what you perceive to be a problem?
There is that school of thought that says, “leave it be, that this is their problem, not yours”. But if their problem is impacting on your relationship with them, or the children, or their work, or just the general vibe, surely it is your right to say something?
It Can Be Overwhelming to Talk about Your Partner’s Drinking
It can feel very draining to know how to tackle something so personal. Something that maybe you also went through. There is the chance that you add fuel to the fire when you do bring up your partner’s drinking. They may not see it as a problem and will be in denial and will be angry. Discomfort causes emotions of anger and resentment. Discomfort is revealing too – why do we feel it and what do we need to change? On the other hand, there is the chance that your partner will feel grateful that you noticed and intervened.
- It is very important to first create a safe space. Your partner should feel held and comfortable enough to be able to share and speak out. They need to feel free and non-judged and they want to feel as if they are that someone who is just living life as best as they know how to.
- Choose a time and a place and leave the judgment behind. Fill your heart with compassion and kindness before you begin. You may well be an ex-drinker yourself, so you know what it feels like to have to ditch the booze.
Many people who have to ditch the booze also have to acknowledge that they have a problem with alcohol. They feel ashamed and guilty – even dirty. This means that your topic is a very sensitive one. Remember this when you tackle the subject with your partner.
- A good idea is to read the latest data and research about alcohol intake and abuse, the health impacts, and the truth. This way you have a backup reasoning argument if things get crazy out there (denial and anger). Be aware that a drinker goes through several stages of change before they reach that place of no return.
- Remember to do your research into your partner’s life and what is going down. Is there more work stress? Is he/she eating well, sleeping well, staying up late, or battling to get out of bed in the mornings? Have they lost weight/put on weight? Are they doing any self-care or neglecting this part of their lives? Is he/she seeing friends and family or becoming isolated?
- Ask your partner about their understanding or perceptions about alcohol. Do they think they are actually enjoying drinking alone or do they realize its deathly toxicity? Are they just on the downward spiral and think they are fine, but know deep down inside they are not fine?
- The best way to find all of this out is to be non-confrontational and kind. Don’t approach the chat from an “I know best” perspective but go in with an open book. Use open-ended questions to have a kind, understanding chat. It may be that you are feeling hurt by the drinking and maybe there has been anger to the point of verbal and physical abuse. If so, be careful to have this conversation when your partner is sober and has not yet reached for his/her daily tipple.
- Take care of your own body language, voice and tone, and attitude to the drinking. If you were there once, be kind. If you have no idea what it feels like because you are simply not a drinker, be aware that people who are all-or-nothing people have many different things to deal with and the brain is the largest obstacle on their path.
The conversation will steer itself and you will find a lot of emotions emerging that are hard to deal with – your own emotions and opinions about alcohol and how you see your partner’s relationship with alcohol vs how they see it. There may be tears and anger and shouting. The way you approach the subject will decide how many emotions are revealed and erupt or not.
- If things are going well, ask your partner how you can assist them. You can offer to just be there or to help them change their habits and start new rituals, to get help if that is what they need. Often, the person who is the drinker just wants to be left alone and to try and do it alone. That was me. I did it alone and when anyone offered me help or suggested that I try this activity and that hobby, I shut them out as this was my path alone.
Hello Sunday Morning makes these great suggestions for conversation starters:
‘I’ve noticed you’ve been feeling tired lately, are you OK?’
‘I know you’ve gone through a difficult time lately; I just want to see how you are holding up and if you have ways to cope?’
‘I want to talk about something that’s been worrying me recently, is there a good time we can chat?’
At Tribe Sober, we always talk about doing the work. That’s because it is ok to quit the alcohol but then the big steps start and the perseverance, the obstacles that come along to trip you up. My biggest obstacles were resenting others who drank and the girls’ nights and the jokes about alcohol by women and moms. I was worried about what people thought and how I would look and feel in a social situation! The stigma around giving up alcohol is real. It is how you navigate this that counts! You matter, you can do it and you can rise up above those who drink and laugh about it!
Stopping drinking is also about identifying triggers and how to survive them and conquer them. These general tips for helping someone are extremely useful! In a nutshell:
- Listen – check in with your partner, listen to them if they need to talk. If they are not ready to talk, just be there.
- Socialise with them- encourage them to do non-alcoholic activities like exercise, creativity, and online course. Join them or encourage them to do it alone.
- Support them – they may not appreciate you pushing them around so just use kind words.
Remember that many people simply do NOT want to stop drinking. So you may have to get your own help in the form of your own therapy or just get on with your own life as best you can, setting the sober happy healthy example.
The Stages of Drinking and Knowing, Towards Change
Now we can recap our own stages of change that we use at Tribe Sober. Try to establish the level that your drinking partner is on now. Then you will know where to go from there. These steps can be printed out for your partner or just refer to them yourself if you are the support base:
Stage 1: Precontemplation stage
You have no intention of quitting drinking, or you don’t believe that you can or should. You don’t think that you have a problem, or you think that you can successfully moderate your alcohol intake.
Toolkit: Start becoming sober curious and listening to your instinct
Connection: connect to groups such as Tribe Sober and connect with others on all Tribe Sober platforms
Knowledge: Find out more about alcohol and its effects on your health
Observe: Take note of the positive changes you see in others who have ditched the drink
Stage 2: Contemplation stage
You are aware that you have a problem with alcohol, and you are thinking about ditching the drink.
Toolkit: Move toward making the decision to ditch the drink
Observation: Take note of your drinking conduct and the negative effects it’s having on your health and other areas of your life. Keep a log or a journal.
Connection: Connect with others on the different Tribe Sober platforms.
Knowledge: Find out more about what to expect when you quit drinking and the amazing domino effect that doing this can have on other areas of your life
Change your mindset: Move from ‘I should quit drinking’ to ‘I want to quit drinking’.
Commitment: Make the decision to quit drinking and set a realistic goal.
Stage 3: Preparation stage
You have decided to ditch the drink and have set a realistic goal, so do some preparation.
Toolkit: Practical steps to take
- Set a quit date. Print your tracker. Download an app to count your sober days, get motivational messages and see how much money you are saving
- Attend a workshop and/or book a coaching session
- See your doctor if you’re worried about experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about vitamins you can take
- Know your triggers: Write a list of things that are likely to trigger cravings or emotions
- Coping with cravings: Write a list of things that you can do to cope with a craving
- Stock up on alcohol-free drinks or other alternatives
- You may crave sugar so stock up on some sweet snacks (ideally healthy ones)
- Write a blacklist (list of all the things you regret doing when drinking)
- Decide what you will tell people if they ask you why you aren’t drinking
- Buy another journal – you’ll need it 😊
Remember to keep connecting with others and gaining as much knowledge as you can.
Stage 4: Action stage
You’ve changed your behaviour – ditched the drink!
Toolkit: Keep connected, look after yourself, use your tools and add to them if needed
Connection: Keep connected with the Tribe Sober members on the different platforms
Self-care: Take it one hour/day/week at a time. Look after yourself – lots of self-care
Tools: Keeping track of your progress on your tracker, journal writing, reading your blacklist, playing the movie forward using your coping with cravings list, updating your toolkit if needed, reward yourself.
Knowledge: Keep listening to podcasts, Facebook Live, and reading Quit lit.
Stage 5: Maintenance stage
You’re working on staying alcohol-free and resisting the temptation to drink again. Research shows that it takes 66 days to create a new neural pathway. Personal growth as you move forwards in your alcohol-free life. Thrive as you develop a deeper understanding of yourself, your relationship with alcohol, and other issues in your life.
Toolkit: Resisting temptation, tools to help you thrive in your alcohol-free life
Resisting temptation: Read your blacklist, play the movie forward, have alcohol-free alternatives available, plan ahead for situations where you know there will be alcohol available or that you strongly associate with drinking, keep your tracker up to date and share it on the group to stay accountable. Get the support of a sober buddy
Changing your relationship with alcohol: Identifying and overturning your limiting beliefs about alcohol, celebrating your sober firsts, writing your goodbye to alcohol letter
Knowledge: Keep listening to podcasts, Facebook Live, and reading Quit lit
New activities: This is a good time to start a new activity/hobby/project/venture
Personal growth: You may find that new thoughts and feelings emerge for you. Journal writing or seeing a psychologist, counsellor or life coach will be beneficial.
Paying it forward: 1) Staying connected and sharing your story, progress and achievements can be inspiring to members who are thinking about quitting. 2) Consider becoming a sober buddy.
If you are considering starting a conversation with your partner about their drinking, take heed of the above advice. Well done in caring so much for them that you want to help. Tribe Sober is here for advice, workshops and more in a warm, connecting space.