I'm getting therapy. He refuses. Now what?
September 23, 2009 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to "detach with love" and get therapy. He's stuck and resistant. What next?

My husband of 10 years has been out of work for more than a year, with a couple of short-term contract gigs inbetween. He is beaten down by this, and is now pretty much refusing to even look for work, frittering his days away, and drinking in four- or five-day binges when he barely sleeps, then crashes. Meanwhile, our bank accounts are withering.

I know that he is probably technically depressed, but he refuses to see how he's feeling as depression. He did start taking antidepressants about five weeks ago, and says he does feel better, more "leveled." However, his drinking patterns have not changed. (No need to tell me that alcohol and ADs should not be mixed.)

I've read Codependent No More, and what feels like every thread on depressed and alcoholic spouses on AskMeFi. I've found some wonderful and helpful answers on these threads, but I know I have to figure out my own situation and do what works best for me.

Today I booked myself an appointment with a therapist, and will be seeing her next week. If she doesn't work out, I'll find another. That part is the easy part. I just wish I hadn't waited so long.

I'm extremely angry and sad that I have to do all this, while my husband stays stuck. He has told me that I need to accept him the way he is; I've told him that I don't want to live like this anymore, and he assures me that he doesn't either. But then he is the one who needs to change his behavior. I love him dearly, but he is a wreck, and he won't make any more moves toward sorting himself out.

I don't want to leave, and financially that isn't an option right now -- but I can see us leading rather more separate lives in the same house. (Not too difficult, since he rarely comes to bed, is rarely coherent enough for conversation, etc.) That saddens me, but since I'm already used to it, it should be easier to detach, right?

He has told me over and over that he loves me and he can't live without me, but I know the drinking/disease is more powerful. I get that. What I don't get is why he can't see what damage he has done to us as a couple. I have told him exactly how I feel, and he sees that as me attacking him. (I'm attacking his behavior, not the person -- but he turns it round.)

I can't send out his resume for him. I can't be Carry Nation and pour away his drinks. I can, however, get on with my own life. I'm trying to "detach with love," as the phrase goes, but it is causing so much pain. Do I just keep on trying to look after myself, while letting him keep on heading to rock bottom?

He is absolutely resistant to AA. He went once, and hated it. I've read all the AA-related threads on here, and have a couple of friends who found it very helpful. Do I try to ask one of them to talk to him? Is that a bad thing to ask of another AA member? Do I push him toward a non-AA sponsor? (He drinks alone, at home. So there's no circle of pals to cut off or avoid.)

Apologies for length, but I wanted to add as much relevant detail as possible. Anonymizing email address: bendtothesinister@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The "now what" is you go to therapy and learn how to take care of yourself regardless of what he does. You learn how to detach, how to stop seeking control of his actions. He may never change. He definitely won't change (in any lasting way) until he wants to. Yes, it is incredibly painful and difficult for both of you. There is really no shortcut.

I know the drinking/disease is more powerful. I get that.

From the rest of your post, I don't think that you do, at least not at a visceral level. I think you need a lot more support. I recommend seeking out Al-Anon and CODA meetings in your area.

Do I just keep on trying to look after myself, while letting him keep on heading to rock bottom?

I think attempting to rescue someone from hitting bottom does a disservice to both of you. It gives you false hope, and it robs him of the chance to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions.

Best wishes.
posted by desjardins at 3:42 PM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I swear I do not get paid by these guys as this will be about the third time in days on askmefi that I have posted this link, but there is a better way of dealing with alcoholic and addicted loved ones that doesn't rely on the dubious ideas of "hitting bottom" and "enabling" and "codependency" that have virtually no science supporting them. People get better all the time without hitting bottom, no one has ever come up with a way of defining codependency that differentiates it from "helping" and you *can* help people recover, though it may not be in the form or at the time you prefer.

Here's the link, to info on CRAFT family therapy, which works better than interventions and can involve support via Al-anon if you prefer that, but does not require it.
posted by Maias at 3:48 PM on September 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry about your situation. I know that this will be one of the more unpopular opinions on this post, but if detaching is causing you so much pain, is it absolutely necessary for you to do so? Detach with love sounds like a very selfish move to me. Emotional attachments and love are not bad things. Having someone who unconditionally loves and believes in you in your darkest moments can be a beacon of light.

And aren't marriages supposed to be for better and for worse? You sound like you need support, but your husband sounds like he could need a lot more. Of course, you are not responsible for his depression or his drinking problem, but booking him an appointment with a therapist might be the impetus he needs to start rebuilding his life.
posted by moiraine at 3:57 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the description you give your husband will certainly need to go through medically monitored detox. This is not a DIY quitting situation you are describing. I think you should start thinking pragmatically about the logistics of leaving your husband. You can't keep living with him if he does not ultimately agree to entering treatment.
posted by nanojath at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2009

But then he is the one who needs to change his behavior. I love him dearly, but he is a wreck, and he won't make any more moves toward sorting himself out.

The only person whose behaviour you can change or have the right to change is yours. Your choice about whether or not to "live this way" is your choice - his choice is his own. In my experience, the outcome of badgering someone into change for your sake is often worse than the original problem.

If your therapist is any good at all, they will help you determine what you want for yourself and how to achieve it. If your sessions become focused on changing your husband's behaviour rather than your own, then ditch that therapist and find another.

One word of advice, in case your thoughts are heading in that direction - never give an ultimatum unless you're truly prepared to live with the consequences of the other person making the choice you least wanted.

Your frustration comes across very clearly in your post and is totally understandable, but your post also sounds like you believe that everything would be OK if only your husband would do more of what you want him to do - as though he's a project rather than a partner. And that kind of desire to "fix" someone by micro-managing their life usually just adds a shitload of resentment to the mix.

You do have to accept who your husband is right now. You don't have to like that person or stay married to that person, but you have to accept who he is at the moment and that change on his part is only one of all the many possible outcomes to this situation.

To be honest, I don't think you should make any plans about how you're going to deal with this until after you've seen your therapist (whose job, incidentally, is to help you deal with your reality, not to change your husband). If you go into therapy with an self-created agenda beyond increasing your own contentment and well-being, you'll probably become even more frustrated and resentful.

So for the moment, try to focus on the things you can do which don't require any change in your husband's behaviour - and be aware that while what you're perceiving as objecting to how his behaviour is affecting your marriage, you very well might be doing that so often that he feels like he is under constant attack from you. If a fraction of the resentment which comes across in your post comes across in your real life discussions, then I'd probably feel under attack too.

One thing you might find helpful for yourself is Al-Anon - again, this is focused on helping you cope rather than changing anyone else's behaviour.

You don't mention who prescribed the antidepressants for your husband. If it was a GP rather than a mental health professional, then I'd suggest seeing if he'll consult a mental health professional - it's possible that there are something more complex than unipolar depression and alcohol abuse going on here and if that's the case then the sooner that's diagnosed, the sooner
posted by Lolie at 4:51 PM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with Maias - try to not to take ideas like "codependency" and "hitting bottom" too seriously. They're easy labels/clichés that don't mean as much as you would think. A good therapist will help you decide what you will and will not tolerate in your marriage and will help you figure out what to do about the things you will not live with.

A good support group - be it Al-Anon or something else - will put you in touch with other folks who are dealing with similar circumstances. They can help you recognize when you're being manipulated (i.e. 'can't live without me' or his taking your feelings as personal attacks) and can show you ways to shore-up yourself. Plus, you can make new friends and cherry pick from lots of other people's experiences

Also, do start thinking about addressing the financial issues. Why can't you leave? Is it because you can't afford to or because he can't afford to live without you? No matter what you decide to do with your marriage, I think it's vital that you have some measure of financial independence. I can't stress this enough. It is a crucial step in figuring out if you stay in your marriage because you want to or because you have to. Do whatever it takes to make enough to support yourself by yourself. Even if you stay married this will make you a stronger, more resilient person.
Best of Luck
posted by littlegreenboat at 4:55 PM on September 23, 2009

Seconding Al-anon as a resource. It is for people who are exactly in your situation - trying to figure out how to live their lives while a loved one crashes and burns. Give it a try - I think you'd benefit tremendously.

Alcoholics are great at denial - he will not be able to see the impact of his drinking on his life until he hits some kind of bottom. One always hopes that it won't be a terrible bottom, like homelessness or some awful injury, but it seems like it takes some powerful experience to shake addicted people awake to the damage and injury they've caused themselves and others.

Sometimes people hire interventionists to organize events the purpose of which is to create a forum for loved ones to confront someone about the impact of their behavior. If you go this route, make sure you hire a competent one. Feel free to me-mail me if you have questions about this.
posted by jasper411 at 4:58 PM on September 23, 2009

One thing I noticed in the OP is that there isn't really a single comment in it which conveys empathy or support for the husband. It's really hard to turn around any team situation in which you can see only yourself as being worthy of respect, compassion and support.

It's very confronting to read that OP and realise that there's not a single mention of what the OP misses about her relationship with her husband prior to his unemployment and alcohol abuse. I'm all for living in the moment and dealing with what's immediately in front of you, but I wonder if perhaps this is a relationship which was already broken and has just become irretrievably so more recently. It's kind of odd that there's no mention of the husband's good qualities or what the OP liked and loved about him and the relationship prior to the last year - perhaps it wasn't desirable enough to be worth returning to.
posted by Lolie at 5:16 PM on September 23, 2009

Marriage in the Christian culture is for better or for worse. Marriage is different in different places and for different people.
posted by anniecat at 5:38 PM on September 23, 2009

More than a year of four- and five-day binges can undo year and years of good. Might make me wonder if I had every had any value to my spouse...

And it's possible the OP didn't talk about what the relationship used to because there wan't time or room.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:04 PM on September 23, 2009

Even "marriage in the Christian culture" usually permits separation or divorce in some circumstances. (Just to cancel any implication that OP is selfish or unChristian or anything along those lines for seeking help with this.)

OP, I'm so sorry for your situation. You need more ongoing help and support than we can give you here. I hope you will keep trying therapists and Al-Anon groups and whatever else until you find a person/group in your area who can help you on an ongoing basis with this awful situation.

Serious alcoholics can come around. I have seen it happen. But it's not guaranteed, as you obviously know. Do you have the support of family nearby? Does he? I wish I had clearcut advice for you, but all I have are good wishes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:37 PM on September 23, 2009

Meanwhile, our bank accounts are withering.

Because you're the only one bringing in income, or because he's spending it on alcohol? You need to separate the money. He shouldn't have access to it (or at least, not to all of it) right now.
posted by heatherann at 5:55 AM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just my 2 cents...

Over the years, I repeatedly see postings regarding relationships where change is required by one or more partners for the good of the relationship.

Your husband has the attitude of "love me unconditionally for who I am" which in my opinion is a way of avoiding the hard work required to make the relationship (and himself)better.

A healthier attitude is "lets work as a team to improve ourselves for the better of the relationship".

My relationship of 12 years ended because my partner didn't want to change for the better. She simply didn't want to work that hard on the relationship or herself. She didn't even want to TALK about it.

If you have enough communication with your husband to show him this entire metafilter posting you are in much better shape than I think because at least you can openly discuss it. I find it amazing that most relationship postings are never read by their significant others. Why is that? What is blocking the communication?

My ex also thought it was an attack on her when I requested for a change and asked nicely. And the changes were positive for her as well as the relationship - they were not selfish.

Aside from the alcohol stuff, you are in a tough pickle because of the attitude of your spouse.

But I am fascinated by how people can change their attitude on life.

I don't believe the popularily touted adage that "you can only change yourself". Not for a second!

What you say and do can influence people enormously. They are the only ones who can make the change but You CAN influence them change for the better.

Explore what motivates and makes your husband tick (which is not easy even if you ask directly) and I think it can make a big difference.

What does he really care about? A job - hmmphh! There are more important things in life unless you don't have food and shelter. A good perspective is important.

If he does not change, you will either have to live with him and suffer or as scary as it sounds, leave him. There are worse things than a failed relationship. How would you feel if he acted like this and you had a couple of children?

Nobody knows the answer except you and your husband so I'm wishing you both the best but I just don't want to see a situation where this drags out for you for years and years. How long will you wait for change?

I'm rambling now cuz I have stuff to do but just some thoughts.....
posted by simpleton at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2009

My ex-husband wanted me to love him unconditionally, but I could not, because his addiction was destroying both our lives.

He made it clear to me repeatedly that he loved me and didn't want me to change and wanted me to do the same for him. He loved me, a lot, and I loved him too. He wasn't doing it TO me, he was doing it TO HIMSELF.

Unfortunately, being married means you are essentially (legally, financially, socially) viewed as a unified entity. We tried therapy and living apart but it was just unbearable.

It was not healthy or sane for us to be together. Love is not enough (despite what everyone else may say, mutual trust and respect are at least as important, if not more so). Your husband does not respect himself. That's an indicator right there this relationship is unbalanced.

I divorced him. He was extremely passive about it; it was very clear that 100% of the effort to salvage and then abandon the relationship would be purely mine. This was so I could be the "bad guy."

Realize that your husband, by not making a decision to change for the better, is forcing you to make all the tough decisions.

Not choosing to act is an act in itself. The real question is, do you want to hit bottom with him? Right now you've got a difficult situation. You've been unhappy and worried for a year now. How much more time are you willing to allow both of you to suffer until you yourself have hit the bottom of this relationship? When you're destitute?

What of this relationship is still marriage to you and not a caretaker/enabling situation? Are you still sexually active together? Does he do things to woo you, or act like a husband? Or is this more of a situation where you're the mother and he is the depressed, recalcitrant child? These are questions your therapist will likely ask you, plus tons more germane to your specific behaviors and history.

Not sure where you live, but you should probably look into the time and expense that filing for divorce would involve. If you live in a place where you must be legally separated for a year, then wait another six months for divorce (assuming it's not contested, which could take significantly longer), the MINIMUM you'd be in this same situation... the one that's making you miserable now... is 1.5 years. If you're in a state where it's 3 months and no legal separation, then yeah, it's a bit easier.

It's hard to step outside your situation and see it objectively sometimes. I wish you the best of luck with therapy; if your husband continues in this vein, I think you will be forced to leave him.

The wording in your question is so much like how my ex and I were acting at the end of our relationship I can't help but hurt for you. I lost my battle, and in the end, I regretted not acting on its obvious demise sooner. Best of luck to you.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:16 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

What I don't get is why he can't see what damage he has done to us as a couple. I have told him exactly how I feel, and he sees that as me attacking him.

Oh, have I been there. That sentence makes me feel so sad for you. The thing is that it doesn't matter. Sadly, the fact that he doesn't see it is another reason to leave. It is so hard to teach someone something or show them something they don't see. Imagine how much easier it would be if you didn't even feel like you needed to explain it to him. It is probably easier to rebuild your entire life without him in it than it will be to have him see what he is doing to your relationship and your life together. I'm sorry, and best of luck.
posted by salvia at 7:18 PM on September 25, 2009

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