It's a bad time...but when is it ever a good time?
June 18, 2014 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm coming to realize that my partner is seriously abusing alcohol (and being cavalier about other substances) just as he's embarking on an existential crisis following a messy legal situation (finalizing a divorce that's 2+ years in the making). The relationship needs work; he needs work; hell, I might need work; but he's got a lot on his plate and I can't really pile on. I have kind of lost sight of what is reasonable here, and could use some perspective.

The facts are that he drinks way too much (with a few textbook red flags--there is really no question that this is A Problem), has a history of other substance abuse, and I can't really trust him not to engage in total debauchery when he's around certain friends/in certain situations. He's almost 40 years old; I'm in my early 30s.

Other facts are that this relationship has been 95% sunshine and rainbows and warm feelings and support and care. There is so much about him and his character that I admire, and in most ways this has been the best relationship I've experienced. We've talked a lot about the future and seem to be on the same page about all the big things we want out of life; we travel well together; our sex life is wonderful; we genuinely enjoy spending time with each others' families; everything else is really, really good. And for every scary red flag fact, there's a mitigating counterpoint: he's financially responsible, works hard, uses his talents well, takes good care of his children, has no criminal history. There is a lot of good stuff here. He says he loves me a lot--a lot--and emphasizes that I am very important to him. I've been in enough relationships to know that this stuff isn't easy to find, and I'm real peculiar about a lot of things that he gets really well. That's rare, and wonderful.

I don't want to end this relationship, but I also can't spend the rest of my life with an alcoholic I don't trust.

He has expressed very clearly that he is in a crisis state right now. He has entertained suicidal thoughts in the last couple of years, prior to meeting me, and that scares me. He has recently started on Wellbutrin (and is disappointed it's not working immediately) and is open to talk therapy, but says he doesn't have time for it right now. Ideologically, he's not on board with AA, so that is not a realistic option.

So my questions:

- Am I kidding myself that this relationship has any hope? Are there success stories of other couples who've overcome situations like this?
- Am I enabling him/being codependent by deferring to his crisis, postponing the "you've got to stop drinking now or I'm outta here" conversation? Or is it a good idea to give the situation some time and let it rest?
- What can I do to minimize damage, or chances of him harming himself, in the wake of an ultimatum/breakup talk?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How long have you two been together?
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:52 AM on June 18, 2014

Here's the thing about (most) active alcoholics: You can't make them stop. You can ultimatum all you want, but if he doesn't want to stop, he won't, no matter how much he cries and threatens and promises and apologizes (and means all of it!).

is open to talk therapy, but says he doesn't have time for it right now

He'd find time if he really wanted to. We all find time for things we really want. It's not weird that he isn't finding time - therapy is painful and scary. But he doesn't really want to do it.

You can talk with him about how you feel. Then you can get yourself to an Al Anon meeting or ten (they're all different, so try a bunch until you find some that work for you, schedule and temperament-wise). That's really it. You can't control what he does or how he reacts. You can only take care of you.
posted by rtha at 9:54 AM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

We've been together a little over a year.
posted by magdalemon at 9:56 AM on June 18, 2014

Please go to an Al-Anon meeting. Here are the services in your state (based on your profile location). When they get to the part of the meeting where they ask if anyone is a newcomer, raise your hand. Say something, if you want to. Or be quiet and just listen. If the meeting is a dud, try another. (Some are duds, some are awesome.) In the parlance, you have a "pressing problem" and you might find the advice you need at Al-Anon.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:57 AM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you don't want to be with someone who is an alcoholic and he has a problem with alcohol he won't address, the relationship does not have any hope. You're sort of enabling him by postponing the conversation, but please know that the conversation will likely not have any significant effect, anyway, if he doesn't want to stop drinking. There will always be an excuse in an alcoholic's life to keep drinking - the drinking itself is almost always the root cause of whatever crisis they're going through. You can't do anything to minimize the damage the consequences of his drinking, and you shouldn't try. Minimizing consequences is the textbook definition of enabling.

My husband is a recovering addict with almost eight years sober. I go to twelve step meetings for families of addicts and alcoholics. I will tell you right now that everybody I know who loves someone with a substance abuse problem talks about how the addict in their life is a lovely, creative, intelligent, caring person. But only when they aren't drunk or high. That's why it's so hard to convince yourself to leave this kind of relationship - because they're good and special people, somewhere down in there, despite the addiction that causes them to do bad things. But what you need to keep in mind is that alcoholism is progressive. If he keeps it up, that 95% will whittle down and down and down, so gradually that you won't always notice, and your perspective of "normal" will erode more and more until you don't know which way is up. Ask me how I know! It's not fun.

Fortunately my husband did get clean. There is always hope. But not unless your guy wants it for himself.
posted by something something at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2014 [16 favorites]

You know, at that point I'd say that yes, you should cut your losses. If you can't trust him, you can't trust him. I'm really sorry because it sounds horrible to have to let him go, but that 95% great will quickly turn into 95% anxiety over whether he's drunk or wanting to drink or had been drinking and lied etc. It's not worth it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:59 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I hate to say this to you, because you clearly don't want it to be true, but any addict's first love is his drug of choice.

You are involved with alcohol-addicted Joe, not sober Joe. Let that sink in. He may be great sometimes, but there are people out there who are great ALL THE TIME.

Addiction is an A1 deal-breaker for me, and you may need to consider why it's not for you (or why it is, but you're conflicted.)

Wellbutrin should NOT be taken with alcohol, so right there, he's not compliant with his meds, and therefore does not have a good chance of having a remission of his depression. (Alcohol is a depressant.)

Right now this man is in no fit state to be a partner or friend or family member. He is in crisis, and he probably needs to go to rehab to get himself sorted out. But that's his decision, not yours.

Go to Al-Anon. See if what they are saying is helpful to you, I suspect it will be. Talk to others, see what they say.

The one thing you must do is to live your life as free from drama as possible. So if that means separating, then do that. It doesn't have to be permanant, but you have to take care of yourself first.

As for the 'danger to himself,' that may very well be true. And you can have him put on a 48-hour psyche hold if it comes down to it, but it probably won't.

This is about you, not him. You deserve someone who is unaddicted, and who can provide you with the safety and security that a good relationship can bring. Don't settle for less.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:00 AM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Nthing AlAnon, and also nthing to try different groups; one might be awful and another the perfect fit. And you might want to read Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:00 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Am I enabling him/being codependent by deferring to his crisis, postponing the "you've got to stop drinking now or I'm outta here" conversation?

Yeah. Thing is, the drinking isn't helping him in any useful way. It may make it easier for him to cope in the short term, at the cost of extensive long-term damage and reinforcing poor habits.

The crisis is a crutch. It's not what's making him drink. He is what's making him drink.

During the single worst period of my life, I became a much lighter drinker. My rule was that I would make sure not to drink if I was feeling sad at that moment, or if I found myself thinking, "I need a drink."

His drinking is not helping. What's more, you're very likely to find that the crisis is going to take its sweet time passing, or that once it passes there'll be something else that makes him turn to the bottle. There'll always be something until he stops drinking entirely.

What can I do to minimize damage, or chances of him harming himself, in the wake of an ultimatum/breakup talk?

Nothing. Give him phone numbers of crisis lines, maybe. If he decides to self-harm, that's on him and it has nothing to do with you. It's his problem. You can't fix it. If you let that factor into your decisions, all you'll be doing is showing him that he can control the situation, or you, by threatening to hurt himself. On the few occasions in my life when someone has threatened to hurt or kill themselves if I either leave them or don't do what they want, my response has been, "I'm not going to do what you want, especially not with a threat like that. I can't stop you from hurting yourself, but it's on you, not me."

You have every right to tell him that he needs to stop drinking and get into talk therapy, or you walk. And that if you ever find out he's still drinking but lying to you about it, you walk, no questions. That is what I would do in your situation. I would also stick to my guns if I gave an ultimatum. If you tell him you'll walk if he does x and then he does x and you don't walk, that would not be helpful to either of you.

I would also go to Al-Anon, regardless of what he does.

You can't make him quit if he doesn't want to. You can't make him want to, either. All you can do is tell him what you need and then offer to support him as he starts making healthy decisions. If he doesn't start making healthy decisions, then you need to make an exit, as painful and sad as that will be, because it will only get worse. Even if there's some small part of you insisting that you can totally be the wonderful thing in his life that fixes this for him, I am here to tell you that you cannot. This is all up to him. If he won't make the decision to get help, then the only choice you have here is whether his alcoholism destroys one life, or two.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Also, I don't want to make assumptions, so please disregard if it's not true, but it would seem reasonable to conclude that his previous relationship was seriously and significantly harmed due to his drinking. That's a big thing to lose and still keep drinking and using other substances.

I'd also like to note that you're already twisting yourself into knots here, worrying if you should be able to say something, worrying about his mental sounds really unpleasant and difficult for you and I worry about you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

And I want to add that, like Ruthless Bunny, substance abuse would be an absolute dealbreaker for me, no matter how wonderful the man was otherwise. You simply cannot count on your SO getting sober. Do you want to spend the rest of your life with a substance abuser?

Disregard this if you do not plan to have children, but: don't ever have children with a substance abuser. You can choose your spouse or SO, but children cannot choose their parents. Don't lumber your kids with a biological commitment they cannot break until they are adults.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:04 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

break up. He just finalized a divorce and doesn't sound ready for a relationship. And he's an alcoholic.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:15 AM on June 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

This book was recommended by a mefite recently, and it has some helpful advice for families of addicts. It walks you through examples step-by-step, "he says this to his spouse, then he thinks this, then he drinks" and explains why each step happens.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:16 AM on June 18, 2014

he needs work; hell, I might need work
We all need work. Just because you might need work, too, doesn't mean he shouldn't work on himself. Likewise, all the negatives about his drinking are not mitigated by the positives about him. It's great that 95% is positive but that cannot balance 5% of destructive behavior.

he's got a lot on his plate and I can't really pile on
Telling him "Your drinking is damaging to you, our relationship, your kids and I need you to get help." is not piling on. It's taking care of yourself. You absolutely have a right to do that.

he's financially responsible, works hard, uses his talents well, takes good care of his children, has no criminal history
I work in A&D and I can tell you, odds are good that these situations will not last. Alcoholism doesn't go away on it's own. The damages from addiction don't just disappear. My facility is full of people who used to have jobs, homes, families and had never seen the inside of a jail. They've lost their livelihood, their kids, their spouses, their health and a lot of their prospects. But my workplace is also full of people in recovery. They decided their lives were more important than alcohol and/or drugs.

- Am I kidding myself that this relationship has any hope? Are there success stories of other couples who've overcome situations like this?
There are couples who get past this. But the addict has to want to get better and then do the work to get clean and sober. It absolutely can be done. My sister and her husband are a success story. But he wanted to get sober. And only you can say when you are done trying and it's time to walk away. (And don't beat yourself up about drawing a line in the sand wherever you think it should be.)

- Am I enabling him/being codependent by deferring to his crisis, postponing the "you've got to stop drinking now or I'm outta here" conversation? Or is it a good idea to give the situation some time and let it rest?
As others have said, him disliking AA doesn't mean you can't go to Al-Anon. There are tons of resources for families of addicts. Avail yourself of these. Have you told him how you feel about his drinking and how it affects you and your relationship? Yes, he will likely get defensive if you have many conversations about it. But you have to speak up for yourself and ask for what you need. He has to want to stop drinking but you need to tell him you have a problem with this situation as it is. Yes, he should know but if you are glossing over the issue (95% is great, only 5% sucks), then imagine how much in denial he is about it.

- What can I do to minimize damage, or chances of him harming himself, in the wake of an ultimatum/breakup talk?
Don't try to shoulder this burden. This is classic manipulative addict behavior "don't leave or I'll hurt myself". Please, please don't buy into this. You cannot be responsible for another adult's emotions or actions. Have the kindest, most loving, most supportive conversation about this as you are able. And then you must be prepared to be done. This is one of the hardest things I've had to learn at my job. I cannot work harder than the addict is working to get clean.

Good luck and take care of yourself.
posted by Beti at 10:29 AM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

As others have said... unfortunately this man has already shown that he will let a relationship deteriorate and be destroyed by his refusal to deal with this issue. And you are fairly new on the scene, it seems. What makes you think this man won't let your relationship go the same way as his previous one?

The thing about substance abuse is that all the things you say are so perfect and wonderful can be completely negated by the abuse. And having a partner who has a serious issue like this and is unwilling, even in the face of possibly losing you (and losing his previous relationship) to deal with it... that just doesn't bode well for you.

I think you need to consider yourself here. What is *your* best case scenario? Not for him, for *you.* Is your best-case life scenario to be with someone with this serious issue for which they are unwilling to get help?

Also, beware of the zero sum game... there are other men who you can have all those wonderful things with, without the drama of alcoholism dictating your life. It is not a choice between him and some second-best schlub. It's the choice between this drama and your life. One with healthy, vibrant relationships in which you are respected, loved, and supported.

I wish you the best in making this difficult decision.
posted by araisingirl at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

So, nthing everything that has already been said.

Ideologically, he's not on board with AA, so that is not a realistic option.

No alcoholic, in my experience, has ever been on board with AA when they were still drinking. Ideologically or otherwise. Until their life was such a shambles and had the shit kicked out of them and they had no other choice but to try AA. His mileage may vary.

You gotta do what is best for you. He will drink or not drink. He will commit suicide or not commit suicide. But you cannot control any of that stuff. Those decisions are his and his only.

The thing with alcoholics is that their thinking combined with their personal physiology is what creates the obsession and compulsion to drink. Not their circumstances. Nor anything outside themselves.

Alcoholism destroys lives. Not only the drinkers but the families and friends too. It is a chronic, progressive, and often fatal illness. Walk away now before it gets worse.
posted by strelitzia at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sheesh, this advice is ridiculous. She hasn't even talked to him about it yet, you all.

unfortunately this man has already shown that he will let a relationship deteriorate and be destroyed by his refusal to deal with this issue.

She in no way says above that the divorce is as a result of alcohol or other substance abuse. NOWHERE. I think that sums up the kind of advice you're getting, people are inserting facts that don't exist.

Talk to him in a non-confrontational manner and see how it goes before you DTMFA which is such mindless standard advice. Then if it goes poorly or he refuses to alter his life, consider the advice above which is good advice IF YOU HAD ALREADY ADDRESSED THE ISSUE with him. It sounds like no one really actually read your question but just went ALCOHOL DTMFA. Very disappointed with AskMe's reading comprehension here.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

Not to thread-sit, but in the interest of clarifying: OnTheLastCastle has accurately assessed the situation. The divorce has to do with some other (very concrete) conflicts, and I wouldn't say that this relationship has deteriorated (yet?). I've just been kind of dancing around the issue and it stresses me out that I'm not sure how far to push. I've said very little so far, and I think he would be surprised to read this thread.

All the other responses are very much appreciated, and I am gaining a lot of perspective and gumption from reading others' experiences.
posted by magdalemon at 11:00 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think there's a difference between the "You've got to stop drinking now or I'm outta here" conversation and the kind of conversation you want to open with the first time you address a problem in a relationship.

If you haven't yet discussed your partner's drinking problem with him, it would be quick to go straight to, "You've got to stop drinking now or I'm outta here," I think. (I mean, if you wanted to go that route I wouldn't have an issue with it, but it doesn't sound like you do).

Instead I think it would be more appropriate and potentially productive to start with, "Darling, I am very concerned about your drinking, both because of the negative effects it has on your own well-being as well as the damage it's causing in our relationship. I need you to get help, and if you do, I'll be here to support you."

But I can't tell from your question if you've already said some version of the above. If you have already, with no positive action taken as a result on his part, then, I'm sorry to say but there probably isn't hope. But if you haven't, you need to, like, today. There's no reason to put it off.
posted by Asparagus at 11:03 AM on June 18, 2014

Are you 100% sure this is truly new, and not just something that was hidden from you?

Assuming it is totally new.. try having a serious sit-down conversation where you lay out all the problems that the drinking is causing: the destruction of trust, worsening of the depression, the pain it's causing you, the medication non-compliance. Just lay it all out on the table, all the things you've seen that you're worried about.

Then see how he reacts. If seeing it all laid out like that makes him think and you have a serious discussion about it, great! If he starts minimizing, denying, and making excuses, you'll know that it's pretty unlikely he's going to stop in a reasonable time-frame.
posted by zug at 11:06 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, well, I hate to say this and again please disregard if it's not appropriate.

If you don't trust his communication around his drinking and substance use--and I'm saying this because you have stated that you do not trust him and that's all I have to go on--do you think he would actually accurately report if drinking/using were causing huge problems in his marriage?

I'm not saying he's lying--I know that my perception of why my marriage ended is vastly different from my ex's perception of why our marriage ended, simply because we're different people. It's pretty common for there to be no one reason for a divorce. Your partner might not be accurately reporting the situation or might be leaving out major parts of what happened. I say this because unhealthy drinking and substance use are pretty damaging when you're partnered with someone and coparenting with them, so it's hard for me to imagine that it didn't play a significant role in what happened. That said, I'm not the expert on his relationship, so I could very well be wrong. It's just something that I hope you will keep in mind as you navigate this.

Best of luck with this. I know it's not an easy situation for you and I really feel for you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:11 AM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and if you want to stick around, can I suggest setting a firm date in your head where you know you're going to walk if things aren't improving. How long are you willing to put up with this? A month? 6 months? A year? Pick a date and mark it on your calendar.

Then write up a brief overview of the problems you see, their severity, and how they're affecting you, and tuck it away somewhere. When that date comes, take it back out and compare it to what you're seeing now to help you make a decision about whether things are really improving. It's really easy to second-guess yourself, this will give you evidence about whether things really are improving or not.

You don't have to tell him whatever date you choose and definitely don't show him the writeup, the whole point is to make sure you don't end up in a frog in boiling water situation. It's really easy to allow things to slowly get worse and worse without even realizing how much the situation has deteriorated.
posted by zug at 11:14 AM on June 18, 2014 [19 favorites]

One way to talk to an addict is to discuss how you're being affected by his behavior. "You drink this much or this often" is a lot less meaningful than, "When you drink you don't really engage with me, and I feel lonely when you don't engage." Or, "You're not yourself when you're intoxicated, and I don't feel comfortable." Examine your conscience for 'little things" you've been letting slide, little excuses you've been making for him.

Also, "I don't want to pile on" and, "I've lost sight of what's reasonable here," might be signs that you're not putting enough value on your own needs. Al-anon really helped me when my addict brother was appealing to my sense of compassion and desire to be reasonable. As someone above said, it's about you and what you need. You have to advocate for yourself, because right now he has pain and stress and is coping with it in a way that seems to be working. You need to tell him it's not working for you.
posted by wryly at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was married to an alcoholic. The first 5 years of our relationship was a lot of drama due to his increasingly bad drinking problem. The next 2 was a lot of drama as he struggled to address it and get sober. Once he finally got sober, I was suspicious of everything he did for a year, then for a year I was resentful of the time and energy that he needed to put into staying sober, then during the last year I realized that I was with a completely different person than the one I married. That's when I asked for a divorce.

Throughout his struggles, I was very co-dependent and totally enabled his drinking. It screwed up my own relationship with alcohol (when you're with someone who finishes a bottle of scotch in one sitting, 6 beers don't seem like too many). It made me put my own needs second, and I did not address a lot of issues in my life because his were always more urgent.

So my point is, if you want to be in a relationship with him, understand that his addiction is going to be a huge part of it, even if he does eventually get sober. It's a disease and it's not his fault, but there are things he can be doing to fix it. If he's willing to make an effort, know that you're in for a long difficult haul.
posted by elvissa at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's a lot of great advice above so I'll make this short with some tips

1. If his depression followed his drinking in the majority of cases his depression is substance induced and will go away if he quits...he seems to be somewhat motivated for finding solutions to his depression so maybe that'll actually can't even diagnose someone with depression while they are on substances because it's so likely to be due to the alcohol

2. Yes go to Al Anon regardless of what he does

3. Is his opposition to AA because of its religious component? People try to hand wave that aspect away but for some atheists it undermines the whole thing...try SOS (secular organization for sobriety)

4. "Therapy" can be scary for many people and while ideal there are also board certified addiction specialists as well so he can look at it as similar to management of any other health condition. Most of these docs are strict about patient effort so he must be motivated but perhaps he can start there with a more familiar specialized family doc and add talk therapy as needed. Many people in the field were former addicts themselves and thus great examples of turning their lives around and are very non judgemental of their patients.

(IAAD but not his and I thought these might help!)
posted by Skadi at 1:46 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Being in love is pretty great. It's hard to tear yourself away from it, especially if the sex is good. No matter how you justify the good over the bad, the bad is there and you're creating space for the bad in your life.

Leave, break it off before it is too late. Even if the sex is great and it's nice/slightly intoxicating to have someone in your life. You're too young to get suckered in.
posted by discopolo at 3:09 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two points I don't see addressed above:

1) Ruthless Bunny is right that alcohol + Welbutrin don't mix. However, if you read the label instructions (the big pamphlet that comes with the bottle), you'll find that it's not just because alcohol is a depressant. It's also because alcohol + Welbutrin can cause seizures.

2) There is rarely a good time to talk about relationship stuff. I put off breaking up with someone once for over a year, because first her mom was sick, then she had surgery, then her grandfather died, then it was Halloween which was her favorite holiday, then it was Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years and I didn't want to be a jerk and break up over the holidays, then it was a rough winter and she was pretty down, and then it was spring and she was happy and I didn't want to be a jerk and ruin the first happy month she'd had in almost a year, and then I finally couldn't do it anymore and broke up with her the weekend after Mother's Day, which still made me an asshole because she couldn't have kids and I should have known she was already having a rough time.


There's never a good time to have these conversations. Just knuckle down and have it.

One other thing:

Ultimatums don't work with addicts, but boundaries do, and they are not the same thing. Ultimatums are "Change your behavior, or else". Boundaries are "When you do X, I will do Y to protect myself". You might want to see a therapist and talk about how to set and maintain good boundaries. I found that immensely helpful when dealing with my alcoholic sibling, from when he was deep in the depths of alcoholism, all the way through his recovery and sobriety today. Boundaries are very useful things, and will take the focus off your boyfriend, his life, his needs, his alcohol, his everything and put it back on you and what YOU need and YOUR life. I'm not saying you need to break up with him, but I am saying that you need to keep YOU as a priority in your life, because no matter how much someone loves you, you are your own best advocate in any situation. Best of luck.
posted by RogueTech at 10:55 AM on June 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not going to offer much advice, but I did want to suggest SMART Recovery as an alternative to 12-step programs. Can be very useful for people who can't handle the god stuff and don't have money for individual cognitive behavioral therapy. Also, there's a program called Moderation Management that works for some people.
posted by acridrabbit at 1:27 PM on June 19, 2014

I can't really trust him not to engage in total debauchery when he's around certain friends/in certain situations.

No, just no. If you can't trust him around certain friends? That's a bad sign. If he wanted to quit and make this better, he would avoid those friends and situations. That is a concrete problem.

Also, you're not on the same page about big things in your life if you are feeling like he's got a drinking problem. That's a really big thing in your life. Also, keep in mind that you are still in the honeymoon period of your relationship. Things will only get harder from here on out. Will you still want to be with him when that 5% turns into 10% turns into 50%? If he's not making positive changes NOW, he's certainly not going to be MORE motivated to make those changes later.

Have you talked to his wife about why they're divorcing? I imagine her take on what's happening - especially if it's messy - is a whole lot different than what he's telling you. She's been there with him already, at least know what you're signing up for. If he completely panics at the thought of you having a conversation with her? Pay careful attention to that fact, and think about why that might be the case.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:14 PM on June 19, 2014

An update, for anyone who's curious (and thank you for your responses and memails!):

We talked. He didn't get defensive, but he was sad. I was sad. He agreed that the self-destructive behavior needs to stop.

So, instead of ending the relationship right away, we're going to try: sobriety for the next 30 days (and beyond, hopefully), therapist visits soon, including as a couple, and working on healthy methods for coping with stress and panic. To keep the stakes low, we're giving each other more space during this 30 days and tabling all talk of the future. I'm optimistic, but I'm glad for this interim period where I can see how it goes. I plan to establish boundaries and I'm prepared--for real--to extract myself if he doesn't follow through.

Some folks have mentioned talking to the ex-wife. I don't think that's necessary. The divorce itself hasn't been messy per se; it's more about some property negotiations and general dread leading up to the final sign-off. And the fact that he has roughly 50% custody of their kids makes me think that, despite their other problems, the ex trusts him to be a responsible parent. That encourages me that this is a temporary rough time and not a fixed part of his character.

Thanks again, you all.
posted by magdalemon at 8:48 AM on June 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

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