How to stop resenting my partner's drinking
October 3, 2014 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Am I overreacting to my partner's occasional drinking when trying to get sober? It makes me angry and I don't quite know exactly why. Should I ask him to stop drinking around me altogether, or is that unfair and unrealistic?

Please, I need a reality check on my behaviour and feelings. I am three weeks sober, trying again after about 8 months off the wagon, following my best year ever, my first year sober. My partner of 3 years who is very kind, loving and supportive, is also an occasional drinker. He doesn’t drink much in the week any more but will definitely polish off a bottle of wine or two most weekends and get reasonably drunk probably once a month (so, I would say not abnormal amounts). He is definitely not an alcoholic, in any case he doesn’t seem to have all the emotional, psychological consequences of drinking nor be concerned about it at all; it doesn’t seem to affect his health or high functioning in any way. He usually asks politely if I mind if he drinks, and I feel sure that if I asked he would abstain for the evening.

But I never DO ask him to abstain; and truthfully, I don't want my own tedious struggles with addiction to impact on his enjoyment of life (he is a big wine collector and has a large collection at home). But the simple fact is, YES it bothers me. Drinking bothers me right now! It bothers me that he can enjoy alcohol when the pleasure has been long gone for me. It bothers me that he can stand next to me at a party with an easy glass of social lubricant in his hand while I am struggling inside for small talk and feeling anxious. It bothers me that he can crack a second bottle with friends who are around for dinner, and not seem to intuitively know that I wish he would stop at a glass or two, so that I find myself getting increasingly resentful. And yet I don’t actually want to say so, because that would be unfair. I don’t want to actually stop him drinking. It’s fun! Why should anyone without a problem, not just carry on enjoying themselves? Why should my problem dictate his lifestyle change, I keep asking myself?

I feel sad that the first 3 weekends of me being sober have all been special occasions for him with long distance friend catch-ups and so on, so maybe I am just feeling this more acutely than normal, but it’s driving me crazy. He’s downstairs right now entertaining and I can’t sit there because I’m fuming, while also berating myself for being such a drama queen!

Honestly I wish he would offer to give up for a year or something, just for the moral support. But I don’t want to need that, and I surely don’t want to ask. It’s not like he’s rolling home drunk every night or doing anything harmful.

I feel as sure as I can be that he is the love of my life, and we really are devoted to each other. How can I learn to live with his drinking hobby for the rest of my (hopefully) sober life, without building up these frustrations and resentments?

(For what it's worth, I have tried to talk about this with him but however carefully I phrase it, it comes out as 'you're in trouble from me because you're drinking' and somehow that doesn't quite capture what's going on in my head right now.)

Please, give me a fresh perspective on this! Thanks :)
posted by Weng to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
But the simple fact is, YES it bothers me. Drinking bothers me right now!

Before we get in to ye-olde advanced laser hair splitting machine here of whether or not he should "know" you want this, to be clear... you haven't communicated this to him, right? Like he asks you, and you say it's totally fine.

I mean below you say you've tried to discuss this with him and sort of not really properly, as you intended to, expressed your feelings.

I don't think this is an unreasonable thing to want! I don't see this as any weirder than say, wanting your partner to not smoke cigarettes or weed if you're quitting.

The thing is, if he asks and you say it's fine then well, you've told him it's fine. You really need to make a better effort at telling him you wish he wouldn't. If he's the kind of partner you say he is, and as you say yourself, would not have a problem with this, then you just need to have a clear discussion about it.

It's not wrong to want him to abstain, you don't have to beat yourself up and convince yourself you have to be shoved in to a box to make yourself ok with being around it.

It bothers me that he can crack a second bottle with friends who are around for dinner, and not seem to intuitively know that I wish he would stop at a glass or two, so that I find myself getting increasingly resentful.

I think you need to tell him that this bothers you, and why. I mean yea, in an ideal world he'd just be able to tell you're uncomfortable with it. But i don't think he's a terrible person or being willfully ignorant or something for not noticing it. Not everyone picks up on stuff like that easily, and even if he did a bit, mixed messages have been sent here.

Another thing is, at least from my reading of this post, it doesn't sound like you're saying "I never want you to drink again" as much as you're saying "I need you to not right now, and we can revisit this at a later date when i'm more solid in my recovery" and etc, etc.

Also, hell, i think you did a pretty good job writing out your feelings here! Maybe write him a letter, and then have a discussion afterwards if you have a hard time expressing this in conversation? You don't even have to do it in one sitting, you can revise it over the space of a few days until it really encompasses how you feel about this. I don't know if i've ever actually recommended that to anyone before, but it seems oddly fitting here.
posted by emptythought at 4:18 AM on October 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have very conflicting feelings about what you need here. So it's not surprising that he is not getting the right message from you. After all, you don't even know what the right message is!

I think it's reasonable to talk to him about this. And, further, it is reasonable to ask him to change some of his habits for a time. To me, asking him to change for a year seems quite long. But maybe he wouldn't think so! You really need to talk together.

I think focusing on it as something that you need rather than something that he's doing wrong will be helpful. It sounds to me that he will be understanding. After all, he has already offered to stop drinking when around you, right?

So, more and clearer communication is clearly needed. It might be worth it for you to spend some time exploring why it's so difficult for you to have that kind of communication with him. I suspect it's mostly about your complicated feelings on this topic, but if it's something between the two of you, either way your best results will come from clearing that up.

Good luck!
posted by rosa at 4:30 AM on October 3, 2014

He's your partner. It's your responsibility to ask him to help you when you need it. It doesn't matter if the request is "fair." What's REALLY not fair is setting your partner up to fail at helping you, because you refuse to be honest with him about what you really want. It'd be the same as if you never told him what works for you in bed and then blamed him for it.

Ask for the help you need. Like "I am having a rough time right now so I need to ask for your help. I need to ask you to be sober with me for a while, even though I understand your relationship with booze is totally different from mine and you'd otherwise have no reason to change it. Will you help me?"
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:38 AM on October 3, 2014 [43 favorites]

I think there is a big difference between asking him not to drink at all and asking him to not drink around you. For example, it's quite a common thing for men to give up drinking either at all or around the woman for the entirety of their wives' pregnancies in solidarity because she can't drink. (My husband offered but I told him it was ok by me if he drank.) For him to not drink around you may mean that he has a beer on the porch after dinner while you work on your hobbies in the house. It may mean that he has a few more nights out with the boys without you, or that you or he both skip the odd party.

I understand that appreciating alcohol is a big part of his life but if he's already offered, can't you take him up on it and brainstorm ways to do this so he still gets to enjoy a drink without you feeling resentful? There has to be a way to make this work, both your recovery and your relationship are important and you don't want one to poison the other. You need to figure this out together.
posted by Jubey at 4:39 AM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

There are a couple of loved ones in my life who struggle with drinking (either total abstinence, or trying to reduce drinking in various ways.) I do not, short of wedding toasts, drink around those people. I do drink a few times a year without them, at meals or social events they're not at.

It's not a hardship. It's something I do because I love those people and want to make a hard thing they are doing easier for them. (And, to be perfectly honest, because I don't want to give them any excuse to slip up and drink because I just happen to be there dangling beer in front of them.)

I have to think that if your partner understood how hard this early stage is for you, it would be zero trouble for him to agree not to drink around you at least for some predefined length of time. Say, what, three months, and then you assess where you both are?

You ask why your problem should dictate his lifestyle - it should, because you are not living two separate lives, after three years and what sounds like you living together. You are living a shared life. Your problems and your unhappiness are at least partly his, and vice versa. Would you want to know if something you were doing was really hurtful to him, totally unbeknownst to you? I'm guessing yes, and you would try to make reasonable accommodations. Give him the chance to do the same for you.
posted by Stacey at 5:11 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are being unfair by keeping your feelings from him. Being a couple means communicating and accommodating. He may be angry at you at first because you kept your feelings from him for so long and outright lied to him when you told him that you didn't mind his drinking. Start out with an apology. Be humble in your approach. He cannot read your mind and you can't be angry at him for his inability to do so.

He has a wine collection. This is something that he values and spends a lot of time and money on. He is proud of it. The two of you should go for a walk, in public (voices carry), and have a calm, adult conversation about this. Think about what you need. Do you need for there to be no wine in the house or do you need for him to acknowledge your struggle? These are two very different, very valid things. Without arguing, accusing, or bringing up past slights, openly discuss your options together. It may take several days or even weeks. It may take counseling. If he says he will refrain from drinking around you, he will most likely slip, and you have to commit to not blowing it out of proportion. Done well, this could be the thing that brings you closer together as a couple.
posted by myselfasme at 6:03 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with what a lot of posters said above. You need to discuss this with him; all your feelings about how drinking around you affects you and what you'd like him to do. Resenting him for drinking around you when you say it's "fine" and suffer through it is doing neither of you any good, and it's really not about the drinking as much as the communication. Any time you say, "It's fine," and stew in silent resentment about anything is going to add a bit of toxicity to any relationship.
posted by xingcat at 6:29 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's one shift of perspective that may make it easier for you to ask for what you need in this relationship (which, I endorse the above comments that the starting point is to ask for what you need from your partner!):

You note that his relationship with alcohol is such that it doesn't affect his health or functioning. Reading between the lines, I assume that you're quitting drinking because your relationship with alcohol DOES affect your health and/or functioning. I know the old "you have to want to quit for yourself, not for someone else," but surely if you are a good partner, one of the things that entered into your decision to quit was how your problematic relationship with alcohol was impacting your ability to be your best in your relationship. Which is a long-winded way of saying that your being sober is not just some selfish thing that you want only for your own benefit, but also to benefit your partner. Asking him to curtail his drinking around you is a sacrifice, but it is one that he will benefit from in the form of a happier, healthier, and better-functioning partner. It's a small price to pay if the relationship is good!

On another level, being able to ask for what you need from your partner--even things that require some sacrifice or inconvenience--is one of the things that make a partnership a partnership. If everything is easy and convenience, everything is kind of superficial and you wind up with a relationship of convenience. A deep and strong relationship is sometimes necessarily a relationship of inconvenience.

I come at this from the perspective of the partner who completely gave up drinking around my recovering alcoholic spouse for nearly 4 years while he solidified his sobriety. I've only very recently started to have any alcohol around him, 1 or at most 2 drinks when we're out at a nice restaurant, and I still avoid craft beer because that was his biggest "hobby"/weakness. I still don't drink at home or keep alcohol in the house. Have I felt the occasional twinge of sadness or annoyance that I've had to make this sacrifice? Sure. I'm human. He's probably been annoyed--angry, even-- at times that he gave up drinking in large part because being a "functioning alcoholic" was a reasonable lifestyle when he was a single, childfree person, but as a husband and parent it just wasn't working for the team.

As to "Why should my problem dictate his lifestyle change"? Because you're partners. Partners adapt their lifestyles to accommodate one another's needs.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:49 AM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

People often (mis)use alcohol as a way of escaping their feelings so that they don't have to feel them or make changes based on them. So learning that it's ok to have negative feelings (anger, annoyance), that it's ok to need support or changes from other people to help resolve the situation, and that it's ok to ask for that support or those changes can be a challenge, but many people find that learning how to do all of that makes them feel less like they "need" a drink to escape having to do that.
posted by jaguar at 6:51 AM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's no reason this has to be a big deal: just tell him "Love, this is turning out to be difficult. Can you please abstain from drinking around me for the next year? I hate to ask, but I really need your support."

One thing: don't say this while he's drinking. Bring it up in bed, or sometime like that.

If he loves you like you love him, he'll readily agree. He may appreciate that fact that he now has something tangible to do to help you with your effort. Few things are worse than feeling helpless and useless when a loved one has a problem. Make it a point to remind him once a week how much he's helping you.

One last thing: if he agrees to help, don't come down hard on him if there's a screw-up: if you accidentally bump into him while he's on his lunch break, and he's have a glass of wine with a co-worker - just let it go.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:07 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can't get upset with someone for not intuitively knowing that something bothers you. You have to say something to him, and I bet he'll understand.
posted by transient at 7:07 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

is that unfair and unrealistic

I wouldn't say that, but it's a significant thing to ask if he collects wine. If his friends come over, are they not to drink either, or does he give them wine while abstaining himself? It would be really nice if he offered to give up for a year, but things that are nice gestures when done spontaneously become something else when required as a duty.

The best suggestion I can come up with is that you find something you can do that's a bit of treat while he's drinking. Take up smoking (joking!), eat chocolates, drink some incredibly rare tea or something. If you can find an alternative it might help: I know it's not easy.
posted by Segundus at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2014

It makes you vulnerable to ask for what you need because what if he says no? What if he doesn't love you enough?
In a way, silently fuming is easier.

I think you need to frame this for yourself as asking your partner for a sacrifice out of love. Ask him to help you quit by abstaining for the next few months. Tell him how this would help you. Be willing to negotiate (special occasions, shorter period etc.)
He doesn't owe you this, but maybe he'd be willing because he wants to help you.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't agree that telling him how you feel is necessarily a solution, BTW. Mefi always tends to believe that getting everything out in the open will solve problems, but that's not been my experience. Tact and circumspection can be virtues.
posted by Segundus at 7:13 AM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

You're not drinking one day at a time right? So instead of "HAY PARTNER STOP DRINKING LIKE ME?" how about "Hey would you mind not drinking tonight? Having a tough day." Feel free to repeat whenever you need to. Much easier for everyone than ultimatums.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:21 AM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd bring it up in a meeting and ask folks what's worked for them. I don't think it's too terribly much to ask your BF not to consume when you're around. Perhaps if he's off to a party or a dinner, where alcohol will be served, you might decide to stay home.

Early in recovery, it's okay to not put yourself in situations where you might be tempted. Holidays are trecherous for this, and it's all too easy to say, "Screw it" when every activity is centered around consumption (of all sorts).

I would absolutely bring it up with your partner and say, "Dude, this recovery thing is kicking my ass. I'm going to need to avoid situations where I'm around alcohol. I'll let you know when I'm over it, but for now let's agree no drinking alcohol in the house. If you want to go to parties and dinners, I'll stay home so you can have a good time with your friends.

If you want to see friends, throw dinners and make it clear that they're sober dinners.

Sobriety takes work, that's why you take it in steps and one day at a time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

As someone who recently put away their extensive alcohol collection to help a newly sober roomate, I know it's important to a) tell him how this is being hard for you, and b) ask him for things you need from him.

Make it clear that this isn't forever. Ask for a few months to start, tell him it might take more time. Tell him he's free to enjoy alcohol not around you. Come up with something together that works for entertaining at home and being out at parties together or apart.

One thing: when I was first asked this by my friend I had to think about it, and I had some weird feelings around it. Like I knew I didn't Need alcohol, but this felt like a big ask, but of Course I'd do what I can for my friend, butbutbut. So while having the discussion give him a little space to feel defensive and think about what accommodations work for him.
posted by ldthomps at 10:07 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Discuss it with him and let him know how you're feeling about it right now. It's fine to ask for moral support and, as a partner, I'm sure that he'd want to support you.

But, also start getting some help and therapy around your own sobriety. Your struggles and resentments are about your relationship to alcohol and you seem to be mourning the loss of the enjoyable aspects of drinking in your life. You're projecting a lot of those feelings onto him and that's probably not the best way to own them and resolve them. It's fine to ask him to abstain, but I don't think it's fine if you're not also doing all that you can to resolve your end. The more you make the behavior of others the focus of your sobriety the harder that road will be for you. Good luck.
posted by quince at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not totally fine, and if he's truly not an alcoholic himself, it should be freaking obvious to any normal person that is aware you have an issue with alcohol that they shouldn't drink around you!

You haven't really said enough to tell us whether the deal is he's clueless, self-centered, an alcoholic who doesn't think he or you have a problem, or some combination, or something else entirely... but at the moment, THIS IS NOT A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP FOR YOU TO BE IN.

If you've spent more than 2/3 of this relationship not-sober, as it sounds from the time periods you've listed, there are going to be some necessary changes in store, because the behaviors and attitudes - yours and his - cannot continue for if you're to be become healthy.

If he's really that great a guy and one you should be with, he'll get it.
If he doesn't respect your needs about something this essential... well. That should tell you something.
posted by stormyteal at 10:31 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not all obvious to "any normal" person he needs to not drink around you. At all. Firstly, not everyone needs that to get sober. Secondly, you keep telling him you don't need it. He's not clueless, self-centered or an alchoholic, he's misinformed, by you.

You can ask him not to drink around you, and to only drink in small amounts in bigger social situations. Asking him to not drink at all for a year isn't "support" it's "misery loves company".
posted by spaltavian at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think you are putting pressure on yourself to know and clearly define exactly what you want before starting this conversation with him.

What is the worst that could happen if you just broached the subject with him, even if it was messy and ill-considered? Maybe he could support you by helping you think through this idea out loud. Maybe he can help you sift through your complicated feelings and make suggestions and let you know what his boundaries are. Only after getting his perspective will you have a framework and a set of options to work from.

A bad outcome could be that he's less willing to accommodate your sobriety than you anticipated. I hope it doesn't happen this way, but if it does, you will at least know his boundaries and whether or not you can safely adhere to them.

A positive outcome could be you saying, "Hi partner. You ask me all the time if your drinking bothers me. I have always said No, but lately I've been feeling differently." Your partner might be full of questions and suggestions! He might want you guys to decide together how he could act in different scenarios in order to be helpful.

You've got to give the conversation another chance. But don't think that you have to have all the answers. He can bring ideas to the table too.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Recovering alcoholic here; what you are feeling is perfectly normal. I've found AA helps me a lot - working the steps with a sponsor is an effective way for me to deal with resentments. I have to remember that alcoholism is MY problem and it's centered in my head; it has nothing to do with other people. In fact, me wanting to control other people's behavior is a big part of the disease. It took me a couple of years to get my head somewhat straight so that I could function like a normal person and I still sometimes find myself resorting back to this distorted way of thinking, but my relationships with others are much better now. And - I'm a lot happier and peaceful. Good luck!
posted by sharks don't eat potatoes at 1:28 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm in your partner's shoes and, while not drinking whenever I want sucks, it's nothing compared to what you're going through. If i can understand that, I'm sure just about anyone can. So if you need some time to have zero alcohol in the house, ask for it. Believe me, it's better than a relapse.

And, as a commenter mentioned upthread, you reassess in a few weeks or months or whatever.
posted by jpe at 1:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would a compromise work? It sounds like what's really hard is when he's drunk, less than his wine collection or his occasional drink.
posted by MrBobinski at 4:48 PM on October 3, 2014

Another AA member - I personally didn't have problems with the now ex drinking around me, but I have heard lots of stories in the rooms. When you are three weeks sober after going out for 9 months, asking for some consideration may be very necessary. You need to work on your sobriety right now. If you don't have that, everything else will fall to that reverse Midas touch we have.

I'm sorry, but I have heard of too many folks that repeatedly go back out in these situations. Make friends in AA, spend time at AA events. Ask this person to help you out by easing up on the drinking when you are around.
If they are not willing to do that with joy, you gotta wonder where their loyalties are.

Consider (with a sponsor) the circumstances of your picking up again after a year. How did that happen?

Early in sobriety we still have the alcoholic mind. Later on, it may not bother you as much.
(I still do not like the smell of alcohol on my friend, and it's been almost 7 years for me.)
Remember that this is a fatal progressive disease we have. We end up one of three ways, covered up, locked up, or sobered up.

Do remember though, we make everyone around us as sick as we are. Would this person at least visit Al-anon?

My ex and I used to drink together quite a bit. Then I became a sometimes abusive ass-aholic. In frank discussions with her (not one of us I don't think), when she was getting ready to leave me, she told me "at least it had worked" when I was drinking, and that "she had hoped I could just "moderate" my drinking." I.e., after all of that, my NOT drinking was a problem for her, despite her going out to bars with my OK, despite me telling her it was OK to have a beer with dinner, etc. She wanted a drinking partner. I had to let that go. I was already near unemployable, was starting to see stage 2 physical issues, and just wished I would die. Now, my job is great, having custody of my daughter is wonderful, and my life is so immensely better now.

In the end, there can be other relationships. You only get *one* life.
Get a good sponsor and don't listen to the normies. Work the steps, they will set you free. And don't be scared/hung up on 4/5. Just do it. That is when things really began to change for me, at least.
posted by rudd135 at 8:44 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

three weeks is still all new and raw and nerves all over the place, man. it is totally reasonable to want some coddling at this point. it is also reasonable to want coddling later. i would feel totally at your ease saying "you know what buddy, sweetheart, i know i said it was fine before but actually hanging around while you drink is making my skin crawl right now, maybe we can work out a way where i don't have to be around drinking for a while? like X amount of time? i want to be fine with it and i believe i will be again, but for the moment it's just too difficult."

then get to work on your program or your therapist or whatever it is that will later make you more acutely aware that you're grateful to be alive rather than aware that you are envious of drinking.
posted by sockanalia at 12:55 AM on October 4, 2014

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