Guidance needed
February 28, 2006 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me take the first step...

I've been in a committed relationship with my SO for close to 8 years. Things were great for 6 of the 8 years. We rarely argued or disagreed on anything. We truly enjoyed spending time together and dispite the 30 miles between us, we got together every weekend and often for a night or two during the week.

Our agreement or understanding from the start was that we were going to wait until all our kids were out of the house before we'd move in together or take that next step towards marriage. His boys have been gone more or less for about 18 months now. I still have one daughter at home, but if I told her things were progressing and it was time to move out, she would.

Two summers ago we had a huge argument based around where we'd live when the time came to make that move. He'd always told me he didn't want to sell his place until it was in perfect condition. Then it came out that he didn't want to move at all. He likes where he lives and he's staying put. His place is nice enough, but it's where he lived with his x-wife. Beyond that there's zero room for my belongings. The logical solution to me is for each of us to give up our places and move into OUR place; a place where we can each have our individual things and not have to feel like one of us is living in the other's home. The realization that this was no longer his plan, hit me hard. If he's not moving out and I'm not moving in, then where are we going with this?

The other, bigger, problem is his drinking. He drinks daily to the point of being drunk. Starts out with a couple beers, then moves on to wine and then vodka or a margarita (read a large glass of tequila with a splash of mix). He never gets hangovers or headaches, and he's able to go about his day to day routine without any consequences, so he thinks everything is fine. I've voiced my concerns about the amount he drinks, but nothing changes. It's clear he cares about drinking more than my opinion of what he's doing to his body, which also does not speak well about the value of this relationship in his life.

I need to talk to him about these things, but I don't know where to begin. I need to make him see that a "functioning alcoholic" is no better than a bum in the gutter when it comes down to the toll on your body, and the affect it has on relationships in your life. I need concrete evidence to hand him, to hopefully make him see what he's doing to himself, and us.

Can someone offer me some guidance, please?
posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Human Relations (23 answers total)
Al Anon and keep on going. Do not think for a minute they will give you the answers on how to get him to change. But you will soon start discovering answers for your self. Any sentence that starts with " I need to make him see......." is a prelude to disappointment and hurt. If the chemistry is not right at the first Al Anon group you attend try another. He is an alcoholic--no ifs, and, or buts. Until he is on the other side things will not change. My Best wishes and hopes for you
posted by rmhsinc at 9:08 AM on February 28, 2006

I need to make him see that a "functioning alcoholic" is no better than a bum in the gutter when it comes down to the toll on your body, and the affect it has on relationships in your life. I need concrete evidence to hand him, to hopefully make him see what he's doing to himself, and us.

You can't "make him see" anything. He has to come to those realizations on his own. Or not. You can't fix him. You can't make him snap out of it. He has his own journey, and you have to decide if you can stand by him thorugh it or not. You have to decide what limits to set.

Have you considered Al-Anon? It's a place for people who are affected by someone else's drinking. It's not for everyone, but it can be good to go listen to or talk to other people who are living with similar problems.
posted by raedyn at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2006

Both of these behaviors are poisonous to your relationship, and you need to make a firm stand on each of them.

His sudden unwillingness to move is classic commitment-phobia. He may be simply afraid to take that next step with you, or he possibly has been leading you along all this time. Hopefully, the former. Either way, you need to make an ultimatum.

Ditto the drinking. How long has this been going on? A look at your own behavior may be in order, as you may be enabling his behavior without realizing it. It will be very difficult to get him to a recovery group, but that is, absolutely, what he must do.

It's clear he cares about drinking more than my opinion of what he's doing to his body, which also does not speak well about the value of this relationship in his life.

This statement says a lot- deep down, you understand this behavior for what it is. You have to be prepared to walk away if he refuses to change.
posted by mkultra at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2006

For the sake of argument, assume that (a) he's absolutely going to stay in his house and (b) he's going to keep drinking. I'm not suggesting you should give up trying to solve these problems, but you may not be able to solve them. So, assuming you can't, would you still want to live with him? You should think this over very carefully. No has any possibility of answering this except you? Is he worth it DESPITE these problems.

I don't know exactly what "where you live" means to you, but to me this seems like a relatively small problem compared to the drinking. So you may want to pick your battles.

I'm sure you know this, but people drink for very complex reasons, and no one is going to stop unless they really want to do so. All you can do is tell him how much his drinking affects you and offer to be there for him if he chooses to quit. Beyond that, you can only control YOUR actions, which brings us back to my first point.
posted by grumblebee at 9:16 AM on February 28, 2006

I'm going to give you the same advice I gave to my mom, who was also in a relationship with an older man who wouldn't make compromises for her: you've got to take care of yourself first, and you've got to stand up for yourself because you deserve better.

Al-Anon is the answer to the alcoholic stuff. And the alcoholism is the answer to the moving in question. Don't move in with a guy -- either his place or "our" place -- who cares more about his drinking than he does about you. You don't want to go down that road, getting your finances tied up with his mess and all the trouble that could cause.

Work on making yourself happy and making your life what you want it to be, not on trying to change him.

on preview: mkultra is on the money.
posted by junkbox at 9:17 AM on February 28, 2006

why do you want to live with him? a relationship can be very satisfying at some remove. and for a woman who brought up a couple of kids, the autonomy may be welcome.

you don't mention his good points, except for the many years with no conflict. but even his flaws at a remove need not be devastating to you, where they might be if you share a physical space, merge finances, etc.

as for the negative effect of drink on the body, yes. one of many things that do that, though for my money the most devastating is the aging process itself. if you want to keep him healthy--well, that's nice, but it's his body, his brain, his liver, his choices in other words.

good luck!
posted by subatomiczoo at 9:31 AM on February 28, 2006

The main issue isn't that he wants to stay in his house, or that he likes to drink too much. The deal breaker here is he doesn't seem to give a shit how you feel about anything.

Move on.
posted by glenwood at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2006

I'm a believer, although not always a consistent practicer, that being honest about the stakes allows for honest conversations. As both of these issues are important enough for you to raise in this way, I think it would be a good idea to not simply discuss your desire for him to change these things, but the potential consequences if he doesn't.

This is not the same thing as an ultimatum, and I think in order for it to be an honest conversation you need to discuss this early enough that the end of the conversation is not a break-up. Something along the lines of: "I've been thinking about x a lot lately, and it really troubles me. I've told you that before, but now I'm beginning to think that x might be something that I can't reconcile myself to. I'm not sure how to talk about these things, but I feel like we've gotta."

Although the drinking that you describe could be seen as more troubling because it's bound to affect more in his life (if it continues) than his desire to stay where he lives now, both seem to show a similar focus on himself that is understandably troubling.
posted by OmieWise at 10:27 AM on February 28, 2006

You are probably not trained to diagnose him as a "functional alcoholic." I'll bet he not only doesn't agree with your diagnosis, but he's also very insulted. Accusing people of some behavior and asking/demanding they change immediately is pretty much never the way to go. You might try flipping the problem around; instead of framing the issue as his problem, frame it as your problem. He may or may not be doing serious liver damage but either way you're terribly worried about his drinking and his health and you just can't just ignore it and stop worrying about it. Once it's clear that the problem is your worrying, not necessarily his drinking, he'll be a lot more willing to work with you on a solution. The most obvious solution would be to just see a doctor and do some research together. Think of this a rhetorical trick if you like, but it often gets results.

BTW, you might consider that your fears about his drinking really are overblown. Personally, I've seen people throw around the "high-functional alcoholic" diagnosis way too easily. If it's not affecting the quality of his life or your relationship than you might say it's really just his business. If it is affecting the quality of your relationship (e.g. he passes out each night on the couch) then you should be able to point to these actual behaviors and come up with a compromise that makes you both happy (e.g. he only drinks on the weekends).

The first issue is much trickier but it's simply a decision you both need to make together. If moving in with him is completely unacceptable then there's no place else for the relationship to go. You can't exactly grow old together when you live apart. The location issue may just be a showstopper for both of you. That's too bad but it's not the first time it's happened. Talk it out, give him some time to mull things over, and if neither of you are willing to budge, then end the relationship. The actual talk doesn't have to be anything special. Make it short and sweet and make sure he clearly understands that (1) you have no intention of moving in with him (2) if he has no intention of moving out that means the relationship has no future (3) he has X amount of time to think things over and make his own decision. Generally, I'm very much against giving ultimatums in relationships (and that's what this comes down to) but there are just some things that need a simple, direct decision to be made for the sake of the relationship and location is one of them.

Honestly, the most troubling issue in your post is that after eight years together you have trouble communicating with him... you guys might want to work on that before you move in together.
posted by nixerman at 10:43 AM on February 28, 2006

Also, re-reading your post, I find it pretty strange how you don't represent his side of the argument at all. Did he really just make this decision not to move out totally out of the blue? Did God tell him not to leave his place? Before giving him an ultimatum (though that may be what you have to do in the end), take some time to really understand the problem from his perspective. Ask him why he made this sudden decision not to leave his place. He may have real, legitimate reasons for not wanting to leave and, if so, you'll need to address those reasons. If he can't articulate his reasons, that in itself may be pretty revealing since it might suggest his hesitation to further commit. Really though, this looks like a communication problem. If neither of you are willing to consider the other's perspective/feelings then that's the real problem here, not a two-year old argument about your future together. Address that first.
posted by nixerman at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2006

I agree with OmieWise's suggesting of "being honest about the stakes" without giving anything as definite as an ultimatum. An ultimatum says that you've already made up your mind, and it sounds like you haven't.

When I was struggling with certain behaviors of my SO's, it got to a point where I found that I was preparing myself, internally, to break up with him. None of the issues were new ones or things that he wasn't aware of; we'd had plenty of talks about everything. I realized, though, that in not laying it all out on the table for him to see (ie, that I was readying myself to leave), I was in effect making a unilateral decision and giving up on our relationship, and I felt that his was unfair to my SO.

So I told him what I was feeling. Not just the part about his behaviors (which he already knew), but the part about the effect they were having on me and my willingness to remain with him. Since I was coming to him before the decision (to break up with him) was made, we were able to actually have an open conversation.

Of course the troubles my SO and I were having are very different from your troubles -- if your SO is, in fact, an alcoholic, it is unlikely that providing the objective results of some study showing that drinking is bad for you is going to make him change his ways. But in my case, starting the conversation with honesty about what was going on inside of me, aside from "wishing he would stop X behavior," went a long way.

Ultimately, the decision was his. He could choose to change, and we would continue to work together for our relationship, or he could choose not to, in which case I wouldn't be able to be with him.
posted by tentacle at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2006

It sounds to me like he was all for the idea of moving in together, taking the relationship to the next level, etc... as long as that was something that was going to happen 6 years or so in the future. A lot of people are all for skydiving, as long as they're standing on the ground. Now that the future has actually arrived, it sounds like he's not that into the idea any more. It sounds to me like you've got to negotiate something based on what you both want, now, not based on an idea that sounded good 6 yrs ago. This is going to take some painful honesty on both of your parts. If it turns out he really doesn't want to take things to the next level, and you do, better you learn that now and move on.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:02 AM on February 28, 2006

If he doesn't give a crap what you think, you are already done. You just don't know it.

Trust me, if he won't budge on these things, there will be other things he won't budge on as well.

If you want to be in a relationship where your opinion does not matter, you have one. Otherwise, you already know the answer.
posted by konolia at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2006

I agree with nixerman about being careful about tossing around labels like "functioning alcoholic." It's not helpful to you or the man you're concerned about to see him through this filter, because it is one of those terms that is negatively predictive. Being negatively predictive isn't very useful.

Yet you say he drinks daily, to the point of being drunk. The being drunk daily bit is what is at issue, because being drunk means a person is "under the influence" in charming legal parlance. A person who is "under the influence" every day is hard to deal with, since it usually takes longer than 24 hours for a brain that has been intoxicated to the point of being drunk, to return to normal functioning.
If your guy is drunk every day, you probably can't truly get to a reasoned discussion with a sober person, until and unless you know he's been without a drink, for at least 48 hours. Anything less than that, and you're pretty much arguing with a person whose reason is still impaired. It's unlikely that discussions in such circumstances will go well.

Of course, I'm accepting your definition of "drunk" as being definitive. As nixerman has also pointed out, your guy's characterization of his relative intoxication could be substantially different, and you also say that he doesn't have headaches, hangovers, blackouts, or other symptoms of high level neurological impairments that usually go hand in hand with a medical diagnosis of alcoholism. Maybe another valid way of describing the situation is that he drinks a lot more than you are comfortable being around, and more than what may be good for him in the long run. Whether he's truly an alcoholic at this point may be harder to say for sure.

One of the symptoms of addiction is a person's unwillingness to make changes in their domestic circumstances, primarily because doing so interferes with the time, money and energy with which they could otherwise be enjoying their addiction. If he weren't drinking so much, he might have time and energy to consider moving, but at the moment, it probably seems like a huge hassle to him, with nearly zero benefit. More so if he still feels that there is some possibility you'll cave to his desire to not have to move, and also accept his drinking. On the other hand, which he may view as reason, he may feel with some justification that his mortgage is nearly paid, his home is comfortable and convenient for his life, and his situation with you is deteroriating for other reasons, in which case, he's justified in being unwilling to move at this time.

In my personal experience dealing with alcoholics, there's about a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that an active alcoholic will actually make a series of functional life changes, based on one or more heartfelt chats. If he truly is as far gone as you seem to believe he is already, unless your discussion is an intake step in an intervention, whatever time and energy you spend on it is more for your own mental health than his. If he is actually an active alcoholic, what has to happen from his perspective, is alcohol de-toxification, in order for his brain and body to be in a position to invoke his reason. Unless you have the social and legal connections to organize an intervention, don't try; you cannot do this yourself.

You can try Al-Anon, and you may learn some things about yourself and about alcoholism there. But the utility of Al-Anon is based somewhat upon the effort and honesty you contribute, and somewhat, in my personal experience, upon the devastation alcoholism has wreaked in your own life. For those whose lives are devastated, Al-Anon can be a hard, but necessary road to sanity. For those less affected, it can be educational, but can also be kind of off-putting. At this point, it sounds like you are in the latter camp; your life hasn't yet gone as topsy-turvy as many others you might meet at an average Al-Anon meeting.

It would be good if you can keep it that way.
posted by paulsc at 11:40 AM on February 28, 2006

Just a heads-up for folks, SoftSummerBreeze does mention in her post that the argument was two summers ago, and it seems she has known for quite some time that this guy doesn't want to move.

SoftSummerBreeze, it seems to me that the two big problems here are
(1) the disagreement about where to live together and
(2) the concern about his drinking.
In terms of both, it seems that you want him to change, or you want for him to want to change. Neither of these are in your control.

You seem ready for the Next Step. Here are the three top questions regarding most relationship Next Steps:
1. What is the Next Step?
2. Does my partner want/seem ready for this Next Step?
3. Am I ready and do I want this Next Step?

It sounds like your next step is co-habitation and caring for each other on a daily basis. Your post indicates that he doesn't seem to want this unless it's on his terms. It seems you're starting to question whether you want to take on living with this guy's problems.

An 8-year relationship and your daughter moving out...
Ask yourself this: if you broke up with this guy, could you find someone as good if not better?
If you answer No, then maybe you're afraid of being alone.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2006

Response by poster: Clarifications & Questions:

I never stated that his change of heart about moving to 'our place' came on suddenly. There was no 'sudden change' as far as that goes. Further, since his pronouncement that he wasn't going to move, I surely haven't held on to the notion of trying to change this. But on the other hand, are we supposed to date forever with no firm commitment goal in sight? I'm of the mindset that dating is part of a process that ultimately ends in a marriage or cohabitation situation. At one point in time this was our plan.

As far as "labeling" him a functional alcoholic, I need to ask, just what do you call someone who has 6 drinks or more each day, yet has no problem functioning in life? He gets up at the same time each day, goes about his business and doesn't miss a beat. In all outward appearances, he's just your average joe living life.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 1:37 PM on February 28, 2006

"I'm of the mindset that dating is part of a process that ultimately ends in a marriage or cohabitation situation. At one point in time this was our plan."

Maybe, as selfmedicating points out, he only likes this as a plan, and not as a reality.
Or maybe he's changed his mind.
It seems kind of unfair (and a little creepy) for him to make this ultimatum that if you two are going to live together, you have to move in to his space where his ex-wife used to be.

When pushing doesn't work, try pulling.
Maybe it's time for you to pull back from the relationship instead of pushing the relationship forward. Put your energies into your other friendships and make him call you for a few months; this change might bring out a reaction in him, for the better or for worse. Either way, it might be enlightening.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 2:45 PM on February 28, 2006

In terms of the alcoholism, rmhsinc and nixerman are dead on, and mkultra's support of your assessment is not going help you in this relationship. I could be similarly described as "functional alcoholic", drinking about 4 drinks a night, and when I saw you frame it like he cares more about drinking than he cares about your relationship, I was ready to break up with you. Whether his drinking is addiction or choice or habit, it is his lifestyle and is not any indication of how he feels about you. The two are unrelated in his mind, and should be in yours. Do not come at him with anything even resembling an ultimatum. Especially if you are worried that he is getting cold feet about a commitment. What he will hear is that you are judging him, and want to change his entire lifestyle. That will only scare him further away.

Please do approach it as your problem, not his. The message should be that you want to take care of him, and you worry that his drinking is bad for his health. You want to stop worrying, not stop him from drinking. Think of the addiction as a demon in his brain. If you attack the demon directly, it will defend itself, and it's got access to all the switches and knobs to make him do its bidding. You need to circumvent that trigger of feeling threatened. He needs to feel he's doing something nice for you, rather than you're trying to take something away from him. Maybe at first just cutting back, or skipping days. Something to make you feel better. You should go to al-anon. You'll get a much better understanding of the alcoholic mind.

I think the key question really should be, is his alcoholism affecting your relationship in any way other than you disapprove of drinking in general? You say he's just your average joe during the day, so I'm guessing it's not. You have to be prepared for the fact that he might not ever want to or be able to stop drinking. Are you prepared to live with that?
posted by team lowkey at 3:19 PM on February 28, 2006

Dump him.
posted by cellphone at 7:22 PM on February 28, 2006

It seems like you're trying to change him too much. I admit, I try doing that often but sometimes people are rooted too much in their ideas and feelings.
posted by wheelieman at 8:09 AM on March 1, 2006

You know, the folks who are concerned in this thread about labeling him an alcoholic are both right and wrong. They're right because said to his face it probably won't produce change, but will rather make him defensive. (On the other hand, it might wake him up.) Still, the notion that his drinking doesn't matter unless it's somehow "affecting the rest of his life" is clearly wrong: it's affecting your relationship, which is the most important measurement for the terms of this discussion. It can be trying to deal with someone who's (even mildly) drunk every time you spend time with him. It's perfectly fine to address that with him, regardless of definition. The notion that he might not be an alcoholic and therefore shouldn't be called on his drinking is strange to me.
posted by OmieWise at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2006

As far as "labeling" him a functional alcoholic, I need to ask, just what do you call someone who has 6 drinks or more each day, yet has no problem functioning in life? He gets up at the same time each day, goes about his business and doesn't miss a beat. In all outward appearances, he's just your average joe living life.

A functioning alcoholic.

Honestly, I don't know where this "don't be so quick to judge him" talk comes from. Your S.O. is, by any objective definition of the term, an alcoholic. This isn't some behavioral quirk that you have the responsibility to integrate into your life, as team lowkey would have you think.

His liver won't give a shit that he can get up and go to work the next morning.

The police won't give a shit when they pull him over for speeding (or, god forbid, worse) and smell booze on him.

Look, my gut tells me that your S.O. is a very messed-up individual (I'm curious about what broke up his first marriage). He may still be a wonderful person, but you need to wrest control of the rules that drive the relationship from his hands, pronto.
posted by mkultra at 12:32 PM on March 1, 2006

I by no means intended to suggest he isn't an alcoholic or that it's not unhealthy, or even that you shouldn't judge him for it. What I and others are trying to communicate is that giving him an ultimatum or trying to take control of the situation will not be effective. It will be absolutely counter productive.

I'm not trying to defend him, but relaying his perspective. He has no problem going to work. He's not drinking and driving. She hasn't even said that he's hard to deal with or that it is adversely affecting their relationship at all (if he's drinking every night, hasn't their whole relationship been with the drunk him?) That's why I asked if it was just that she disapproved of the drinking in general (which is fair), or if it there was something more going on. It sounds like he starts drinking after work, so he's drunk by the time he goes to sleep. We don't even know if his demeanor is noticeably affected at any time.

Lots of people live like this. It's an addiction (or habit; at some point there's really no difference) and it's unhealthy, but not remotely uncommon, and rarely treated. From his perspective, there is no problem, and he'll be defensive about framing it as a problem. That's the insidious nature of addiction. Right now, drinking is a part of who he is, and attacking the drinking is like attacking him personally. He will try to defend it. Even if it wasn't an issue of addiction, demanding that your SO change their lifestyle to better suit yours never results in a better relationship. They have to want to make the change themselves.

She has a better chance of getting him to change his behavior by making it seem like the problem is hers, and cutting back is a nice thing that he is doing to help her worrying problem (guys love solving problems, as long as they aren't their own problems). Don't threaten him or even try to rationally convince him he's hurting himself (smokers know about lung cancer; showing them a picture of it only pisses them off). But there's a good chance that he's not ready to change anyway. So again, the question is, can she live with it? If the answer is no, she needs to be prepared to leave, not adjust her life around it.

No one has been saying she should just drop the drinking issue. It's an important issue. There are just good and bad ways to deal with it. The best advice that keeps getting repeated is going to al-anon. They will help you better understand and cope with someone else's drinking problem. You can then decide if it's something you're willing to have in your life, and how you might help him in the long run.

I won't try to define whether these things are chemical or mental or what, but if you haven't dealt with an addiction, you don't understand the sense of dread and panic that comes over you when someone suggests taking it away (especially someone you care about. If you didn't care what they thought, you know you aren't going to change and there's no real threat). The rationalizing kicks into overdrive so fast, there's no way to have any perspective on whether they are right or not. It's like a fight or flight reaction. Your immediate priority is thwarting the threat on your addiction. That's all I'm trying to help you avoid. You have to find a back door around the defenses, or better yet, wait for an invitation inside. If you just charge the gate, don't be surprised if you end up on your ass.
posted by team lowkey at 3:56 PM on March 1, 2006

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