Coping with feelings about other people’s drinking
November 14, 2021 11:20 AM   Subscribe

How do I, a happily sober person, be less passive-aggressive about my husband’s mostly harmless drinking? And why does it bother me so much, yet I find it hard to explain exactly why?

I (38yo) am 4 years sober in a 10 year relationship. While my husband (45yo) has continued to drink throughout my many attempts to get sober, he has been extremely supportive both practically and emotionally. He has always offered, for any given event, to not drink with me if that would help. Thankfully, I am now at a point where I no longer miss drinking or feel even slightly tempted by it. However I have begun lately to be really bothered by his drinking, even though it has improved a lot (by which I mean, reduced significantly- he very rarely drinks during the week, and I’d say has a drinking session roughly every few weeks.) Regularly, but not always, these drinking sessions are pretty heavy by objective standards- perhaps 10-15 standard drinks - almost always with good friends who are drinking the same, if not more, while entertaining, e.g. a dinner party or BBQ. Sometimes this is at our home, where I often disappear into my bedroom to read a book before everyone gets too drunk; I’m perfectly happy with that, and my husband is 100% understanding and supportive. I’m naturally a little introverted so get exhausted after several hours of socialising, whether people are drinking or not, where as he is a big extrovert and loves to entertain. He will also happily take the socialising elsewhere, if I ever ask him to not do it in our home.

My husband’s life doesn’t seem to be impacted by his drinking at all. He doesn’t miss work or other obligations, or avoid people. He seems to easily be able to go without when he decides to (like a recent 30-day health kick). He doesn’t “pre-load” drinks or drink in secret; he puts some thought into finding special wines or cocktails to enjoy with his friends, and loves all the planning for parties like cooking and shopping etc. He rarely gets emotionally hungover, or if he does he is a good sport about it, rather than a self-pitying mess like I was. He always cleans the kitchen and removes bottles, party mess etc before coming to bed. His behaviour is fine, he is always a charming and generous host, just louder, more talkative, turns the music up etc- definitely nothing obnoxious- with the exception of a very few nights in a decade where he has stayed out in pubs and clubs all night and been contrite afterwards. In general, we have an amazing marriage and he has a lot of emotional intelligence.

I am not interested in defining him (or myself) as “alcoholic” or not, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have any psychological or emotional baggage around drinking. His natural tendency has always been towards heavy drinking, but I would say - and I would guess he would also say - that it seems to enhance the quality of his life, rather than detract from it.

However, I feel like it increasingly bothers me anyway, in ways I am struggling to understand and explain to him or to myself. This leads to me behaving resentfully and distant from him after he has been drinking, which is upsetting and puzzling to him, because - as he says - he literally hasn’t done anything wrong. There is no problematic behaviour I can point to. For some reason, I just don’t like to see him drunk- and my default response is always passive-aggressive. I have this hyper-awareness of the glazed eyes, flushed face, extra-gregarious talking, slight slurring or lack of focus, and although it doesn’t actually affect me, it bothers me somehow and I try and avoid engaging with him. The simplest way to describe it is that when he drinks, we become on different pages. I also, quite honestly, feel that his drinking is at risky levels for his health, and I worry that it will increase his chances of getting cancer or a stroke. I have explained once or twice that I prefer not to see him drunk but he has said (reasonably I think, and in a respectful way) that he is not hurting anyone and perhaps if I don’t want to see him intoxicated, I should remove myself from the situation when that happens. I just wish that he could have 1 or 2 and then stop. But that’s just not his style or preference. I can’t force him to change, in fact I struggle to even rationalise why I think he should. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker in our relationship, which is brilliant in many other ways. So the question becomes - how do I handle these feelings of resentment in an adult way?

I should add - it’s not just him that bothers me. Any person who’s intoxicated - however harmless and charming - has become increasingly boring and irritating to me, although I always do my best to stay friendly, polite and sociable. Strangely, now that I am more secure in my own sobriety, I have less tolerance than ever for heavy drinking. But i feel only really truly resentful and upset by my husband’s drinking. I guess I should try and make non-drinking plans when I know heavy drinking will be happening, but it’s not always possible, as we often have shared friends and social commitments.

In the meantime - how do I better take responsibility for my own feelings and attitudes here? I know this all comes across as very judgemental. And I suppose i am, if I am honest with myself. I think maybe part of it is that I don’t have a lot of sober activities or friends of my own (except the occasional breakfast or lunch with girlfriends).

How do I stop being so passive-aggressive, and can anyone help me understand why this bothers me so much?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is it possible that you’re jealous, on some level, that he can drink to excess occasionally without it interfering with the rest of his life?

Also, 10-15 drinks is really a lot. You say “pretty heavy,” but I don’t think that quite captures the extent of it. I am guessing that he’s a large man, so he metabolizes alcohol differently than I do - but I’m pretty sure I would quite literally end up in the hospital if I attempted to drink 10+ drinks in one night. There’s a lot of middle ground between the 1-2 drinks you say you wouldn’t mind and what he drinks. What if, the next time he plans to have people over and drink, he tried limited it to say, 5-6 drinks? It would be interesting to see if that is satisfying for him, and if that bothers you as much as his current amount does.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:32 AM on November 14 [21 favorites]

Is it possible that because it was a struggle for you to achieve sobriety, there is some subconscious jealousy that your partner is able to have a kind of casual relationship to drinking that you couldn't?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:35 AM on November 14 [11 favorites]

I see you turning yourself into knots to explain why his drinking isn't problematic. But it makes you uncomfortable.

As someone with a history of problem drinking, and from a family with a rich history of it, I have a lot of trauma to process from that time.

It is very hard work to get sober. And once you do, the hallmarks of your struggle will be extremely triggering. It's totally understandable you'd feel uncomfortable around it.

Your husband doesn't need to be a textbook problem drinker for you to be uncomfortable.

I don't have great advice for you practically. But if I were you I would start with:

- Honor your feelings. You are entitled to them.
- Don't make judgements for him or track his intake.

For what it's worth, binge drinking as you describe isn't terribly healthy. And as you well know that level of impairment introduces risk that someone will hurt themselves or someone else.

We all do things that are risky but you are totally well within your rights to not like it or feel great about it. You don't have to take a stand and insist it stop, but you also don't have to be totally at ease with it, either.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:38 AM on November 14 [18 favorites]

I also wonder if you simply feel left out since you have a hard time making alternate plans and it doesn't really sound like you have your own "regular" thing, whereas his social life carries on much as before, with or without you.
posted by sm1tten at 11:46 AM on November 14 [8 favorites]

I am now at a point where I no longer miss drinking or feel even slightly tempted by it

Yeah, after a few years sober, I thought that. Then I relapsed. Remain on guard. Remember that alcoholism is a terminal condition.

I notice that people drink a lot in movies and on TV. I understand from the director's perspective, drinking is a lot like smoking: it gives the actor something to do with their hands while in conversation with other characters. A glass as a prop, like a cigarette, is visually interesting, so it adds an attractive element to what might otherwise be a static scene. Still, it irritates me to see other folks drink, because it reminds me of my own illness.

Your husband can abuse alcohol without becoming an alcoholic. What your husband cannot do is escape the wear-and-tear associated with alcohol abuse. Maybe just suggest that he cut down a bit. He's not a kid anymore.
posted by SPrintF at 11:49 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]

This is a tough one. I'll comment strictly from my own experience; your mileage obviously may vary. It's been 33 years since I last took a drink. Getting sober was a multi-year struggle and staying sober requires daily maintenance, which for me is not onerous because the rewards of staying sober, for me, outweigh the negatives to multiple orders of magnitude.

My first wife was actively hostile to my recovery. That's her sh1t and not worth diagnosing. I stayed sober despite that, because I had a very strong support system beyond her. My second wife is a total normie, does not care to drink and I've never seen her drink. She's not preachy or proselytizing, is comfortable around people who drink; just doesn't care for it herself. Though she can never understand what makes drunks like me tick, she accepts me as I am and unfailingly supports my recovery. I am so lucky to have her.

With that said, in reading your post I was struck by speculations informed by many years of experience. Just things for you to consider. 1) Your SO is not nearly as supportive in fact-- i.e. in his behavior-- as you try to believe he is. 2) This threatens your own sober journey, because 3) whatever it is about you that made you decide to get sober is still, and will always be, innate in you, and a terminal threat.

I'm not certain my heart, based on the fact set that you present, that comfortable compromise is likely, or even possible.
posted by charris5005 at 12:01 PM on November 14 [11 favorites]

I totally get you on not wanting to hang out with your husband while he's drinking, even if nothing actually bad is happening. Occasionally I'll be not-drinking around people who are drinking fairly heavily (maybe I have to work the next day and they don't, or I'm driving, or whatever) and - I just get kinda grossed out. Sometimes people seem pretty unattractive to me when they're drinking, even though I, on occasion, get equally drunk (and feel like I'm having a nice time).

I don't think your husband's suggestion to avoid him when he's drunk is all that bad, actually, although how attractive and palatable that's going to be really depends on how frequently he's doing this - if it's once a month, it's pretty easy for you to make other plans for the day (or even the weekend), or for him to go somewhere other than your home to drink (and maybe stay out for the night or weekend - maybe you don't want his drunk ass rolling into bed next to you). If it's weekly, that's going to be more difficult.

If you avoiding him when he's drinking puts a big crimp in your relationship - well, that's important! (And really, he's effectively passively avoiding you when he's drinking anyway.)
posted by mskyle at 12:05 PM on November 14 [11 favorites]

I think I second charris5005 on the last few sentences: His drinking is a threat to you in your soul and you're probably not ever going to be "cool" with his drinking 15 drinks a night. For you it is a big, huge problem you can't be cool with or get over. Even if he doesn't do it that often, it ain't casual drinking when it's 15 drinks, and most likely he also has some alcohol issue.

That's my take on why you're bothered, anyway. I haven't the faintest where you'd go from here on it since he doesn't want to quit or consider it a problem, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]

Well the way to be less passive aggressive about anything is to do the work of figuring out your needs and feelings and then assertively express them. Honestly it sounds like you want your husband to get sober but you know he will not and that’s why you’re going the passive route. You don’t feel entitled to say that directly because he doesn’t have the compelling reason to quit that you had. And because you rightly suspect that insisting on it may result in the end of what is otherwise a good marriage. So you’re just sort of chopping away at it from the inside until it stops being the good marriage you’re afraid to lose. Then you won’t be afraid to lose it anymore.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:20 PM on November 14 [40 favorites]

Oops—on mobile and it does weird shit to my comments. The way out of this is to just start saying true things to your spouse. There will probably be fights. There might be progress. You might indeed split up eventually. But it will be better than a confusing dance of sulking and defiance and saying one thing while super, super obviously meaning another.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:22 PM on November 14 [19 favorites]

I’m coming up on 10 years. Your feelings are valid and I’m not sure exactly what I’d do about it.

I think your note about not really having sober friends/things to do is important. You need to develop a full life that doesn’t revolve around drinking, so you don’t just constantly feel that lack. Being sober is a thing about me, but at this point it doesn’t feel like a defining factor in my life. I’m so grateful for that. I still go out (I went to a club last night, even!) but the friend I was with had 2 drinks. Most of my friends, if they drink, are at about that level. Drinking is not the center or the reason for the activity.

I think you can be a heavy drinker and have a relatively healthy relationship to it, but it’s ok for you to not want to be around it. I don’t know how you square that with your husband’s lifestyle. I’m going to refrain from analyzing his relationship with alcohol.

I don’t know if this is enlightening or helpful for you but I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic (or even use the word sober) until I had quit drinking for 5 years. It was then that my understanding and relationship really shifted, I think because at that point it felt more solid and not a threat, just a fact. So your relationship to his drinking may be undergoing a shift as well.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 12:29 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]

Drunk people ARE annoying to sober people. It's true. All of those things you mentioned...the glazed eyes and loud talking, etc. They're annoying you because they're annoying. They're not annoying to others in the drinking circle because they're having a shared experience. You ARE on a different page. (I am a drinker more on the order of your husband.)

I have friends who are VERY INTO interests that result in behavior that I find annoying. Like when they go to certain sports events and it's like a damn religious experience for them. I don't love the way they are in those situations, so I just avoid. Likewise, I have a friend who doesn't go out to dinner with me and my best friend because the way we seek out new foods and rhapsodize about them is annoying AF to her.

I would encourage you to put aside the health concerns. It's just an appeal to authority that isn't really central to your main issue. I am not denying the risk factors associated with alcohol especially for those with particular health conditions, but it doesn't sound like this is relevant in your case. (Likewise, it would be concern trolling to worry about my football fan friends' blood pressure, and if my friend tsk tsked about cholesterol to me, I would quizzically shut her down.)
posted by desuetude at 12:38 PM on November 14 [49 favorites]

Is your husband's drinking problematic? Yes, but it's not exactly problematic in the same way that your drinking was, and there's no shame in that. Perhaps it's uncomfortable for you to accept that?

I'm not here to defend drinking 10-15 standard drinks as being a good idea. It isn't. You're absolutely right that even occasional binge drinking is not the best choice for a middle-aged person's cardiovascular health. But you know that that's not really the crux of why you want him to get sober, though.

I know you're trying not to label anyone involved as an alcoholic. At the end of the day, though, he (and many others) can occasionally drink to excess without much of an impact on their lives. You may have not been able to do the same. Your value proposition for getting sober is going to look a lot different than it would for someone who has a history of being a heavy drinker in a more innocuous way. That doesn't make anyone involved wrong, just different. And there's something to be said for respecting those differences to the extent that your sobriety allows. You say you're secure in your sobriety, but perhaps the height of security would be in finding ways to get get some non-judgmental distance from your husband's drinking, and perhaps you're not there yet.

As jeweled accumulation pointed out, there's an aspect of not defining yourself or others by one's relationship to alcohol that might be at play here in a lot of ways. It might be easier to find friends of your own and sober activities when you're not centering sobriety. Same goes for dealing with with husband's occasional binge drinking. Does this mean that you ought to get to a point where you're okay with being around drunk people? No. But it does open up some options about how you handle your reactions to them.
posted by blerghamot at 12:43 PM on November 14 [2 favorites]

Just as a data point, your husband actually sounds like a pretty heavy drinker to me. That's not a judgement, just an obervation.

I think you're gaslighting yourself, both about how much he drinks, and about how you feel about it.
He drinks a lot. You don't like it. Both of these statements are true and okay.

It's okay to have a feeling that's not 100% perfectly fair and explainable by some external metric (ie, whether he is an obvious alcoholic or not). He doesn't need to be on a rock-bottom bender and trashing the house for you to be allowed not to simply like it. It's 100000% ok if you just don't like it. And you not liking his drinking is especially understandable since you have a tough relationship with alcohol yourself. (but even if you didn't, it would still be ok to feel this way!)

This may not be a popular opinion, but I actually think it's unsupportive and inconsiderate of him to drink around you. You have a history with alcohol, and you find the parties exhausting, and you don't really enjoy drunk people, and he's bringing all of those things, in pretty intense doses, right into your living space.

As a mildly analogous situation, when I was pregnant and couldn't drink, I felt a bit annoyed when my partner did. I had a condition that made me unable to drink for the good of our family. I didn't mind if he drank a little on a few special occasions or had a single beer occasionally, but overall I wanted him to stay sober in solidarity with me. Maybe that's not 100% "fair".... but actually, yes it is, too! How many vegetarians ask their spouses not to eat meat at home? Same thing.

Personally, hiding in my bedroom during a party is not fun for me, so if I were in your shoes, I'd ask him to either party outside your home, wait til you're out of town to party in your home, or book you an introvert's retreat at a cute airbnb nearby when he plans a house party. With the amount he's drinking, an extra hundred bucks on an airbnb should be doable.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:44 PM on November 14 [25 favorites]

To address your Ask of how to cope with the feelings you're having, and how to decipher them, and how to resolve them, the only answer is therapy. I think you'll find it very useful not only in figuring out how to cope with these specific feelings, but also in how to understand your feelings in the future, how to communicate assertively and directly not passive-aggressively, how to manage your own responses to alcohol, and so on. Please find a therapist ASAP.
posted by MiraK at 12:54 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]

It would be very common and natural if part of how you have learned not to want to drink anymore is by being disgusted at it. Disgust is rarely rational, even though we can come up with rationales after the fact - there's nothing "wrong" with cricket flour, but I don't want it in my pastries anyway and watching someone else eat a toasted grasshopper crunchy snack would not be fun for me even if I could tolerate it for a little. I definitely would not want to go to a big grasshopper roasting party. Maybe alcohol is like that for you now.
posted by Lady Li at 1:11 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]

Much like desuetude says, I find intoxicated people (be it alcohol, weed, endorphins, religion, anesthesia, whatever) annoying when I am sober because they are at least a little bit (or a lot) annoying, and because the altered state creates a sort of "you had to be there" vibe and when you are not "there" it isn't particularly satisfying as a human interaction.

Even as a drinker, I find your partner's at-home drinking choices off-putting. I have people in my life who just don't generally drink, so around them I just don't generally drink. I have sober friends, I don't use or put alcohol in their personal space because I think that my "right" to drink isn't as important as their right to a sober space. If my partner stopped drinking because of a drinking problem, I might still drink occasionally elsewhere but I would stop doing it or keeping it in our home. I certainly wouldn't have parties he felt he had to retreat from.

By many cultures' standards your partner does indeed drink a lot when he drinks. As you've observed, some people can drink a lot with no real adverse life-stability effects and some cannot and he appears to fall on the lucky side of that, but that is still drinking well beyond the point of any kind of reasonable decision-making or reliable reflex response, and that would also irritate the shit out of me when he is hosting a gathering in our home. It leaves you as the only responsible adult on the premises, and shut away reading a book probably means that if some kind of shit goes down it's going to get extra-serious before you know about it. It's also annoying when someone goes out and drinks to that extent as a general habit, because it's again well over the line of the ability to keep your wits and instincts about you in public space. (And the more middle-aged I get the more I realize how fucking dangerous that is - I am super-conservative about drinking when I go out now because it is a bad idea to be that obviously vulnerable in public.)

You describe your response as "passive-aggressive," but passive-aggressive behavior is rooted in contempt and relationships rarely survive contempt for long. I think you can't solve this until you have your own answers for why and what exactly bothers you and have found some better set of circumstances than the status quo. I don't think you can solve this by politely trying to cram all your feelings down out of sight and letting him do whatever he wants; it really feels like something is going to have to give on his side and you are probably going to have to ask for it in detail because he's chosen some pretty bold behavior in lieu of reigning it in on his own.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:14 PM on November 14 [21 favorites]

Some decades sober here, married to a some-decades-sober partner.

I just hate being around people who drink. It's unnerving to me and feels unnatural. Yes, I know people drink, and I'm not moralistic about it, but I don't want to be around it for personal reasons. I'm not as picky about it as my partner is (he doesn't even like being around it in other people's house).

Also 10-15 drinks is binge quantity and would put me in blackout.
posted by Peach at 1:47 PM on November 14 [6 favorites]

Drinking, to the level your spouse engages in it, is a noisy and disruptive activity, that involves other noisy and disruptive people, that largely excludes you, that's being engaged in within your home, on a fairly regular basis. Then he tumbles into bed, late and stinky.

So putting aside any value or health judgments, or armchair determinations of whether he's a problem drinker, it's natural for this to rub you the wrong way.

It's a disruptive hobby. Moreover, you don't seem to have replaced drinking with interests of your own.

I'd frame it in your head in those terms, and go from there.
posted by champers at 1:51 PM on November 14 [12 favorites]

I'll add that I used to be a social drinker, I gave it up for health reasons and now am pretty much a teetotaler. My husband still drinks occasionally.

Having drunk people in my house on a regular basis would annoy the everloving mess out of me.
posted by champers at 1:54 PM on November 14 [8 favorites]

al-anon, maybe? just to see what other folks in relationships with drinkers are saying.

10-15 drinks is so much drinks. man.

i like the idea of getting new activities. i also like the idea of therapy, to figure out your own deal breakers.

also...common advice (to a drinker). if it's a problem for your partner, it's a problem.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:58 PM on November 14 [11 favorites]

I should add - it’s not just him that bothers me. Any person who’s intoxicated - however harmless and charming - has become increasingly boring and irritating to me, although I always do my best to stay friendly, polite and sociable. Strangely, now that I am more secure in my own sobriety, I have less tolerance than ever for heavy drinking.

Surprise: almost all sober people find intoxicated people annoying and dull. You too were once this tedious to the sober people around you.

Honestly, I think you find him increasingly irritating because he IS irritating. Who the fuck drinks 15 drinks who is not an actual 20 year old frat bro?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 PM on November 14 [24 favorites]

I feel like you are trying really really hard to be a "chill", unphased, unemotional partner and that isn't really fair to you or to your husband. You have a lot of feelings and you don't seem to want to feel them because you are afraid your feelings are wrong. I get like this all the time and it always helps me to write a letter (that I don't plan on sending) and just get everything out, because there is always something at the source of that feeling that does deserve to be aired even if my feelings of frustration or anger aren't 'fair.' So in the letter I can be as unfair and biased and irrational as I want to be until I get to something that's true.

I am not sober but I drink in moderation, and drunk people ARE annoying. I don't like my husband when he is that drunk. I can tolerate it because he only gets blitzed like twice a year, if it was once a month I would not be happy. I hope that once you get down and allow yourself to *feel* as messy as you feel, you can dig through and talk with your husband, he does seem like an understanding and compassionate person and I think he is confused as you are because you are saying one thing and acting another.
posted by muddgirl at 2:29 PM on November 14 [9 favorites]

I drink a bit - 1 drink 2-3 times a month - and my husband doesn't, although he never did much and it's not been an issue between us. I kind of expected from the start of your post to come down on your husband's side.

But WHOA that's a huge binge when he drinks. I don't like flat-out drunk people. I don't like being around them. I would have a really hard time with that. So I think you should talk to him about it, not asking him to change but talk to him about how it makes you feel, how gross it is on those days. See what you can work out.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:33 PM on November 14 [5 favorites]

Drunk people ARE annoying to sober people. It's true. All of those things you mentioned...the glazed eyes and loud talking, etc. They're annoying you because they're annoying. They're not annoying to others in the drinking circle because they're having a shared experience. You ARE on a different page. (I am a drinker more on the order of your husband.)

I drink alcohol (including at lunch today!), but sometimes I'm the designated driver or just not having drinks that evening, and yes, I find drunk people super annoying to be around if I am not participating. There's nothing wrong in saying that you don't want to be around it and don't really want the partying going on in your house when you are home. That doesn't make you a buzzkill or whatever, if those are your boundaries.

Also, I'm a tall man with probably a medium tolerance for alcohol, and 10-15 drinks is a lot. I mean, that is two to three bottles of wine, for one person. I'd be able to stay upright, but the next day I would be in serious, debilitating hangover pain. Without any judgment whatsoever, 10-15 drinks in a night is, at a minimum, at the heavy end of normal, and maybe a ways past that, especially if it is every couple of weeks.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:35 PM on November 14 [7 favorites]

> I also, quite honestly, feel that his drinking is at risky levels for his health, and I worry that it will increase his chances of getting cancer or a stroke ... he has said (reasonably I think, and in a respectful way) that he is not hurting anyone

Internet stranger here thinks it's hurting you, and that you're someone worth listening to on this topic about him. I think you need hobby friends or activity friends of your own where you can have a pleasant time not dreading an interaction with the drunk-zombie version of a person you love very much.

It's okay to have all the reactions you do -- your hard earned sobriety and constant vigil takes spoons, and seeing him drinking and drunk probably costs you a lot of spoons. I'd lose spoons I need to use elsewhere if I had to be around someone doing something that would ruin my life but which, for them, "seems to enhance the quality of his life."
posted by k3ninho at 2:48 PM on November 14 [6 favorites]

Drinking was the main social activity in the small town where I grew up. I could go into all kinds of examples of scary things that were just part of everyday life because so many people spent so much time intoxicated, but I'd probably exceed the character limit.

I've known more than a few couples whose relationships worked primarily because they were drinking buddies. And when one of them stopped or cut down, it made for real difficulties. I don't think it's too wild an exaggeration to say that they face some of the same difficulties faced by couples who come from different cultures or religions.

I guess it all boils down to: you're not weird for finding this difficult.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:07 PM on November 14 [6 favorites]

I don't think it's impossible for a sober person to be with a drinker, but I think it's very hard for a sober person to be with a heavy drinker. My husband is functionally a teetotaler and I have a higher alcohol tolerance and like drinking, but on a heavy drinking weekend night at home I might have like...three or four. I don't think it's something that's wrong with your mindset or worldview that you're finding it difficult to be around him ten drinks deep every few weeks. You are responding to your circumstances, which I think sound very challenging. So, first of all, I want to commend you for maintaining your sobriety.

I think there are two critical next steps: first is to really work on developing friendships and hobbies outside of drinking, and second is to let your husband know, non-judgmentally, that you are mentally struggling with the drinking sessions and want to create as much buffer space as possible. Can others host the boozy nights for a couple of months? If you can have some temporary separation from these episodes while at the same time building up the aspects of your life where sobriety is the default rather than an active deviation from the status quo, I think how you feel about his drinking will be very instructive as to whether this is a sustainable situation or not.
posted by superfluousm at 3:19 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]

I sympathise with him in that while I can stop at 1-2 drinks if I'm at a party I often prefer to drink throughout the evening at a fairly steady rate. It doesn't sound like his drinking is objectively problematic and I suspect that it's not outside the normal range within his social circle. It does sound irritating for a sober person, or probably even just someone who really doesn't drink. Drunk people are irritating and I don't like to engage with them either. I wonder whether limiting the impact on you would help. For example, asking him to keep the entertaining with many drinks to outside the home; suggesting that he sleep in another room if you have one, if he's been drinking more than 1-2; and/or never mentioning a hangover the next day if he has one. Any or all of these might make it less irritating.

As others have mentioned, the other thing is that the reason for your irritation might just be that he can do a thing (binge drinking without problems) that you find that you can't. But again, limiting the extent to which you have to experience it might be helpful.
posted by plonkee at 3:31 PM on November 14

I’m a bartender who mostly does not drink...10-15 drinks a night is a lot! No wonder you feel the way you do, especially since his friends are also keeping pace, it makes it that much harder to point out. It’s also hard to be sober around drunk people. I don’t really know what to say in terms of advice, but it seems worth it to have another conversation around creating boundaries such as not hosting parties if they’re going to be booze-a-thons, or having your husband offer something between not drinking at all in solidarity and binge drinking (which does have serious health implications). If you can even do one couples counseling session, it might help to have a neutral third party hear both of your sides and relate them in a way that only a professional can.

I just wanted to say that I hear you, I agree with you and your story resonates with me personally, and I’m on your side. I hope this brings some comfort.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 4:14 PM on November 14 [5 favorites]

Mark me down as someone who is also finds drunk/otherwise heavily intoxicated people obnoxious and irritating to be around. Hell, I even found MYSELF obnoxious if I got past a point I was comfortable with.

For numerous reasons I don't really drink, and I wouldn't want to be around someone who did drink like that, let alone married to them. It's not an activity I want to participate in. But it goes beyond just having separate interests or not liking the same music. It's a behavior and lifestyle that you actively have issues around, and it affects how your partner behaves and uses the shared space around you.

I think you should journal, or go to therapy, or a supportive group, or all of the above and figure out on your own what YOU want and the types of behavior YOU feel comfortable with. Then, discuss with your spouse. It's also fine to be judgemental for a behavior that affects you. Judging things isn't a bad thing. Instead, it's "evaluating" and "processing" which are good, healthy things to do.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:55 PM on November 14 [2 favorites]

He has always offered, for any given event, to not drink with me if that would help.

I am a person who almost doesn't drink who used to be with a person who said things like this and, when pressed, didn't mean them. I grew up in a family with one "functioning alcoholic" parent and I can struggle with boundaries in this way. Is this possibly what part of the issue might be? Because, I agree with a few of the things said here

- he doesn't sound as supportive as his words seem to imply that he thinks he is
- this is a LOT of drinking
- which would be annoying to a lot of people and it's okay to not like this whether you are sober or not

So it sounds like maybe you need an adjustment to what you've said is okay, possibly, to see if you can get to a place that feels better for you.

- no drunken hangouts in the house, noisy drunk people aren't fun for you and that's totally AOK
- not requiring you to be with him when he is out on these binge drinking evenings. He has offered this out to you, maybe you should take him up on it more?
- maybe having ways the two of you can split up if you have a social evening out that pivots to "OK now all the heavy drinkers are going to just DRINK" and you can have a mellow evening at home doing what you like
- he can come in if he's been out late drinking and sleep in the spare room, that's an ok thing to ask

And if, over time, this seems to drive a wedge between you, you can talk that over or what it means for the relationship. Because maybe he winds up having fewer binge evenings out if it means having them without you, or maybe it doesn't. You can readjust and see how you both feel about it then.
posted by jessamyn at 5:00 PM on November 14 [12 favorites]

he puts some thought into finding special wines or cocktails to enjoy with his friends, and loves all the planning for parties like cooking and shopping

Is it possible that you're feeling left out when he puts that amount of care and attention into an activity you're not really part of? That certainly would make me kinda sad. Each of you could do things that would ease that feeling:
-You could plan yourself a fun thing to do on nights when he's drinking - maybe be there for the beginning of the party, but then split off for a movie night at a friend's place
- He could make sure that he also plans fun things for just the two of you with the same amount of care and attention
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:03 PM on November 14 [7 favorites]

I (38yo) am 4 years sober in a 10 year relationship

So I think this is actually a large part of the issue.

I'm a former heavy drinker - as a large woman, I could drink 8-10 drinks at a party, though I didn't drink much without it. When I got together with my spouse, we were both heavy drinkers - he, as a large man, definitely consumed and continues to consume 10-15 drinks at parties, where 'drinks' is defined as 'a serving of alcohol' (shot of hard liquor/glass of wine/glass of beer).

This is very socially normative in a number of circles: military/veteran, some working-class culture, and within certain ethnicities. People from within those circles and cultures do not necessarily have problematic drinking habits when they engage like that, and they often have a higher alcohol tolerance than people from outside those. I have largely stopped drinking, and my tolerance has fallen to the point where if I consumed three drinks, I would be at the stage I used to be at when I drank 8. OP has mentioned that her husband isn't getting falling down drunk or puking - just being very gregarious. Especially if these are over long parties - 5-6 hours - that's about two drinks an hour. It is a health risk, but no more than a lot of other health risks that many people of our age engage in.

However: as someone who rarely drinks now, or who nurses a drink for a while at these kinds of parties, I also find it kind of annoying. I find it annoying because I am automatically the responsible person in these situations, if one is called for, and I find it annoying because, as others have said, when you're not drinking it's sometimes hard to watch people who are drinking heavily. The jokes are just not really that funny, and they're not nearly as charming as they think they are.

But back to the beginning: the problem is that your husband is engaging in social behavior that is normative for being with his friends, which presumably used not to bother you so much, but now does. And you've been married for twice as long as you've been sober, so kind of the normative rules of your relationship were set before you were sober.

I think a better comparison than vegetarianism and meat eating is actually veganism and meat eating. Vegans usually live with and get together with other vegans, and find it hard to live with meat eaters - not because they're afraid they'll get tempted and slip back into meat eating, but because they've re-adjusted their lives such that they don't believe that meat is good for people to consume. So you're routinely watching your husband socialize in a way you mentally don't approve of, and know has been destructive to you. That's incredibly hard. I don't think he's wrong for drinking but I think it's incredibly hard on you.

I wonder if maybe someone else's house could be used for the social hub? Is there another friend who can host the barbecues, and maybe your husband can bring some of his fancy mixers for cocktails to the friends' house in order to get his drink on? Because this situation seems really difficult for both of you.
posted by corb at 8:01 PM on November 14 [21 favorites]

"He has always offered, for any given event, to not drink with me if that would help.". One idea would be to focus on the times you are together. Take him up on his offer to not drink when you're going to an event together. Or even just ask him to not get drunk when you're at an event together.

I hear two different concerns:
1) I wish he wouldn't drink so much. I have judgments of it, I worry about his health etc..
2) Drunk people are very unpleasant to be around and I don't like being near him when he's drunk.

Just focusing on #2 could make it easier to share and problem solve. It might be easier for him to hear that you want to enjoy his company and when he's drunk it's not as fun for you. If him being very noticeably drunk is the most bothersome then maybe a request that he doesn't have more than 8 drinks when you're together (or whatever makes him reach that level). Or 4 drinks. You might also get useful insights from this approach. If he can't stop at 4 drinks or 8 drinks without going to 10-15 then that may be a sign that he has less control over it than you think.
posted by aaabbbccc at 8:02 PM on November 14

Significant difference between 15 ozs and say.....15 mai tais.

I think it's understandable to find extended and increasingly raucous drunkenness obnoxious if you're necessarily sober even if it may not be fully reasonable.

Your husband has offered to tone it down for you in the past, and you credit him with a great deal of emotional intelligence. Sounds good to me! I'd talk to him about it.

It sounds like in your marriage that counts as a way to "take responsibility for [your] own feelings and attitudes" which is honestly pretty tremendous.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:24 PM on November 14 [1 favorite]

drunk people tend to be annoying unless you are also drunk
posted by Jacqueline at 8:34 PM on November 14 [5 favorites]

drunk people tend to be annoying unless you are also drunk

I used to hang out a lot on Disney Parks forums. Every so often, there would be a post or a comment about how annoying it was to be around the park visitors who were "drinking around the world" in EPCOT's World Showcase and getting more and more obnoxious as the day/night wore on. And every. single. time. it happened, there would be a slew of (what I believe were 100% sincere) replies to the effect of "Are you kidding? I'm much more charming and entertaining when I'm inebriated. Everybody loves being around me when I'm drunk!"

And I got so tired of saying, "Of course you're entertaining drunk. TO OTHER DRUNK PEOPLE!" that I eventually had to just stop reading those posts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:45 AM on November 15 [2 favorites]

I think for many of us, attempting to get sober offers startling clarity on just how bad for you alcohol actually is. I'm not sure how it went for you, OP, but I have been reading books and having discussions that help me to systematically break down my beliefs about alcohol, why I like it and how it 'helps' me. That's what helps me win that argument with myself, day after day, when the voice in my head says a drink would make me feel better/happier.

So I walk around all day knowing how much damage 10-15 drinks per session, every few weeks, could do to the health of even the largest man. If my partner (who loves a couple of beers or a whiskey at the weekend) drank like that, I would be very upset to the point it would be a deal-breaker, even though everything else is wonderful. That's just me, and many would think that is over the top. But that might also be you, and if so, that is okay. You might just be trying so hard to be cool with what society/your social circle seems to accept that you're not being honest with yourself about how you feel.
posted by guessthis at 3:23 AM on November 15 [3 favorites]

Would it be possible to find activities to do as a couple / with your shared social group that don’t involve drinking or are not drinking-adjacent? (e.g hiking, playing tennis, board games etc.)

FWIW I personally think 15 drinks every couple of weeks is a little excessive, though everyone has their own standards. Now in my 30s I have cut back significantly and am happy to just do 2-3 drinks at an event / house party. I also find drunk people annoying when I’m not drinking as much or not drinking.
posted by pandanpanda at 5:33 AM on November 15

I'm a more than regular drinker, and weigh a little over 200 pounds. I can't even imagine having 15 drinks in a night. I think I'd end up in the hospital, or unconscious before I could get to even 10. I also can't imagine how annoying I'd be to my wife as I attempted 15.

Mrs. Furnace drinks lightly, but stopped smoking pot earlier this year due to addiction problems and a horrible case of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome. I wouldn't even think of smoking pot around her, or in our apartment. Even if she said it was okay, I wouldn't want to trigger her. It's troubling that your husband hasn't already offered to take his binges elsewhere, and get an Uber home.
posted by Furnace of Doubt at 7:34 AM on November 15 [5 favorites]

I agree with Furnace on that. I drink almost every day and while 15 shots total in mixed drinks might be doable over an extended evening of partying (or fewer shots if we're talking about pitchers of margaritas etc), fifteen separate mixed drinks with at least two shots each (say fifteen old fashioneds or etc) would still destroy me. I'd expect to be intolerable to be around towards the end of that, if not totally incoherent. At the very least, I'd feel like burnt shit the next day (if not curled up on the couch, waiting for my digestion to recover — or worse).
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:20 AM on November 15 [1 favorite]

There are some amazing zero-proof cocktails and "liquors" (think Seedlip) these days. Get him a copy of Good Drinks and ask him to create some for you.

I'm under no illusion that this will solve everything, or even anything, but ... gregarious entertainers like to entertain, it may direct some of his energy, and at the least you'll be feeling cared for (and have a yummy beverage).
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 2:14 PM on November 15

What if your husband has always had "the glazed eyes, flushed face, extra-gregarious talking, slight slurring or lack of focus" and other symptoms of intoxication as his natural, every day state? Would you find him attractive? Marry him? Even back when you were drinking yourself? I don't think so.

What he does is becomes a different (unattractive and unpleasant to you) person when he drinks as heavily as you describe. He effectively removes himself from your marriage and relationship. Checks out. You cannot have a meaningful conversation with him on those nights. You cannot rely on him come some sort of emergency. Perhaps maybe this is why you find it annoying? Your husband's behavior is not "not hurting anyone," it's hurting your attraction to him, and your relationship.
posted by LakeDream at 1:20 PM on November 16 [2 favorites]

I'm curious what would really happen if you took him up on his offer to be sober with you at one of these events. Does he still offer or does he like it when you wander off so he can really let loose? If he did say he'd be sober with you, what would his attitude actually be at the event? Would he even be able to do it?

I also think since you feel he's happy to just never have those events at your house, what would happen if that was the new rule? Maybe not forever but maybe for awhile these things happen elsewhere. You should feel comfortable in your home, not getting bombarded with drunkards.

Lastly, is your partner the actual ringleader in the drinking? Especially gregarious partiers who create the party atmosphere often lead people to drink more than they should just to keep up. Perhaps some of your friends would actually appreciate a toned-down event, non-alcoholic but fun drink options alongside some beer and wine and less of a marathon. So many of my peer group are trying out sobriety - either for a certain time-frame (a month maybe) or more strictly. There are so many non-alcoholic beers and drinks that are really yummy. Be open with your sobriety if you haven't and you may find that some of the crowd actually gravitates toward you. That might create an opening for your husband to realize that the shelf life of 10-15 drinks might be coming to an end. Nobody can keep that up and stay cute.
posted by amanda at 5:29 PM on November 16 [3 favorites]

Do you two go out together or throw parties where he doesn't drink? Definitely take him up on his offer of staying sober, and seems like maybe the balance should be more like he doesn't drink something like 50% of the times you're out doing social stuff together? That way it's more like you are doing an activity together vs you are the odd one out of a large group thing.
posted by internet of pillows at 1:45 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

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