ASK AMY: Partner’s relapse places household at risk


Dear Amy: I have been cohabitating with my partner for four years. He is thoughtful, kind, and generous — when he is sober. Sadly, he is an alcoholic. We met when he was sober, and I fell head over heels.

I did not fully understand the destructiveness of his disease until he relapsed about one year into our relationship. He has relapsed multiple times since.

When he relapses, he will follow a similar pattern: He will build up resentments and stress. Then one day, I will come home and he will be drinking. I will feel hurt and betrayed, he will say I don’t understand him. He will attack my son and criticize my parenting. Then he will feel ashamed and say that I should leave him. He will lie in bed for three days binge-drinking vodka.

I tell him I need him to be sober and to work on asserting himself and learn effective coping skills for stress, but he feels like I am trying to control him and that he can’t be sober as long as he lives in a stressful environment (meaning our home with my son).

I’ve told him no drinking or I’ll leave. I’ve suggested that he only drink beer at social gatherings, I’ve tried telling him to, “drink all you want, but don’t plan on spending the night with me.”

We have broken up multiple times, only to get back together. We have been in therapy (briefly) and will keep trying, but I don’t know what else I can do to help him see how his drinking is making it impossible for us to be in a healthy relationship.

What do you think I should do?

— Stumped and Heartbroken

Dear Stumped: I think that you need to stop believing in your own godlike power to control your partner’s drinking. No bargains, no deals, no complicated rules regarding his drinking.

Parent your son, not your partner.

You should orient yourself completely toward what is best for your son. Obviously, living in a sober household is best.

You might have the desire, wherewithal, and adult-sized strength to tolerate the wild ups and downs of your partner’s drinking, but your child has no power over what happens in the household.

He likely walks on eggshells, dreading the next relapse and the attendant drama. The atmosphere in your home – the binges, breakups, and blaming — makes him vulnerable to his own problems down the line.

Your home life is also unhealthy for your partner. He cannot maintain his sobriety while he is with you. This is not your fault, or his. It just is. He should value his own health enough to put his sobriety first.

In my opinion, you and your partner should live separately, and continue to see one another if you want to. You should attend Al-anon meetings regularly, and your son should connect with Alateen. (Check for a virtual meeting).