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4 Things NOT Do When You Have an Alcoholic Spouse (Avoid These Relationship Mistakes)

If you have an alcoholic spouse, you may be making one of these four mistakes. Changing even that one thing can give your relationship a real boost. 

alcoholic spouse, drug addicted spouse
Even a drug addicted or alcoholic spouse wants to have a good relationship. But, they need more help making that happen.

Everyone wants to have a good marriage or relationship. People who have an alcoholic spouse want to have a good relationship. Even alcoholic spouses, want to have good relationships.

No matter how frustrated you may be with your spouse’s lack of effort to improve your marriage, your spouse does not want to have a bad one any more than you do.

It may not seem that alcoholics want a good marriage because of the behaviors they use to protect and justify their addictions. To effectively build your marriage to any person, addicted or not, you must deal with the behaviors while still connecting with the person. This is the meaning behind the old adage that Christians are to “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

I regularly encounter people who hate their spouse because of what their spouse is doing. People who do that feel justified, but damage their relationships and don’t get the love they really want from their spouses. You must learn to separate your spouse’s behavior from your spouse if you are to be able to build your relationship.

It is also harmful to love your spouse and disregard any bad behavior. Love the sinner and disregard the sin is a recipe for disaster. It is a very hateful thing to do because it maintains a bad relationship. The key to improving relationships is making our spouse feel loved, while effectively dealing with damaging behavior..

Many well meaning people try to do just that, but often lack the experience or knowledge to have the right combination of love and boundaries. This can make problems worse. Today, I want to tell you about the four most common mistakes spouses of substance abusers make, and what you can do instead.

Mistake #1: Abusing alcohol to try to connect with your alcoholic spouse.

It is true that we connect on similarities and disconnect on differences. Working to be more similar to your spouse is a good way to build connection and can be done for any good behavior. If your spouse is better in some area than you, work to become more like your spouse.

In the case of destructive behaviors though, we need to help our spouse to become more like us. You will never be able to build a relationship on destructive behaviors, no matter how similar you are to your spouse.


  • do not cheat because your spouse cheats,
  • do not argue because your spouse argues,
  • do not neglect because your spouse neglects,
  • do not abuse alcohol because your spouse abuses alcohol.

This may seem like common sense but many people justify their bad behavior because their spouse does it.

  • I only argue because my spouse does,
  • I only cheated because my spouse did,
  • I only avoid my spouse because he/she avoids me,
  • I only get drunk because my spouse does.

The adage that two wrongs never make a right is biblical. The biblical response in the face of evil is not retribution, but love (1 Peter 3:9). Love does what is good and helpful. In the case of your spouse’s bad behaviors, that means using boundaries.

Lesson 1: Rather than drinking to connect with your alcoholic spouse, use boundaries

You have two choices for boundaries. You can use boundaries for the drinking itself or you can use boundaries for behaviors that result from the drinking. For spouses who are in denial about their alcoholism, it is often better to use boundaries for the related problems rather than for the drinking. For example, you could have a boundary for abusive language your spouse uses while intoxicated rather than directly having a boundary around your spouse’s drinking.

Marriage interventions for addictions or affairs, which are very similar, do not just require the person to give up the addiction. They also require positive effort for the marriage.

Mistake #2: Making excuses for your spouse’s alcohol or drug abuse.

Every alcoholic spouse has a reason for what he or she does. In fact, I have never met anyone who did not have a reason for what they do. Cain had a reason to kill Able, David had a reason to have an affair with Bathsheba, the Pharisees had a reason to crucify Jesus. Never think that having a reason justifies your behavior or your spouse’s behavior.

Your spouse is not justified:

  • for cheating because your relationship is bad,
  • for arguing because you disagree,
  • for neglecting you because he or she is busy, and
  • for alcohol abuse because of his or her job, stress, family history, psychological disorder, or any other reason.

Reasons do not justify behavior. The only justification for doing something is because it is a good thing to do. Daily Bible reading will help you to discern what that is.

As long as there is a better choice available we cannot blame anyone else for our destructive behaviors. Your spouse could get help for alcoholism and make healthier choices. Never make an excuse for your spouse’s alcoholism, whether it is your behavior, your spouse’s problems, or other factors.

Excusing behavior is just another way to avoid dealing with it.

Lesson 2: Do not excuse destructive behavior in yourself or others.

God never excuses sin, for any reason. This is why Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for us. Otherwise, we have to pay it, regardless of our reasons. God’s love is demonstrated in His sacrifice for us, NOT by His acceptance of our sin.

Mistake #3: Denying how serious the alcohol or drug abuse problem is.

I had an alcoholic professor in graduate school. He was a good teacher and I don’t doubt that he was a good provider for his wife and children. Although he was functioning, he had a serious problem. Those around him denied that to themselves because he was functional.

But, one day he wrapped his car around a tree. It only takes one mis-function to put an abrupt end to a life or relationship. I don’t doubt my professor had many mis-functions in his relationship with his wife before his accident. We tend to overlook the problems of people who are otherwise doing well. 

Believing that something can’t happen because it never did before prevents people from taking proactive action. Many times I have heard people say they didn’t think their spouse would cheat because he or she had always been faithful before.

Lesson 3: Take corrective action while problems are still small. It will cause less stress to your marriage and will prevent major harm. The best time to use a boundary is from the first instance.

Mistake #4: Allowing abuse, threats, or neglect.

Allowing yourself to be mistreated is one of the three major ways to lose respect. The other two are not living according to your values and not doing what you say you are going to do.

When you allow yourself to be mistreated, your spouse will lose respect for you and it will become very difficult for your spouse to love you. Just think about how difficult it is for you to love someone you don’t respect.

Allowing yourself to be abused or neglected is a hateful thing to do because it destroys your marriage for the both of you. Even if you are not doing anything to provoke your spouse, allowing abuse or neglect is part of the reason that it continues.

If you stand under a falling tree, when you could move out of the way, don’t blame the tree when it lands on you.

Lesson 4: You are also to blame if you don’t take action which could save your relationship or help your spouse.

Action doesn’t mean blaming your spouse–that is shifting responsibility. Action is doing what it takes to improve the relationship or end the damaging behavior. That means making your spouse feel loved while using effective boundaries. That is the solution for all damaging behaviors that spouses have whether an addiction or not.

How long would you like to wait?

Because relationships tend to gradually get worse, people put off taking effective action. Every person who I help reconcile with their spouse could have prevented getting to the crisis situation in their marriage.

To avoid getting to the crisis point in your relationship, you need to learn to ask yourself one question:

What is likely to happen if this problem continues?

If your answer to that is that things will get worse, then the best time to take action is now. If you are not sure if things will get worse, then make a decision about when you will take action. For example, if your spouse is not spending daily time with you, but you are still dating, you can decide that you will take action if your spouse stops dating you.

Action does not mean criticizing or complaining to your spouse. Those things will never motivate your spouse to improve. They will only make your spouse’s behavior toward you worse.

Action means creating the conditions for improving your relationship. If you would like help in creating the conditions for attracting your spouse, connecting with your spouse, and using good boundaries with your spouse, I would be happy to work with you in marriage coaching.

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