SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
Question: I am unsure how to set up boundaries and consequences with my alcoholic, pot-smoking husband. He thinks neither should be a concern of mine. He says it doesn’t affect me. When he has too much to drink, his verbal cocky language, insinuations, and controlling attitude are horrible.
He thinks nothing of drinking 6-10 beers at one time. He is bi-polar but doesn’t think it is an issue anymore. He was on lithium years ago for this. I am so tired of this relationship with him. I want to do what God wants me to do. I know that with God He can handle this marital issue. I just need to release it totally to Him.
Please give me guidance on setting up specific boundaries and consequences. I have read your book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, but I need more specific advice in my particular situation. Thank you.
Answer: In my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong I introduced the idea of the Gift of Consequences as a loving gesture to help wake a spouse up to behaviors or attitudes that were affecting (or destroying) the marriage. (This particular gift of love often does not feel loving to the one receiving it at the time)
In past blogs and in my other books on destructive relationships and marriage I give many more reasons and examples how not to enable destructive behavior to continue unchallenged by mitigating or removing negative consequences from the destructive person’s life.
Specifically in your situation you need to ask yourself the question how does his behaviors affect you? For starters you indicate that when he’s drunk or high, he treats you differently. He’s controlling, cocky and makes remarks that offend you and hurt your feelings. What would be a natural consequence for someone who treats you that way?
Most healthy people wouldn’t put up with it. They’d leave the room, leave the conversation, or exit the house for an hour or even for the night. In other words, one consequence is that your husband looses the pleasure of your presence or company when he’s drinking or high because you don’t like the way he treats you when he’s that way.
Now, the problem for you when you implement this consequence is that perhaps it has no impact on him. In fact, he may prefer you to leave him alone. This is where it gets tricky. The consequence we implement we want to also have impact.
So what other consequences might you implement that may get his attention?
Stop cleaning up his messes – cans, ashes, dirty glasses, vomit. (But you have to live there too so it impacts you too)
Separate your family money if he’s spending large quantities of money on his drinking and drugs and it’s affecting your ability to pay your bills.
Refuse to drive with him if he’s been drinking or smoking pot/ not allowing the children to drive with him
Refuse to lie to the children about his behaviors when they observe him drunk or high.
Refuse to bail him out of jail if he gets pulled over by the police.
Refuse to buy him alcohol or other supplies for his habit.
Refuse to lie or cover up for him to others (work, family, neighbors) for his foolish behavior while drunk or high.
Separate from him until he gets help and stops his abusive behavior.
Plan an intervention with family members to help him see how his problem impacts everyone (he says it doesn’t affect anyone).
Sometimes boundaries and consequences look rather similar. The boundary you may set ahead of time – such as I am no longer willing to drive with you because I’m afraid when you’re driving and drinking.
A consequences might be, last night you scared me to death the way you were weaving in and out of cars. We almost had an accident. From now on I refuse to drive with you when you’ve been drinking (or smoking).
But bottom line – what keeps you stuck in this relationship is something you can work on. You can’t change him but you can, with God’s help, change you. You say you want to do what God wants you to do but I do not believe God calls you to sacrifice yourself and your children so that your husband can stay steeped in his foolish behaviors. So if you lovingly implement consequences – not to scold, shame or punish, but to wake him up, it can be part of God’s plan for his life.
Doing what God wants you to do means that you will also do what you need to do to stay healthy and get wise. It may mean attending Al Anon or Celebrate Recovery or some other support group for people who live with addicts. It means that you will protect your children from his abusive behavior when he’s intoxicated and if it’s frequent, you may need to consider separating from him until he gets help for his problem.
I think we often think God wants us to always be nice and minimize the ugliness of sin. We’re not to judge sin because all of us are sinners – you are not less a sinner than your husband is, but when we cover it up or minimize it or think it makes no negative impact on other people, we are deceiving ourselves and not living in the truth.
Your words to your husband – or consequences and boundaries may be hard but need not be harsh. Do the work you need to so that when you take this step, you do it in love.