Telling anyone you’re concerned about their drinking would be difficult -- but telling a military spouse about your concerns seems especially daunting -- it’s like telling your favorite superhero they have a weakness. Not only is it hard to find the right words, it feels like even the most carefully chosen words will be met with defensiveness.
If you are concerned about your spouse’s drinking, here are some strategies that might help.
3 Ways to Cope With a Spouse's Drinking
The power of your words
Individuals in alcohol treatment say that one of the main reasons they sought treatment was because of a spouse, according to a 2011 study at the University of Michigan. As spouses, we have considerable influence on our loved ones -- both positive and negative. How we communicate is one example; we all have our “broken record” arguments that feel like they are happening over and over.
Perhaps one spouse tends to criticize and demand while upset, and the other spouse withdraws and says nothing to avoid further arguing. There are effective communication strategies to help break those patterns, such as staying positive, using “I” statements and choosing the right time to talk.
Several spouses said they found communication strategies learned from Partners Connect very helpful. “You gave me tools to communicate better,” one spouse said, and added that her husband "got upset and wanted to go get a drink. I asked him to wait 30 minutes, and then he didn’t even want to go anymore. Before we would have gotten into a fight -- I would have blamed him or said, ‘You’re doing something wrong.’ This time I said, ‘It’s up to you, but I was nice about it and asked him to just wait a bit.’”
It’s hard, yet not impossible, for your spouse to seek help.
Oftentimes, we ask ourselves why our spouse doesn’t get help and think, “If he cared about me and our family, he would just stop drinking and get help.”
It is especially hard for service members and veterans to seek help because they fear repercussions in the workplace or worry that they will be unfairly judged as being weak. You know your spouse better than anyone. If you don’t think they’d seek in-person help, would they be willing to check out something online on their own time? If your spouse is worried about confidentiality, many resources online can be used anonymously.
Know that you are not alone
Research has shown that about 40% of married service members drink heavily. Many spouses struggle with a loved one’s drinking and say that it affects their mood, marriage, family and social life. Another spouse in our study said, “There’s a lot of loneliness because of the drinking. We don’t have any friends anymore ... I would never tell my family about his drinking because it’s embarrassing ... You don’t want the world to know your life’s not perfect.”
--Karen Osilla is a senior behavioral scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.
Keep Up with the Ins and Outs of Military Life
For the latest military news and tips on military family benefits and more, subscribe to Military.com and have the information you need delivered directly to your inbox.