I’ve received a lot of questions and concerns lately about whether a person living with a chemically dependent spouse should stay in the marriage. Of course, there’s any number of extenuating circumstances, all individual, all different and all valid. So let me speak about divorce (the D word) from a slightly different angle.
Divorce may become a viable option under some circumstances, but it will never solve the problem. Leaving your alcoholic husband or wife may become necessary for your emotional and sometimes physical survival, but it will not answer the question of how you got there in the first place or how you’re going to avoid going there again. Those questions can be answered only by starting a process of personal change.
A young woman, “Diane” was married for 12 years to “Don” and had two young children. Don drank and smoked pot daily. They fought bitterly about money, the kids, intimacy, employment, dishes, cars, Kleenex, ink spots, unmade beds, the weather ad nauseum.
Diane and Don were both intensely unhappy, each blaming the other for their unhappiness. Don contended his drinking and drug use was because of Diane’s withdrawal and anger toward him. Diane contended that her depression was because of his drinking. Both demanded that the other change but strongly doubted the possibility.
Diane decided to divorce Don, and in the process of counseling, it was discovered she had been a drinker herself many years before. In fact, she had attended AA. Part of her unhappiness was her chronic need to control and her misunderstanding of Don’s disease because of her own issues with it. Don, for his part, was self-righteous, blaming and immature, a package that landed him in a bottle and a bag almost every day. His pride prevented him from seeing his own problems.
Is divorce the answer for Diane and Don? My opinion is someone needs to be the grownup. Someone needs to take a hard look at themselves and start the process of recovery. Once looking at things through cleaner glasses, that person can make better decisions in the best interest of the family.
Can people really change? Yes, but the changes are likely not to be the easily predictable ones and likely not in the expected manner or time.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.