Dear Amy: My fiance is a toxic drunk. The last time he drank, he became verbally, emotionally and very nearly physically abusive toward me.
It was the second time this had happened in our eight-year relationship, so I left him.
I returned only when he promised to quit drinking and get therapy. He has already reneged on the therapy, and today when we went shopping, we walked by the beer aisle and I looked at one beer I wanted to try, but when he also started looking at brands of beer, I felt very upset.
Was this rational, or is this a double standard on my part?
Dear Worried: Therapy isn’t only a good idea for “toxic drunks” — it is also helpful for people coping with the personal and relational fallout from another person’s drinking. You should consider therapy for yourself. Al-anon (al-anon.org) could be particularly helpful to you. At meetings, you would learn from other friends and family members of alcoholics that the anxiety you feel surrounding alcohol and drinking is common — and, yes, it is rational. It is also rational for someone trying to give up an addiction to fetishize the objects surrounding their addiction. The smoker loves the look (and smell) of an ashtray; the alcoholic will be drawn to the sensations brought on by beer bottles and brands.
You have the right to live your own life the way you want to. That includes drinking beer. However, if I were in a committed relationship with a mean drunk, I don’t think I would spend a lot of time browsing the beer aisles with him. I’m wondering if you might be willing to honor and respect your fiance’s healthier choices and challenges, and support his sobriety by avoiding the beer aisle, at least for now.
Dear Amy: The question from “Very Hurt New Wife” reminded me of my own situation. Like this new wife, I married an older man (we are both retirement age), who likes to stay busy and basically works all of the time.
After a long period of adjustment (where I thought about leaving the marriage), I finally saw that my husband was happy, occupied and that his work habits were keeping him engaged and healthy.
So, instead of asking him to do less, I started doing more. We are both very busy and engaged, and we’re still pretty happy to see one another at the end of the day.
— Happily Married
Dear Married: I’m impressed.
Dear Amy: I’ve been with my wife for almost 20 years. We have a 12-year-old son.
The problem is my in-laws.
I know I’m supposed to be cordial and hope that things get better, but after all these years things are what they are. I know nothing is going to change.
I would rather stay home than be anywhere with my in-laws.
I feel like I have paid my dues (20 years’ worth), and if I want to stay home for the holidays, then it should be my choice. What is your opinion?
— Ho-Ho Humbug
Dear Humbug: You don’t detail how your in-laws’ behavior contributes to this poor relationship, but you are obviously resigned to a completely static state regarding them. But even if they can’t/won’t change, can you? And could some changes on your end make a difference?
Yes, you are “supposed to be cordial,” but — here’s the tough part — you’re supposed to be cordial even if things don’t get better.
In this context (and many others), your behavior is all you have. So yes, you should behave in a way where you can feel good about your choices. This does not mean that you should tolerate abuse, but there are cordial ways of reacting — for instance, by saying, “I don’t like the way this is going, so please excuse me — I’m going to take a break,” and exiting from the scene.
One of your jobs as a parent is to demonstrate to your son how people should behave when they are presented with challenges and disappointments. Do you want your son to see that Dad would rather miss Christmas than tolerate his son’s grandparents?
It would be great if you and your wife could come up with a holiday plan that minimizes your exposure to these people. If they live locally, you might want to drive two cars to their home, if possible. That way you could make an appearance, but then be able to quietly exit when/if things get too sticky for you.