My Fiance May Be an Alcoholic. Should I Stay with Him?

My Fiance May Be an Alcoholic. Should I Stay with Him?

I have followed your much-revered advice in dating and have since found and established a wonderful relationship for what I hope my fiance and I will thrive in for the rest of our lives. We just have one snag we can’t seem to get past despite even our best efforts exercising patience, generosity and kind but frank communication to one another. One evening, about a year and a half into our relationship, I discovered my boyfriend at the time, Bill, at his home, by himself, on his couch, surrounded by lots of empty beer cans. I asked Bill what was going on and he broke down in tears, saying that he thinks he has a problem with alcohol. He told me that it seems to run in his family as his father and both grandfathers were heavy problem drinkers with DUIs, as well as perpetrators of vicious, alcohol-related domestic violence. He got private counselling sessions after the incident and afterwards established new boundaries he created between himself and alcohol. No more getting drunk and no more drinking by himself outside of social situations. He asked if these boundaries made me comfortable enough to progress the relationship (which I was verging to break off) and I said yes.

Fast forward two and a half years later: as our relationship thrived, we enthusiastically got engaged and moved in together. Bill (now 32) had no slip ups drinking or getting drunk that whole duration and we could easily keep beer/wine in the fridge without worry for future social events. Life is good…but just recently he mentioned how he wanted to have a beer here and there by himself again and, I admit, I (now 27) just froze in terror. I told him I wouldn’t be comfortable given his own admittance to a past problem as well as his family history and I would prefer if he just stood by the original boundaries he made for himself 2.5 years before.

Since then he’s been calling those boundaries “My rules” and has a bitter if not resentful and embarrassed relationship with them, claiming it’s me trying to “control him.” I’m absolutely devastated and to an extent feel tricked into this place. I don’t know what to do. He says he will follow “my rules” because he would rather do that then potentially lose me, but the bitterness behind it doesn’t feel right and every time I bring it up he says something resentful and shuts the conversation down. The rest of our relationship is truly life-giving and wonderful, but I don’t know what to do. How heavily should one weigh genetics and family history when making a lifelong relationship choice. How do you know the difference between a glaring red flag and normal bumps in a relationship. Should I stay?

Longtime reader and first-time writer,

That’s a rough one, my friend.

First of all, if I were you, I’d seek professional help from Al-Anon, an organization that specializes in helping friends of alcoholics. I’m just a guy with an opinion.

Looking at it from your side, it’s easy to see why you’re alarmed. You certainly don’t want to go down the road that Bill’s mother and grandmothers went down. You’re afraid for your future. You don’t like the tone Bill’s taken since his admission. You don’t want him to feel controlled but, at the same time, you don’t want to build a relationship on a risky foundation. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, they say.

He may have a family history of it and may have abused it a few times in his 20’s, but that doesn’t mean he is like his father and grandfathers.

But here’s the thing: I’m not positive he’s an alcoholic. He may have a family history of it and may have abused it a few times in his 20’s, but that doesn’t mean he is like his father and grandfathers. If anything, his self-awareness allowed him to prevent a potential problem from blossoming. For this reason, I hold him in a different category than other alcoholics, like my wife’s uncle, who go to meetings twice a week and never touch a drop of alcohol, so careful they have to be to avoid falling into their old patterns.

The way you make it sound, Emma, Bill drinks somewhat like the rest of us drink – socially.

And since he seems to be in a good place with you and his relationship to booze, he’s wondering if he has to adhere to the rules he put in place a few years ago, which are pretty rigid. I, too, am a social drinker – 95% is out at parties or restaurants – but I’d be lying if I said I never had a beer or a scotch my myself. On the other hand, I’m not considered at-risk for self-destructive behavior, so perhaps the rules are not universal for all people.

Ultimately, I think there are two things to consider here:

First is how much you trust him as a man, a human being, and your future husband. If you believe in him because he did the right thing three years ago, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to loosen the rules a little bit. If it becomes a problem, you always have the right to walk away from the relationship, but we don’t know it’s going to become a problem.

The other issue – the one I’m personally more concerned about – is the potential gaslighting that’s going on when he turns things around and says he’s living under YOUR rules. That’s revisionist history and his ability to press his case as if that’s true is not a good harbinger of a sound marriage with healthy communication. It sounds like a child, a narcissist, or, if you may, an alcoholic, who is willing to say anything to get what he wants.

I think you should have a heart-to-heart conversation with him – not as his opponent, but as his caring fiancé. Acknowledge his bravery for changing his habits a few years ago. Acknowledge that it’s probably not a big deal to have an occasional drink outside the original rules. Get him to acknowledge the reason you’re afraid of the worst-case scenario. And then bring it back to the communication piece – let him know that it feels bad when he’s giving you a guilt trip over a rule that HE imposed when he was vulnerable – a rule that was designed to preserve both his health and your relationship. Let him know that you don’t want to be the bad guy but you have to have an honest conversation about how you got here and where you go from here. His reaction to this conversation will be far more telling than whether he has a beer after work one day.

Good luck and please let us know how it goes.

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  1. 1

    Al-Anon, Al-Anon, Al-Anon. That’s what you can do for yourself. And whether he’s an alcoholic or a stone-cold teetotaler, only he can control himself. So if he says they’re “your rules”… he believes it’s what you want, and not what he wants, and that’s a disaster. He’s also said he thinks he has a problem, and as EMP pointed out, that’s some revisionist gaslighting going on.

    Full disclosure: I dated a man whom I strongly believed to be an alcoholic, but when I tried raising the issue of his drinking he’d turn it around on me. And then, he got a DUI, for falling asleep on the freeway. I got him out of jail — and immediately told him that I understood it was his choice for what he felt best for him, but I was leaving because I’d decided I couldn’t be around his drinking. Whether or not he thought there was a problem, that was his business, but it was a problem for me. And I was more than ready to walk; I said that presuming he’d still drink.

    But, he didn’t. The DUI forced him to confront the reality, he apologized for the gaslighting, he promised to go to AA, and he did. He’s now 3 years sober. We are now married, and we are very lucky to have each other. And while I always supported him in creating that sobriety, it 100% belongs to him.

    Good luck. And seriously, Al-Anon. It’s awesome.

  2. 2

    Hmmmmmm…….substance abuse (including prescription drugs like Ambien and opiates), is an instant “next” for me. Since I am way older than her stated age of 27, I have made more mistakes with women by not heeding the red flags.

    I know I come off like an alarmist but my personal and observed experience, is that it often ends up badly but like Karen stated above, not always.

    Here’s what I know: Believe his behavior. Not what he tells you. If his drinking is moderated and only in a public setting, then you’re probably ok. If he’s exhibiting behavioral changes, hiding liquor, needed something to take the edge off at the end of the day…every day, then you might want to re-consider your path to commitment. Al-Anon helps people understand and deal with their addicted loved one. You may want to re-think this. Heed Evan’s advice about the conversation.

    1. 2.1

      Absolutely. What he does, not what he says. Had my (now) husband given me lip service, I would have bailed immediately.

      While I know my clear intent to leave the relationship resonated deeply with him, I also know that he didn’t do it only for me. There were so many indications in his life that he had a problem with alcohol. Ultimately, it was (and always will be) his choice. Our love, and my threat to leave, wasn’t what made him change. He did.

    2. 2.2

      ‘If he’s exhibiting behavioral changes, hiding liquor, needed something to take the edge off at the end of the day…’

      Many people have a drink on their own to take the edge off. I occasionally have a beer or two in the evening on my own if I feel like it. People throwing a tantrum over this type of thing are really just self righteous in my book. I can’t fully comment on the OP’s story since she’s offered incomplete information, but simply getting upset over a lot of beer cans on one occasion does sound bizarre. I’d honestly break it off with a controlling person like that quick.

  3. 3

    Reading this letter makes me wonder if there might be something besides alcohol going on here. Guy consistent about following his own guidelines about drinking for 2.5 years, mentions he’d like to have a beer by himself now and then. Why? I mean, why not just have one? What is to be gained by …trying to get the fiance’s permission? And the fact he even mentioned it made her “freeze in terror”? Given the history she shared, that seems overly dramatic to me.

    And she writes: “He says he will follow “my rules” because he would rather do that then potentially lose me, but the bitterness behind it doesn’t feel right and every time I bring it up he says something resentful and shuts the conversation down.”

    If he is not drinking to excess, or drinking by himself, why does she keep bringing it up? Resentment on his part may not be unwarranted. Makes me wonder if there might be other unresolved issues going on.

    Some couples counseling might be worth considering before signing the marriage license.

  4. 4

    I’m with Evan, don’t think he’s an alcoholic. Having grown up with them my whole life, can tell you there is no mistaking when someone is an alcoholic. Trust me, you KNOW. There is damage done all around. Lost job, fractured relationships, DUI, money problems, physical health issues. None of these signs are present other than he went on a bender or two and he’s paranoid about his family history. If he’s been sober for 2+ years, on his own, that is rare. Most alcoholics can’t do this without help and several tries before getting it right, if they ever do at all. Most can’t kick it, the recover odds are bad unfortunately. Which points to he doesn’t really have a problem. Also agree with Evan his approach to this lacks maturity, blaming you and “your” rules. However, I also think your reaction is extreme for the situation. I think you both need to work this out with a counselor who is objective to help you come to a solid place on this.

  5. 5

    Look up “dry drunk” and approach this situation with caution. Also you mentioned that his father was a perpetrator of domestic violence y if he grew up in that environment that would aleso concern.

  6. 6

    Helping someone with this issue is hard. And even more if you love him. I know that very well. We struggled with it for many years until I saw a recommendation for this guide by Ellen Petersen. I got it here –
    Excellent approach, which turned out to be a godsend so I can easily say that it’s the best help so far and believe me I have read a lot of books in my life about alcoholism. Hope it will help others too

    1. 6.1

      This is the definition of a COMPLETE GUIDE to helping an alcoholic! Perfect! Thanks for sharing

    2. 6.2

      This is the definition of a COMPLETE GUIDE to helping an alcoholic! Perfect! Thanks for sharing

    3. 6.3

      I’m surprised that I haven’t heard of it before. It was so worth to spend a few $ to read this guide and change my perspective. I’m glad it’s a short guide and not 300 pages. Thanks!

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