Like anyone who drinks too much, your husband gets annoying and stupid when he’s intoxicated.
It might be nice if he never did that, but the bigger question is whether your man’s drinking is over the line.
Maybe he drinks every night, or drinks to oblivion on a regular basis, or gets mean when he drinks.
Maybe he’s missed work, family events, or had run-ins with the law from drinking. Maybe when he gets started he just keeps going on a bender for weeks.
Aren’t those indications that he’s got a problem?
And if he’s got a serious problem, then doesn’t that mean you have one too, since you’re married to a problem drinker, or maybe even an alcoholic?
It’s scary to think about, because we’ve all heard about the financial, emotional, and health problems drunks cause themselves and their families.
But does it have to be that way?
In my experience, wives have tremendous influence over their husband’s drinking. Knowing how to use that influence wisely can make a huge difference.
Here are 3 ways you can influence your husband’s drinking for the better.
(Actually, this works for any behavior you want to influence.)
1. Take Your Foot Off of the Accelerator
Of course, your husband is the only one who can decide how much he will drink, and how often.
You’re not responsible for his choices—not at all. But here’s what I’ve observed about human nature and wifely influence.
When a wife tells her husband not to drink, or asks if he thinks he should be drinking so much, or complains about his drinking, I have never seen that result in him drinking less.
Quite the opposite: he drinks even more.
Author John Gray says it’s like this: “When a man does not feel loved just the way he is, he will either consciously or unconsciously repeat the behavior that is not being accepted. He feels an inner compulsion to repeat the behavior until he feels loved and accepted.”
That explains a lot, don’t you think?
So if he doesn’t feel that you accept his drinking, he will repeat it until you do accept him—drinking and all.
It’s incredibly contrary, right? But here’s what’s interesting.
That doesn’t mean you can’t influence his drinking—in my experience, you definitely can.
The way to influence his drinking is to first accept it.
That does not mean you’re signing up for a lifetime of smelling his whiskey breath while he snores contentedly after he broke the lamp and knocked the picture off the wall. You are not agreeing to be the designated driver forever and ever, amen.
You are not agreeing to suffer endlessly if you accept his drinking. I’m not saying things will never improve.
Quite the opposite: accepting his drinking is a prerequisite to changing everything for the better, and it just means that you don’t tell him to change. It means you stop punishing, resenting, and criticizing him for his drinking.
If you want a husband who’s sober, and you’ve been telling him to drink less or to stop drinking, you were unwittingly pressing the button that makes him feel compelled to drink more.
Pressing the accelerator when you were looking for the brake can have really negative consequences. So it’s good to know which button you’re pressing.
Trying to control his drinking—even subtly, even mildly—is pushing the accelerator, not the brake.
This is true of trying to control any unwanted behavior in your husband.
2. Let Him Solve Your Problem Instead of Trying to Solve His
So you’ve accepted his drinking. Now what? How is that going to improve your situation, you might wonder.
Does this mean you should applaud him for closing down the bar on a school night again?
I wouldn’t suggest celebrating it, but you might just treat it like any other part of his life where he’s away. For example, you might say, “How was the pub last night?” in a light tone—the same one you’d use to say, “How was work?”
Then, ask yourself what it is about your husband’s drinking that’s impacting you, and speak to that directly, but not as a complaint.
For instance, let’s say he wakes you up at 2 a.m. when he gets home, and you can’t get back to sleep right away. You might say, “Can I borrow your brain? I’m trying to get more sleep lately, and I notice I have trouble getting back to sleep after you come home. I’m trying to figure out how to solve that one.”
See how that’s all about you and not about his drinking?
You would want to say this in a normal, neutral voice, not a dripping-with-resentment one. And when he makes a suggestion, you want to be open to whatever that is and try it on.
If he says, “How about sleeping with earplugs in?” and you want to be able to hear the kids if they wake up, you can say exactly that.
You don’t have to do what he suggests if it doesn’t fit for you.
The goal is not to be compliant, but to honor your own desires. If what he suggests doesn’t match what you want, then keep going—say more about what you want.
This may seem like a subtle shift, but addressing your desires around how his drinking impacts you as challenges for him to help you solve instead of complaining or criticizing him is powerful.
3. Expect the Best
If you’re expecting negative consequences because he drinks too much, you’re expecting the worst.
You may have lots of evidence that bad things happen when he drinks, so this seems normal and natural.
But since what you focus on increases, why not focus on how he hasn’t been drinking as much, or he doesn’t drink anymore?
Better yet, how about taking all of your focus off his drinking and instead focus on what a good listener he is, or how reliable he is, or how he seems like the opposite of what you’re worried about?
When you expect the best out of someone, and show them you believe in them with words and actions, they tend to live up to your expectations.
As you’re reading this you might be wondering if I have even a basic understanding about the nature of addiction or alcoholism. You might be thinking, but what if he has a disease?
You might think none of this will have any effect. You might think I’m incredibly naïve for suggesting something so dangerous.
You’re the expert on your own life, so you get to decide what is best for you.
If you think you can control his drinking, if what you’ve been doing has been working along those lines, then you’re all good.
But if what you’ve been doing feels exhausting and ineffective, then what could it hurt to experiment with another approach?
One woman did just that with her husband, whom she described as an alcoholic because he drank so much every night.
She decided to start affirming her husband for drinking so much less, and to tell him how much she was enjoying that. Two weeks later when we spoke she said she was shocked that her husband hadn’t had a drop to drink in two weeks. She couldn’t believe just how much influence she had.
You might just be shocked at how much influence you have to bring out the best in your husband when you use your powers wisely.