Question: I am having a really hard time deciding on appropriate boundaries for me and what would be in his best interest as well. I have explained in the past that my husband is typically much sweeter when he has drank and easier to get along with, unless a conflict arises. Most evenings he will have a few beers before he comes home from work (I’m not sure how many) and whenever we have date nights he orders a few beers or margaritas. We went to a Christian marriage counselor in the past and he was helping us come up with a compromise in this area. He thought a good one would ask my husband to limit his drinks to two when we are out on a date or a social gathering or whatever. Do you think this is a good boundary or should I require no drinking when we are out together? I have read somewhere in one of your articles that even 1 or 2 drinks for an alcoholic can put them in la-la land. The other question has been about physical intimacy. He typically is much more lovey when he’s had some alcohol and not sloppy drunk (rarely) and I don’t know what to do with that. Please help me with giving your opinion on boundaries. I have prayed a lot about these issues and am not receiving clarity. Thank you for your ministry.
Marriage Guidance: You are welcome. We are always happy to help others understand and know about how to deal with alcoholism in the family. The first thing to remember is to know “whom” the boundaries are for.
What is a boundary?
In the context of relationships a boundary is letting someone know what you will allow and what you will not allow or tolerate. Each family member needs to make their own personal boundaries according to their relationship with the alcoholic.
Tying to set boundaries for an alcoholic is like telling a turtle to hurry up. Boundaries are not for the alcoholic because no one truly can make an alcoholic do anything. This is precisely “why” it is called an addiction. When you tell an alcoholic what they can and cannot do, they may follow through and they may not follow through, usually it is the latter. Alcoholism is a progressive condition, which eventually makes the alcoholic change the rules to meet their own alcoholic demands. Do you see why they call alcoholism an insidious condition? Because it is!
Most spouses of alcoholics only need to learn to detach and set boundaries for themselves. Rescue yourself from the snares of the alcoholic’s behaviors, and when you do this it will also influence the alcoholic to take responsibility for their problem. Spouses and loved ones of alcoholics have to be careful because most of the time they focus too much attention on the alcoholic and their alcoholic behaviors. They focus more of their time and energy on the alcoholic rather than themselves and this it what causes them to become stressed out and emotionally drained by the end of the day.
The hard facts are alcoholics are going to do what alcoholics do best — behave alcoholic! There is no getting around this. Most spouses of alcoholics mean well and only want what is best for the drinker, but trying to control the amount they drink, or throwing out the drink, or asking the drinker to make promises they cannot keep is focusing too much on the alcoholic. Instead of trying to make the alcoholic do something, such as, only have one or two drinks when you go out together to a restaurant, simply do not go out to a restaurant with the alcoholic at all. This way you are not making demands on the alcoholic but protecting your emotional well being. There is a difference here. The difference is you are not trying to control or make demands on the alcoholic (remember, they don’t work) but helping yourself and your emotional health.
So then, your boundary would not be to try and control the amount of alcohol they drink, but to simply not go out with them because you do not want to subject yourself to being around the alcoholic when they drink. These small sacrifices help you and help them, even if at the time it doesn’t seem like it does help them. Nothing good in life comes with out our effort and sometimes sacrifices and maybe even suffering. This is what makes us stronger people in the Lord. Only a person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ could make such sacrifices for the alcoholic they love. Many spouses of alcoholics simply divorce the alcoholic but that does nothing to help you or them or your relationship with God.
In essence it is your faith that brings the alcoholic to Christ, not selfishness and leaving them and getting a divorce. We have written so much free information on the ministry website to help you take care of you, which in turn will help the alcoholic. Don’t let alcoholism steal another minute of your day. Become informed about how to detach and heal.
In some very rare instances the alcoholic does not do anything to merit detachment, such as what you are saying about intimacy. If your alcoholic husband is not sloppy drunk then there is no problem. I believe it would become more of a problem if you were to deny him sex with you on the grounds that he has been drinking when clearly he is not doing anything offensive towards you in the bedroom. Do you see what I am saying here? Sometimes you just need to use a little discernment in sensitive areas.
Your particular situation is different than most women. A lot of times the alcoholic is so sloppy drunk he can’t actually have sex, or they are so drunk they are selfish, smelly, rude, etc, during intimacy. Every ones situation is a little bit different. And because we cannot write out each and every situation you will have to be discerning in certain areas to meet your circumstances.
It may seem like an oxymoron to make the boundary to not go out with the alcoholic after a few drinks but then become sexually intimate with them later. But the difference here is simply that sex is a human need, going out to a restaurant for dinner is not. A big aspect of marriage, and I believe our responsibility as husbands and wives, is to fulfill our spouses needs the best we can, in all areas. If fulfilling our spouses sexual needs were not a big deal, I don’t think that scripture would have bothered to mention it. But it is mentioned and so I take it to mean it is a big deal!
The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. 1 Corinthians 7:5
Now, on the other hand, if he stays out late at night and you don’t know where he has been, or if he were sloppy and disgusting in the bedroom, then yes, you would need to figure out something else here. Understand that detachment is because YOU are offended by something the alcoholic is doing or how they are behaving. And because it would be nonsensical to try and demand or control something from the alcoholic, instead you would make personal boundaries for yourself.
For an example, if your husband were sloppy, smelly, dirty and then wanting to have sex with you, you might want to tell him that you want to make love to him but not when he is drinking. So that would be your personal boundary. “Don’t have sex with husband after he has been drinking.” This way you are not telling the alcoholic what he can do but rather protecting your emotional well being and possibly physical health. You’re not saying you won’t EVER have sex with him either, but only when he drinks. So this would not be denying him anything — he can choose to not drink.
Another example would be if your alcoholic husband has been unfaithful and often stays out late at night. You certainly do not have to have sex with him and subject yourself to a disease or worse HIV or AIDS. Circumstances are different for every individual and so it is up to your discretion what personal boundaries you may have to put in place for yourself.
I hope this helps you to understand more about detachment and setting boundaries for yourself. The bottom line here is take care of YOU by detaching when you know you need to detach and setting boundaries to protect your personal well being and health. And doing this will indirectly help the alcoholic as well.