Your wife’s not a bitch.
She doesn’t have her stuff that’s making the relationship bad, too. She’s not half, or even partially, to blame.
I don’t know your wife, but I do know this…It’s not her fault.
I had a friend in college who was really skeptical about my easy friendships with women. I got along great with his girlfriend, in fact, and I could tell by the way he looked at me sometimes, he didn’t like that at all. He thought interacting with girls was for one reason, and one reason only: trying to get into their pants. He was much better looking than me, so he really didn’t have anything about which to be worried. I think about him a lot when I make statements like the one I opened with.
I’m not defending women so they’ll like me. I’m not trying to get in the collective pants of all the women married to alcoholics. In fact, my statement applies to men married to female alcoholics, or same-sex marriages and gender-neutral situations. Who you are isn’t important. What is important is that it is not your fault. Not even a little bit.
It is time to blame the alcohol. Not the spouse. Not even the alcoholic. It is alcohol’s fault.
My writing coach taught me to stick to my story. “No one can argue with your story,” she explained. “When you start telling people what they should do, you open yourself up to conflict. Stick to your story, and your readers will either resonate, or they won’t.” That’s good advice. I have drifted in and out of following it over the years. I have certainly written my story about abusive alcohol consumption, and the resulting aftermath. I have been self-deprecating and humble when describing the destruction my alcoholism brought to my marriage. I have told my story, and many have related.
But the message of my experience isn’t strong enough, and I’m not afraid of conflict.
So, I’ll say it again. Your wife is not a bitch. If you think she is – if you are determined to lay some of the wreckage at her feet – you are wasting valuable time that could be better spent trying to put the pieces back together.
Alcohol changes the people who spend time in its proximity, and pouring it down your throat is not a requirement. It changes drinkers. It changes spouses. It changes children. It changes close friends. It changes other loved ones. Alcohol dysregulates the nervous systems of the people who spend significant time in its shadow. It keeps the loved ones in a constant state of fight or flight. Are you having trouble understanding what I mean? Pretend a bear who wants to eat you is constantly following you around. How do you think that would feel? Do you suppose that would impact your sleep? Would you be perpetually paranoid? Might the bear challenge your ability to relax and find peace?
Maybe you think my comparison of an alcoholic to a bear is a stretch. I know a lot of wives of alcoholics who would prefer to take their chances with the bear. At least the bear is predictable. Don’t get hung up on the bear. The point is, alcoholism leaves the loved ones in a constant state of hyper-vigilance that is damaging to their neurology and their biology.
If your brain and body was being destroyed by a substance someone else was consuming, and you had absolutely no control over that consumption, do you think that might make you a little prickly? Your behavior might even be considered a skosh bitchy.
I can understand why alcoholics think the marriage problems are, at least partially, the fault of their wives. Hell, I thought my own wife, Sheri, bore a chunk of the responsibility years into my permanent sobriety. I loved her. I knew she was trying. But she was still cold and distant. She could never seem to relax when we were having sex, and she was quick to flash back to distant memories. It seemed like she wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. It seemed to me that her resistance and reluctance was on her. She was kind of a bitch.
I was so wrong.
Sheri was reacting to trauma and chaos in a natural and predictable way. Her nervous system was tied in knots. She had been so convincingly indoctrinated by alcohol to not trust me that she was just carrying out the orders that the addict that lived inside me had repeatedly issued.
If you don’t want your wife to act like a bitch, maybe don’t be an accomplice to a toxic substance that’s trying to turn her into one.
That’s both my experience and my advice. Feel free to argue.
On the chance that my contention makes sense to you, maybe you are curious about what you can do to fix the situation. That answer is easy (we alcoholics really like compartmentalized, black and white, easy answers).
You can do nothing fast.
That’s a sucky answer for us alcoholics. Just like sobriety fixes nothing, but it is a prerequisite, understanding that relationship recovery is probably a taller challenge than sobriety is an important first step. So, you can’t do anything to fix the situation. At least not quickly. But you can do things to move you slowly into position to incrementally improve your situation over a long period of time (years).
The first phase of transition toward a healthy relationship is to embrace the concept that your wife is not a bitch. Any little aspect of your relationship struggles that you think might be her fault…adjust that mentality. Free her from the burden of carrying any and all responsibility. I know what you might be thinking. I know I drank too much, but she is such a nag. I’ve been sober for a while now, and she still won’t sleep in the same bed with me. And what about how she over-functions for the kids? All of this (and so much more dysfunction) is totally normal. Channeling my best Carvillesque sentiment: It’s not her. It’s the alcohol, stupid.
I know it’s probably pretty ineffective to call someone stupid that I am trying to convince that I am right. Perhaps you’re picking up some frustration in my attitude. Well, you’re right. I am frustrated. I want people to find peace and harmony, and so many couples get stuck pointing the finger. It is like trying to run a marathon with cinder blocks for shoes. It is a non-starter.
If you have or had an addiction to alcohol, you’ve found the smoking gun. Quit asking your wife to touch the ink pad to give you a sample of her fingerprints.
When I finally embraced the concept that alcohol was 100% to blame, and absolutely none of it was my wife’s fault, it was a real relief. My picker wasn’t broken. I had, in fact, chosen a wonderful woman with whom to spend the whole rest of my life. Realizing I was not married to a bitch was an enormous relief.
That’s the prerequisite in this work. Accept that she’s not to blame for what your drinking did to her. Own it. Tattoo it on your forearm so you can refer to it early and often. Free your mind from the mental gymnastics of trying to find the culprit in all of the little uncomfortable and dysfunctional situations. Drop the pipe and take off the stupid-looking two-billed had, Sherlock. Alcohol done it. Your wife is innocent.
Once you believe it like it’s your job, then you can enter into the other grueling phases of relationship recovery. Only then can you work on resentment processing, grieving the relationship you wanted, communicating with the kids, rebuilding trust and finding intimate connection. It is hard work that requires years of good memories to replace bad alcoholic recollections.
And none of it can get started until you know where to place the blame. Elementary, my dear alcoholic.
If you are ready to discuss, and even debate, this and other universalisms of alcoholism and recovery with other high-functioning alcoholics in sobriety, please consider joining us in SHOUT Sobriety.