A listener question came in recently asking about enabling an alcoholic spouse. Since I have mentioned on the show I grew up with alcoholic parents, the listener thought MOD Love Radio was the place to go for advice on how to proceed with her marriage.
I’ve heard you mention you grew up with alcoholic parents, so I figured you could offer some advice for my situation. My husband of 10 years is an alcoholic. He’s had numerous DUI’s and treatment stints and now has lost his job, putting us in a dire financial situation. His therapist told me to stop enabling him and my friends tell me to leave, but if I leave him he’ll be homeless. I don’t know what to do. Should I kick him out and have my two kids see me put their dad on the street? I even have trouble working because I can’t trust him to even be home alone any more to wait for the kids to get home from school. I don’t know if helping him by not kicking him out or if I’m enabling him. Help!
To begin, kudos for your bravery in writing and for taking on so much for your family. You are shouldering a huge weight. You are being mom and dad to two children in addition to dealing with the pressures of being married to an alcoholic. That is no easy feat.
Enabling versus helping
Let’s first talk about what it means to help and what it means to enable. Helping is situational. Someone is in a difficult position and needs assistance, you step in to help. Helping works to get someone from a difficult situation into one that better serves them. A great example of this is helping a friend find a job or update a resume after a job loss.
Enabling is more about the continuous helping of someone to stay in a situation that’s dangerous or harmful. It’s a situation that does not serve them well. Enabling is really helping someone self-destruct. From what you have told me in your email, your situation falls more under the enabling category.
Start where you are
Since you mention he has been in treatment previously; my guess is that you are past the intervention stage. He knows there is a problem; he’s just not entered into recovery yet. Based on this, you must ask yourself what is going to be best for your family as a whole. Is it best to continue as you are with your husband not getting any help and your family going further into debt? Or would it be beneficial to try something different? The only way alcoholics (or any of us for that matter) change is because the pain of staying as they are, is greater than the pain of changing. You holding everything together keeps your husband from feeling the discomfort of the natural consequences of his actions. This is probably what the therapist is talking about when she says you enable him.
As for whether you should have your husband leave home depends on if you think you can detach yourself enough from him to allow him to experience the consequences of his actions while he is still in your home. This is only a question that you can answer for yourself. It is not mandatory you separate especially if you want to work on your marriage as he gets sober (if he indeed chooses sobriety).
Get thee to Alanon
Regardless of your decision to stay with him or kick him out, get yourself to Alanon. This is a group solely for family members of alcoholics where you’ll meet others who are either going through the same issues or have already gone through them. Alcoholism is a family disease and you and your kids need support as well as your husband does. Google local chapters in your area and put their meetings on your schedule. Many even have childcare for your kids or have alateen and alatot meetings for the kids.
Before you can really think of helping your husband anymore, you have to help yourself and your children. Otherwise, you will all spiral down with him. You have been strong enough to carry things this far and by leaning on your Alanon family, they can help give you the strength to make the tough decisions ahead.
Jodi Riley, Dating and Happiness Mentor, is the founder of the 5 Steps for Better Living System and the host of the weekly dating and relating radio show MOD Love. To connect with her, visit www.jodiriley.com.