She Still Wants Him, But Sober
Q: Five years ago, I reconnected with a college classmate from 40-something years ago. We started dating, but I told him I wasn't comfortable with his chronic drinking, and he agreed to abstain. Before long, he moved in with me and seemed to stay sober for a while. Soon, though, he relapsed. I stood strong on my boundaries, and he showed signs of much remorse, offering to try harder. I kept urging him to seek help, but he did not want that. After many failed attempts, he drew closer to accepting some help, but still it would always fail. Finally I said I could not handle the roller coaster pattern, and we would have to remain separated to see if he would commit to sobriety by staying dry over a designated period of time (30 days).
That was a year ago, and he has been unable to do so. For a while he lamented how terrible it was to be living without me, but he still wouldn't get the help he needed. I miss him but I cannot take the personality change which happens to him when there is any alcohol in his system. I hate to give up. What do you suggest? — Eleanor, 62
Dr. Susan: Sadly, it sounds as though he's the one who has given up. If, throughout an entire year, he wasn't able to stay sober or get into a program to help him do that, then there's nothing else you can do to affect his addictive behavior. He has chosen not to make the extraordinary effort it would take to beat his addiction. You did the right thing by sticking to your boundaries around the matter. Sometimes an ultimatum works, and sometimes it doesn't. Don't think of it as giving up. Think of it as letting him decide if being with you is worth real effort. And it obviously isn't, judging from his actions. Otherwise you'd be stuck on that drunken personality change see-saw again, and that's no life to choose.
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Advice for Her
Advice for Him
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.