Addiction. It’s really complicated. Unfortunately, there is no canned answer about whether or not the spouse of a person in recovery “should” or “should not” ever, ever, ever take a drink. Details surrounding recovery (and the new relationship that forms as a result) are very different for every couple. That said, regarding your particular situation, here are a few things to consider:
- Roles. Loved ones of addicts/alcoholics (especially after years in the role) often sink into the role of caretaker. Then, when the addict is in recovery, the majority of the couple’s energy and focus moves to the recovery process, because recovery is extremely difficult, and the focus needs to be on recovery – especially early on. However, in the process, sometimes not enough attention is paid to the overall change in relationship dynamics and how difficult that can be for partners of addicts. Suddenly a person who has played the “parent” in many cases, is called to quickly transition to the role of cheerleader, support system and overall recovery rock. That can be tough! If the transition into recovery isn’t carefully planned and navigated as a team, the non-addicted spouse can become resentful – a great segue to the second topic…
- Resentment. At the risk of stating the obvious, it seems from your tone and choice of words that you may be a little resentful toward your wife since her recovery. Is this the case because you can no longer drink together? Because your wife has changed in fundamental ways now that she doesn’t drink? Because you’re expected not to drink any longer, simply because she chose to be in recovery? These are questions only you can answer, but you should prepare yourself that eventually, pesky, little resentments either get faced (and resolved) or they start to erode the relationship. Ultimately, your goal will be to get to a place where the focus is not on drinking or addiction or even recovery, but on your relationship.
- Support structure. Every lasting structure needs strong supports, especially marriage. It sounds like your wife is reaching out for your support by asking you not to drink around her. Rather than feeling she is controlling your behavior by asking you to make that sacrifice, try to frame her need for support in another way: If she had cancer, and the only way to keep it at bay was to refrain from… say… cheese (even if cheese were your favorite food, and you previously enjoyed grilled cheese on cheese, dipped in cheese), you’d stop eating cheese. I’d bet you wouldn’t even think twice about it, because the alternative – eating something in front of your wife that would (literally) kill her – would seem cruel. A member of our Tokii staff who worked in addictions says she used to hear from a lot of clients, “I don’t drink much. It’s no big deal.” You seem to echo a similar sentiment – that you drink alcohol only on rare occasions. If this is the case – in the big scheme of things – is it more important for you to maintain the social luxury of drinking occasionally, or is it important to help your wife (who has specifically reached out for the support) with the lifesaving effort of her recovery by giving up those few drinks a year?
With total focus on one another as people (versus addicts/non-addicts/etc.); some mutual understanding about how your roles have (and will continue to) change with your wife’s recovery; and the resolve to replace resentments and power struggles with unconditional shows of love and support, you may be surprised to find that details like if you drink, how often you drink and what you drink will become just that. Details.
Addiction issues, especially in the context of relationships, are complex. Recovery issues are equally as complex. First understanding, and then adapting to changes in relationship dynamics is critical for a relationship to thrive during recovery. We highly recommend the investment of time, love and energy to do just that (because once the initial transition is made, “the new couple” you’ll become will be rewarding in ways you never imagined!)