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He Gets Mean and Verbally Abusive

Man pouring a drink child under table

This Allies in Recovery member, 547rose, wrote in expressing great frustration over her husband's blame-shifting. She also inquires about how and when to reward, given that moments of sobriety are rare…

"My husband is excellent at blame shifting. He knows that I will not engage with him in any important conversation when he is drinking, but yet he always starts with me when he is drinking. I tell him that I am not discussing anything with him and he keeps going and going. His latest thing is telling me that I need to work more and double my salary – I already work full time outside the home and every other Sunday in a different job as well as pick up extra here and there at my place of employment. He makes very good money 6 figures and is now stating I should be making as much as him. My industry does not pay that way – and if I worked 2 full time jobs – when would I sleep, take care of kids, the house etc. It is very irrational as we are not in need of extra money to survive – by any means. He becomes very mean and verbally abusive. It is very hard the next day to try and catch him sober and reward him, but I also want him to be accountable and realize how much he has hurt me – or at least see how irrational his thinking is. This is where I continue to struggle with coping strategies. I try in the moment to distance myself – but at times he just keeps coming at me trying to argue w/me – I think this has escalated as he sees I won't engage with him – it is the aftermath and needing time to work through my emotions – especially when he wakes up as if nothing occurred. This site has been very helpful and I know it is practice on my part to find what works."

Stepping away when your Loved One is using can be difficult. You describe your husband “starting with you” and “coming at you,” when he drinks. I can imagine him physically following you around as you try to disengage.

First, assess the risk of physical danger

The first thing is to assess whether the verbal abuse and his meanness could escalate to anything physical. Learning Module 2 is about your safety. Verbal abuse is abuse, we are aware of this. If verbal abuse is all that happens you can still work this program (many family members experience angry verbal abuse with Loved Ones); if it's anything more than that, we would advise you not to do CRAFT. While CRAFT neutralizes and deescalates conflict, there is no guarantee this will be the case; we don’t want you taking chances with someone who can be physically violent. If physical abuse is possible, you need domestic violence help. Your safety is paramount. Even well-meaning CRAFT suggestions can backfire and be misread by your Loved One. Do not try to change your behavior when physical abuse is possible, address the abuse first.

You express wanting your husband to be aware of his behavior, how he hurts you in these moments, how irrational he is, how unfair are his demands for you to do more.

How difficult it is to endure a Loved One who is self-absorbed and who disregards your feelings. As long as your Loved One continues to abuse alcohol, things are unlikely to change much. Simply put, insight and growth are not the strong suit of someone who continues to blur his world with alcohol.

Here's the CRAFT take on your situation

If you believe your husband’s meanness has its limits and you feel safe, and you want to do CRAFT, then let’s apply CRAFT to your situation.

With the first sign that your husband is going to drink, think about leaving. Where can you and the children go? To sleep? To a friend’s house? To the park? Can your family help? This is tough and won’t be possible every time. Can you announce that you and the kids are going to their room to play a game? Your instincts to disengage from him are good. This is about finding a few things that help you succeed in getting away from him.

This is totally not fair to you or the children. But this is not about being fair. You are trying to leave him alone, physically and/or emotionally. In these moments, the family disengages. He should be left to fend for himself. The family is not normal in these circumstances. Dinner is not on the table; you are not all watching TV together.

I’m afraid your need to be heard and appreciated, and not picked at for not earning more, is going to have to wait. Do not take what he says while drinking personally. Do not expect more from him. This is it, your husband is drunk. Do not expect him to remember his nastiness the next day. He is withdrawing that next day. Do not step in at this point with rewards. He isn’t meeting the definition of “not using” the morning after. 

Accepting that this is your reality for now will hopefully decrease your level of upset, and help you clarify your role and motivate you to carry forward.

Along with disengaging from him when he drinks, the strategy to shift the situation is to step in when he isn’t using, improve your communication, soften the dialogue, and build back some connection with him. It will prepare the ground for engaging him into treatment. It will lay bare his behavior when he drinks, it will remind him he has a loving family when he doesn’t. It will lead him to share with you his wishes or dips, how he would like his life to be different. It’s never too early to look at Module 8 and to prepare for a talk about treatment when right moment comes along.

Remember, close to 70% of families who were trained in CRAFT were able to engage their Loved One into treatment in 12 weeks.

Finally, relationships where there has been addiction very likely need relationship work. Clearing up the alcohol is not going to be enough. You will surely need for him to forgive you, for him to open to you and for both of you to work through the “loss” of alcohol; you will both need to learn how to relate to each other going forward.

Yours is not an easy road. I cannot stress enough, however, that change is possible. I have met many individuals who have addressed their substance problem and who are now in stable, loving relationships. Your husband could walk into an AA meeting, or connect with a good counselor, and the change could be immediate and profound.

Commit to trying this program for a certain length of time. If it doesn’t help, you can say you have tried the most effective intervention out there. The decision to stay or leave the house and relationship will therefore be a well-informed one. 

Our thoughts are with you.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)