kam132 is set to get married next month, but her Loved One seems to have a serious problem with alcohol and isn't really addressing it. Does she call the wedding off? How can she use the gentle yet firm stance of CRAFT to shepherd her Loved One towards treatment, without this feeling like a power play?
I have been attending SMART meetings for a couple of months and just finished reading the primary literature (GYLOS, Beyond Addiction, handbook). I have been engaged to my fiancée for almost two years, and our plan was to get married in October 2020 (next month). When we first got engaged I was not aware of how much she was struggling with alcohol use, and have come to realize over the past year and a half that it is quite significant. For the whole year of 2019 (and probably before, but I wasn’t aware), she hid her drinking from me (hid bottles in car, closet, etc.). Earlier this year, she stopped hiding her alcohol use from me, although the amount she was drinking did not decrease.
She has tried a few times (of her own accord) to cut back, but it usually only lasts a few days. She has now gone back to hiding her use over the past month. It is difficult to withhold rewards when she is hiding her behavior because often I am suspicious that she is using, but not certain (although usually I find evidence later on that my instincts were correct). Now that we are approaching the time we are supposed to get married, I don't know what to do. I am not ready to completely walk away from the relationship – I want to work through some of the things I have learned in the hopes of her recovery. At the same time, I am not prepared to commit to her for the rest of our lives if she isn't going to change. She knows that I am not happy about her drinking, but I don’t think she realizes to what extent. She also thinks that I can’t tell she has been drinking when she hides it.
I have thought about telling her that I don't want to get married until she gets control of her alcohol use, but I am having trouble figuring out how to do it without it being threatening/ nagging/ manipulating. I want to be honest with her and it feels like I should communicate why I am not ready to get married. She senses that I am hesitating, but I don’t think she has made the connection that it is related to her drinking. She has expressed that she is worried I will leave her for peripheral reasons, all of which I can see are directly linked to her alcohol use (for example, she worries I will leave because our sex life is lacking lately, which I know is because her sex drive is lower when she drinks and I don’t ask for it like I usually would because I am turned off by her breath and skin smelling of liquor). I am terrified that I will go about this the wrong way and be counterproductive to her recovery. How do I have this conversation with her without pushing her further away from me and closer to alcohol?
The new wave of CRAFT-trained family members is beautiful to behold
Thanks so much for this question, which is beautifully presented. To summarize, you are set to get married within weeks, but you are feeling uncomfortable about this commitment, given the fact that your Loved One has begun hiding her drinking again and has not made any real strides in addressing the problem. You have been in SMART Recovery meetings, getting hip to CRAFT (hooray!!!) and you are concerned about getting your message across without pushing her further away or giving her another reason to drink.
I am moved every time I hear one of our members lay out the situation and express concern about wanting to preserve the relationship, wanting to communicate without threats, manipulation, nagging. It inspires me so much and helps me realize that we are on the forefront of a new humanity. I, myself, only discovered CRAFT after having left my husband because of his drinking, thinking I had tried everything. But really, I know that I was lost and at the end I was resorting (as we often do when we haven't found a better solution) to forcing, nagging, etc. and generally pushing him farther away from me.
So before I go on, I just want to say Thank You, kam132. Thank you on behalf of all of the suffering Loved Ones out there who need to be treated like the beautiful humans they are, despite the bad choices they're making. Thank you on behalf of your fiancée, who probably has no idea how lucky she is — she may only realize the extent of it months or years from now. Or she may not ever exactly realize, as we do, what a solid, and well-intentioned human she is in a couple with. But the main goal right now is not so much for her to see that, it is rather for her to see her problem a bit more clearly and begin addressing it in a significant way.
Your gut is right: getting married now simply doesn't make sense
This isn't about power play, or any sort of manipulation. First of all, you are uncomfortable with making such a huge and meaningful commitment given the current situation. That, in itself, is reason enough to put the wedding on hold for now. Marriage and its merits can be debated 'til the cows come home, but few would recommend that you go into one with part of you pulling back and thinking, "this isn't right."
I think that your Loved One is very lucky: not only are you asking all the right questions, but also, you love her, you are thoughtful about her feelings, you want her to feel better, and you are also honoring your own feelings and intuition — and not willing to blindly sign up for a life together when there is an elephant in the room with you.
Secondly, I believe that you are right in sensing that this is a pivotal moment in your relationship, and perhaps also pivotal for your Loved One in her struggle with SUD. In Module 8 (segment 3) we speak of using leverage.
Using leverage or not
When there are really important decisions in the air, a family or partner can choose to use the weight of them to lean in and urge the Loved One to get help. As Dominique points out, there are some very important things to keep in mind when using leverage:
prepare your request and your treatment options list to make sure you're ready to swoop in when the moment is right;
give your Loved One a grace period if they don't agree right away: they may well take measure of what's at stake and change their mind on their own;
"search yourself to make sure you can follow through with it if needed."
But at this point it sounds like calling the wedding off for now is what allows you to be at peace and help your Loved One focus on what is the most pressing for her: getting help for the drinking problem.
This may simply not be the time for leverage (if this, then that). However, I repeat that the timing here is really in your favor — so many people wouldn't consider calling off their own wedding (for fear of letting others down, feelings of shame, and the list could go on…) but you seem to have realized that it's "now or never", and we hope that your Loved One will also be (gently) shaken awake by your courage and your focus on what's the most pressing thing to be dealt with right now.
The essentials when talking with your Loved One about this situation
Module 4 will help you brush up on communication skills including reflective listening, "I" statements, etc. You already have the awareness and desire that will help you stay respectful and avoid burning bridges, but skills are skills, and they become second-nature when we practice them. If you don't have anyone else to practice on, talk to yourself in the shower or the car. Or script things out. Module 8 helps you prepare your request and the Treatment Options list.
Sooner or later, but it sounds like sooner given the looming date, you'll need to sit down together for that initial Come to Jesus meeting.
It will be important to express to your Loved One that:
You love her, you want to fight for the two of you, and you will help her any way you can;
Getting married now does not make sense to you, as she has not addressed the alcohol misuse in any serious way; you want to commit to her but as long as she is keeping this problem in the closet (literally! the bottles…) you're simply not ready;
The alcohol is affecting her, it's affecting you, and it's affecting your relationship;
You are there to tell her: this is a war on alcohol — not on her, not on the two of you; you're on her side;
You have been seeking out help and support for yourself, so that you can be helpful to her while not pushing her away; you care deeply and need for your communications to be (stay/become) more open and cooperative;
Following the planned conversation — what do the next days, weeks and months look like? CRAFT 101…
Once you've broken the ice, expressed what you need to, and called off the big day (and we hope that it will come, when it feels perfectly right to you both), then what?
It's unlikely that your Loved One is going to do a sudden 180 and begin acknowledging and talking freely about her alcohol misuse. It's also unlikely that she'll suddenly stop using (which, by the way, could be dangerous without help detoxing). So you will need to be practicing the basics of CRAFT 101, in the hopes of:
helping to bring to light, without judgement, the severity of the problem;
building trust and improving the quality of your communications;
taking better care of yourself, your needs, and drawing clearer boundaries;
(gently) pushing treatment as the best solution to the problem, with the knowledge that none of us can know for sure ahead of time which type of treatment will be the best match for our Loved One (hence a list with a wide variety of options);
It's OK to express some of your frustration from time to time, perhaps as you're removing a reward or disengaging
Of course, as you've seen in the learning modules, we do encourage family members to avoid talking directly about the use (and its effects on you) on a daily basis. And this is simply because more often than not, the Loved One is not in a place where they can have that type of discussion — even for those in early recovery, looking hard at oneself when SUD is, or has been, raging, is really, really tough.
However, there are two of you in your relationship. She has expressed fears that you might leave her because your sex life is suffering (and other peripheral issues related to the drinking), and you also pointed out in your message that you think she thinks you don't know when she has actually been drinking.
It is OK to gently remind her, when the moment feels ripe for it, that you dislike the way she smells when she's been drinking… that she may not realize it, but it comes through her pores and lingers on her breath.
Your pulling away in times like these is a natural consequence of her choice to use. It makes perfect sense that you don't want to, and/or don't, have sex when she smells of alcohol.
If sex isn't particularly rewarding to her right now (or when she's not using) then keep adding to your list (Key Observations Exercise 16) of what is rewarding to her, so that you can better add in rewards in moments of non-use, or remove them when she's using.
And I'd like to remind you to trust, and go with, your instincts — we are animals with instincts for a reason — and our instincts are often right. Overthinking drowns out those instincts, however. If your instinct tells you she's been drinking but you don't have any hard proof, she has probably been drinking.
I want our life together to be the best it can be. I want to worship you.
It's good for you to be able to paint a picture (it doesn't necessarily have to be a very detailed one) for your Loved One of the life you want to have with her, the life you need with her.
" I want our life together to be the best it can be. I want to worship you. This is impossible for me right now with the alcohol."
These statements can serve to ignite motivation, and at the same time remind her of what you're aiming for, for the two of you. It's a simple reminder that you and the alcohol are not on the same team, and you're not interested in continuing to live like this.
You're sketching out a beautiful and motivating objective for your relationship. You drop that seed, no need to hit it over the head, and you continue dropping others like it. Then you keep doing everything you can (while not forgetting your sweet Self and your own needs) to create a fertile ground in which those seeds can grow.
All of our best wishes for these next steps. Keep us posted and write in if you need further guidance.