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I’m Applying CRAFT but He’s Getting Angry

man on couch, woman walking away

Allies in Recovery member Hope has been practicing CRAFT with her husband but he is becoming angry…

"I have been practicing the CRAFT method, rewarding nondrinking behavior and disengaging when my husband is drinking, and he is aware that I am doing that and it is making him angry. When I disengage, he brings up things I did and said in the past that were blaming or shaming. I am not defensive, as I was indeed blaming and shaming and I am committed to change. I engage as little as possible.

There definitely has been movement in how he talks about his drinking. He is now willing to say he has crossed a line with his drinking, so I see there is some progress. For a long time, he refused to admit it was a problem and still sometimes says that is just how he is and I must accept it. His goal seems to be to control his drinking.

He quite recently lost his job and sometimes seems to understand that his drinking played a role and at other times acts like it is a gift. I can see that he is struggling. I am working to remain calm and deal with practical realities.

How can one practice positive communication while disengaging? Is that possible?"

Dear Hope: Kudos for making these changes in your behavior and your communication despite the pushback from your husband. By disengaging during bouts of drinking and rewarding during times of non-drinking, you are highlighting the contrast between the two behaviors. This opens some space for your husband to look at his drinking and to begin to verbalize its role in your lives.

I am sorry he lost the job. That must be having quite an effect on your family. It is a serious consequence, and, to the degree it had to do with his drinking and behavior, is adding to the mounting evidence that there is a problem. It's very typical for an addicted Loved One to  go in and out of this acceptance and denial. You’re watching a huge shift in his worldview. Controlled drinking is the logical first response for him to have. Hang in there while he bounces around this solution and be prepared for failures with his ability to control his use.

The blaming and shaming in either direction is hopefully subsiding, for it doesn’t help him or you. Stopping it on your end is modeling what you want from him.

So how to communicate positively while disengaging…. That is a good question.

The first part of Learning Module 4 talks about cutting out the negative communication. The module starts here partly because, for many people, it is easier to do than to change your communication dramatically.

Dropping the shaming and blaming, for instance, is positive communication. It is also very powerful. It softens things between you, leaves some silence where there was conflict, and produces the space for your husband to think for himself about the role alcohol is playing in his life. So you are already practicing positive communication by simply disengaging without commentary.

The other strategies to improve and make communication positive can also be used. It is indeed a little hard but could include statements like these:

Empathic statements:

  • It must be hard to face the loss of that job.
  • I know you are trying to control your drinking, perhaps tomorrow will be better. Good night.

"I" statements vs. "You" statements

  • I see that you have been drinking, it makes me sad. Good night
  • I don’t want to upset you.

Admitting your part

  • I haven’t always responded well to your drinking. I will try harder.

Specific, brief

  • I see that you have been drinking, I’m going to give you some space. Good night. I am committed to trying harder to not disrespect you when you drink.

The goal of adding in positive communication as you disengage is to pull out without causing upset at you. It’s not going to turn things around in terms of his drinking in the moment. Rather, it’s finding some softer, neutral ways to let him know things aren’t okay, that you’re pulling away at this time.

If I were more technologically inclined I would end this post with an audio of wild applause. You are making the changes in your relationship that are most likely to work. You are cleaning up your end of things, and in the process highlighting and pushing onto your husband what is his responsibility to resolve. You are giving him the chance to see and address the drinking. This is huge.



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"...)

  1. your comments were prescient: he has had stretches of sobriety and then tries to have a drink or two and is quickly binging again. I took a screen shot on my phone of your suggested responses and they have been helpful.

    There is nothing I can say in regards to him drinking that doesn’t make him angry — when he began tobviously drinking again, I asked him how he felt about it and said that his choosing to drink had an impact on whether I could make plans with him. He said he didn’t have any feelings about drinking, didn’t get mad immediately, just came home drunk hours later and was very angry and said that I was making him walk on a knife’s edge, and paraphrased my comments as saying that I was saying he was worthless if he drank, or something similar.

    He is drunk again today and I have not said anything I am keeping myself busy and have plans to leave the house tonight. I have felt like my chest was about to explode at what it feels like to be with him when he is angry.

    I think this is probably pretty typical behavior for an alcoholic and I am not taking it personally. But this is no way to live.

    1. No, it is not a way to live. Practicing CRAFT is meant to be transformational. The changes you are supporting will alter your husband’s behavior, at the very least will alter his thinking about his behavior. CRAFT suggests changes for you that influence your husband. If this doesn’t work entirely, or mostly, or at all, you at least know that you have done what you can, you have followed as best as you can the actions determined by empirical study to be the most effective. You can make decisions about your marriage and life knowing that you have tried everything you can.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Hope here: