“He Wants Us to Live Together, but He’s Drinking” – What to Say, and When?
Her boyfriend texted her about his desire to move in together; she suspects he did so under the influence. She is growing frustrated with his substance use and feels the need to step back. In retrospect, she fears she missed the opportunity to respond to what we, at Allies in Recovery, call a “wish” – an important moment of “change talk,” an opening for you to step in and suggest recovery options. It can be a key part of implementing the CRAFT skills we teach at Allies. So, what can she do now?
[The question below originally appeared on our member “Pose a Question” blog]
“My question is: my loved one expressed in an app message that he wants me to move in with him. I think he is drinking and feeling sentimental and/or ready to please me by saying this, as a form of manipulation. But maybe it’s a “wish,” I later on guessed…I texted that we should discuss this face to face and went on, and he was disappointed.”
So: Was I right to disengage, or was this a “wish”…?
Here is her second comment, providing more background information:
“My friend abuses alcohol and was in and out of treatment over the past few years. He was sober for half a year and went to NA meetings, but since the COVID-19 situation, he started drinking again. We have a part-time relationship. We see each other every weekend. When I’m around he doesn’t drink (I hope).
When I’m not there I sense alcohol abuse through his app messages. When I try to ask him what his plans are (does he wants to recover or to drink mildly, or…?), he puts his answers on hold. He is working on it, wants to do something about his problems he says, but leaves me waiting for answers for weeks. Today, without being angry, I told him that it is OK if he needs more time and that I will wait, but I won’t’ visit him anymore while I’m waiting for his answers because it is too stressful for me.
I feel relieved but also doubt. Have I sent his thinking in the wrong direction? Maybe he feels I’m challenging him? Or is this indeed the only way to handle this?”
Your loved one is drinking when he is not with you. You see him every other weekend. In texts, he says he wants you to move in together. He has an alcohol problem and just recently had 6 months of sobriety by going to NA. The COVID shutdown made everything more difficult for those with addiction, and their families. It probably disrupted his recovery routine in short order and he started drinking again.
You suspect he is drinking from the texts he is sending, like the one about moving in together. You sensed a sentimentality in his words that suggests he had been drinking. You second-guessed yourself afterwards and wondered if you had missed an opportunity to talk about treatment.
We are all operating in this grey zone with our loved ones. You can’t be 100% sure about his drinking in that moment. You sized up his text, suspected he had been drinking when he wrote it. You were right to take a step back, examine his text in a careful manner and not give in to the sentimentality.
In the grey zone, trust your instincts, and keep your boundaries
Your instincts were sound. You are clear with your loved one that he cannot drink around you, and that you expect him to stop drinking. Setting your boundaries is a major part of this process, it is protecting you, and it is beneficial to him too.
You are asking whether his wish to live together was a missed moment to talk about treatment.
Again, I think you were right to suggest that you talk about it in person (when he hasn’t been drinking).
His texting about moving in together was indeed a “wish”, but he was probably under the influence of alcohol, not a time for such serious discussions. Ideally, when you do have this conversation, you will both be calm and clear-headed.
Remember, only respond to the “wish” in the moments he is NOT under the influence
That grey zone made you question your action. But you correctly did what we all must do, which is to size up our loved one in the moment, and to respond by stepping away when they are drinking. This is part of working CRAFT.
To go deeper with this, watch our eLearning Module 6 “My Loved One is Using Right Now; Now What?”. And our eLearning Module 5, “My Loved One Isn’t Using Right Now; Now What?” to learn about stepping in when he is not drinking. Some points from the modules:
When your loved one is using, remember these 3 tenets of behaviorism:
- Remove Rewards (including yourself)
- Step Away/Disengage
- Allow Natural Consequences
When your loved one isn’t using, encourage non-use with positive reinforcement:
- Reward (with words, actions, or things). Rewards can be as simple as being present, a kind word, a touch on the shoulder, or a nice meal; we also suggest doing activities together that encourage non-use.
- Watch for “wishes” and “dips,” those moments of your loved one’s “change talk” that can be openings for you to discuss plans for recovery and treatment. (We discuss “planned conversations” elsewhere in the modules.)
As always, keep in mind your goals:
- Reduce your loved one’s substance use
- Get your loved one into treatment and recovery
- Increase quality of life
His expressing himself, even though it was somewhat clumsy and inappropriate, is still showing you that he is reflecting upon what he needs and wants. The fact that he manifested his “wish” when under the influence shows you he isn’t quite ready.
Your response was helpful in many ways: you did not completely shut him off and are leaving the door open for discussion. You are also taking a calm and collected stance, setting an example of what you want communication to be like between the two of you going forward.
For more on “wishes” and “dips”, readers can access our free podcast: https://alliesinrecovery.net/wishes-and-dips/
Respond to the “wish” in person, when things are calm
You now have the opportunity to talk to him in person about his wish for more with you in the future. Maybe when you next see him it goes like this:
“I care about you and would someday like to live together. You are drinking. I understand that. You have been working on the drinking, but I know that you are struggling. Is there something I can do to help?”
You are thinking of not seeing him on weekends anymore. You wrote about how stressful the situation is for you. Listening to yourself and doing what feels right for you in the moment are indeed essential.
You have instinctively grasped a principle of CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training – the evidence-based approach we teach at Allies in Recovery). You and your presence by his side are a reward to him. This is powerful and you can use it to implement CRAFT. Can you shift your perspective here? Consider seeing this in the moment rather than in absolute terms (“I will not see him until he stops”).
Your presence is a reward – and he doesn’t drink
Rather than not seeing him on those weekends, perhaps you do. He doesn’t drink when you’re there. This is important for him and is encouraging him not to drink.
Your loved one has been abstinent in the past; he knows what works for him. Can you continue with what you are doing? Could you keep holding the line on no drinking while together and offering to help him any way you can to not drink?
Identifying “wishes” and “dips” – those important opportunities to help change occur
Our eLearning Module 8, “How Do I Get my Loved One into Treatment?” talks about how to identify “wishes” and “dips,” and what to do when you do hear one. Your loved one wishes you could move in together. You correctly put him off. His texted wish is an opportunity to talk seriously about more treatment options when you do see him.
Remember though, family members can sometimes sound like a “broken record” to their loved ones. In this case, perhaps you leave the serious treatment talk for a moment when your relationship’s future is back on the table.
Thank you for reaching out and for joining this community. It sounds like your instincts are steering you in the right direction. You have already integrated some of the essential concepts CRAFT teaches us. Should you need any type of support or insight going forward, know we are here for you.
Keep exploring our site, AlliesinRecovery.net, for more helpful tips
In the meantime, I encourage you to continue reading through the articles from our Discussion Blog as well as from our Sanctuary Blog. Take a look at our Resource Supplement for support options for family members, and keep listening to yourself and to your needs.
We always talk about the importance of self-care because at the end of the day, if you forget yourself, if you feel exhausted and out of balance, you won’t be able to help your loved one. Make time for yourself, figure out what makes you feel connected to you. It will help you feel focused, and hopefully you will not feel as anxious on the weeks you don’t see your loved one.
For more of our public blog posts about how to talk to your loved one, including the “planned conversation,” see these:
I hope this is helpful — keep us posted on the steps you are taking.