What’s the Best Way to Respond to my Husband after he’s Been Drinking?

by Sally

My husband occasionally has 4 or 5 drinks and starts slurring and I feel hurt. What’s the best way to respond?

I ignore and am cold to him, then he turns it around to how horrible I treat him. Do I need to look beyond my hurt and unconditionally love him?


This is, undoubtedly, a difficult dynamic to be in. Of course, the drinking concerns you, and you’re worried about your husband’s well-being. At the same time, you’re probably tired of tip-toeing around his actions. You might even be feeling angry or resentful over his continuous drinking. Rest assured that you’re not alone with your confusion because most loved ones struggle with not knowing how to respond.

As a first step, it’s essential that you come to terms with the reality of your situation. Your husband is problematically drinking. Depending on the severity and frequency of his consumption – and how it impacts the rest of his functioning – he may be struggling with alcohol use disorder. Whether or not he meets the criteria for a formal diagnosis, it’s clear that he has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Unfortunately, it appears that he is in denial about this issue. Denial is a typical response. Self-awareness, after all, is painful. It’s much easier to move about our days without examining our thoughts and behaviors. It’s much easier to pretend nothing is happening. For these reasons, denial and addiction tend to go hand-in-hand.

At this point, you need to start identifying the boundaries you want to implement with your husband. What are you willing to tolerate? What’s no longer allowed? For example, if he starts belittling or criticizing you when he’s under the influence, do you want to enable that behavior?

What if he grabs the keys and walks out with the intention to drive? Do you even want to be home when he drinks?

Ultimatums can be effective, but you must be able to execute them if you want them to work. In other words, do not threaten to leave if you don’t actually intend to leave. Don’t require that your husband seeks treatment if you don’t plan to enforce it. Your boundaries are only as strong as your willingness to stand behind them. These boundaries may evolve with time, and that’s okay.

Consider writing down your boundaries to organize your thoughts. You may want to work with a friend, counselor, or therapist during this process. It may be emotional, and you may feel guilty or “mean” for setting limits. Remind yourself that love is about supporting and encouraging the people you care about. If you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t be doing this. Choose a neutral time and place (not when he’s drinking or hungover) to discuss the boundaries with him.

You should anticipate that your husband may react to your boundaries with anger or more denial. He may also agree to accept your boundaries, but then he might promptly contradict himself the next time he drinks. During this time, you will benefit from outside support. Whether you pursue individual therapy, attend a support group like Al-Anon, or lean on friends and family, you need safe people who can provide you with compassion and encouragement.

Self-care is also essential. Make sure you are prioritizing your physical and emotional well-being. Your happiness cannot be dependent on your husband’s drinking. Marriage may be about unconditional love, but that doesn’t mean you need to accept dangerous or unhealthy behaviors. It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t confront problems when they arise. In fact, enabling someone’s addiction often backfires – it can prolong someone from receiving the help they need to start a sustainable recovery.

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