A woman I’ll call Louise, wrote in with the following question:

“Dear Julie, my husband is a high-functioning alcoholic and while he provides for us, I’ve lost faith that he’s going to quit. I don’t want to spend my life married to a drunk. When is it ok to leave?” 

If I were sitting down with Louise, this is what I would say to her. For those that want the shortened version, enjoy the video below.

Marriage and relationships are not black and white. While you may say you’ll leave a bad marriage when push comes to shove, it is not that simple. Many people with addictions have wonderful qualities as well.  It sounds like your husband has some positive qualities including his ability to be a good financial provider. It also sounds like you have children and when there are children involved, leaving a marriage becomes more complicated—you may have to go back to work if you are a stay at home mom, or you may have to live with a lower standard of living, not to mention the fact that divorce is extremely disruptive to everyone involved, especially children.

Having said this, you are entitled and deserve a relationship that is based on trust, intimacy, self-responsibility, and integrity. If you have made it clear to your husband that you cannot deal with his drinking and the impact it has on you and the family, it may be time to move on. But before you do, consider the following:

  1. Take the time to reflect on how you have been trying to control his drinking and its impact. Have you tried to manipulate him into drinking less or getting help? Have you been direct in setting boundaries and a time-limit on how much longer you will tolerate his drinking before you leave the marriage? It is important to stop manipulating and controlling and start setting limits in a honest, direct, and powerful way.
  2. How have you been compensating for his drinking? In other words, have you colluded in anyway, such as calling in sick for  him when he can’t get up and go to work, or picking up the kids from soccer practice when he doesn’t show up, or trying to appease him when his behavior and emotions get out of hand when drunk? It is really important for you to identify and take responsibility for any collusion or co-dependent behavior. Doing so is the first step toward healing and making sure you don’t end up with another addict down the line.
  3. Do you feel like you want and deserve a healthier relationship? Are you willing to do the work to ensure that you have the insights, skills, and tools needed to create a strong and intimate relationship?
  4. Are you ready to take full responsibility for your life? If so, you are now in a position to take on your life in a new and powerful way.

Take the time to consider these issues. Accept your husband and marriage for what they are. From a place of acceptance, not denial or hope, decide if this is a relationship that works for you. If you need to leave, tell your husband clearly and directly. If you want to give him one more chance, tell him what he needs to do and in what timeframe in order for you to stay. Then, be your word. If he comes through, great. If he doesn’t, leave. I promise, you will be okay—your kids will be okay. People get through divorces and move on to bigger and better times. No relationship or marriage is worth losing your well-being and personal integrity.

If you are married to someone with an addiction, go through the four questions above and see what comes up for you. Share your insights with us here. It is through community that we learn from each other. If you need additional help, don’t hesitate to contact me. You don’t have to go at it alone. Create a good support system and use it!

Be well,


Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery

Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com