Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Dear Stacy: My boyfriend and I have been together 4 years. We have had some major downs where his drinking is concerned. I love this man with my whole heart and can see all the good in the world in him, but the fact is that he has an addiction to pain killers and booze. Though he isn’t drinking everyday, when he binges, it’s bad. Recently, he passed out at a bar and did not come home. Another time, he spent the whole night out partying with a friend. At that point, I had had it, and I packed his things. It was over. But now, I miss him so much it is making me crazy. I do love him, and I know he loves me. But is it worth it to try counseling? Or do I cut my losses and keep it moving without him? I truly have no idea how to deal with an addict. Everyone else has given up on him, and in a sense, I guess I did too by sending him away. But he is a good person, a good father to my kids when he is sober, and a good mate when he gets out of his own way. –On My Own Again
Dear On My Own, Thank you for sending this and giving me the chance to use this space to walk you through this very common situation.
It is my opinion that a person can be an active, non-sober, addict and still be a good person. It is also my opinion that a person cannot be an active addict and still be a good partner/father/friend. That distinction is really tough, because we can see the good and the potential in Boyfriend, but we cannot trust him with anything of value. I always think counseling is useful, and a session or two with him and an objective third party might help him see some of the impact of his behavior. But that’s not going to be an effective, long-term option while he’s an active addict. Whenever I work with a couple with an active addiction in the process, I require that the addict be in a 12-step program and have his/her own counselor on the side. It won’t work without such rules.
The hard part about addiction is that you cannot make him change. All the conversation and love and begging in the world will not make it stick. Boyfriend has to want to do it himself, and typically that does not happen until, as you note, everyone has given up on a person. “Rock bottom” is defined differently for every person. For some, that only happens when the one person they love the most – “the one who never will give up” on them – finally says, “I can’t take it anymore.” Having him move out could be part of what gets him moving toward actual recovery. I know it’s an unbelievably difficult choice to make.
So if I’m giving advice, I’d say that you should pat yourself on your back for reaching the end of your own rope and making a decision based on the health and welfare of your heart and your kids. We can only control our own actions, so I’d say focus your energy on staying healthy, modeling good boundaries for those kids (who right at this moment are watching every move you make, and building their own foundations for what they will and will not accept in relationships for the rest of their lives).
Meanwhile, also please be gentle with yourself when it gets hard. When you miss him. When you are nostalgic. We all want to be in connection with another person – that’s what we’re on earth to do. So please do not beat yourself up for grieving the loss of that in this person right now. That is what this is: grief. There are steps, there are stages, but at the core, the most effective healer is time and distance. Stop telling yourself this is something/someone to get over. This is more about just getting through.
We have no idea if Boyfriend will figure out his own side of this and develop into someone capable of being all you know he can be for you and your family. All we know is that you have reached a limit and that’s sacred. You have to trust that instinct and find support where you can.Take advantage of that extended family. Alanon is also a great community to help loved ones get free peer support around this exact situation. Let me know if I can help you find a chapter. Use those resources and it will get easier.
Dear Stacy: I want to get engaged to my girlfriend of three years, but I just don’t have enough money to pay for a good enough engagement ring. I know she wants something spectacular. Right now I can only afford something small. I will be so embarrassed if she doesn’t like the ring, and I know that will start us out on the wrong foot for our marriage. I want us to have a good marriage and I think that a good ring will help start us out right. I’ve looked at fake diamonds – some of them actually look pretty good, I don’t think she would really know the difference. What do you think I should do? BTW, we are both 23 years old. – Blingfree in D.C.
Dear Blingfree, Deep breath (for me). So many things are going on here that give me pause, I need bullet points:
• Ring size has nothing to do with the quality of someone’s marriage. If you believe it does, you are not ready to get engaged.
• Have you talked to Girlfriend about getting engaged? The days of shocking a girl with a ring in her champagne glass are over – no one should be totally caught off guard when they are asked to make such a monumental decision. Therefore, no one should be afraid to talk about a ring budget before making a purchase. If you are afraid of this conversation, you are not ready to get engaged.
• Are you asking me if you should give Girlfriend a fake diamond and not tell her it’s a fake diamond? Are you also seeking advice about not starting the marriage out on the wrong foot? Can you see the dilemma here? If not, you are not ready to get engaged.
• Again for good measure: ring size has nothing to do with the quality of someone’s marriage. If you still think so, you are not ready to get engaged.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com, and you can follow her on twitter @StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to email@example.com.