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“I’m afraid my husband is an alcoholic.”

Stephanie says: When we were first married right out of college, our social life seemed to consist of weekend drinking with our friends – sometimes a little too much drinking. But as we’ve all grown up, nobody seems to do that anymore – except Paul. He drinks a few beers every night and even more on the weekends. His behavior when he drinks is hard to take. I have asked him to stop – why won’t he?

“What’s wrong with a few beers?”

Paul says: Stephanie is being ridiculous. Of course I’m not an alcoholic – I only drink beer. I could stop any time I wanted, but why should I? I don’t understand why Stephanie is suddenly making a big deal out of this. We both drank when we first met; now she expects me to drink nothing but soda.

What do they do?: The last time we checked, beer contains alcohol and therefore qualifies as a beverage that could contribute to one becoming an “alcoholic.” Tom believes there is a problem with definitions and Jo believes Paul receives too large of an allowance from Stephanie! Otherwise, how could Paul continue to afford the amount of beer he evidently consumes each day?
    Paul asked the question, “Why should I stop?” For starters, why wouldn’t you? Obviously, Paul must enjoy these constant arguments! Usually, when one person continues to drink to the point that it manifests itself as unacceptable behavior, there are underlying problems.
    We believe there are two related things Paul and Stephanie will need to address in order to keep their marital union intact – the spiritual and the practical. On the practical side, we know that when one spouse turns to alcohol or pills or food or TV or work or the Internet – or anything – to the point that it becomes addictive, there is usually something he or she is masking and doesn’t want to face. In most situations, addictive behaviors (in this case alcohol) mask unaddressed hurts that a person has not yet dealt with. Open, life-giving, supportive communication is essential for Paul and Stephanie.
    Within the context of their marriage, Stephanie can take the first major step by reassuring Paul of her love and support and her commitment to stay with him while they deal with the underlying issues together. A firm commitment to their marriage vows “in sickness and in health” is an absolute first step. Their commitment to each other is foundational to the success of getting over this obstacle in their relationship. Any problem that affects one spouse is a problem for both. This is not just Stephanie’s problem or Paul’s problem – it is a “we” problem that can only be solved in an environment of mutuality.
    Alcoholism is a disease. Because it is, we cannot self-diagnose. Like cancer or diabetes, it takes someone who is skilled in dealing with that form of disease to help identify it and help us deal with it. One such group of specialists, with a highly effective program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is found in almost every city and small town in the United States. If Paul truly does not believe he has a problem, then he should have no problem in seeking confirmation from a specialist!
    Make no mistake – even if Paul doesn’t believe he has a problem with alcohol, he does have a relationship problem with Stephanie. In our experience, if he has a problem with Stephanie, he most likely has a problem in his relationship with God! The sacrament of matrimony calls each spouse to be Jesus to each other – to forgive, to love and to help each other attain salvation. Paul and Stephanie can best do that through heartfelt dialogue where there is a focus on each other’s special qualities, a focus on the feelings behind the hurtful words, and upon how committed they are to living a covenantal marriage with each other until death. Open each dialogue with a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for strength, wisdom and guidance in working on this issue together. To make your prayer more meaningful and heartfelt, include at least one reason why your spouse is so special today and thank God for allowing the two of you to be together.

Deacon Tom Fogle and JoAnne Fogle

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