Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you can’t just “get over” your resentment at your spouse’s past wrongs? Have your own question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband quit drinking during the pandemic. It was intervention time, and thankfully it was well-received and he is actively working on his sobriety. I appreciate this, but I am also still harboring resentment for the nights where he didn’t come home, showed up late to our kids’ events (or forgot them completely), and left me handling everything (plus a full time job) because he was drowning in his addiction. I love him and hope we can move forward. We are going to counseling, but I also would love some real-life advice from another mom who has been there.
First of all, you are a badass. Wanna know why? Because you showed up for your family when he didn’t.
Everything could have crumbled when your husband was drinking himself into oblivion. You could have buckled under the strain of not only coping with an alcohol-addicted spouse, but of being the sole responsible parent while he was gone. (And that would have been totally valid, because no one should ever be expected to handle that kind of weight gracefully.) You could have said “screw it” and gone off the rails in some fashion yourself. But you didn’t. You kept it together despite everything that was happening, and for that, Mama, you deserve all the gold medals.
The first response from folks who’ve never been in this particular situation is always “Why are you still with this guy after all this?!” And you’ve probably wondered that numerous times yourself. Instead of celebrating your own badassness, you second-guess yourself for putting up with any of that, because people always say “Well I would have left” and it makes you question if you’re weak, or a glutton for punishment. But here’s the thing: they don’t know. Only you know your marriage, the inner workings of your family. Only you can say if it’s time to walk away or if it’s worth saving. So please don’t listen to the “I would haves” — instead, be proud for seeing yourself, and your family, through such a tumultuous time.
Which brings me to my second point: “tumultuous time” is kind of an understatement. Everything about dealing with an alcoholic spouse sucks. Regular life is stressful enough without throwing an addicted husband and everything that entails into the mix. Picking up his slack is exhausting. Trying everything in your power to “fix” him is exhausting. Pretending everything isn’t so bad for the sake of your kids is exhausting. Of course you’re still struggling. Even though you’re on the other side of it now, so to speak, you can’t just “get over” a long period of living under that kind of constant strain.
What your husband is doing is amazing – it takes a lot to overcome an addiction, and it sounds like he’s very willing to do the work, so he definitely deserves kudos. However, his present actions don’t undo the transgressions of his past. Just because he’s a changed man (or working on becoming one) doesn’t make everything he’s done okay, and there’s no magic wand that you can wave and be instantly freed of the wounds inflicted by it all.
Like any other kind of healing, this takes time, patience, and self-care. You are definitely on the right track with counseling, but don’t forget to start making your own needs a priority. After so long putting everyone else’s needs before your own, it can be hard to let go of that pattern — but keeping it isn’t going to do anything to help quell your resentment, trust me. You deserve to do things you enjoy, so make sure you’re carving out time to put yourself first, whatever that looks like for you.
Also, remember that forgiveness is not a feeling: it’s a decision. If your perception of forgiveness is the day when you finally wake up and feel better about everything, you’ll be waiting for a long time. Forgiveness is a choice you have to make, every day, and it’s not an easy one. It sometimes feels unfair that you have to do the kind of work that repairing your relationship takes; after all, you aren’t the one who mucked everything up in the first place. But forgiving your husband doesn’t mean you have to forget, or that everything is automatically all better. It just means you’re making the active choice to move forward, and to work on improving things from here on out instead of punishing your husband for everything he’s done. Yes, he deserves to be held accountable, but it sounds like he’s doing what’s required of him to fix things … and he has to work on himself before he can work on making it up to you. One step at a time. It’s not a quick process.
It may be hard to believe from where you’re standing, but time and distance will heal a lot in this situation. Only when your husband proves that he’s willing to change, and backs it up with sustainable action, will you be able to let go of the anger you’re harboring. He may be working on it, but just as you can’t expect him to do a complete 180 overnight, you can’t expect yourself to be okay with everything just because he’s not drinking any more. Give yourself just as much grace as you’ve given him, accept that it takes time, and remember that you deserve to invest in your own wellbeing after putting it on the back burner for so long.