We Quit Drinking, And It Saved Our Marriage

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 

I’d been a non-drinking, recovering alcoholic for 10 years when my husband had his last bourbon. He did it quietly and I didn’t even know for two weeks. We went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants with an extensive wine list, and he just asked for water. I was shocked. He said it was time.

That choice has made our relationship so much stronger. We are better together when alcohol isn’t coming between us.

Early on in our relationship, alcohol was at the center of everything. We met up for drinks after work. We sat on his back patio drinking beer until the wee hours of the morning. Dinners out always included a few glasses of wine. I’m not sure we really had much in common that didn’t include drinking. We grew up in different cities. We were raised in different religions. He is six years older and was in college when I was in grade school. Our pasts were different; so were our presents. He liked sports, I read People Magazine. I listened to pop music, he preferred talk radio. There really wasn’t much there aside from our mutual affinity for Budweiser. Yet, we trudged along.

Once we were married, the drinking continued. But now it was becoming a nightly thing. A glass of wine after a long day at work, celebratory cocktails on Friday night for getting through the work week. It was always something. I started to recognize that my drinking was becoming a problem when I was going to work hungover all the time. I was pounding beers at least four nights a week, probably more, and it was destroying me.

I got pregnant and gave it all up for nine months. I was back on the barstool right after the birth of my son. But a few months after his first birthday, I got pregnant again. That was the end. I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since. I went on to have a total of four children. I have never drank at all in three of their lives. That feels good to me.

My husband continued to drink, though his drinking wasn’t the same as mine. He was less about getting drunk as he was about being habitual. Get home from work, crack a beer. Fire up the grill, get a cold one. Settle down for a movie after the kids go to bed, grab a bottle of wine. But he was doing it alone. It didn’t bother me … until it did. When he was drinking, we were fighting. It brought out the worst in both of us.

I began to resent him and his love for booze. We started to drift apart. I would put the kids upstairs and head to my bedroom to watch TV or scroll the Internet. He was left in the basement with a bottle and the TV. No wife to hang out with, so alcohol became his friend. After a while, he got annoyed. I was choosing to be alone because I didn’t want to sit with him drinking. He was drinking alone because I was choosing to head upstairs instead of hanging out with him.

We were living separate lives. Not as a married couple, but more like roommates. We would go out on Saturday nights and inevitably it would end up in an argument. I was tired of being the designated driver while he drank $20 glasses of wine. When I was doing it with him, it was fine; now it felt like he was just pissing money away. And that made me angry. I would pick at him when we got home, he would insult me, and we would go round after round until someone stormed off to sleep on the couch.

There was no straw that broke the camel’s back as an impetus for him to stop the drinking; he just did. As I said, it was quiet. He’s not the type to make big announcements about things like that. Instead, he makes a decision and sticks with it. He realized his children and I deserved the best version of him. He is nothing if not a man of integrity.

We are closing in on two years as a sober team, and our lives are so much better. Sure, we still argue — what married couple doesn’t? But now, it is less about tearing each other down as it is getting a point across. In that vein, the things that we used to blame on alcohol, we now have to face as being real challenges that we must work through. I am not nagging because I am drunk. He is not yelling because he’s had too much. Those are our true demons and we have to get through it.

Our lives with our children are better when they’re not clouded by a hangover. We have patience to deal with them and choose to spend our time doing what we love as a family, not getting drunk.

I want you to understand something. We do not have a problem with people who drink. We have a drinking problem. We will pour you a beer, glass of wine, or a snifter of bourbon at our parties; we just don’t drink it. It is perfectly fine to drink around us, we’re not judging or tempted. Many people can have a glass of wine here and there and function totally normally, but we are not those people. If I said that it didn’t concern me for my children, I would be lying. Alcoholism runs deep in their veins and I pray that when the time comes that they will think about their parents and choose their drinking path wisely.

I feel so fortunate that we didn’t let alcohol destroy us. Instead, we chose to end that relationship and work on our own. I love my husband with every fiber of my being, but if I said that I didn’t love him just a little bit more without the booze, I’d be lying. We say, “Cheers to saving our marriage,” but I toast it with a Diet Coke, hold the Jack. He’ll have an Irish coffee, sans the Bailey’s. And that’s perfect for us.

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