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Should I Marry an Alcoholic?

Should I Marry an Alcoholic?

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Question:

Some years ago, I met a guy and we became friends. He told me he had been an alcoholic, but he explained that he had been to Alcoholics Anonymous and had been sober for a couple of years. We then went our separate ways, keeping in touch here and there. A few weeksHe has been sober for a couple of years ago, he messaged me and asked if I wanted to give him a chance and start dating. After much discussion, I told him I had to think about it and understand more about recovered addicts.

On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoy his company, and he has all the qualities I’m looking for: He is smart, witty, committed to Judaism, kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and knows what he wants for his future home and life. To be honest, I would have never known he was an addict had he not told me so. But on the other hand, I have a history of addiction in my own family, and have always dreamed of moving away from that in my future family. So my question is, should I give him a chance, or should I steer clear of him? Can I trust his recovery, or “once an addict, always an addict”?

Answer:

Let me first commend you on your levelheadedness, a quality that is exceedingly rare when it comes to relationships. You obviously have your head screwed on right, and you are walking into this with your eyes wide open. So often, people enter or avoid relationships without any clear thinking, just following their heart. That usually leads to messy situations. Your thought-out approach will serve you well.

As Jews, we believe in the power of teshuvah—that people can really change. And those who do change, who pick themselves up and turn their lives around for the better, are among the most inspiring people in the world. While there are no guarantees of what the future holds, if someone is sincerely doing the internal work and getting the appropriate help, he truly can turn a new page in life and never look back.

From the sound of things, your friend has done some hard work, and his addiction is under control at the moment. But you need to know more details about that. Is he still regularly attending AA or some other support group? Is he committed to an ongoing recovery program? Recovering addicts need continued support, whether it be daily, weekly or monthly. If he is getting appropriate support, then he has every chance of staying sober. If not, then anything can happen.

Once you get a clearer picture of his recovery, and before you get emotionally involved, you need to think long and hard—are you up for this? Can you handle having alcoholism, even in its recovery, a part of your life after what you have seen in your own family? Every person has his story. Is this a story you can take on and make your own?

If the answer is no, you can’t handle it, then that is fine. No need to feel guilty. It is a lot to carry, and maybe you have carried enough in your life. The last thing you want to do isAre you up for this? replicate the dysfunction you have witnessed in your own family. You can’t become his nurse or his therapist.

But if, after hearing the facts and thinking it over, you feel confident that he really has turned himself around and you can accept him for who he is, then give it a go. You may be lucky to have found one of those beautiful souls who has seen the darkness and conquered it. Take your time, get to know him well, and see where G‑d leads you. May it be on the correct path.

If you’d like to learn more about the Jewish approach to recovery, click here.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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LIzzy New York August 30, 2017

Update - not a happy one Update from Lizzy: A month ago, through a health crisis, I discovered that my husband, whom I thought was sober, in fact had been closet drinking for three out his seven years of "recovery."
Our teen son had known about this but didn't tell me because he didn't want to break up the family. My son believes that my husband used to drive my daughter's late night carpools under the influence. Fortunately, there were no accidents.
Six weeks has gone by- my son, away at college, still does not speak to my husband.My husband attends AA four times a week and has a new sponsor. I have joined Al Anon.
Our family is dealing with this because we are family but this experience has made me even more emphatic about cautioning a person not to marry an alcoholic - even one who is in recovery.
Don't do it.
It's one thing to cope with an existing disease, better to not expose yourself in the first place. Reply

Wendy Ohio April 24, 2017

Never marry an alcoholic Never! I found out as the years went by and he was verbally and emotionally abusive. When he started bullying our oldest son I went to Jewish Family Services and divorced him. It saved me. I am now very happy, remarried to a mensch and my sons are both married and, happy and successful and I have the best grandchildren! Reply

Anonymous August 30, 2017
in response to Wendy:

i'm sorry you had to go through that painful experience - but I am a recovered alcoholic and have a blessed ever improving marriage, anyone who is alcoholic and drug addict that goes to 12 step meeting and works the program - from what I've seen over the last nearly 5 years - have a better marriage than more people I know. Reply

Ben ATX August 30, 2017
in response to Wendy:

Was your ex in a recovery program? If not, then there's little hope for a life without conflict. Many (including myself) have recovered from alcoholism, and continue in sobriety to this day. And yes... life is still amazing and great fun!

AA works for many - I like it because of the practical spirituality it contains - by which I mean it's not all flowery with platitudes, but places principles before personalities.

I think the guy probably deserves a chance, but of course, she has to decide that for herself... Maybe you shouldn't be so judgemental until you've done some first-hand investigation of recovery history, methods, and potential. Reply

Dina Leah Maine USA August 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

The key is attending 12 step programs & working the program & getting a good sponsor. My current husband has nearly 38 years of continual sobriety. It took him a year or so and a good sponsor to help him. He thought he was too smart for the program. As in Judaism, the alcoholic must have a higher power which for Jews would be Hashem, and one needs humility. Before my current husband, I was married to an active alcoholic who refused to admit he had a problem (1 pint of bourbon a day!) & wouldn't go. We ended up divorced, & he was also very abusive. B"H we had no children. Wendy, it sounds like in your case you are better off. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 11, 2017

Did you tell him about your family history of alcoholism? If not, you need to, because marriage is based on trust, not secrets.

People only change if they choose to, and in this case, why not give him a chance? Reply

Anonymous Sacramento August 14, 2016

In response to the question "What will Al-Anon provide me?" The answer is essential tools for your own health, well-being and ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with everyone in your home and in your world. By definition if you are married to an alcoholic you need Al-Anon and will benefit from it. Also by definition you won't get the benefits of Al Anon unless and until you attend meetings and work your own program of recovery. Alcoholism is a family disease, and family members of Alcoholics are as sick if not sicker than the alcoholic. That is why Al Anon is essential for family members. Particularly if there are children in the family it is essential that they learn healthy relationship skills or else the cycle continues and they will continue themselves to either marry alcoholics or be alcoholics and addicts themselves. In other words one of the biggest benefits of Al-Anon is to break the cycle of alcoholism in the family and replace it with healthy relationships Reply

Geoffrey Jacks Lakewood, CA. August 13, 2016

Re: Should I Marry an Alcoholic? Wow! Great Wisdom.

"L'Chaim 5776!"

-Geoffrey Reply

Dina Maine August 12, 2016

Hi Lizzy in Denver Alanon doesn't teach you how to nag or push or what to do for him. It teaches you about alcoholism & how to take care of you. Alcoholism affects the whole family. And, some spouses learn they have been enablers or codependents. It helps you to care for you and deal with spouses. Some become complaint sessions, so be careful which meeting you would choose.
Threatening to leave does not keep anyone sober! Some have lost everything, including being homeless, & still drink. One must hit bottom on own & realize s/he must want to remain sober on his/her own.

"Think" must have been cut off during editing. Basically, "think" about how long he has been sober. Is he attending AA meetings regularly, working all the 12 steps, & has a real AA sponsor. He has to want sobriety, & he has to do the work to stay sober!
Know that nothing you say or threaten will make a difference. Alanon teaches you the 12 steps & helps you understand alcoholism, & yourself! You cannot change him only yourself! Reply

Lizzy Denver August 11, 2016

Dina, interesting points Dina, thank you for sharing your perspective! Mazel tov to your husband for his many years of sobriety!
I have two questions:
What will Al Anon provide me? I have made it clear to my husband that if he drinks again, I will leave him. Financially I would be able to do that and emotionally, with G-d's help, I am confident I could make it.

I already know I cannot be a mother hen, nor should I worry about whether he will slip. Doesn't Al Anon teach you to do that?
What did you mean by "Think?"

Thanks! Reply

Eli feruch Malchut August 6, 2016

@gideon philippe Well said, its a great diverse world out there to pass through one's fears and reach as many corrections as possible. Our only freedom relies in the choice of the surroundings, that is, the environment which will influence our lives. Reply

Hypatia UK August 5, 2016

one thing to perhaps keep in mind
whether this man wins his battle or loses it
the shadow of drink will always be there in competition with you Reply

Dina Maine August 5, 2016

Lizzy has a good point-but there are more Jewish alcoholics than you know Lizzy, I admire that you were able to stay with your husband & help him. I hope you go to Alanon. One point made, that you mention is that there is always a chance of a slip up. My husband has 36 years sobriety & had nearly 23 years when we married. He is at a point where we can eat in a bar, but we prefer not to. We make sure we have Kedem grape juice for kiddish. We never can have alcohol in our home. There is always a chance for a slip. That's how Alanon can help. And, yes, children are more predisposed to become alcoholics. That is why alcoholism affects the whole family.

But, there are more Jewish alcoholics than people realize. I have found them at many meetings in many different places including Israel. We attended AA meetings in Tel Aviv! Yes, in Israel!

Read what Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD has written. He has spoken to to many ?Jewish groups about alcoholism among Jews.
One important point that my husband has mentioned. Only a few years of sobriety is not much. Think. Reply

Ben TX August 4, 2016

AA AA can be an effective tool for stopping drinking, and has a solid history, but nothing in this life is guaranteed.

One thing the program suggests (strongly) is staying connected to AA. It's a support system that the alcoholic can find in no other context - not even in religion... If religious practice were able to keep me sober I wouldn't have needed to go to AA to begin with. Some folks are just built that way.

Staying connected doesn't have to be pervasive - I've found that it's pretty easy to remain connected to my religion and my program... and I truly believe that I'm a better Jew for doing so.

My advice would be to not get in a hurry, but don’t be afraid. There’s time to see whether you’re a good fit, and it would be wise to do so.

If you’re interested, there’s a book which addresses AA in a Jewish context: “God of our Understanding” by Rabbi Shais Taub. I recommend it highly.

The program works. Everyone has doubts. Don't let yours dominate your decision.

Mazal Tov! Reply

Frumma Gottlieb August 4, 2016

I work with Jewish families that have loved ones trapped in all forms of addiction. I provide coaching and a comprehensive full service program available 24/6 on line and by phone. You are his best chance at recovery! Everybody is flawed in one way or another and many in recovery are on a higher plane in terms of self knowledge and spirituality! If anyone in this conversation needs a helping hand contact me through the editor. Reply

MLK Brockton Ma August 3, 2016

Alcoholic I have a cousin who for many years is a beer drinker. His beer drinking has increased. He is in his 70's trying to explain to him that when you land up in a nursing home you're going to have a hard time. Beer is more important to him then family and friends . His friends threw him away. He threw away his family . He admits the only friends he has is in the Chinese restaurant he eats in every day. I said you must give a very generous tip reply yes . Doesn't want you to call have not spoken to him in ages. He is divorced but that has nothing to do with his increase of beer drinking. Reply

Lizzy Denver August 2, 2016

I feel guilty saying this but.... A few years into our marriage, my husband's drinking increased and he became an alcoholic. He has been in recovery for about four years.

I hate to say this but I would advise you not to get involved. No matter how much sobriety has been accrued, there is always a chance each day of a slip.

Have you thought about having children? There is a genetic predisposition for alcoholism and our two children will be at greater risk of developing a problem the rest of their lives.

Will you feel comfortable never having alcohol in the house and having to avoid certain social situations because they may "trigger" your spouse? There may be numerous situations he will need to avoid, forever.

I still worry sometimes because it was so bad before my husband got sober (and he was a professional who kept his job.). I love my husband but in no way would I have signed up to marry even a recovering alcoholic. And remember: there are relatively few Jewish alcoholics and our culture is very judgmental. Reply

gideon philippe israel August 2, 2016

dont create what you are scared of if you are not sure when in doubt don't the more you spend your time with anyone the more you unwittingly will find reasons to remain with them if u cant find what you want don't take what you don't need unwittingly you will want to return to being single if your fears come true.
gideon Reply

Anonymous August 2, 2016

just for information purposes
the AA are heavily 'god' focused and require at least some level of faith in that entity
for those less devout there are secular alternatives which may or may not be of use/interest Reply

Bat-Ami Pleasantville August 30, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

You do not have accurate information: AA and Al-Anon work precisely because they are spiritual programs, not religious programs. Most people when entering 12-step programs have lost "faith" or never had it to begin with. In 12-step program meetings, "God" is usually referred to as one's Higher Power, or the "God of one's understanding." The concept here is that all spiritual roads lead to One God, and strength, hope, and serenity are available from the close bond of a diverse community coming together for support and friendship. There is no demand to believe in anything. In the future, please study and experience things you do not really know about before you make inaccurate statements. Reply

Anonymous Sacramento August 1, 2016

Here is what is key to notice in any relationship: is the person working an active program of recovery? That means are they going to 12-step meetings regularly, do they have a sponsor, and do they speak in positive terms of how essential it is to work a strong program? If not, then there will be problems. If they say they "don't need" 12-step meetings, they went for a while and "stopped going because it was a waste of time" or any other excuses why they don't go any longer, then there will be problems. But if someone has many years recovery, works a strong problem, and states it is essential for him to continue with 12-step program, then that is a strong basis to build a relationship. Don't be surprised if he asks you to start working your own Al-Anon program; and don't be surprised if you decline to do so that he declines to date you. Reply

jesse kaellis Nanaimo August 1, 2016

You don't have to know... I was texting with a guy online one time. He sounded suicidal, so I called him up. He's an alcoholic. I've got 13 + years recovery behind me at this point.
He says, "I don't know why I'm like this." "You don't have to know." "I don't know how I can do this for 35 years." "You only have to do it for one day."
People are so obsessed with understanding that they will invent a reason, "Mama didn't love me." Yeah a lot of us had the bereft childhood, but not everybody did. Or -- it's genetic. My father drank. My uncle drank.
See, this won't help you to get and stay sober. You will need to make changes in your life. First, your druggy friends will have to go. You can't hang out with users without slipping. Take it from me.
Getting and staying sober can be a lot easier than you might imagine. You need to be aware, and you have to want it. Want it every day.
Marry the guy? What's the big picture? Only you're going to be able to answer that. Marriage can be difficult regardless. Reply

Anonymous Pleasantville July 31, 2016

An alcoholic is always an alcoholic. Read on, and don't be discouraged! Most commentators writing here obviously know little to nothing about alcoholism and recovery. There is no "recovered" -- there is only "in recovery" It is a way of life and has to be chosen every day and every minute by the alcoholic. If you're reading this and really and truly interested in helping other people (and yourself), read the Big Book, get yourself to an Al-Anon meeting and keep your uneducated opinions to yourself. Reply

Anonymous USA July 31, 2016

Alcoholic There are alcoholics that work hard to become non - alcoholics . If they have find some reason to do so . My next question will they remain so ? Have read most portions of texts written . People who know your a alcoholic will title you the town drunk in some cases . Facing life sober is a difficult and having pressures on you is another problem can you handle all this ? Working marriage children family members looking down at you and will not accept you . The list is endless you say you handle can handle all this but can you ? Most certainly is there a lot to consider but there are exceptions of people who are capable of turning their lives around . Those are the ones who deserve all the credit they've worked diligently to accomplish all . Reply

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