7 Things You Should Know if Your Partner Still Drinks
Updated: Jul 6
A common concern from the coupled-up ladies at Thrivalist is how to maintain a healthy relationship with their partners who are still drinking. Some ladies are lucky enough to have unwavering support from their partners, but for others, the change in drinking dynamic is more complicated. And we get it. Alcohol is often tightly interwoven in their story as a couple. It certainly was in my relationship.
The first time my husband and I kissed, we were shaking our tail feathers on the dance floor of a nightclub in Cape Town. I was drunk, had lost my friends, and left to find them before he could take my number. But he tracked me down and the weeks that followed were filled with alcohol-fuelled dates and cosy, boozy nights-in. From day one, we loved to drink together. Fast forward ten years plus a couple of kids, and a few drinks in the evening was ‘our time’. A way to hold on to the younger, more carefree versions of ourselves.
So when I pulled the plug on drinking and marched myself off to AA, I don’t think my poor husband knew what had hit him. Not drinking suddenly became this huge thing in my life, and it was a thing that he wasn’t a part of.
In this blog, I want to share with you seven things you should be aware of so that it is easier for you to bring your partner on the journey, without them feeling left behind. Which brings me to the first point I want to share with you if you’ve decided to go alcohol-free while your partner continues to drink.
1. Change is threatening
Your decision to go alcohol-free is probably a big change in your relationship. And change, even when it’s healthy and positive, can be seen as threatening and scary. Especially when the change is not something your partner expected or signed up for.
Think of it from your partner’s perspective. Does this mean they’ve lost their favourite drinking buddy? Are you expecting them to drink less or stop as well? Are you going to change? Are the two of you destined to grow apart if they continue to drink and you don’t?
Knowing that your decision to go alcohol-free may be unsettling for your partner helps you to approach things with them empathetically, and it may help you to proactively address their concerns.
2. This is about you, not them
To help ease your partner’s potential discomfort about this big change, let them know that your decision is about you, and not about them. Let them know why you’re doing this and what has led you to this point. They may have no idea how deeply alcohol has been affecting you or how much mental-space it’s been stealing from you.
Let them know that your decision has nothing to do with them. You’re not judging them or their drinking, and you’re not expecting them to change their drinking habits.
We love this anecdote shared by one of our students: I knew my hubby was going to be hungover after he’d had a big night, so I let him sleep in and surprised him with breakfast in bed.
This is the kind of action that goes a long way in making your partner feel supported and secure in the midst of the change.
3. Don’t preach!
Many people go on a huge Quit Lit binge in the early days of being alcohol-free. The more they learn about the alcohol trap and the Big Alcohol industry, the more they want to educate the ones they love who are still drinking. My advice? Go easy on the sharing with your partner. Your well-intentioned monologues about the dangers and evils of alcohol can quickly backfire as preachy. Kinda like an ethical vegan giving a meat-eater a lecture about eating meat.
4. They can’t read your mind
Don’t expect your partner to know how to support your alcohol-free journey if you don’t tell them. It’s your responsibility to clearly communicate your needs and your expectations to them.
For example, if you would like to remove all alcohol from the house but your partner usually keeps his beer in the kitchen fridge, buy your partner a bar-fridge for the garage and explain that you’d love his support by keeping his beers in there from now on.
5. Find sober support elsewhere
If your partner is still drinking, they may not get what you’re going through in adjusting to an alcohol-free life. Thankfully there are lots of great options to connect with other like-minded sober people both online and in real life. The thriving Thrivalist community is waiting for you or a quick Google search should point you in the direction of your sober tribe. This is where you can go to get sober support and inspiration.
6. You may want to leave social events separately
If you’re going somewhere together where your partner will be drinking heavily, you may want to chat in advance about potentially leaving separately and making arrangements for that. There’s nothing worse than being stuck at an event because you’re driving your partner home. So arrange in advance that you’ll leave when you’ve had enough and they can get an Uber home if they want to stay.
7. It takes time and communication
Your decision to stop drinking takes effect immediately, but adjusting to the change in your relationship takes time. Many of the women at Thrivalist report that after some time their partner's drinking decreases. This often happens when the woman is quietly leading by example, rather than nagging her partner to drink less (which tends to have the opposite effect!).
While it might take a bit of getting used to, you can achieve sobriety alongside a partner who still drinks. Keep having open and honest conversations. Your decision to go alcohol-free has the capacity to make you a happier and healthier version of yourself, which could end up making your relationship stronger.