How to live with a sober (or curious) partner

tThe old adage says that “opposites attract,” and in some ways, that may be true. But when it comes to living with a romantic partner who doesn’t share your views or drinking habits… well, it often just makes you nervous.

Because the range of relationships a person can have with alcohol is so wide—from a regular drinker to a sober and curious person to a complete abstainer (and everything in between)—there is a lot of room for differences between partners in a committed relationship. And cohabiting partners can be extremely difficult when they fall on opposite sides of that spectrum, with one heavy drinker and the other recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Unlike someone who chooses to live a dry lifestyle, someone in recovery will “experiencing devastating consequences if they choose to drink,” says Lawrence Weinstein, MD, medical director at the American Center for Addiction. alcohol”. “Such stark differences in drinking can create conflict that negatively affects a relationship.”

“Striking differences in drinking can create conflict that negatively affects a relationship.” —Lawrence Weinstein, MD, medical director, American Center for Addiction

That potential for conflict only increases when you add in cohabitation, with the question of whether any alcohol will be kept or drunk in the shared home. “Research has shown that the stress caused by alcohol differences in couples [can lead to] increased rates of depression and anxiety; physical abuse, emotional abuse and mood disturbances are reported more frequently; and reduced relationship satisfaction,” says Dr. Weinstein.

Even in situations where the people in a relationship are at the less extreme end of the alcohol use spectrum — perhaps, one person is a non-drinker and the other drinks for social reasons — the difference is significant. can cause stress. I learned this firsthand when I started intentionally dry dating as part of my commitment to my first “dry January” in 2017. This exercise helped me understand alcohol. How influential can even be in the early stages of a romantic partnership. From the start, some of my first dates mocked my commitment to moderation—though I don’t mind if Surname Drink.

Years later, in 2020, I publish my book The Dry Challenge: How to Run Out of Alcohol During Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month, which includes a chapter on the relationship between drinking culture and courtship. Key takeaways from my research? Drinking alcohol can affect a person Health, mood, and sleep—all play a role in how they perform in a relationship. And whether one or both partners drink alcohol will also affect how they spend time together, interpret each other’s words and gestures, and view each other’s life (or lifestyle) choices. .

Therefore, finding a way to live peacefully with a sober partner while you are drinking will likely involve negotiation and compromise. Below, find tips for couples living in which only one party drinks.

4 tips on how to live peacefully with a sober (or curious sober) partner

1. Talk about alcohol and how to support each other’s interests

Having a private conversation about drinking can help each of you set boundaries and expectations. “It’s good to agree on some [rules] For the alcoholic to comply, so there are no surprises, this can lead couples into a fight-or-flight response, says therapist Allen Wagner, LMFT.

Depending on each person’s unique relationship with alcohol, examples of areas where rules or boundaries should be set could include: how much alcohol can be in the home, how long, Dr. Weinstein said. where to drink, what kind of wine is drunk, what type of wine is preferred. compulsory drinking and chat place if one party wants to drink. What is the most effective way to approach this topic? “Communicate directly and clearly,” he added.

For couples who are having a hard time talking about this alone, Wagner suggests couples counseling, which can be a safe place to break down what people are looking for in terms of sexual changes. behavior or structure. “Everything should feel fair and not hypocritical,” he said. “Consistency is the key to forming habits.”

2. Reassess the role of alcohol in your shared home

One of the most common discussions about alcohol in situations where a partner is sober or dry by choice is whether the alcohol will remain kept or drunk in the communal house. If your sober partner is recovering, learning to live peacefully with them may mean keeping your home alcohol-free.

For Sarah Potteiger, 31, now sober for 3 years, the absence of alcohol in the home, which she shares with her alcoholic husband, has been of great help. Ironically, when she met him on her first date more than seven years ago, it was at a casual bar, and they bonded over beers. But now, she appreciates that if her husband goes out drinking, he’ll hang out with his friends when she’s not around. “We don’t usually leave alcohol in the apartment,” she said. “It was a big change, but he was very supportive and understood why I needed it out of sight.”

The same goes for Zoë Tobin, 40, and David Fischer, 51, who have been together for over 5 years and have lived together for the past 3 years. Tobin quit drinking six months ago, and Fischer still drinks but usually only on social outings without her, and they don’t leave alcohol at home.

“Gambling in front of a sportsbook addict can seem cruel, and partners should consider how they would feel if they were placed in similar tempting situations.” —Allen Wagner, LMFT, therapist

In these cases, removing alcohol from the home is a matter of respect. “Gambling in front of a sportsbook addict can seem cruel, and partners should consider how they would feel if they were placed in a similarly tempting situation,” says Wagner. But even if your partner is a sober curiosity or a dry choice, it’s important for both of you to be empathetic and proactively plan your drinking (or not) in the house. shared.

For someone like Tom Houston, 41, deciding not to drink is simply a lifestyle choice, and he’s come to an agreement with his wife, Lori, 40, that alcohol can still play a role in their family. “We are constantly entertaining at home—at least three to four times a month—and having wine on hand, and proactively serving it to our guests and my wife, feels completely normal,” he says.

Despite his personal abstinence choices, Houston is comfortable with alcohol being present in his family and social life, as well as in his work as the food and beverage director at a hotel in Hawaii. But for others with similarly dry options, alcohol at home can still cause problems. It’s important to discuss with a sober partner whether you or others who drink in the home they share are comfortable with them… not so much, and respect that appeal.

3. Be open about the impact of sobriety or the curiosity of sobriety on your partnership

Some people may enter a relationship sober or curious and may need to negotiate boundaries around alcohol when moving in with a partner. But a person’s relationship with alcohol can also change over time. Perhaps you used to drink with your partner on date night, or simply to pass the time, and now, you’re in a long-term relationship with someone who no longer wants to split a bottle. wine or drink whiskey together. bar.

Right from the leap, you may worry that your relationship (or your life) is about to take a drastic change or suddenly become boring. Lori Houston (Tom’s wife, above) admits this was her top thought when Tom decided to quit drinking. She said: “At first, I worried about how his non-drinking would affect our date nights and our going out or going to events together.

But in reality, Lori has benefited from her husband not drinking: Tom is more attached, he has a new role as assigned driver, and the couple has accumulated more savings for activities. play. And, as Tom’s sleep improved without alcohol, so did Lori.

Potteiger also had a similar experience. “In terms of our relationship as a whole, sanity made it so much more meaningful because I was able to be fully present and present for him in ways that I never did before, ‘ she said, adding that though she often struggles with sobriety. , these difficult times ultimately made her relationship with her husband so much stronger.

That does not mean all Relationships benefit when one person chooses not to drink alcohol, whether for health or other reasons. But if you’re a drinking partner, part of learning to live with a sober or dry partner is keeping an open mind to the potential downsides of their sobriety, rather than assuming that their Their demand or choice to abstain is destined to destroy your relationship.

4. Exchanging alcohol related activities

Learning to live with a sober or curiously sober partner certainly requires finding new ways to spend your time and money as a couple—especially if drinking was previously part of your lifestyle. your regularly scheduled program. Explore dry dating ideas that will help you discover many ways to connect or build intimacy without alcohol.

These days, Potteiger and her husband spend their savings on experiences and travel rather than drunken date nights. “And on the nights that we used to go to the bar, now we usually stay and spend time together talking and watching a show or a movie,” says Potteiger.

Wagner suggests couples go to concerts together (no bars needed), or do things in nature, like camping or hiking. He added: “Some people also like escape rooms and virtual reality experiences. “Game nights with other couples can also be a fun activity, as can dinners at restaurants in scenic areas, where you can go for a walk afterwards. [to replace going for a drink].”

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