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Dear Mark,

My girlfriend and I have been together for six months. For the most part, things have been great. I just got out of a 4-year relationship that was horrible. My ex was a daily pot smoker and not motivated to do anything with her life. She wasn’t affectionate or caring although I know in my heart she loved me. I loved her deeply, too, and tried to make the relationship work, but when I pressed her to get a job she became violent. Things ended horribly and I don’t think we’ll ever speak again.

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Dear Mark,

My girlfriend and I have been together for six months. For the most part, things have been great. I just got out of a 4-year relationship that was horrible. My ex was a daily pot smoker and not motivated to do anything with her life. She wasn’t affectionate or caring although I know in my heart she loved me. I loved her deeply, too, and tried to make the relationship work, but when I pressed her to get a job she became violent. Things ended horribly and I don’t think we’ll ever speak again.

Then I meet this new woman. She was sweet and kind and caring. She also had a job and owned her own house. On the surface, it looked like she was everything my ex wasn’t. She had all the traits I was longing for in a partner. After our first date she disclosed she was in recovery. She had a distant history of alcohol use and went periodically to AA meetings. She told me her problem was years ago when she had a completely different life and now she was contemplating beginning to drink again socially. I have never had a problem with addiction and have always been a moderate social drinker. To me, it seemed like a logical decision.

Things went well for a while, but then I began to notice signs. We bought a bottle of vodka at Costco for a dinner party. There were 8 guests but we didn’t finish even half the bottle. A week later I found it in the garage under some boxes…empty. Same thing with various “missing” bottles of wine. One time, we were out by her pool and she went in to use the bathroom. I happened to look into the kitchen through the window and could see her drinking straight from an open bottle of red wine we had left over from the night before. I confronted her and she confessed. She promised to go back to meetings and stop drinking. Well, this little scenario has happened three or four times. Good for a while, I let down my guard and say, “What harm could one glass of wine at a dinner party do?” and then days later I find her passed out on a raft in our pool. I get upset and say, “Enough!” Then she’s sorry, good for a while, and then it happens all over again.

I know this is more about me. Why do I keep letting this happen? How do I keep getting into these relationships where my partner isn’t fully present? What does that say about me? I’ve been in enough therapy to know I’m the ultimate codependent caregiver. But I’m trying to set good boundaries and still no luck. Shouldn’t I be able to have a healthy relationship, too?

Signed, Meena in Lauderdale

 

Dear Meena,

You ask a lot of valid questions. I won’t be able to answer them all here in the space that I have, but I suggest you find a good therapist for a few sessions to come up with a plan of action for you – one that recognizes the effort your girlfriend is trying to make as well as all the issues that you bring to the table. A new plan for this relationship is essential if it’s going to work long term.

Let’s talk about a few of your concerns here. Addiction is a tricky subject. There are many theories out there, many modes of recovery, and many of them don’t agree with the other. The most well known is Alcoholic Anonymous. Their theory is that once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. They believe you must recognize you’re powerless over the disease and abstinence is the only answer. This works for many many people. But you are right…there are other scenarios. There are people who used to have an issue with alcohol in their past but can begin to drink again socially years later. There is Smart Recovery that promotes (unlike AA) personal power and motivation rather than giving it over to a higher power. There is no “one true way” when it comes to recovery. I can’t tell you what works best or what is best for your girlfriend. What is clear is that this relationship needs to change.

First things first. Alcohol use needs to be off the table for the time being. If AA has worked for her in the past, I suggest she start there. Get sober and begin working a program. Honestly, this sounds like the best choice. From what little you told me already, she doesn’t seem to be the type of person who can begin to socially drink socially again. More likely she will never be able to integrate alcohol back into her life again. But she will have to find that out for herself. Regardless, you will have to decide if that is a situation you will be able to handle or not.

As a self described codependent caregiver your job is to start focusing on yourself. Ask yourself why you set boundaries and then let them slide. Is alcohol use really the issue or are you afraid of losing someone really nice and find yourself agreeing to almost anything in order to keep them and the relationship? Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! You need to set them and stick with them. Make this your personal mantra! Otherwise you are setting up the same situation you had with your old relationship. You are allowing their issues to guide you and, ultimately, the relationship. It’s okay to take some control back. In order to do so, you must recognize your self worth. You deserve to be in a relationship where your partner cares enough about you to give you what you want as well. Hope this helps you. Good luck. 

Mark Rutherford LCSW

Mark is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida since 1997. His practice concentrates on relationship issues and couples counseling as well as the spectrum of other related mental health concerns. Mark offers a no-nonsense, straightforward, educated forum where readers can feel comfortable asking any and all questions and get constructive answers.

Contact Mark via his web site, MDRutherford.com

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