What to Do with an Alcoholic Spouse

Letter #3

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband and I have been married for three years, and have two young daughters. I am 24, he is 28.

A year ago, my husband completed drug and alcohol treatment, and has remained sober ever since. But after his treatment, our sexual relationship just about came to an end. For months I had to beg for his affections. My husband can go without sex for a month, and not miss it.

I feel unloved, unattractive, and feel my self-esteem slipping further and further. Although he has made attempts to improve our love life sporadically throughout the year, it's just not there. I don't want to have to beg my husband for sex, nor do I want him to feel 'obligated'. I feel unwanted and unattractive.

I hope that you can give me some practical advice.


Dear C.R.,

The fact that your husband has completed treatment and is sober is terrific. He has made a crucial first step in building a great marriage with you: He overcame his addiction. Now begins the process of rebuilding his life without drugs or alcohol.

The most common initial reaction to sobriety is depression, which usually comes with the loss of something that meant a great deal to you. He was probably so dependent on drugs and alcohol, that he didn't know how to be happy without them.

I would imagine that he usually used a drug of some kind whenever he made love to you. Now that he is without drugs, he has lost his touch, so to speak. He will need to develop his sexual skills all over again now that he's sober. In fact, many of your recreational activities may also have been drug enhanced, and you will need to rebuild all of those too, without drugs or alcohol.

I'm not certain that it's just sex you want from your husband. You may want his attention and affection even more than sex. Sex may have been the easiest way for you to get them from him in the past. But sobriety may have left him very depressed, missing the drug that was always there to lift his spirits, and loss of sex drive often accompanies depression. His depression may also have left him unaffectionate and uncommunicative.

Apparently, he has already made some effort to accommodate you, but his depression and lack of skill may have prevented him from succeeding. Encourage him to talk to you about what it is he is going through, so that you can try to solve the problem together. What you call "begging" is actually nothing more than describing your needs, and suggesting ways for him to meet them. Drugs and alcohol made his love life with you work in the past, and now he must find a new way to meet your needs -- a way that does not require drugs.

The longer he is sober, the more his depression will lift. In fact, he is probably less depressed now than he was six months ago. But you have become increasingly hurt by him, and you may be emotionally withdrawing, making it difficult for him to learn how to adjust to you.

I suggest that you and your husband read Fall in Love, Stay in Love. It will show you how to use the Policy of Joint Agreement to create a lifestyle that helps you both adjust to your husband's sobriety. If you follow my suggestions, you will create the marriage you have been wanting, and your sexual problems along with a host of other problems will be left behind, along with your husband's addiction.

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