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redeyechicago.com

A wife's denial leaves a husband hopeless

Anna Pulley, @annapulley

RedEye's sex columnist

3:41 PM CST, February 8, 2012

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I am very depressed and confused. I have been married 16 years. My wife has cheated on me several times in the past. She was laid off work for two years ago and started hanging at the local loser bar just about every day. This made me very upset. She told me it is to get "out of the house" and to socialize. She promised me nothing was going on. She was pretty much drunk almost every day. Six months ago, I got an anonymous letter in the mail saying, "Your wife isn't who you think she is." Again she said nothing is going on. I recently went to her watering hole and some barfly and a bunch of dudes were on the other side of the bar. I overheard the woman tell the dudes that she wanted to introduce them to my wife. One of the dudes said, "Oh, she's the woman I heard so much about. I heard a lot about her. A lot!" Again she said nothing is going on. What am I supposed to think and do? She denies anything remotely is going on.

--Depressed and Confused

I started going to AA when I was 12, not because I'm Lindsay Lohan, but because my parents are alcoholics (30 years sober at this point), and they wanted me to see what AA meetings were like, and possibly to try to scare me out of drinking forever. My pre-teen recollections of AA include: "Ohmigod, free cake!" And a 12-year chip I nabbed from the bin and proudly showed to everyone in attendance, but mostly to the guy holding the cake knife, to prove I deserved another piece.

I'm telling you this little family vignette not to make you hungry, but because I see many signs of alcohol abuse in your wife's behavior. Obviously, the "drunk almost every day" is a glaring red flag. But also the lying, the denial, the "it's just to socialize" excuses. I'm not even going to venture a guess as to who sent you that mysterious letter. I will say this, though. You're being taken advantage of. Your wife is using you as a scapegoat for her addiction. The good news is she's not doing it because of anything you've done. The bad news is there's nothing you can do about it. Your wife has to have the desire to heal herself before anything can change, before she can become a good partner to you again, if it's still possible.

The first thing I implore you to do is seek outside help. You can't help your wife if you don't first help yourself. Go to Al-Anon, which is a free, peer-based support group for friends and family members of drinkers. Here's where to find your local Al-Anon meetings. Taking care of your own needs doesn't mean you've stopped caring about your wife's illness. What it means is that when you learn to take care of yourself, then you'll be better equipped to deal with your wife's issues. Because the anger and resentment and depression you're feeling is, in many ways, just as toxic as the booze. As you get better at standing up for yourself, this might also have a snowball effect on your wife's willingness to help herself.

Once you have a network of people facing similar issues that you can draw from, then you can start to think about those larger, darker questions. Like, "Do I want to stay in this relationship?" "Is being with my wife ultimately hindering my happiness and quality of life?" "Am I committed to sticking it out through a potentially long and messy recovery?" Those are questions you can only answer yourself, but I urge you not to sit there and silently suffer. If you continue to carry this burden alone, it will consume you. You can't let that happen. You must change your life. It won't be a piece of cake at all, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve it.


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