My friend is in a marriage with an alcoholic. I see a pretty bad dynamic developing between them, as I watch her enable his drinking. What should I do?
What She Said
Butt out. I know it’s hard to watch your friend’s marriage go down a challenging path, but this one is not your fight. If you start to offer your opinion, or interfere in their dynamic, you’ll most likely lose the friendship all together – not to mention the peace of mind that comes along with taking care of your own business.
Focus On Yourself
Your best course of action is to stay strong and healthy in your own life. Joining them in their enabling is a crash-course in bad boundaries and codependence. This is something that may play out for years in their lives. People cannot accept help unless they truly want the help themselves. You can’t force either one to get help before their time.
Be there for your friend and support her marriage when asked and focus on your own fabulous self. If this situation turns around, you’ll be there to catch your friend. Often, as we form healthier relationships, some people naturally find their place in our lives – and other people weed themselves out. Time will tell if these two will be able to help themselves – or if you’ll ultimately find it more satisfying to explore other friendships.
What He Said
Watching your friend’s marriage fall apart is like driving on the freeway and seeing two cars driving dangerously up ahead. An accident is coming. You know it. You feel it. You can see it happening before it actually does. What can you do to prevent it? Nothing. You are driving your car. Not theirs. All you can do is get off the freeway and let the inevitable unfold.
Does that make you feel better? Is that a “feel good” answer? No. But that doesn’t make it any less true or valid. The fact is, if you go in and tell your friend what to do about their marriage, without them asking, you’re a jerk. Worse you’re a know it all jerk. A real “butt in-ski.” There is nothing you can do.
Do You Want To Continue The Friendship?
If it’s too much for you, well, I can’t say that I blame you. This is a very simple situation, but it’s not an easy one. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Yes, it is a bit harsh to say that cutting your friend out of your life is the way to go, but if you can find another option, go for it. But your friend is in a negative marriage that can only spiral out of control. You’ll never hear anyone say “you know, I was in an abusive relationship with a raging alcoholic and it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me! God, I hope I find another one just like him.” That’s not a conversation you’re ever going to have. Ever.
You will, however, hear quite a few people say things like “what the hell was I thinking” or “God, I wish I’d gotten out of that sooner.” This marriage isn’t going to end well. It’s only a question of when and how badly. Your friend doesn’t know this, of course, or they probably won’t be in this situation, but they damn sure don’t want your marriage advice, or at the very least they aren’t ready for it. You can’t force anything to happen. This is no exception. You can, in some cases, create scenarios to invite or facilitate or accelerate the change, but you can’t force it.
My good friend, Johnny has a saying “How many psychotherapists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one. But the light bulb has to really, really want to change.”
Is your friend that light bulb? If not, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Except to get out of the way and be there for her when she comes to her senses. If she ever does.