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Does Your Spouse Criticize Your Drinking?

Interesting results from a study that followed 634 couples through the first nine years of their marriage: a big difference in how much they drink greatly increased their chances of divorce. About half of the couples with one heavy drinker and one who is not a heavy drinker divorced within nine years of their wedding day. Those who were more alike in their drinking had around a 30% divorce rate, whether they both drank heavily or not.

The definition of heavy drinker was a bit different than used in other research. They counted anyone who drank to intoxication or drank six or more drinks at a time as a heavy drinker. This is usually referred to as binge drinking.

According to the CDC, 90% of those who drink excessively binge drink, and one in six American adults binge drinks about four times a month. Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes greater than $75,000 a year.

The takeaway here: even though it's common and you probably know many who binge drink, too, if you are a binge drinker and your spouse is not, your marriage is under a lot more stress than others. Your chances of failure in your first nine years increase by two-thirds.

(By the way, because of the greatly increased risk of alcohol dependence and other health issues, I don't suggest you encourage your spouse to join you in binge drinking as the solution.)

The study was done by the Kenneth Leonard, PhD, director of the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, with Gregory Homish, PhD, and Philip Smith, PhD, of the university's Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. They controlled for other contributors to divorce likelihood, including depression and drug use. The study will be published in the December issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.


I have a friend who is facing this problem now. She drinks very rarely. Her husband binge drinks on the weekends. She hates it because of the way it affects his behavior. I suspect that binge drinkers aren't very aware of the personality changes that go along with their drinking. I expect that if my friend's husband doesn't change his ways, the day will come when she realizes she has had enough and leaves.

Assuming he's a stand-up guy the rest of the week, she could also:
(1) Take a class that keeps her out of the house when he's drunk.
(2) Invite a friend, committee, or Meet-Up group over on the weekends.
(3) Invite him to a movie or a museum or a play before he starts drinking.
(4) Cut costs around the house to give him some room for changing jobs to reduce stress.
(5) Invent something worth being sober for, like a weekly progressive dinner with friends or a Saturday evening movie club.

Good points, Patty. My friend has told me that she has tried getting him involved in other activities, but he refuses. I did suggest that she see a counselor or therapist who could help her think of more effective ways to approach him, since he has perceived her as being too critical and a spoilsport. She might do well to engage with him during the week rather than on weekends, and find something else to do (a class, perhaps, as you suggested) when he wants to drink. The good news is that he is already going through a career change which is likely to reduce his stress. I hope that makes a difference for them.

I hope that career change helps the two of them, Rosemary. She's lucky to have you as a friend.

A follow-up. The good news is that my friend recently told me things were getting better in her marriage. She attributed it to two main factors. One, she had started speaking up clearly about her feelings and desires, rather than being resentful or indirect. Two, her husband had cut back on the weekend drinking and was spending the time with her rather than with his old drinking buddies.

I was very glad to hear this. This is a time when they are both preparing to go into retirement, and will be spending a lot more time together. Improving their communication and quality time now will really help them enjoy those golden years.

It am so happy to hear this, Rosemary! Thanks for the follow-up.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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