‘I am battling with alcohol withdrawal and now feel like ending my marriage’

Tell Me About It: ‘You have stopped drinking, and this is quite an achievement, but the next step is to engage with your wife and in a sustained and real manner’


I am battling with alcohol withdrawal, but my wife is stressing me to the extent I am now hypertensive. I feel comfortable when I am without her, I even returned to work before my official leave is over.

I feel like ending this marriage, but I am worried about our two kids. I work in the Defence Forces.

What can I do? I need urgent help.


It seems that there is a lot of stress in your life and perhaps alcohol was helping you avoid it. Now that you are attempting to be alcohol free, the issues causing stress may be surfacing and the job is to face them and not try out a different form of avoidance (such as leaving the house).

You are right to be concerned for your children. They have already coped with a dad with an alcohol issue and it would be good for them to know that their father is willing to engage fully with the family and face the problems that exist there. Seeking help is the first step as it is unlikely you will manage to do all of this alone, ie staying off alcohol, taking on the marriage issues, and reassuring your children that you are there for them.

There are many options open to you – many of the organisations who support problem drinking offer family and couple support (eg hse.ie/alcohol). Family/couple therapy could be of great assistance and online sessions may be on offer (see familytherapyireland.com). If all else fails, family mediation could assist you in a creating a good separation (see legalaidboard.ie).

There is no doubt that your wife may have suffered from your drinking and avoidance, and she may also be struggling with trusting the change in you. Often, when we are stressed, we lash out at those closest to us as a strange way of self-protection and she may be doing this. The best way of dealing with this is to find a space and time to have a real conversation, preferably away from the demands of life. Could you and her get someone to mind the children for an afternoon and go for a walk and coffee?

Start the conversation by asking her how she is and what she thinks you guys need to discuss. You will really need to listen and not become defensive if this conversation is to go anywhere. If she feels you have understood her life and how difficult it has been, she will then be able to hear how difficult it is for you to stay in the house and how sensitive you feel.

Criticism is difficult to hear, but we can take it on board if the person delivering it believes that we are capable of improving and if we feel a genuine sense of care in the person who is speaking. You, at least, can make sure that this is the attitude you bring to the conversations, and it will need many, and you can create this by checking with yourself what your attitude really is, and then changing it if necessary.

That you are both so intense and sensitive may indicate that you are not indifferent to each other and so there may be something genuine to salvage. Whether this turns out to be the case or not, your children need their parents to be able to communicate and make decisions about what is best for them, and this cannot happen under the current circumstances.

You have stopped drinking, and this is quite an achievement, but the next step is to engage with your wife and in a sustained and real manner and you must muster the resources within you to take this on.

Can you get support from close friends of family? Only chose people who like your wife, as otherwise you may be pulled in different directions as you start your conversations. You will need continued support as whatever direction you are headed, resurrecting your marriage or organising a separation, it is likely to be a long and protracted journey. Chose people to confide in whom you admire and trust and you will find that these friendships deepen with these disclosures, and know that you can also support them in the future when their time of need arises.

You have demonstrated huge resilience in maintaining your alcohol withdrawal, lean into this capacity again and take on the relationship issues that are right in front of you.