Caroline West-Meads: ‘Her drinking has got out of control’

Ask Caroline

Q. I’m a 64-year-old man who has been married for 35 years. My wife, who is 58, has always liked a drink but over the past few years her alcohol consumption has become excessive. She drinks most nights and during the day at weekends, getting through at least two large bottles of spirits a week. I don’t think she is an alcoholic because she has stopped a few times. I’ve begged her to cut down, but it makes no difference. I find it particularly hard, as I lost my sister to non-alcohol-related liver disease seven years ago. My wife and I have two grown-up children and three grandchildren. A few weeks ago, we were looking after the young ones (ages two and three). I had been out shopping and came back to find my wife, slurring and stumbling, in the garden with the children. I could tell she was drunk and told her to go inside, where she fell asleep on the sofa. Our son promptly took the children home. Both he and I are disgusted with my wife over her behaviour. My son and his wife say they will never leave the children with us again without one of them being with us. I feel that this has done lasting damage to our relationship. We have always been a close family and I can’t understand why my wife did this – especially as she loves the grandchildren so much. She wouldn’t talk about it afterwards – I have suggested that an apology might help but she hasn’t offered one. I love my wife, but I don’t know what to do to fix this problem.

A. This is very distressing for you and also the wider family. You say you don’t think your wife is an alcoholic, but I’m afraid from the behaviour you describe she is. Like any addiction it has become more important than anything else. When you ask your wife why she drinks and can’t stop, she can’t explain it because she is in the grip of her addiction. This is tough for you and it’s not surprising it is affecting your feelings for her. But remember that this is an illness. Many addictions have their roots in emotional pain and your wife needs help. Unfortunately, she will have to make that decision for herself. But you need support too, so contact, which supports the family and friends of problem drinkers. If you attend their support groups and become informed about this dreadful illness, it will help you. At some point your wife may be ready to see her GP or contact, which can guide her to the right treatment. I am sure your relationship with your son can heal. Explain that his mum is ill and needs help, but that you couldn’t be sorrier about the incident. Tell him that you love him and would be devastated not to see the grandchildren. Sadly, I have known people whose own happiness and mental health have suffered greatly trying to help an alcoholic who wouldn’t change. Sometimes people need to leave a relationship to preserve their own wellbeing, but I really hope it won’t come to that.

‘Why was I blind to his sordid double life?’

Q. I was widowed in my 40s and a few years later met an older man who seemed so nice. We were together for 11 years, but a couple of months ago he died from cancer. I was devastated, but while clearing out his things I discovered that he had been living a sordid secret life. I found three spy cameras in his house and the footage showed that he had been paying young women to indulge him in perverted sexual fantasies. He had also been involved in blackmail and fraud. I am disgusted and feel upset because I should have known. I had my suspicions but I ignored them. I am struggling to cope with the sympathy of friends while knowing the life I had with him was a lie. I am too ashamed to tell anyone.

A. Actually you do need to talk this through with someone. It must have been terrible to have been widowed in your 40s and I expect that you were left vulnerable and shaken by that. So when someone came along who seemed so nice, you wanted to believe that they were, even when there was evidence to the contrary. Also, while his behaviour has destroyed any feelings you had for him, you are still grieving for the man you thought you knew. So please have counselling (try, or ask your GP). At some point you could confide in one or two close friends. But for now please have the courage to say to people that, in fact, you are upset to have discovered that he was not who you thought he was and that you feel relieved that he is no longer in your life. You don’t have to go into details. When you are stronger, you may also need to contact the police.