I have been deeply moved by the depth of despair and confusion you are expressing in your identifying your most important question about alcoholism. I feel your pain. I am also aware of the presence of great moral strength.
Here are questions from two women whose struggle is almost universal among women who live with drug and alcohol abuse and addiction:
1. How do you live with high functioning alcoholic? He has a good job and he tries to be involved in the kids’ lives, but you cannot rely on him. He acts like we are the crazy ones; he is the Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll. I have stayed with him because of our vows and children. If I cannot face him, it wouldn’t be fair to divorce him and force the kids to face him alone.
2. Should I stay in the marriage? And what are the impacts on my children and how can I neutralize them?
Each woman’s question highlights two moral dilemmas. They are big life questions I suspect underlie the majority of the responses sent in. You married with the belief and intention that your marriage was going to be a lifelong relationship. Now your partner abuses alcohol, and his drinking is severely impacting your sense of wellbeing and, if you have children, probably theirs as well.
Dilemma One: You
Do you break your vows to protect your own sanity, or do you stay and just do the best you can in the hope one day he’ll wake up?
Some women manage to create a life for themselves while staying in their alcoholic marriage. They develop their own interests, friends, family connections, work and so on. It can be a lonely path, but they consider the alternative of leaving the marriage to be worse.
My sister-in-law decided in her later-in life marriage to take this route. She had wide interests, good friends and a great relationship with her adult daughter. Her older, alcoholic husband had lots of medical problems and was generally in poor health. Sadly, she died ten years before he did.
Other women with alcoholic partners find themselves spiraling down emotionally, mentally and often physically, especially if he is abusive. So they leave, but there may be guilt to deal with, and often difficult financial pressures and other problems.
Dilemma Two: Your Children
Do you stay because your children need a father, or do you take your children out of the unhealthy environment? But will separating them from their father do them more harm than good?
Children learn by modeling their parents. If you take the children away from the model of their alcohol-abusing father, will they be less likely to adopt his drinking lifestyle, but resent you for abandoning dad? If you keep them there, will they resent you for not rescuing them? As adults, will they adopt the model you provided, that of staying in a marriage no matter what?
I know a woman in her 40s who remembers at nine years old praying daily that her mother would leave her dad and take the kids. I know another about the same age who recalls as a young teen her constant worry her parents would split up. Both are now dealing with resentment towards their mothers, not their fathers.
There are no easy answers. There are no answers that apply to everyone. It’s little wonder you sometimes feel stuck and unhappy.