Marrying a drunk or that guy who will become an alcoholic in the future. What’s that all about?
A wrong choice, a sign from the Universe?
You may disagree with me or even throw figurative stones at me, but that’s fate. Let me put it this way: it’s a pattern, a consistent one.
Scientific studies have proven that daughters of alcoholics tend to marry alcoholics. This mechanism of selecting a partner for life is not fully studied yet, but the fact is obvious. I get a lot of e-mails from brides of alcoholics. And their stories can be great lessons for us. When the wife of an alcoholic suffers, people see it as a reaction to the troubles at home. The life-long experience of a difficult life next to a loved one with the desease of alcoholism shapes the subconscious of the wife. At the same time, the bride has no such experience. Psychologically speaking, some girls are ready for all the difficulties of life in a troubled marriage.
“Troubled men pull me like a magnet. Why?”- a bride of a drunk asked me once. I don’t know why. But I see the same tendencies in other letters as well.
Here’s a snippet from the letter.
“I’m dating a guy who suffers from alcoholism. He’s 25 years old, I’m 20 – we’ve been seeing each other for 8 months. I don’t want to break up with him and I won’t ever do that, because I love him very much and want him to become a real man. Teach me how to behave myself when he’s drunk, and what to say when he’s sober – how do I get him to stop drinking?
There’s no use in talking to my parents as they don’t really know the first thing about my personal life. If I ask them how to deal with an alcoholic they’ll both say that I should leave him. His parents are only good for shouting and swearing. His father used to be a heavy drinker but he doesn’t drink anymore – hasn’t been for 15 years. He’s 50 years old. My friend’s grandfather likes to drink as well, but not as much as before. When me and my fiancé visit his family, his grandfather always pours him a glass or two. My fiancé was married once and he has a child. I don’t really know all the details of the divorce, but I do know this: the husband was a drunk, the wife was cheating, they were fighting a lot, and he beat her all the time. His neighbors, his buddies – they’re all alcoholics – and he really likes spending time with them. He doesn’t want to meet other people who don’t drink. “
It seems to me like this e-mail is a typical one for a bride of an alcoholic.
You should pay attention to the fact that she doesn’t say anything about herself. There is, however, one interesting detail – she grew up in a family that never really used to discuss (and trust somebody with) the secrets of their private lives. So, the bride didn’t have much trust in the relationship with her parents – maybe none at all. Most likely, her family has tons of its own problems. The bride is now focused on the problems of her groom. He’s got a lot of those. The family that he comes from is full of drunks – both his father and grandfather suffer from alcoholism. He has an experience of a failed marriage and he used to beat his wife. Alcoholism and violence usually go “hand-in-hand” and are often passed from one generation to another. Recently I read a scientific article that studied this issue in 20 Portuguese families consisting of 3 generations. Alcoholism and violence in several generations of the same family were found in 18 of those 20 families.
The bride, the author of the letter, seems to think that she’ll be able to avoid the fate of her fiancé’s first wife. But I’m afraid that he’ll beat his second wife as well. The bride doesn’t get that she’s in danger; she stubbornly believes that all that (alcohol abuse, mistreating his wife) will not be repeated in her family. Her belief in the power of love is really strong and she speaks about it with passion! It’s like the mechanism that’s supposed to pick up signals of danger is simply turned off. The groom is really clear about his intentions and sends «danger signals”, but the bride doesn’t “receive” them.
This is called mythological thinking, believing in illusions.
But why doesn’t she love the person who’s right next to her and loves the one from the future, almost like he’s not even a real man yet, as she put it “…I want him to become a real man”? She firmly believes that she can “make” a real man out of him. As if you can change anybody, especially somebody who will never let himself to be influenced by his wife/bride. How can we speak about his spiritual growth when he picks his friends only among the drunks? We, the humans, crave for an environment where we can bring our desires and wishes to life.
Perhaps this is the defining thing about brides of alcoholics – ultimate faith in their ability to transform, rehabilitate and “remake” their grooms, choose their fate for them.
But is there really a way for one person, even if it’s the mother, father or teacher, to define the fate of another person, to shape people according to their own plans, to keep their lives under control?
Of course not.
It’s pretty hard to change yourself even if you want to; as for the others – it’s not difficult, it’s simply impossible. It’s foolish to assign yourself to a task like that. People never really change according to someone’s plan. They have this…thing that’s called “folding resistance.” The confidence of brides and wives of alcoholics in the success of their plans to make him stop drinking is present in every letter. They don’t even ask whether it’s possible or not. They just demand – teach us how to behave, what to do.
“Of course, I knew that I was getting married to a drunk. But I flattered myself with the idea that I can fix him, “- says a wife of an alcoholic.
Further in the letter, she says that she couldn’t “fix” him. It’s quite a word she used. Marriage is not a correctional facility, but rather a voluntary cooperation between two partners. One woman put it even more clearly: “When I was marrying him, I saw that he was a drunk. But what kind of a woman would I be if I couldn’t change my honey! He might be her “honey”, but she doesn’t respect him at all, because otherwise she wouldn’t have called him a “drunk”. The ending to this story is the same – she failed to change her man.
Bottom line is – the brides of alcoholics are focused on the problems of their grooms, not on their own problems.
Troubled people attract them, cause a lot of interest. Because they are “objects” for using their mighty powers on. There hasn’t been a single woman in the world that could “transform”, “fix” or “re-educate” an alcoholic, no women out there ever got his sobriety in exchange for her love. But that never stops butterflies from flying into the sizzling fire. This is called “self-destructive behavior”.
Maybe she was the eldest or an only child in the family. Her childhood was quite difficult, sometimes due to the fact that her father suffered from alcoholism (or her grandfather), sometimes due to the fact that her mother was too demanding, high-handed and criticized her a lot. The future bride of an alcoholic was a very good girl. She was a good student in school, she always kept her room clean, she did her best in everything else and she was constantly hoping to get some praise from her parents. But it was all in vain. Mom never noticed her daughter’s achievements as she was occupied by the struggle with her husband, an alcoholic. Mom was a big endorser of the theory that you can’t praise your daughter, otherwise you’ll spoil her. “She’ll become a burden if you do”.
So, no matter what good the girl did, no matter how many A+’s she got at school, they, the parents, would never consider it to be enough to reward their with warmth, affection, expression of love, a warm touch or to simply say: “We are proud of you, sweetheart! You are such a wonderful girl”. Her parents were always either physically or emotionally unavailable – sometimes both. Daddy could leave the family, mom could be working on two jobs. Actually, Dad could stay in the family, but if he was busy or drunk, she’d never get to talk to him heart to heart.
That’s how emotional unavailability works. The result – daughter’s unsatisfied emotional hunger. Hunger for love.
How often did they criticize her at home? Oh, very often.
Lack of praise and harsh, frequent criticism from the most important people – parents – leads to yet another defining thing that affects the way she pick her future husband: the daughter has desperately low self-esteem. Somewhere deep down the girl, then lady believes that she’s not worthy of wearing silk. All her life she feels more comfortable in something rough and coarse. She doesn’t feel like she’s a decent person that has a value in this life. How can she mean something in her own eyes is she never meant anything to her parents? She really wants to prove that it will be all right, that she can achieve her goals. Sometimes these girls swear that everything in their families is going to be different, nothing like what their moms and dads had. The stronger the desire to create a different family, the more likely it is for the girl to repeat her mother’s fate. When she denies the way of life that used to make up her childhood that means she’s tied to her parent’s family, but in a negative way, not a positive one. Being tied equals not being free. It destroys freedom of choice. To form a new emotional attachment, say, to a spouse, you need to grow up and free yourself from your childish attachments. The letters from the brides are full of negative feelings towards their parents.
Brides of alcoholics rarely say to themselves something like “I ‘m a valuable and worthy, decent woman. “At the same time, they constantly get the urge to save someone, to keep them from falling into the abyss, to sacrifice themselves. She needs heroism. Sometimes through heroism people’s personalities gain a sense of significance.
Brides of alcoholics have so little self-esteem that they need to “feed” it from the outside. They don’t understand that self-respect, self-worth, adequate self-appraisal is a deep inner quality. It’s just a belief that doesn’t depend on our actual achievements. This depends a lot on who you were to the most important people in your life – your mom and dad. If they thought that you are a good person and loved you unconditionally, not for obedience or good behavior, that means you’ve got high self-esteem and there will be less problems in your life.
Children As A Peacekeeping Force
A girl’s parents, the mom and dad of a future bride of an alcoholic, used to quarrel every once in a while. She thought that her role was to reconcile them or to prevent terrible consequences of the quarrels. When the spirit of war sweeps through the house, a child quickly learns what needs to be done so that nobody calls the police, Dad doesn’t beat mom and the neighbors don’t hear the screams. The child will quickly hide a knife lying on the table, turn off the phone or draw the curtains on the windows. There’s no telling what she would do. The circumstances themselves will tell them what to do. So, the girl will become super-vigilant. She stood on watch her entire childhood, she’s always been on high alert. All that has also contributed to the fact that she grew up to be very smart, strong, serious and responsible. In the future life with her husband-alcoholic these qualities will be required on a daily basis. Is it natural for a child to be “in-between the sandwich”, i.e. to assume a position between conflicting parents? Is it natural for a person to live without knowing rest and never trusting the world around them? To expect traps all around, as if something tragic might happen at any moment? Children from alcoholic families may think that it IS natural. They never knew any other ways of living in their families.
The Need To Control
Those who grew up in difficult, troubled families always want to transform all the bad into good with the force of will. People like that will do everything in their power to not let life flow freely and naturally, without pressure and interference on their part. They won’t let life happen. They seek to control it. They believe they can control the course of unfortunate events.
“I’ll help him stop drinking Vodka”, “Love and devotion make miracles happen, and my man will definitely stop drinking,” “A decent wife means the husband doesn’t drink” – those are their mottos.
It doesn’t matter that the future wife of an alcoholic could never stop her dad from drinking. That’s actually why she desperately wants to repeat that family scenario but this time around create a happy ending. The roots of the need to control everything lie in the helplessness, in a passionate desire to be stronger than you really are. Ones the girl, the bride of an alcoholic, was already powerless. And that’s enough.
They Don’t Get Married, They Jump Into Marriages
The bride’s childhood wasn’t great and she was anxious to get away from it and transform her life, make it different. You could use the words of a classic to describe the bride of an alcoholic: “As a child she had no childhood.” Reconciling the parents, comforting the mother who’s hurting – that’s not something a kid should do, the child must not and can not be the family therapist. Even a noble intention like a strong desire to please her parents can lead to disappointment. The child does more than she can, but the parents never think she has done enough. Life in the parental house is not easy. And as soon as a girl comes of age, she really wants to leave the house as soon as possible. And that’s why they get married so soon sometimes.
They’re trying to jump into a marriage with the first guy they see.
Unfortunately, for some reason they always come across men with alcoholic tendencies. Maybe “alcoholic marriages” are also concealed in the heavens? V.P. Nyzhniy (2000) writes about the future wife of an alcoholic with humor but in all seriousness: “She puts her heart into it and waits, hoping to meet her prince soon and escape from the dreadful house. Therefore, she’s sensitive and responds to any man who is willing take care of her and protect her … And if this girl falls in love, she’ll love him for life. She is ready to go after her man through anything. She is ready to stand by him until death does them apart and cut the throat of anyone who tries to hurt him. She is ready to sacrifice everything – her comfort, time, prestige, beauty, femininity, just so that her knight feels good” (332.).
A lot of women choose their husbands from men who look like their fathers or have similar manners. Same goes for men – they tend to marry women who resemble their mothers. This is done unconsciously, at the subconscious level. That’s a dangerous trap. A strong family needs a marriage partner who’s equal in dignity and with whom one can share the responsibilities at home. Mama’s boys and daddy’s little daughters are weak, infantile people, not ready for any responsibility. And they make their childish fantasies come true in the marriage, like “When I grow up, I’ll marry you, Mom.” At the same time, no one has married his mother so far. And that’s good.
A marriage like that would be doomed to end badly. Remember that we witnessed the development of an unsatisfied hunger for love in the future alcoholic’s bride’s childhood? You could even put it this way – an unsatisfied emotional hunger. The family never satisfied such powerful emotional needs, like the need of a touch, approval, encouragement, and acceptance. A hungry person is a bad shopper. A hungry person would eat leftovers at the feast of life. Maybe that’s why girls don’t marry, but jump into a marriage with their drunks? Any signs of getting close, a simple touch is being mistaken for love that they’ve been dreaming about for a long time. “He just took me by the hand and I became devoted to him.”
They’re hoping that everything will be alright. They believe and they run towards their suffering with the lights that are supposed to warn them turned off. Even a sign like “He beat his wife” doesn’t worry them. A new marriage is not a new life from scratch. Every man comes with all the old issues and adds new ones, as he brings his personality. And that – his personality – is a constant. You don’t believe me? Take a look around. I bet you’ll remember at least a couple of woman who divorced their first drunk husbands and married other men who also turned out to be alcoholics. I know families where people have been married 3-4 times, and each time the husband or the wife turned out to be an alcoholic. Low self-esteem that the bride’s step into adulthood with needs to be “fed” from the outside all the time. A groom with problems is “testing grounds” where the brides can put their best qualities that have never been praised to use. “I’ll certainly do my best to be faithful to him, devoted and a good housewife.” If the groom has children from his first marriage, and she can replace their mother, that would be just the perfect opportunity to become a hero. To become a loving foster mother as opposed to the myth of an evil stepmother. That’s when he’ll start appreciating me.
The bride’s motto: “You need me? Take me”.
For some reason, she never says: “Why do I need him? So that I can prove to him that I’m great? I don’t need him to know that I am”.
But only a girl with high self-esteem can think like that – she doesn’t need to prove anything, she knows she’s great. Another solid question from the bride with adequate, good self-esteem could be: “Which one of my needs does he satisfy? None. So, I don’t need him. “A woman may strive to make all the wishes and whims of the groom come true just because she needs to get “outside feeding” for her critically low self-esteem. Selfless love …
Why reject yourself? And if you reject yourself, why wouldn’t he do the same?
The fear of being abandoned and rejected, the fear of not belonging to anybody is what makes the brides jump into a marriage. It seems that as a child she never could experience the feeling of complete belonging to her father and mother, because her parents kept their distance. To belong to someone – a person, a group, a team, a family, a nation – comforts us. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t lose ourselves , stop belonging to ourselves. When you’re with someone, you get the illusion that you are stronger, safer. But that’s just an illusion. These women suffered so long in their family homes that they are willing to give up on the reality and start believing in the illusion. Perhaps, it’s easier to live in the world of illusions. However, at some point, a clash with the harsh reality is inevitable. The longer you live in a fantasy world, the more it hurts when you leave it.
“If I can’t make Vasya stop drinking Vodka, then I don’t mean anything in this life” – that’s the point of zero significance of her own personality that Galya, a livestock specialist, 25 years or age, has reached. Galya feels likes she’s a “zero”, while Vasya is a “one” that can bring significant value, give weight and meaning to the life of this young, and – I have no doubt about that – talented, hard-working and decent woman. Is it really true that without Vasya or anybody else Galya’s live doesn’t mean anything? I can never believe that. But she does. Maybe her childhood made her believe that she is nothing, a klutz. And she believed in her own worthlessness. That is dangerous.
Brides of alcoholics are emotionally immature people. Her driver’s license may claim that she’s 20 years old, but she still feels like a 12-year-old. Her mind and soul are mainly occupied by the fear of being alone, the fear of the future, inability to stand strong on her own feet. Just like a child, she desperately needs someone to hold on to, someone to lean on. We all need psychological support, but not to the extent when she seriously says: “I can’t live without him.” I have a book by an American author on how to escape loneliness, about the role of a man in a woman’s life. I really like the title of this book – “Men Are Just Desserts.” The main idea of the book is that a woman is a person and her life can be complete in any “condition” – both in a marriage and out of one. If she has a man that she loves in her life, that’s awesome. But the man is just the dessert, while she is the main dish (Friedman S., 1983).
Brides, the future wives of alcoholics, think of themselves as an appendage to someone else’s life. As if they are just a side dish and not the main dish. Sometimes it sounds cute, “Allow me to introduce my second half.” Oh yeah? Do you really think that you are only a half of a person? Marriage is not the sum of two halves. Marriage is the relationship between two whole personalities. If you multiply the first half by the second one, the result will be a quarter. And only if you multiply one by one, you’ll get a one, a unit, something whole, full-bodied. Brides don’t know that they are whole persons, a full-bodied unit.
You’re playing a dangerous game called “I’ll marry a guy first, and then I’ll make a man out of him.” In this game, the brides are the losers. Your groom drinks and doesn’t even think about asking for help and treat the decease of alcoholism. That’s a sign that no one, including his loving bride or wife, will ever change him. Many women put the question bluntly in this situation: Either me, or vodka. Vodka always wins.
I understand that for that girl whose letter I quoted at the beginning of this chapter it’s really difficult to ask herself: “My fiancé drinks, it’s the only thing that interests him, he doesn’t feel responsibility for his own life or for the life of his child. And that’s all I deserve? Maybe I don’t appreciate myself enough? It is totally normal to respect, appreciate and even love yourself.” A writer said once that the measure of a woman’s dignity and decency can be the man she loves. The brides should think about it. However, I don’t agree with the writer. Our dignity is measured by ourselves, not by anybody else.
Maybe the bride’s personal monologue will go this way: “The lack of self-esteem in me is exactly why I am drawn to troubled men like a magnet. The groom-alcoholic already hit rock bottom. So, I’ll look great compared to him. Every day I will have the right to say (or just think) that I’m better than him, I’m higher than him. I will have the moral right to control him. But will I really never find another use for my powers? I’ll give him everything that I have and he’ll still refuse to use that priceless gift? Or maybe I’m really afraid that my future husband will dump me? No, this low-life will never do that. Where would he go without me? He’ll be lost without me. I’m his support, he relies on me. I give him so much – he gets all the attention, only his problems are important to me, I never tell him about mine, why bother the man I love? He doesn’t like when I start complaining. I agree to have sex with him at his first request, regardless whether I want it or not. Does he really not appreciate all that?” Don’t flatter yourself, honey, he doesn’t.
With him, the groom-alcoholic who then turns into the husband-alcoholic, you’ll experience a lot of grief and suffering. You will be the target of his aggression. The aggression will be both verbal and physical. Remember, he used to beat his wife. Maybe he is not a violent person. But he doesn’t’ know how to deal with conflict situations any other way. You won’t have any conflicts? You’re wrong. Conflicts are a frequent thing even in a happy marriage, and that’s Ok. With an alcoholic husband you’ll be a single mother, even if you don’t divorce him. He will say that he has no time to raise your children. But the simple truth is – he has no responsibility for your kids because he has no responsibility for his own life. You will be taking care of the house by yourself and take all responsibility for the family – 100%. In a normal relationship you and your husband will both have half of the responsibility for the family, the house and the children.
While It’s Not Too Late
Dear bride! Start learning the basics on how to take care of yourself. Learn to stand for your interests, defend them. Stop being codependent. Read the book to the end. You can change your life’s scenario.
In the meantime, ask yourself 2 simple questions:
1. Where am I going?
2. Who’s coming with me?
Answer the questions honestly, better yet – write down the answers. And God forbid you put the second question first. Because that’s when your life will turn into a nightmare!
The first question is about the purpose and meaning of life, your aspirations and what you want to achieve.
The second question will make you look around, think about who you surround yourself with, what company you are in, who your main companion is – the groom.
If you put yourself in the position of a martyr, the one who suffers and bears everything, if you sacrifice yourself, neither you, nor the man who’s next to you will win. Both you and him will suffer. There is a choice. And it’s yours to make.
Autor: Moskalenko Valentina
The source (in russian). From the book “Codependency – a family disease”
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