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My Wife is a Manipulative Alcoholic

A man whose wife is an alcoholic and very manipulative is struggling to do what is best for their daughter. He is concerned that his wife is lying to her doctors and therapist as well. He is asking for help on what to do.

Dear Doctor Life Advice,

My wife of twenty years is very manipulative, drinks one half gallon of vodka per week, and smokes marijuana. She lies to me all of the time, and has engaged in sexual acts with other men, including my groomsmen. I believe she has sexual addiction along with borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, and even antisocial personality disorders. She withholds sex from me as a means of punishment, but is very outgoing and flirts with other men. We are also on the brink of financial ruin due to her out of control spending.  In recent years her hostility and contempt towards me have become unbearable. I am trying to make the best of an impossible situation for the sake of our daughter who has one more year left in high school. My wife sees a therapist, but forbids me from having any contact with the therapist. Her therapist validates her delusional beliefs and I have no hope that my wife’s behavior and her addiction will improve in any way. My wife does not acknowledge any of her behavior and refuses to listen to me. What can I do?

Signed: Worn Out

Dear Worn Out,

This is a very difficult situation you are in, and the fact that the two of you have a daughter together only complicates things further. Let me begin by trying to shift your frame of mind a little bit. You are focused on trying to stay with your wife, and hoping beyond hope that she will improve. You are wondering what you can do to make her better. It seems to me that you believe that there is a way you can influence a change in her. The reality of the situation is that you do not have the power to change anyone other than yourself. You especially cannot change someone who does not want to change. The first thing you need to do is to understand what you can and cannot do, and to let go of trying to fix or change your wife. Once you accept the things you cannot change, then you can focus on doing things that you have power over. I will give you a list of things that you can do.

Make Sure Your Daughter is Safe

I know you are in a tough situation and are trying to do what is best for your daughter. The most important thing you need to do for your daughter is to make sure she is safe. You would be surprised at how many times I hear people complain about their spouse’s habits of alcoholism and drug use, and then allow the same spouse to drive their children around! If you have not already done so, make sure your wife does not drive your daughter anywhere. If you think your wife is drinking a half a gallon of vodka per week, then I wonder how much she is reallydrinking. People who suffer from alcoholism become masters at hiding the amount of alcohol they drink. She is also smoking marijuana, which further complicates her state of mind and her ability to drive. She should not be driving your daughter around. Your daughter is old enough to understand this, so tell her not to ever get in the car with her mother. Think about how you would feel if you heard that your daughter has been in a car accident caused by her mother! One way to be sure your wife does not drive your daughter around is to call the police on her if she does. I know this sounds harsh, but your daughter’s safety takes precedence over everything else.

Another way that you can protect your daughter is to make sure she is not being exposed to inappropriate sexual conduct. If you wife is truly having sexual activity with other men, then you need to find out if these activities ever occur around your daughter. I have had people tell me stories of when they were children and their parents took them along on the affairs they were having. I know it sounds bizarre, but your wife’s judgement may be impaired given the amount of drugs and alcohol that she is using. She may not be thinking about protecting your daughter from inappropriate behaviors. Also, if there are men that you specifically suspect of having had contact with your wife, then keep those men away from your daughter.

Inform Your Wife’s Therapist

Your wife can forbid her therapist from talking with you. She cannot, however, prevent you from providing information to her therapist. There are laws that protect the confidentiality of health information for people. These laws do not prevent people from providing collateral information to health care workers. By law, your wife’s therapist cannot share any information with you or even confirm or deny having your wife as a patient. The same therapist is also required by law to accept information from anyone that contacts her, and will need to check into the validity of the information. What I recommend is that you write a letter to the therapist and use certified mail to send it. You can also leave a voice message for the therapist, stating your concerns, and him or her know that you are also sending a letter. If a different doctor is prescribing her anti-depressants, then send the letter to that doctor as well. In the letter, state the amount of alcohol and marijuana that your wife is using, and state your concerns with her other behaviors as well.

You believe that your wife has a personality disorder such as borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, or antisocial personality. Let her health care professionals know this. In general, we are very reluctant to diagnose anyone of a personality disorder in the presence of alcohol and substance abuse. The reason is that intoxication with alcohol and other drugs cause changes in personality that are not permanent and go away once a person stops using the substances. These changes in the personality are often disturbing. Additionally, in order for a person who suffers from addiction to continue their addictive behaviors, she or he often ends up having to lie and resort to manipulations, anger, guilt trips, etc. In short, all of your wife’s behaviors may be caused by her addictions, so you cannot truly determine the presence or absence of any other disorders unless she sobers up first.

In our profession, the treatment we provide is only as good as the information we receive. If your wife is lying to her therapist and doctor, then her treatment is going to be based on misinformation. She will not even be diagnosed correctly if she is lying. In many cases, people who use drugs and alcohol hide this information from their health care workers. I know you are concerned that your wife is combining her medications with daily alcohol and marijuana use. Make sure her doctor and therapist know that. Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe medications to patients who drink excessively and do drugs. Many doctors and therapists will require routine drug and alcohol tests in order to continue treating a patient. Once a health care professional receives information about a patient, they are obligated by law to keep that information in the patient’s file, and will be liable if they don’t incorporate that information into the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. Many health care professionals trust their patients unless they have reason not to. Inform them of what they need to know.

Re-Evaluate Your Opinions of what is Best for Your Daughter

In your question you are implying that you are staying in your marriage because of your daughter. If this is true, then it must stem from a belief that leaving the marriage would be more damaging to your daughter than staying in it. I want you to reconsider this belief. I have a question for you that you must answer:

Imagine your daughter comes to you twenty years from now, and tells you that her husband is cheating on her, treating her with contempt, drinking excessively, and doing drugs. Every once in a while, he is also verbally and emotionally abusive towards her. He is leading the family to financial ruin. They have two children together. Ask yourself what advise you would give her. Would you tell her that it would be best for her children if she toughs it out and stays with him? Would you tell her to leave while she can and save her children?

Think about this very carefully. If you would tell her to leave her marriage, you need to know that she will do what you have modeled for her, not what you tell her to do. You are staying with your wife despite all of her behavior, and by doing so, are giving your daughter the message that she should do the same in a similar situation. Kids will model after their parents in most ways, and you are modeling staying in the marriage. Not only you are modeling to your daughter that staying in a marriage full of lies and manipulation is alright, you are also giving her the message that her mother’s behavior is acceptable. As far as your daughter is concerned, your marriage and family life is “normal,” and unless you do something about that, she may end up in a similar marriage, or even worse, she may end up acting like her mother.

Is it really best for your daughter to have both parents in the same home? Does she see a model of a loving couple that work together, or a couple that barely tolerate each other? Does she really need to be living with a mother that is drunk, stoned, manipulative, lying, and potentially sleeping around? What message are you giving your daughter by staying with your wife? Are you sure you are doing what is best for your daughter by staying in this marriage?

Don’t forget to get your daughter the emotional support she needs. Growing up with a mother like hers cannot be easy for her. Talk to your daughter, and also get her professional help if you think it is needed. Look into National Association for Children of Alcoholics for more information and resources.

Find Support for Yourself

In your question you state that you have been married to your wife for twenty years. You also state that she is manipulative, lies a lot, is hostile, treats you with contempt, drinks alcohol, smokes marijuana, and is driving you to financial ruin. However, you continue to find reasons to stay with this woman. You are probably suffering from what is called a “co-dependence.” Co-dependence is a phenomenon which occurs in people who have family members that suffer from substance dependence and addiction. When a person drinks alcohol excessively and uses drugs, they are not just damaging themselves, but everyone that loves them as well. The loved ones find themselves stuck in a relationship in which one person is destroying himself or herself, and the other people cannot do anything about it. In many cases, the loved ones find excuses for the person that is suffering from addiction, “enable” the person to continue his or her addictive habits, and do not give up on the person long after they should. The loved ones in this case become co-dependent with the person who suffers from addiction. Many times, a person suffering from co-dependence feels stuck in the relationship with no way out, and suffers for years. There is help for people who have a loved one who suffers from alcoholism or addiction.  Find CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous) or Al-Anon groups in your area. In these groups, you will meet other people who have similar issues as you. You will learn that you are not alone, and you will form a support group that will be there for you and help you through your tough times. You will develop more effective habits for dealing with your wife.

If you are more of a private person, you may benefit more from finding an individual therapist.

Separate Your Finances from Your Wife’s

You state your wife is driving the family into financial ruin. How is it that she is getting away with this? You cannot change the past, but you can take measures for preventing further damage. Separate your bank account from your wife’s and do not give her access to your accounts. Cancel all of the credit cards that are under your name. Change your finances such that your wife can only spend the money that she makes, and none of the family’s money. This is very difficult, but very essential to do. She may still be able to get credit cards, but let her know that you will not pay for those credit cards under any circumstances. If she is responsible for paying rent, utilities, or other bills, then she will withhold those. You may have to move to a smaller place so that you can afford the rent and the utilities by yourself. If this is the case, then do it as soon as possible to prevent further financial losses. You may have to do all of the shopping and groceries for the house as you cannot trust her with money. That will be a reality you will have to face; the sooner, the better. If she is in charge of doing the finances and paying the bills, take charge of those. Remember, you may not have any control over how she spends her own money, but you do have the power to prevent her from spending any more of your money.

In conclusion, remember that the only person you have control over is you. If you are trying to find ways to “fix” your wife, then you are wasting your time and energy. When you start focusing on what you can do, and start taking action and making changes, you will see your life change for the better.

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.