Marriages at risk when one spouse drinks heavily

Marriages at risk when one spouse drinks heavily

A recent study finds that if heavy drinking is happening among couples, there’s a better chance for the marriage to last if either both spouses drink or neither spouse drinks. On the contrary, the divorce rate is far higher among couples when only one spouse is a heavy drinker.

Study leaders from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) tracked more than 600 couples for the first nine years of their marriage.

Almost 50 percent of couples with one heavy drinking partner ended up divorced, while the divorce rates for other couples was just 30 percent.

“Our results indicate that it is the difference between the couple’s drinking habits, rather than the drinking itself, that leads to marital dissatisfaction, separation and divorce,” said study leader Kenneth Leonard, PhD, in a news release.

Researchers defined “heavy drinking” as indulging in six or more drinks at one sitting or drinking to intoxication.

Study leaders suspect that partners have more patience for the shortcomings of their spouses when they are both in the same boat.

“Heavy drinking spouses may be more tolerant of negative experiences related to alcohol due to their own drinking habits,” Leonard said. But he cautioned that this does not mean other aspects of family life are unimpaired. “While two heavy drinkers may not divorce, they may create a particularly bad climate for their children.”

The findings also showed that the divorce rates were slightly higher when the wife was the heavy drinker and the husband was not. Researchers think it’s possible that non-drinking husbands view their wives “as going against proper gender roles for women, leading to more conflict.” The study is published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

Researchers anticipate their results may be useful for professionals dealing with these issues.

“Ultimately, we hope our findings will be helpful to marriage therapists and mental health practitioners who can explore whether a difference in drinking habits is causing conflicts between couples seeking help,” Leonard said.

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3 Comments

  1. It took a study to determine this? Sheesh! Sorry, but having been the spouse to an addict (not once but twice so yea, apparently I have issues) I have insight on living with an alcoholic. And because addicts befriend addicts to drink or drug with, I know many spouses of addicts who understand that one-sidedness. I accept that it’s an illness, and I accept the facts that an addict can only be helped if they WANT to get better. For myself, or in spite of myself, I tolerate this behavior because of my own inadequacies. The problem with this study, there is the “we” that know the strains of this type of relationship and the other partner in the relationship who will never read of see this study and if they should, they will not believe it includes them. For myself, my spouse is usually completely unaware that there is anything wrong.

  2. I find it so ludicrous that people want to say it is an illness. It is not an illness it is a choice. Over the years I could have easily said it was out of my control. Instead I realized that other things meant more to me than alcohol so I do not drink heavily. It may be that the person is weak and has no self control, but it is not an illness. That is a cop out like so many other things. People just refuse to take responsibility for their bad decisions. And the medical field is the worst. If it wasn’t an illness they would have no may to make money off of it. The mental health profession is the worst. Most have more problems than the people they are helping. If one person is drinking too much in a relationship than there is something wrong with the relationship not the other way around. It happens because either they aren’t happy with who they are with and can’t change it or won’t and the relationship doesn’t matter enought not to drink and save it. And maybe it is not the fault of the one drinking! It can get to a point that you don’t care and use this as a way to cope. I have been there. Funny thing in my case when I got out of the relationship and got back on my feet the drinking heavy went away. It easy to say the drinking is the problem, but harder to find the real problem. If things are good the drinking will not be there because something else will mean more than the alcohol. People quit blaming everything on something inaniamte and take responsibility for yourself!

  3. Jerry the Cowboy March 8, 2014 at 9:53 am · Reply

    I disagree with everything-it’s my nature. But specifically to K Kelly-I can’t speak for any other person-but i know I have a problem-I defer it as i dont know what to do… i read this I know it’s talking about me-i know if it ends its all my fault-or at least the nail in the heart is-the one that killed it. i rationalize at times, but usually i feel horrible-i balance most of the time-good relationship with children and at least 1/2 the time with wife-but that part was true before the new problem revealed itself again-shameful as i quit before i met her-started again after 10 years…. And J Collins-let’s say it is an illness-how is that copout? I still see it as my problem-as one i need to fix, and the illness idea doesnt make it easier-it makes me feel more helpless if its true… and i dont know. you said ‘no self control’ that sounds like an illness to me-some of us are self destructive. And i dont think its genetic/physical-its how i was raised-by a violent alcoholic and an equally abusive mother-except only to me, the girls were part of the in-crowd and thats how it was. I’ve also physically harmed myself since i was about 4. I know lots of abuse happened-but dont see that as their fault now as far as what its done to me-because at 18 i became an adult ok maybe at 30 well… i dont know i think im still a teenager-but it sure doesnt feel like a choice-it feels like theres a train behind me pushing me and im locked to it-and i hate it. just thought id give an honest peek-the desire is there, love, commitment, loyalty…. but somehow i find myself out here on this cliff and dont see how to get back. i dont know if he’s like that, but if he is i have no advice. as you see i have no knowledge of anythign except the problem….

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.