What About My Partner? Quitting Drinking in a Long-Term Relationship
By Karolina Rzadkowolska
Before I quit drinking to explore the happiest and most productive side of sober life, I was a drinker. And as a drinker, a gray-area, social and weekend drinker, it’s safe to say that my drinking wasn’t done in vacuum. I drank with others, mostly my husband. You could say that we were drinking buddies.
When we first met almost nine years ago (when I was 23), I was coming out of my partying college years, while he had worked through his early and mid-twenties and thus knew the meaning of responsibility. While our dates consisted of going out and drinking like crazy at first, it wasn’t long before we settled down and started playing house. His responsibility rubbed off on me. No more late nights at bars, no more drinking on a random Tuesday, no more romps around town . . . we poured ourselves into healthier and active lifestyles, our careers, and advanced degrees. Adulting, more or less.
And while my drinking evolved from my younger party girl lifestyle to this more responsible take, drinking was still HUGELY in the equation. It was beer and sake for sushi night. It was a bottle of wine split between us for movie night, throw in a beer or two on top for good measure. It was going out for happy hour bites and drink specials. It was brewery tastings with friends. It was light beers at the pool. It was craft beers at game night. It was wine at dinner parties, birthdays and weddings. It was wine tasting for my birthday and travels filled with exploring the local drinking culture.
This was OUR life. And yet I couldn’t ignore the little voice that was whispering at me for years—drinking didn’t make me ultimately happy. Because as fun as this lifestyle seemed, each and every morning after drinking left me feeling ashamed, low, and unmotivated to do anything that would actually bring meaningful change to my life.
So I did a sober experiment, Dry January for 31 days. It was great . . . restful sleep, no regrets, new activities, but towards the end, I couldn’t even wrap my brain around quitting forever and dismantling my entire life. So I drank again—bringing me back all the anguish and negative emotions that led me to be sober curious in the first place. Sick of the endless loop that brought me here, I decided to do another 30 days alcohol-free, which turned into 60 days, which turned into 90 days, and I knew that something incredible was happening. I was shifting and becoming a better version of myself. I wanted to see this play out, I wanted to see what I was capable of without a toxin in my system, I wanted to see how amazing life was without alcohol in it, AT ALL. And the day came when I finally shared this with another soul.
I told my husband I wasn’t ever going back to drinking.
From my perspective, he was naturally supportive and encouraging all the positive changes that he was witnessing. But months later when we talked about it further, he opened up—he was completely SHOCKED about my decision at first. Sweet and kind about it, but taken aback quite the least. You see for years I knew drinking made me unhappy and for years I struggled and thought I was soo alone in my feelings—and I was, because I never told him (or anyone) about the doubts and insecurities I silently suffered. It was only when I quit that I got the confidence to tell him the script that was flooding my mind and how much internal stress drinking gave me. I am either incredibly lucky or attest to the power of communication, because talking about it all led us to get closer than we had ever been. My husband finally saw what kept me up at night and was there to support me as I navigated a new way.
I think it really helped that my change was gradual—he could slowly get used to my not drinking as I was “experimenting” with sobriety. But everything definitely still changed, and he had to make changes too. Losing his drinking buddy and not wanting to drink alone, he also drastically cut back. He even did his own two month sober challenge to better understand where I was coming from and followed it later with a dry January. He still drinks now, but I can sense that dry periods might become regular for him too. Or not, and that’s completely ok.
All of these changes in our relationship weren’t necessarily easy and I definitely made mistakes by getting on a high horse about my change and acting a wee bit too righteous and judgemental to others who weren’t transforming like me. It was a growing pain for sure and I was probably a pain in the ass. But I am so appreciative for the chance we’ve had to grow together and feel a lot more bonded than before, despite the hiccups, changes, and challenges. I’m sure there was a part of him that missed aspects of the old me, but thankfully she was replaced by someone who was more whole-hearted, honest, and loving.
My advice for anyone considering a change but is worried about how it will affect their relationship? This change that you are contemplating, whether that’s trying your first sober month or declaring you are sober for good—it’s your inner voice telling you your heart’s truest desires. It is the wishes of your soul. If you don’t listen because you are worried about what it will do to your relationship, you might forever resent your partner for holding you back in mediocrity and hangovers. It all starts by being vulnerable and sharing openingly why you want to change and what opportunities you hope to unlock for yourself. Someone who loves you and wants the best for you will see that. Maybe not right away and there will be bumps and lumps along the way as you grapple with the changes. But it’s a growing exercise that not only evolves your individual soul, but also the strength of your relationship.
And what if you’re partner still drinks and makes you feel crazy deprived and jealous? That unfortunately is YOUR work. If you want to live a happy sober life, I believe you have to debunk all the myths you believe that alcohol benefits you. It’s a long and hard evolution, but it is so worth it to get to a place where you are happy that you don’t HAVE to drink anymore. It all comes from changing your mindset and perspective and is so key to a thriving and sustainable alcohol-free life.
(If you’re looking for more support in this area, check out my two courses, New Beginnings (exploratory) and Become Euphoric (deep dive) and let’s kill all that romanticism for alcohol once and for all.)