Is drinking harming your marriage?

March 15, 2014

Alcohol abuse is unfortunately a common problem in the U.S., and people who are addicted to this substance and do not seek help from rehab centers may find that their personal relationships are damaged. For example, researchers from the University of Buffalo recently conducted a study that showed that if one partner in a marriage is a heavy drinker and the other is not, the relationship may suffer.

The scientists followed 634 couples from their wedding day until their ninth anniversary and found that in relationships where one person had a penchant to drink heavily, the divorce rate was much higher than it is for other couples. Interestingly, the divorce rate was not higher than average among couples where both partners were heavy drinkers. However, heavy drinking can put people’s health at risk.

Drinking can harm a marriage

During the course of the study, nearly half of the couples where one spouse drank heavily divorced. The divorce rate among couples where both parties tended to drink a lot had a divorce rate of 30 percent.

“This research provides solid evidence to bolster the commonplace notion that heavy drinking by one partner can lead to divorce,” said researcher Kenneth Leonard, Ph.D. “Although some people might think that’s a likely outcome, there was surprisingly little data to back up that claim until now. 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.”

He added that couples who drink heavily may simply be more tolerant of the negative consequences of drinking than couples where just one spouse drinks. He said that while drinking may not hurt these couples’ relationships, it can make it so that they are not providing a safe environment for children.

The scientists also found that couples were more likely to get divorced when the woman was a heavy drinker, compared to the man. However, they cautioned that this was only based off of the small number of couples in the study where the woman tended to drink more than the man. This suggests that more research may need to be conducted to determine if women who drink heavily have a greater impact on marriages than men.

Looking deeper into drinking and divorce

Psych Central published an article by Gary Seeman, Ph.D., who explained that often, when he counsels couples, he asks them how much each of them drink, since this may be damaging their relationship. He added that there are many common phrases he hears from couples who are having problems with alcohol. These include: “I know we’ve got problems, but it’s hard to cut back because all of our friends drink,” and, “We just got home from a party. We had a few drinks and a great time. Now we’re bickering again over nothing!”

Seeman added that there are many physical dangers associated with excessive drinking, even if it is not damaging a relationship. For example, binge drinking can change the chemistry of the brain. He said that, unfortunately, some people believe that alcohol is not dangerous because it is natural. However, not everything that is natural is safe for the body, and this is true of alcohol. Furthermore, some individuals think that since alcohol is legal, it is safe. However, cigarettes are also legal and research has shown that they can cause serious damage to the body.

Couples who drink in excess should seek help together for the sake of their health, regardless of whether or not the drinking is harming the relationship.

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