I have a friend, who has a friend, who has a beef. Every couple of months, her husband goes on a bender with the boys. And he gets so drunk on these excursions that he is utterly useless the next day (well, at least until noon), leaving my friend-of-a-friend to single parent.
She’s upset about what she sees as a drinking issue. But I’m going to suggest that this isn’t a drinking issue.* Arguably, even the hangover is tangential. So what is the issue? It can be summed up as follows: clear articulation of expectations.
Let’s break that down.
Most couples’ problems are fundamentally communication issues. Had my troubled friend’s spouse told her ahead of time that his night out with the boys was going to be a doozy and that he was likely going to be down for the count for the better part of the next day, she would have been forewarned and thus forearmed. She could have negotiated and planned. She wouldn’t have felt abandoned. And abandoned is what she felt — the drinking was an easy out, a convenient way to point the finger without the hard work of self-examination and self-disclosure. Clear communication requires us to get real about the issues.
Here’s what clear communication might look like:
Him (forewarning/enlisting): Honey, I’m getting together with the gang Friday night. It will likely be quite late. Can you handle morning duties without me? I’d love to sleep it off until at least noon.
Her (negotiating/planning): I can keep the kids at bay until about 11a.m., but Charlotte has ballet at 11:30 and I’m going to need some help at that point. That is, unless you want to ask your sister to come over and help me out. Either way works for me.
Him (acknowledging and appreciating): That’s no problem — 11a.m. is close enough. And thanks so much, Sweetie. I really look forward to these boys’ nights.
Her (showing reciprocity): I know you do. And I like to see you have a good time. Thanks for letting me know ahead of time so we can work out a plan. I’ll do the same when it comes time for girls’ night!
Most of us come into marriages with expectations. And most of us are unaware of what those expectations are. We load them in when we’re little and carry them around in our subconscious until someone, or something, springs them loose.
Is it your expectation that blowouts with the boys happen only annually, semi-annually, weekly? Is Sunday morning cereal with the kids sacred, and it’s your expectation that he shake off the dregs of guys’ night and get his butt out of bed? Is that even reasonable? Maybe. Maybe not.
But whether your expectations are reasonable or not, they need to be owned. By you. Faulting someone for failing to meet your expectations is unfair unless you’ve examined, evaluated and expressed them. If you think there should be a time limit on boy-fun and you honestly believe your expectation is fair, then state it. But be prepared to bend. Your spouse may have a set of expectations of his own to share.
*Alcohol abuse is a serious issue. Learn more about if and when your drinking is becoming a problem at camh.ca.
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