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California, USA
December 06
In the newspaper business for more than 20 years. I write, I edit and take photos ... I'm a triple threat.


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JANUARY 13, 2012 10:12PM

Emotional needs

Rate: 9 Flag

The line, "Progress, not perfection," means a lot to me these days. I know I've come a long way in two years, and I have a lot more to learn about alcoholism and how it affects those close to the alcoholic.

The mood in the house has been strange since my wife wrote me a letter with a list of demands after regaining sobriety for a few days following a month-long binge-drinking session.  She's still sober and working hard on her steps with her AA sponsor. This is a good thing for her and I wish her well. She'd been sober since February 2010 (with one "relapse" in August 2010). The December 2011 relapse was a tailspin of epic proportions.

I've done a lot of writing as suggested by my Al-Anon sponsor. For those who don't know about Al-Anon, it's a support group for the families and friends of alcoholics. We rely on each other's experience, strength and hope to help us deal with our own problems. That's about it in a nutshell. It is also a 12-step program, with the first step admitting we are powerless over alcohol. Basically, I'm powerless over my wife's behaviors, actions and moods -- I didn't cause her to drink, can't control her drinking and sure as hell can't cure it. In Al-Anon, I'm supposed to find serenity whether the alcoholic is drinking or not.

Boy, was I put to the test on that one.  Overall, I think I handled things fairly well, given the circumstances.

Now I'm just trying to focus on me and the kids. I told my wife that I can't fix our marriage by myself and I need her help if we want to make this work. "I understand, really I do," she said. But that was it. There was no offer of help.

Last night, as we were in bed watching a TV show, I  asked if I could give her a kiss. She agreed. There were maybe five smooches, and each one I had to ask permission. After the last one, she turned her head to watch the TV. OK.

I reached over and brushed her arm. She didn't react. I reached under the covers, took her hand in mine, held it and  kissed her fingers. She cut me a "playful" look (or so I thought) and I kissed her fingers again. She said something about being sleepy, pulled her hand away and rolled over.

That's really when a lot of my own behaviors (such as that one night's attempt at displays of affection on my part) came into sharp focus. I'm needy. I need to feel something from my wife. A kiss. A hug. A touch. I keep going to the well, finding it's dry, and returning each day expecting to find water. What the hell am I doing? This isn't new. I started to think back and can't recall the last time my wife took the initiative and offered me a kiss or a hug. When we do hug, it's at my urging and she doesn't even put her arms around me. She holds them against her chest.

It was suddenly so obvious to me. My emotional needs have been neglected  -- abandoned -- for years and I'm reduced to acting like a puppy seeking affection from its master. That is so not me. I'm not the "victim" here, because I've allowed it to happen for so long and it was enough for me at one time, I suppose. 

I asked her about it today and her response, after she shook the shocked look off her face, was, "I don't know why. I'm just not feeling very touchy feely right now."

"But this isn't just right now, this has been going on for years," I said. "Why won't you offer a kiss or a hug? Why am I the one who has to ask for it? I feel like I'm the only one trying to work on our marriage and have been for a long time."

She said it wasn't fair for me to bring it up to her right as she was leaving for work (a noon to 9 p.m. shift). "You're done for the day," she said. "I have to go in and deal with the public."

"When am I going to talk to you about it? This morning at 4 a.m. when I was up and getting ready for work? Tonight after 9 when you come home? I'll be asleep. This needs to be aired. This is how I'm feeling," I said. 

Well. There's that. I was home early today to take care of two sick little kids. Each are running fevers and now it's time for me to sign off and get some shuteye.

Tomorrow is another day.

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alcoholism, al-anon

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my best advice, is don't push...
it is hard, I know...
but often times part of a relationship is sometimes putting your needs aside while your spouse deals with their own battles, in their own ways. Offer support. Be there, if even just as a physical being. She will come around when she is ready.

And know above all you have support, here.
It took me a long time to realize this and you have accomplished it in two years time. I understand an alcoholic can't seem to feel anything for anyone else, will that change I don't have an answer but I am so glad to see just how far you have come since you started writing here. I do wish you peace and love...
Michelle: Thanks. I should have mentioned the kisses weren't "sexy" kisses. She made it clear in her letter she doesn't want to be intimate with me right now. They were playful quick "pecking" kisses. I was trying to get a smile or ... something. Reading it again, I made myself look like a lecherous old man. ;)
LunchLady: Thank you. I get my two year chip this month! I don't know the answer about alcoholics and how they feel, but I will say my sponsor in Al-Anon is also in AA and he seems to have feelings (and decades of sobriety). Maybe my wife will come around. I'm trying to hold out some hope for the future.
It is hard. You are going to the dry well over and over and expecting there to be water, this time. Does blaming her for not loving you like you want going to work? Blaming is part of the codependent illness. The kiss? Is it more your need for approval, than undying love for her, and she knows it? She probably doesn't feel much love for herself right now either. She may not be able to respond the way you want. The new non-codependent you can find love and validation within yourself.

And that is too serious. Or perhaps you can find validation in this wonderful you-tube video called "Validation." It's lots more fun!
And easy to find. I have to quit this to get the url....

You hang in there. You've come a long way. You'll be glad you did.
just ugh
so when will this get to be about you and not just her growth process? and what's wrong with being lecherous with your spouse???
Marriage is tough sometimes but divorce is a toothache for the kids...
It is difficult to describe properly, the vast desert that life can become when touch is withdrawn, and the emotion that is waiting to pour out just from a hand being put on your shoulder, when there is nothing, nothing.

So I'll just stop there.
I empathize with you, Writer. I've been in a similar situation for a while. Not alcohol, but what I believe is borderline personality disorder. Many of the same symptoms. In her case, she's a good mother, just not a good wife. Yet, most of your frustrations and anxieties are mine. I wish you well. I wish myself well. I wish us all well.
I am just going to say what I am thinking here, which is, I'm not sure why you stay. She's been sober for much of the past 2 years but there is still no affection freely offered. I suppose there is something to be admired in your loyalty and persistence, but it just doesn't seem clear exactly what it is you are working so hard to save here. Imagine what life would be like with a woman who actually loves you!
You are hoping that sobriety will restore her to being a committed marriage partner. But one does not follow from the other, and her sobriety seems touch and go. Yet as long as she claims to be 'working on her sobriety", she is allowed to set the terms and keep you, literally, at arm's length.

I'm sorry. It is so hard not to hope. But the alcoholic, and her disease, are still in control here
Did you ever read the daily reading in Courage to Change about trying to buy bread in a hardware store? That's what came to mind when I read your essay. Sounds like you are working hard in the program. All I can say is I hope you find the path that your HP wants for you.
@Sophie: Thanks! Yes, I read it daily. It's the same thing but apparently it took me two years in Al-Anon to figure it out. Sometimes, I can be fairly dense. ;)
I have to say, today went fairly well. She actually hugged me once and offered up two kissies! One before she left for work and one before she left for an AA speaker meeting this evening. Of course, rather than accepting them as given, the dark thoughts in my head chimed in with, "Well, she wouldn't have done that normally but you made such a fuss yesterday, she probably felt obligated." Dammit, dark thoughts, leave me in peace for a minute and allow me a little joy.
I think Divorce Bard offers something profound in his words that I would respectfully like to echo. Rated with admiration.