The Rules of Marriage...In Recovery

By Harmony Hobbs 10/19/18

Even though it's a positive change, adjusting to marriage with a newly sober spouse is a challenge. Some situations are a little tricky to navigate.

Young couple arguing.
Neither of us knew how severe my issues were when we met and fell in love. PC: © Matthias Ziegler |

After being with my husband for 15 years, it might seem like there would be few suprises left. We have the kind of relationship that includes conversations like, “Hey, Harmony, will you cut off this skin tag on my back?” followed by, “Um, no; I’ll make you a doctor’s appointment.” And later, “Does this look infected to you?”

Robbie is what people in recovery like to call a “normie.” When it comes to alcohol, he can take it or leave it. He can just have one beer, and he doesn’t obsess over when he’ll have the next one. He likes to have fun, and he doesn’t really care if that fun involves alcohol. By the time I entered recovery, he rarely drank anymore; I was always the one drinking, and one of us had to stay sober enough to drive.

The suprise here is that I am the alcoholic and he is the normie, because everyone who knows us assumed it was the other way around.

My husband and I built the foundation of our relationship on having as much fun as possible. (Read: we partied a lot.) We’ve been to New Orleans, our closest major city, many times over the years, visiting for Mardi Gras, romantic getaways, concerts, plays, art events, and stuff with our kids. In true alcoholic form, I remember very little of any of it.

Since I entered recovery, our relationship has shifted considerably. He is exactly the same as he’s always been, but everything about me is changing — how I react to things, what I do and say, how I view and enjoy my life, and how I relate to my husband. All these changes bring up a lot of questions and discussions, obviously, like if we go to New Orleans, will my husband drink? How much? Will I be able to handle it?

Recently, he scored amazing tickets to an NFL game in the New Orleans Superdome. When he asked me to go, I panicked: I’ve got under two years of sobriety under my belt, and we’ve never been to any major city without alcohol. In fact, the last time we went down there, I started with a hand grenade on Bourbon Street and ended with what I believe to be absinthe. None of this was my husband’s fault — we were just there having fun — but his version of “fun” is a lot less dangerous than mine. When I start drinking, I drink to forget.

Neither of us knew how severe my issues were when we met and fell in love. We got married, had a bunch of kids, and BAM! I was in so deep I almost didn’t find my way out. But that’s the beauty of true partnership; Robbie supports me fully in everything I do, and he wants nothing more than to see me happy and healthy. Even so, adjusting to the evolution is a challenge, and even though it is a very positive change for our family, there are still times when it can be a little tricky to navigate.

So, what does my sobriety mean for us as a couple? What are the rules of marriage when one person is an addict and the other is not?

What to do with the alcohol. The issue of what is and is not allowed in the house is a big one. I’m a stay-at-home mom, which means I’m the one staring at the liquor cabinet at 5 p.m. while our children complain about dinner. For us, getting the alcohol out of the house and keeping it out was vital to maintaining my sobriety. I can’t even have Oreos in the house, lest I eat them all, so for now, it’s better this way.

However, I do know many couples who still have alcohol at home and the alcoholic partner isn’t bothered by it. It really boils down to triggers. I, for example, am triggered every damn day when I’m home alone with the kids. If I have alcohol around me and no other adults as backup, I would have a very hard time resisting. Robbie understands that and it’s not a problem for us. Also, we didn’t have to throw any of it out because I drank every last drop of it myself before sobering up.

Prescription medication. Because I’m the mom, I’ve always been in charge of the meds. Uh, I wasn’t exactly responsible — and it was very hard to admit that, both to myself and to my husband. So for a while, and at different points since then, he’s had to take over administering the medication so I don’t eat the entire bottle like candy. He’s been willing to do that because he knows it’s an easy way to help me on my journey to wellness.

What about the chocolate? One of the biggest problems I’ve had in recovery is my insane sweet tooth. Every time my husband or the kids bring home candy, cupcakes, Lucky Charms, or cake, I generally eat it all before they have a chance to even taste it. Robbie started hiding his stash of cookies from me, which naturally I found, and to be honest we’ve had more spats over the junk food than anything else.

Am I always going to be the designated driver? GOD NO. I’m not stable enough to drive around a bunch of drunks. This is why there is Uber.

Football season is huge in our house, and as I mentioned above, we went to an NFL game where everyone was drinking. And it was tough — but as long as I’m honest with him about my struggles, he is happy to help. It’s the honesty part that gets me: being willing to admit that I am powerless over alcohol.

On the morning of the game, I got up early to attend a meeting, and prepared before we left to avoid getting too hungry, tired, or thirsty. It was literally the most fun I’ve ever had at a football game, ever — and that includes when I was drinking.

Parties! We go to them. We might have to leave earlier than we’d like. I hope that gets better, but I’m proud of myself for going.

Meetings. We have three children under the age of 10, and my husband is rarely home before 8 p.m. Finagling our schedules to allow for me to make it to meetings is probably one of the biggest issues we face, and sometimes I get resentful when I really need to go but have to wait until another time. He learned pretty quickly that when I go, I’m much easier to live with, so he does everything he can to accommodate me. Smart man.

Sex. That’s a topic for a whole other essay. Suffice it to say, it’s been an adjustment.

I can honestly say, for the first time in a very long while, that I’m truly the person that Robbie fell in love with all those years ago, and his patience with me as I fumble my way through recovery has completely renewed the love I have for him. Marriage in recovery is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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Harmony Hobbs is a writer, mother, and recovering addict living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her work has appeared on Real SimpleRefinery29, and ABC News. She is fond of thrift stores and simple carbs. For more, follow her on FacebookInstagram or visit her website, Modern Mommy Madness