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On The Rocks: Navigating Relationships Without Alcohol

Couple sitting on the dock of a lake at sunset

I wanted to address a question that I hear come up often: what do you do when you're considering cutting back on drinking but your partner isn't quite on the same page? It's a common concern, and understandably so—change is daunting, especially when it involves something as ingrained in society and in our routines as drinking. But it doesn't have to be the end of the relationship. Here are some ideas on how to best manage the situation.

If It Ain't Broke...

Let's start by acknowledging that change is scary. Part of that fear is the fear of the unknown; we don't quite know exactly how our partners will react when we tell them we want to cut down or quit drinking. Or maybe you're afraid that this change will also change your dynamic. Perhaps alcohol has always been a significant part of your relationship—whether it's ordering drinks on date nights or unwinding with a glass of wine after a long day—and you're worried that you won't have as much in common or be as close as you once were if you make this change.

Reflecting on my own journey, I remember how alcohol played a role in the early days of my relationship with my husband. We actually met at a bar, so our initial conversations were over drinks—it's how we connected. However, as time went on, I found myself relying on alcohol far more than he did. That didn't stop me from introducing him to some bad habits; it's hard to keep saying no when someone keeps offering alcohol at every turn.

When I finally decided to admit that I had a problem, I wasn't worried that my husband would get upset when I told him I wanted to get help because he had seen me struggle so much over the past few years. Rather, I was worried about telling him I planned to spend so much money on myself in order to do so.

Looking back, this was a totally ungrounded fear—my husband had never dictated how I spent money, and I had never asked him for permission for anything before. But in this case, I felt like I needed to because spending money on improving myself felt so foreign when I had been spending so much time tearing myself down. I needed the permission I couldn't give myself—that I deserved to feel better, that I deserved to live a life I was proud of.

Manage Your Expectations

When I finally broached the topic with my husband, I made it clear that my decision was about me, not him. Nevertheless, I was fortunate that my husband chose to quit drinking at the same time to support me. But everyone's journey and relationship is different, and not every partner will react the same way.

Managing our expectations is key here—just because you're making a change doesn't mean your partner has to follow suit. You're the person making the change, you're the one throwing the wrench in, so it's unfair to expect your partner will happily decide to completely change their life too.

It's fantastic if they do, of course, but people come to the realization that things need to change in their own time (if they ever do), and this can't be forced.

So it can be helpful to assume that your partner will not change their ways; in that case, how can you best set yourself up for success? Does your favorite date night restaurant have a mocktail list you can choose from the next time you go out? Can you buy some non-alcoholic wine so the two of you can still toast to getting through another workweek alive? Just because you have something different in your glass doesn't mean you can't keep the ritual.

Take Your Relationship Off The Couch

Maybe it's time to explore something a little more exciting than Netflix and chilling. The longer you go without alcohol, the less likely you are to be happy just sitting at home in front of the TV because you don't have alcohol to numb you when you get bored. So start looking into alternative activities the two of you can bond over, whether it's trying out new hobbies or revisiting old favorites without alcohol.

Is there a class you've been dying to try? Or has your partner mentioned something they're interested in but hasn't gotten around to doing? The energy and excitement you'll feel when you're alcohol-free might be the boost your relationship needs to explore new things as a couple, helping you grow even closer.

Leave Breadcrumbs

Your partner's fear of change may come from concerns about growing apart or feeling inadequate. They may worry that as a result of this change, the two of you will have less in common or that you won't be able to relate on the same level. If your partner expresses any of these concerns, it is important to validate these fears and approach the conversation with empathy and understanding. What they are likely looking for is reassurance that this change won't mean the death of the relationship.

Even if your partner doesn't explicitly state these fears, it's likely that they have some concerns about how this change will play out. A helpful tip I heard from my mentor is to "leave breadcrumbs". What she meant by this is to sort of ease your partner in. Rather than making a sweeping declaration that you are NEVER drinking again and dumping all the vodka down the drain, you can phrase your decision as taking a break from alcohol. Even if you intend to make that break permanent, this can alleviate some of the pressure and make it seem less threatening.

You can also drop hints about the positive changes you start to notice the longer you go without alcohol. The point of this is not to try to convince your partner to change too (although perhaps they will be enticed) but rather to help them see why it is that you have chosen (and continue to choose) this path.

Similarly, you might consider opening up more about some of the struggles you had while you were drinking. Even the closest couples don't share every single thought, so it is likely there was some negative self-talk, shame, or regret you might have felt that your partner is unaware of. Again, sharing this can help get your partner on board. Presumably, in a healthy relationship, your partner just wants you to be happy, and therefore would want to support you in a choice that makes you happier.

Remember, change doesn't have to mean division. Making changes to your drinking habits can be intimidating, but it's also an opportunity for growth and renewal. By approaching the journey with compassion, communication, and a willingness to explore new experiences together, you can navigate this transition while simultaneously strengthening your bond with your partner.


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I am a Certified Success Coach and I am passionate about helping women let go of limiting beliefs around alcohol and themselves so that they can create the lives they’ve always dreamed of.

Marci Rossi

Hi ! I'm Marci


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