The quality of human relationships depends largely upon the way we communicate with each other. It depends not only on what we say, but how we say it; not only on what we do, but our motives for doing it. Our tone of voice and even our smallest actions are elements of communication; many of us are hardly aware of these.
When partners in a marriage are held together by a bond of love, mutual respect, and a desire to please and comfort, communication naturally falls into patterns that express these feelings and give both husband and wife confidence in each other and a sense of security and mutual dependence.
When a relationship is distorted by an unbalanced dependence, or by suspicion, hostility, excessive demands, and expectations, these flaws reveal themselves in the way the two people communicate with each other.
If a man marries a woman because he was attracted by her warm maternal quality, as many alcoholics do, he is likely to be the dependent one. And she, attracted to him because of her unconscious desire to mother someone, will be the practical member of the family. She may later bemoan the fact that he has failed in his role as head of the house, not aware that it was she who took the reins and did all the managing. And while she is managing him, the children, the household, and the finances, she’s awash with self‑pity because of the big load she has to carry.
If he is drinking, her constant protective watchfulness makes it easy for him to sidestep getting help. He has no incentive to get sober. She convinces herself that she’s doing her very best for him; she hasn’t learned, as she would in Al‑Anon, that shielding him from the consequences of his drinking only prolongs its course.
When he’s drunk, her reaction is to reproach him for his behavior, and that’s the very worst time to attempt to communicate with him. In fact it can’t be done without triggering a family war.
Until she learns what is wrong with her attitude and how to change herself so he will be forced to face his responsibilities, the situation isn’t likely to improve.
If a man married a woman because she’s shy, timid and submissive, he unconsciously chose a wife who would satisfy his need to dominate. If she turns out to be an alcoholic, he will have the complete dependent he wants, no matter how desperately he thinks he wants her sober. He, too, will cover up her drinking, protect her from public disgrace, and assume all the responsibilities which should be hers.
Such distorted relationships are often found in alcoholic marriages, and they inevitably lead to the drying up of the communication which is vital to a good marriage.
We can make verbal communication effective if we never lose sight of the fact that the alcoholic is sick; he has a disease for which it is unfair to blame him or punish him. But he must be told—at the right time and without anger or reproach—what he has done and is doing.