Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Should I Divorce My Alcoholic Spouse?

QUESTION: My husband is an alcoholic and has also started stealing from me. We have two children under five. I want to ask for a divorce but I am frightened because my husband says that he would not allow me to have the children. I do not want this to affect my children any more, but I also do not want them to have to go through a terrible battle. Any suggestions?

ANSWER: As long as you respond to your husband's threats, you are making yourself and your children vulnerable to his destructive behavior and escalating intimidation. You do not need to ask your spouse for a divorce. And he is not in charge of custody decisions. You are an adult with rights and you are responsible for acting in your children's best interests.

Do not avoid hard choices when the writing is on the wall. Take authority in your marriage, and seek legal and professional help to understand your rights and develop a course of action. Consider giving your spouse the chance to know you are serious about needing change in his behavior and the marriage, if you feel there could be a chance of saving the relationship and getting on track together. But do not accept false promises. His behavior requires professional treatment if he is serious about wanting to change.

If your marriage continues to be based on dishonesty and threats, you are definitely making the wrong choice to remain married. But do take some time to look before you leap! Find out the legal facts pertaining to your situation and seek support to help you with the transition through divorce. Join a women's support group and consider attending Alanon meetings in your area to help you identify patterns of alcoholism and the role you may play in your marriage to an alcoholic.

Your life's path has clear challenges that you must face as a part of your growth and your children's welfare. Reflect on what brought you into a marriage like this and work to identify your own weak spots that could lead you into another bad relationship. Do not avoid facing your mistakes. What, really, is your alternative?

It will be a hard road, but if you can learn from your mistakes and grow stronger in the process, you have gained in the long run! Your children will experience the upset of change caused by divorce, but they are now experiencing a family atmosphere of hostility and lies rather than love and cooperation. It is your job to upset this balance in order to achieve a much healthier family environment, if necessary. They depend on your leadership. Look ahead and act now to secure the kind of family you want to have in the future.

Return to Article Archive

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com