Tips for talking to your addicted spouse when he or she is embarrassing you.

If you have a loved one with an addiction, you’ve probably had your share of embarrassing situations. Here are some common examples:

  • A son shows up to Thanksgiving high and paranoid.
  • A wife drinks too much at one of your work functions and is telling off your boss.
  • A sister starts slurring her speech when she’s had too much to drink.
  • A daughter is obviously high and tells embarrassing jokes.

When people are using, they are often not the best versions of themselves. The result is that family members are left making excuses for their addicted loved one’s behaviors. In taking back your life from their addiction, finding effective ways to deal with their embarrassing actions will be an invaluable tool. This week we will focus on communication skills – what are the most effective skills and how to use them.

Everyone Can Learn To Communicate Better

In previous weeks, we focused on how communication skills can help you better relate with your addicted loved one. We outlined the acronym PIOUS as a way to remember those communication skills. Below, we’ll spend some time showing you how these communication skills can be applied to dealing with your loved one’s embarrassing actions.


Positive: It can be challenging to be positive in your communications when you’re dealing with embarrassment. But we swear it works! When applied to embarrassing situations, you can be positive by focusing on offering genuine and authentic praise for sobriety, and stating what you want vs. what you don’t want.

Example:  If your loved one typically drinks too much at social events and makes inappropriate comments you might say…

 “You have a great sense of humor and I feel embarrassed when you tell dirty jokes to my friends. I would really like you to tell PG jokes to my friends at the next party.”


I Statements: It’s important to own your feelings and your requests. You have every right to feel a certain way and to ask your loved one to change the behavior that is embarrassing you. The example above is a good example of using “I” statements. It is a simple but effective strategy,  if you want to take it further “I” statements can be broken up into 3 parts:

  1. State your emotion – I feel…
  2. Describe the behavior – When you…
  3. Explain why – Because…

Here is a resource for more information on using “I” statements and here is another link to better understand and label your emotions.

Example:  If your loved one starts telling dirty jokes when they are drunk or high, you might say…

“I feel embarrassed when you tell dirty jokes to my friends because I fear that they will think you are crude and maybe think less of you.”

Another example could be…

“I feel embarrassed when you start talking loudly after you’ve been drinking. I’m afraid that others might think we’re fighting. I’d like you drink a little less so you won’t talk so loud.”


Offer To Help:  By extending a helping hand you express caring to your loved one and make it easier for them to take steps toward sobriety. If we continue with the same situation as above (a loved one showing up drunk at social events), an offer to help may sound something like…

Example:

“I know you feel stressed out when we have social events right after work. I wonder if it might be helpful for me to schedule some of the social events during the weekend when you’re feeling less stressed.”

Making an offer to help can not only help your loved one, but yourself as well! When making an offer to help pick an action that will help promote your loved one’s sobriety. In the example above, the offer to help may also be a step toward sobriety – if your loved one drinks less if he/she is less stressed, or if you suggest an activity earlier in the day when he/she is less likely to drink, then your offer to help may also be an opportunity for sobriety for your loved one.


Understanding Statements:  If you recognize how your loved one is feeling or how you’ve contributed to a conflict, they may be more open to hearing what you have to say. Using understanding statements lets your loved one know that you care about them and that you aren’t interested in attacking them. The example above illustrates both offering to help and using an understanding statement (“I know you feel stressed out…”). Keep in mind that using understanding statements does not mean that you take responsibility for their use. Your loved one is responsible for the choices he/she makes about using. No matter what, you cannot make a person use drugs or alcohol.

Example:

“I know you really want people to have fun at our parties and that telling jokes is one of the ways you and our guests have fun. I’m concerned though that some of our friends may feel really embarrassed by the R rated jokes you tell. I’d like you tell PG rated jokes at our next party.”


Specific:  Be specific about the action you want to see, the behavior you want them to stop doing, and the request you’d like them to consider. By stating the specific action you want you make it easier for your loved one to understand and to do that action. If you want your loved one to tell PG-rate jokes rather than R-rated jokes to your friends, tell him/her exactly that.

Example:

“Honey, you know I love your sense of humor and I want you to be yourself around my friends but sometimes it makes me feel embarrassed when you tell your dirty jokes because I fear that my friends won’t take it the right way and think less of you.  Could you keep your jokes more PG rated?”

Pick The Best Time To Talk About It

The second part that is just as important as what to say to your loved one is when to talk to your loved one about the situation. Timing is key. Usually it is a bad idea to talk about how you’re being embarrassed when you are in the middle of feeling embarrassed or irritated about what they did. It’s also not a good time to bring it up when they are drunk or high. Talking about what happened during those times is likely to just result in more defensiveness and argument.

Instead, we’d suggest picking a time when your spouse is more likely to hear how you feel about the embarrassing situations. Below we discuss some guidelines on when is usually a good time to communicate with your loved one about his or her drinking and how it is embarrassing you.

It’s usually a good idea to talk about the situation when:

  • your loved one is not drunk/high
  • both of you are in relatively good moods
  • You are getting along relatively well
  • he/she is hungover.  Sometimes it can be a good time to talk him/her. We only recommend this when they seem to be more open to talking about the consequences of their use during these times or if they talk to you about wanting to cut back when hungover.

To help you apply these communication skills, please see this communication exercise at the bottom of a previous post.

Stay tuned next week for how to use the skill of problem solving to make your communication skills even more effective.

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