"Alcoholic" is one of those words that raises high emotions. We tend to think of an alcoholic as someone who is violent, dangerous, and self-destructive. We may also visualize an alcoholic as being selfish and not caring about anyone but themselves. Sometimes those stereotypes are appropriate, but often they aren't.
By definition, an alcoholic is someone addicted to consuming alcohol, but how they behave when intoxicated and the extent of their addiction vary widely. In addition, the word alcoholic is often used as a condemnation of someone who drinks more than their spouse would prefer.
So when can a loving spouse reasonably remain with an alcoholic, and when is it time to leave?
With one huge difference, the criteria for deciding the future of your relationship are the same whether your spouse is alcoholic or not:
1. If your spouse is physically violent or threatens physical violence, you must leave now – today. This is true whether your partner is drinking or just angry. It doesn't matter if they promise they will never hurt you again. It doesn't even matter if they promise to get help for their addiction. Violence or threats are cause to leave right now and seek safety.
2. If you feel safe and you are happy in your relationship, you have no cause to leave. Even if your spouse drinks too much for their own good, and even if they are unwilling to address their addiction, accept them as they are, love them, and don't pester them with demands to change their behavior. Of course you stand ready to support a decision on their part to get help in defeating their addiction, but you can't live their life for them.
3. If you are seriously unhappy because of any aspect of your relationship, consider leaving your partner. Whether the cause of your suffering is your spouse's addiction, philandering, angry outbursts, demeaning attitude toward you, or any other cause, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
The one exception to the general rule of maximizing your own well-being occurs when your partner makes a voluntary commitment to treatment for addiction and continuously follows up on that commitment. As long as you feel safe and you continue to see commitment and improvement, hold on. If your partner's progress turns to frequent backsliding, end the battle and take care of yourself by getting out of the relationship if you are suffering.
If children are involved in your decision, understand that their best interest is not well served by living with an addictive or hostile parent, so don't stay in a broken marriage for the children.