I have been trapped by alcoholism. It has brought many problems into my marriage, including fights and recriminations. I’ve asked my wife to forgive me for what I’ve done wrong, but two weeks ago she began saying that she wants to get separated. I just found on her mobile phone that she has been in contact with an ex-boyfriend of her youth. The messages suggest that they might see each other. I don’t know if she is being unfaithful, or at least wants to be unfaithful.

I am very worried. What should I do? Confront her?

Dear Friend,

Alcoholism is responsible for the destruction of many marriages. The spouse who drinks is usually very sorry after each episode, but doesn’t do what it takes to overcome the problem in the future. The spouse who doesn’t drink is the victim who often is expected to hide the problem and clean up the mess, over and over again. Sometimes the drinking is responsible for poverty, physical abuse, and emotional abuse.

You say that you have apologized to your wife, but unless you have committed to faithfully attend meetings of a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or you have checked yourself into a rehabilitation facility, then your words of apology are no different than all the other times that you have said them. Apologies are not valid unless they are accompanied by changed behaviors.

What you have done is somewhat similar to the way that people apologize to God and ask for His forgiveness. Yes, God wants to forgive. In fact, He wants to forgive so very much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay for the sins of every person who asks for that forgiveness. But a person who says the words, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” and then goes back to doing the same thing again, is not really sorry at all. The words are empty and meaningless.

So your words to your wife are empty and meaningless unless you have already begun to change. The first step in being free from alcoholism is to accept the fact that you need help. To prove that you are really sorry, find help today and stick with it every day. You may need to attend meetings for many years, but if you are truly sorry, you will do it.

Of course it is not right for your wife to meet up with a former boyfriend. At this point, all you know for sure is that she has communicated with him. But instead of spying on her and searching her phone, and instead of focusing on the two of them, it’s time to focus on you. What do you need to do?

There is a human tendency to want to find that someone else has done something wrong so that you can blame that person instead of taking responsibility for your own actions. If you choose to follow that tendency in this case, you will not save your marriage nor begin a better life.

We wish you the best,