It is human nature to fail to connect the dots.
We exercise regularly, but we don’t see that our poor diet keeps us from losing weight. We have lots of friends on social media, so we don’t understand why we feel so lonely and isolated. We accept insufficient and erratic sleep patterns as part of adulthood, yet we can’t identify the source of our anxiety and depression.
For me, the connection between alcohol and bad sex was elusive for decades. My ignorance—my lack of understanding—almost destroyed my marriage.
When we met in college, my now-wife and I shared a passion for partying. Weekend nights meant barhopping and house parties, and most of the time we spent together involved drinking. Our relationship escalated rapidly, and our intimacy was clumsy and sloppy. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other, and we fell in love fast, but our youthful naivety combined with our relentless commitment to our social scene resulted in an immature physical relationship. We chose quantity over quality in every possible way.
After graduation, we moved hundreds of miles from friends and family and started our adult lives together. As I continued to drink like the party would never end, my wife matured and her desire for alcohol diminished. Her father died young after battling alcoholism, so my nightly routine of cocktails to unwind was familiar and troubling. Our relationship suffered. A distance developed between us, even when we were physically connected.
We got married. We had children. We started a business together. As our responsibilities increased exponentially, and our lives became more intertwined, I continued to drink to manage the stress and find relief on the weekends.
My drinking was normal. A hard-working adult deserves to unwind at the end of a long day. And when my work was done and my family cared for, there was nothing abnormal about the excesses of my weekends. Work hard, play hard. I learned that mantra from my boss. It was the American way. If anything, I was proud of my ability to keep the party rolling like I had learned in my 20s. I could close the bar at 2 a.m. and fight through dehydration to manage productivity the following day.
I didn’t have a problem. I was exceptional.
My wife grew exceptionally intolerant of my love affair with alcohol. We couldn’t eat at a restaurant—even when the kids were little—if it didn’t have a liquor license. We never left a party at a reasonable time. I was never ready to go until the cooler was empty. And she even felt inferior on a quiet night at home as I wasn’t satisfied with her company alone, insisting on liquid companionship as well.
I thought we were normal. She thought something was wrong. We spent a lot of money on local, craft IPAs and high-end booze. We argued a little too often and with an insensitivity and ferociousness she remembered from her childhood. My antics when out with friends were loud and boorish and made my wife anxious for how far I would go and who I might offend.
We debated the role of alcohol in all of these negative aspects of our lives. But there was something deeper, something far more intimate and sinister developing that we did not debate because we did not understand it. Our intimacy was suffering in ways that would impact the whole of our relationship for years, and we were blind to the threat developing right before our eyes.
My wife became less and less attracted to me. My drinking and alcohol-induced arrogance changed me from the enthusiastic go-getter poised to take the world by storm into a stress-filled, beaten-down man aging faster than the years required.
Slurred come-ons late on a Saturday night repulsed her. My eagerness did not make her feel wanted; it made her feel like a possession to be taken out and played with only after I had satisfied my lust for the drink. She didn’t feel loved—she felt groped and fondled by a greedy Neanderthal. I might as well have grabbed her by her hair and dragged her to bed.
From my perspective, the chill to our relationship was palpable and concerning. I wanted to feel her love for me rather than the robotic and lifeless compliance that occupied the space next to me. I tried to bring back the passion that had been replaced by my resentful wife dutifully going through the motions just waiting for it to be over.
Sure, there were times—many times, in fact—when I didn’t consider her feelings and was interested only in my own satisfaction. But there were lots of other times when my efforts to rekindle the deep and meaningful connection from the birth of our relationship were met with resistance and even outright rejection.
I offered back rubs. I tickled her ear like she always used to love. I went slow and tried to let the longing build. Nothing worked.
My wife loved me as the father of her children. She loved me as a provider, a business partner, a protector, and a contributor around our home. But she didn’t love me as a lover anymore. My normal adult drinking had made me immature and unattractive. No amount of effort or attention would make her look forward to being slobbered on by a man so committed to my first true love, alcohol.
We were stuck. Just like in our youthful ignorance, the quantity was there, but the quality suffered terribly. Neither of us knew how to fix a problem we couldn’t identify. We suffered for many years, blind to the liquid culprit sloshing around in plain sight.
I’ve come to view the term normal drinking as an oxymoron. Alcohol is a toxin. It poisons our brains, poisons our livers, and makes our relationships unsatisfying and regret-filled.
We give alcohol credit for lubricating the uncomfortable and relaxing inhibitions, but why are we so convinced that relationships need to be easier? Getting to know someone, searching for a depth of emotion, and finding intimate connection isn’t supposed to happen effortlessly. Maybe pairing off, two by two, shouldn’t be accelerated by an elixir. Love can’t survive in the bottom of a bottle. It just can’t.
Have you ever poured alcohol on a smouldering passion and found a blazing lifelong love? Have you ever let booze lead you in a direction you didn’t plan and had no sober interest in pursuing and been proud in the morning? No and no? Haven’t we traded enough meaningful potential for intoxicated lust to last a lifetime?
My relationship with my wife started hot and tipsy. We just weren’t patient and naturally vulnerable enough to let the kind of bond develop that could have weathered the storm of stressful adulthood and parental anxiety. Alcohol provided a shortcut with devastating consequences.
We sure had fun early on. But at what cost?
For us, everything we built was in jeopardy because we didn’t bother to secure a real and sober foundation. Even when we removed alcohol from our lives, we didn’t have a complete relationship to brace us and help us carry on.
But this is a story with a rare happy ending.
We started over. We explored the courtship that we ignored two and a half decades ago when alcohol fueled our passion and our instincts were rushed and selfish. We started with attraction and built trust as the next layer. Then we let intimacy grow from love without artificial acceleration in a pint glass or booze-filled tumbler.
We built our love the hard way. Now our marriage is built to last.
Are you tired of going through the motions? Maybe you’ve given up altogether. But do you know what brought you to this loveless point of desperation?
I don’t believe we just grow apart. I believe something has to get in the way when a marriage goes sour. I believe the wedge we drive between us is tangible and real, even if we can’t see it.
What if it’s alcohol? It doesn’t take an addiction to drive a wedge. Consistency can be just as unattractive as excessiveness. Selfishness, inattentiveness, and impatience are unavoidable side effects of alcohol in any quantity.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to benefit from sobriety. Everything you think alcohol is doing for you is a lie.
Shortcuts might be fast, but they’ll never get you where you really need to be. Patient authenticity is required for a happy life, and it is the cornerstone of a healthy and sexual long-term relationship.
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to struggle with sobriety. Even our normal drinking patterns take significant effort to undo. We are creatures of habit, and our brains require significant effort for successful reprogramming.