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Contemplating marriage to ill, self-medicating man

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax


Carolyn Hax

Friday, September 8, 2017

Q I’m six years out of a 35-year abusive marriage. Four years of intense therapy, hard work, and I am now healed and happy and open to another try at love and marriage.

I met a man online who lives 100 miles away, and is very sweet, vulnerable, tender, interesting, intelligent. We share so many interests and values. He’s a widower after a hard 30-plus-year marriage, so we “get” each other.

I’m very in love. He’s very in love.

He has some health issues, and has gone to numerous doctors to find diagnosis and treatment. Currently, he’s on a high dose of opioids for constant pain. Even with that, he still suffers intense residual pain.

When we are apart, he drinks about four beers a night so he can fall asleep. He also takes prescription sleeping pills, and medicine for controlling cholesterol and acid reflux. He tells me he has been drinking 6-8 beers per day for a number of years for the pain, but never gets drunk. He won’t quit for a few months at my urging. He’s been very open and honest with all areas of his life that I know of, and I trust him, but I am scared of marrying and then finding this wonderful person is an alcoholic.

He did tell his doctor how much he drinks. This doc told him to keep it to two drinks per day and gave him another highly addictive anti-anxiety drug!

Am I fooling myself into thinking we’ll find answers for his pain and work together to get him off opioids when we’re married? — Can’t See Objectively

A I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I have yet to see the problem that gets solved by marrying it.

You can love this man.

You can help this man.

You can be loyal to this man.

You can trust this man.

You can see this man’s good qualities through his illness, and enjoy them.

You can (try to) find answers for his pain and work together to get him off opioids. And alcohol.

You can do all of these things while remaining legally independent. Unmarried.

You can also do all of these things without treating them as another “try.” Marriage isn’t a gift you unwrap after “I do”; at least, it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be when you’re coming to it from 35 years of unhappiness. Instead it can be the legal affirmation of a daily life you have occupied long enough to understand exactly what it entails, good and bad. Live it, know it, understand it, accept it — or not. But don’t “try” it.

If it’s love, it will wait. So wait.

Especially given the certain illness, probable addictions (plural) and possible eternity between now and a diagnosis, I also urge you to ask yourself whether your interest isn’t only about his sweet, interesting intelligence. Could it be that his illness helped draw you in? Do you identify with him, or do you want to rescue vs. being rescued, or was addiction prominent enough in your family of origin to make codependency your comfort zone, or [blank]?

Therapy can be effective at restoring your optimism after trauma and still leave questions unanswered. Make, “Why would I ignore warning signs?” the next one you try to answer, please.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


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