Lawyers Journal

Lawyers' concerns: Seeking support for alcoholic wife, law partner

This column offers mental health and wellness related information to the Massachusetts legal community. Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers bases the column on questions frequently asked by its clients and help line callers. The information is general in nature and not meant for treatment. Q
:My wife, who is also my law partner, has been an active alcoholic for the better part of our 25-year marriage. We've tried counseling a couple of times, with little benefit. I finally started Al-Anon meetings, which are enormously helpful but also lead me to realize that I may have difficult decisions to make. I also feel like I need to do something about my practice – clients who don't pay, disappointing financial rewards, abusive judges, and the charade of having a law partner who can't function as one. With kids in college, I can't just call it quits. I need to make a change, but what and how?
:Although you don't spell it out, it is fair to assume that you have been investing increasing amounts of time and energy (mental, emotional and physical) in well-intentioned efforts to help your wife/partner overcome her problem, manage her behavior and compensate for the consequences of her drinking. That's a lot of work when the drinker is both your professional and domestic partner, and children are involved.
The chaos and confusion created in a relationship, family, or even a business by alcohol or drug abuse can be profound, leaving you feeling frustrated and angry, tired, guilty, anxious, resentful and doubting your own judgment. With all that, work performance and satisfaction are naturally likely to suffer. Although you may have legitimate complaints about work, it is probably not possible to sort out the sources of your dissatisfaction. This is not an ideal time to make a career decision.
While it may appear that your wife has the problem with alcohol, the most important and helpful thing you can do for yourself (as well as her) is to get help for yourself. As the drinker increasingly loses control over her drinking, the partner struggles to compensate, often with overly controlling behaviors. This pattern can become a self-perpetuating cycle that is damaging to both people. With appropriate help and support (e.g., Al-Anon or an appropriately specialized therapist, which LCL can help you find), you can gradually learn to disengage from the cycle. The drinker and spouse must each come to recognize and deal with their own problems. At that point, you may see the forest and the trees clearly enough to make a wise decision about your career.
Questions for Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers may be mailed to LCL, 59 Temple Place, Suite 1106, Boston, MA 02111, emailed to [e-mail email], or called in to (617) 482-9600. LCL's licensed clinicians will respond in confidence.
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