So often in relationships, we want the other person to change in some way that would make things so much better. Maybe your boyfriend is a slob…maybe your wife always runs late…maybe your mom or dad is always asking intrusive questions or treating you like you are six.
Can you get them to do things differently in order to have a better relationship?
You can try, but you have limited power over anyone but yourself.
Here’s a letter to my advice column in the Washington Blade from a guy who’s concerned about his boyfriend’s drinking.
In my answer, I point out one big move to always avoid when requesting that someone make a change in their behavior.
I think my boyfriend drinks way too much. He doesn’t think he has a problem, but here’s what’s happening:
- He drinks so much, both at home and when we go out, that sometimes the next day he doesn’t remember what happened the night before.
- He sometimes misses work and often goes in late when he has a hangover. He told me he recently got a great review and a raise, but I’m not so sure. I don’t see how he could be doing such a fantastic job when he often seems hazy until early afternoon (not exaggerating).
- I’m pretty sure he doesn’t always stay sober enough to have safe sex when he hooks up with other men, even though he denies this and says his health is important to him. Then he’s mad at me for wanting us to use condoms (which he doesn’t like) because I don’t trust him about this.
When we met last year, I was really into him. He’s very sexy and a lot of fun. But as I get to know him better, I’m less and less interested because of his drinking. I’m starting to think he’s shallow and mostly interested in partying.
I told him he has to drink less if we’re going to be together but he’s not listening to me. What can I do to convince him to slow down?
You can’t make someone else drink less or stop drinking.
You can tell your boyfriend that his alcohol consumption level is leading you toward not wanting to be with him, but it sounds like you already told him that and it didn’t have any impact.
When you told him you would walk if he didn’t cut back, did you mean what you said or were you simply trying to threaten him into drinking less?
Threats are a bad idea. They aren’t a loving way to interact; they can easily poison a relationship and they usually lead to more threats. To top it off, if you say you’re going to do something but don’t follow through, then you lose credibility.
If you were just threatening your boyfriend in hope of changing him, maybe he knew your threat had no teeth and didn’t take it seriously enough to bother responding.
If you are really clear that you don’t want to be with your boyfriend if he keeps drinking as much as he does, your best hope of influencing him is to simply tell him that you don’t want to continue with things as they are.
That’s different from a threat, because you’re just stating your bottom line, not threatening consequences if he doesn’t listen to you. Perhaps your boyfriend will hear you and decide that he would rather be with you than keep drinking as much as he does.
Then again, maybe he already has heard you and would rather not cut back on alcohol even if this relationship ends.
Aside from his drinking, it’s clear that you aren’t crazy about your boyfriend and that you don’t trust him. Do you think that if he drank less, you would like or trust him any better?
I’m wondering why you’re putting effort into this. Your boyfriend is who he is and you aren’t pleased with him. What’s keeping you here? Is this a one-off situation or do you have a history of being in relationships where you don’t get much from the other person and essentially beat your head against a wall trying to change him?
If you’re having trouble getting unstuck from trying to “fix” your boyfriend and especially if you’ve been in similar entanglements before, you might want to attend some Al-Anon meetings. Al-Anon, the support fellowship for families and friends based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, is a great resource to help people gain clarity about just how much (or how little) they can do to change another person’s behavior.
You and your boyfriend are not alone in this situation. Alcohol abuse is a big problem among LGBT folks. Alcohol and other substances can temporarily block feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and self-loathing that come with social stigma.
And of course, LGBT socializing is often alcohol-focused, which encourages and normalizes drinking to excess so it’s no surprise alcohol abuse is higher here than among the general population.
For your boyfriend and for those readers who are struggling with too much alcohol/substance consumption, there is help if you want it, including LGBT-friendly Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and harm-reduction programs that some utilize to moderate their use.