My husband uses alcohol excessively, but every time I confront him he becomes defensive. He complains that I’m making the issue bigger than it is and that he can control his drinking. I notice his behavior and mood change when he drinks. He becomes more irritable and angry. He says he is no different and insists this is not a problem. What do I do?
Your husband is a perfect illustration of the power of denial. We use denial to convince ourselves that we’re okay, that we’re normal. Through denial we’re able to call problem drinking “social drinking” or rage reactions “a problem with anger.” Worse, denial allows us to use reverse blame, or blame-shift — making the victim of a problem out to be the perpetrator.
Individuals involved in destructive behavior typically claim their behavior only impacts them. Of course, this is rarely the truth. The problem drinker’s behavior impacts everyone within his or her social circle. The problem spender impacts the family’s financial welfare. The rageaholic shatters his or her family’s safety. And so it goes.
Denial also distorts self-perception. Studies show that we often judge another’s behavior more harshly than we judge our own. In other words, we cut ourselves a lot of slack while we are able to easily see the faults of others.
Scripture says this eloquently and firmly: “You hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Notice that Scripture points out that we tend to see a speck in our friend’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
That’s why accountability is needed to enact true change. For others to hold us accountable, however, requires us to be willing to be transparent. We must be humble and listen to others’ concerns about our lives, firmly grasping the principle that we tend to minimize our problems. When people with significant problems are not willing to listen, an intervention may be necessary.
Of the many inquiries I receive every day, most involve feelings of powerlessness and a desire to impact behavior change. I always talk to them about the critical issue of enabling and the importance of an intervention. An intervention is a set of actions designed to “bring the bottom to the person.” This involves stopping enabling behaviors that make it easy for the person to continue their troubling behaviors and bringing about aversive actions, making their behavior less tolerable.
Here are a few more ideas to consider if you are ready to bring about an intervention:
Clearly define goals for the intervention. Before you confront a serious problem, you must be sure you are able to tackle it, because you will likely face opposition. If you’re convinced the path you’re on is the correct one, you will be better able to sustain the necessary courage to follow through.
Arrange expert help for the intervention. Consider whether you need expert guidance to carry out an intervention in someone’s life. There are specialists who know how to conduct one and can assist you or at least offer guidance.
Gather support for the intervention. It is likely you’ll need support from others when the going gets rough. Healthy people surrounding you will help you maintain perspective. Don’t try to do this alone.
Bathe this process in prayer. You’ll need a supportive network bathing your plan in prayer. Scripture tells us, ”The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Actions as critical and important as an intervention must involve the power of God.
In summary, there are times when we must step back, honestly assess a situation, and then determine if we are acting in a way that enables a problem to continue. Conversely, we must decide if we could do something that would make it hard for that particular problem to persist. Are there problems in your life that you have enabled, and if so, are you ready to create an intervention?