The media can make a mess out of reporting when it comes to "research", and alcohol-related headlines are no exception.Case in point: this past summer certain press outlets had a field day reporting on this study, based on a poll of around 5,000 people. In a nutshell, it found that older, married couples were likely to have similar drinking habits. It concluded that marital happiness was linked with having similar alcohol consumption habits, whether those were abstaining or drinking. Interesting, but not shocking. Also, "drinking" in the study was defined as 6 drinks a week per men, and 3 drinks per week per women, far less than official "moderate level" drinking standards. The press coverage on the study, however, tells a different tale, making it seem like drunkenness is the key to romantic bliss, married or not. A few examples of wildly sensationalist spins:
- "Couples Who Drink Together, Stay Together: In drunkenness and health, to death do you part." [Fast Co]
- "Secret to a happy marriage? Maybe drinking alcohol." [USA Today]
- "Science Says the Secret to a Happy Marriage is Drinking Together. F*ck Yeah." [Esquire]
- "Couples Who Get Drunk Together Have Better Relationships" [Independent]
- "Married Couples Who Drink Together, Stay Together." [Elite Daily]
- "Couples Who Get Drunk Together, Are Happier Together, Says Awesome New Study. Nevermind Netflix and Chill. Do Date Night at the Bar From Now On" [Maxim]
- The Key to a Happier Marriage: Drinking Together" [Men's Journal]
Jumping to conclusions much? We get it. Both marriage and alcohol consumption can be tough to navigate, and the idea of drinking being a quick fix is a strongly appealing one! But it's a fantasy.
So what is the real deal on "getting drunk" and romantic relationships? The best way to find out if alcohol is sabotaging your relationship isn't through any study, but through trying out a change. You don't need to cut down forever, or cut it out cold turkey to see if alcohol is or isn't enhancing your relationship. You just need to do some experimenting. Here are some guidelines:
Think About It, Talk About It
You might already have a suspicion of how alcohol is impacting your relationship (the usual suspects: fights, drama, confusion, misunderstandings, resentment, boredom). Have you ever talked about it with your partner? If not, now's the time.
Set a Goal Drinking Level
This will depend on how much you both drink now. If you don't want to quit drinking all together, reducing your drinking levels can also be powerful.
Decide on a Realistic Trial Period
It should be at least 2 weeks, during a period where you two are together and more or less in your typical daily routines. If you run this experiment during the 2 weeks a year where you two are apart, it's unlikely to result in a realistic assessment of the effects of not drinking. That said, it's still better than not trying at all.
Any Other Adjustments You Make Should Make Sense for the Long-term
To stick to your goals, you might need to make other lifestyle adjustments, like figuring out how to sleep or socialize sans substances. Make sure your workarounds and substitutes aren't harmful. A good rule of thumb is that they should be changes you would like to stick to for the long term. (e.g. taking bubble baths, not gambling or smoking). If you swap drinking for another harmful addictive behavior, you and your relationship are likely to suffer.
Accountability, is as usual, your friend here. It's very difficult to curb drinking if you have no idea where you started, where you are, and where you want to end up. As a team with your partner, make it a daily practice to take an honest look at how you are stacking up to your plans.
If You or Your Partner Can't Do It
This is a definite possibility, because addictive behaviors are called "addictive" for a reason! They can be tough to reduce, take it from us. If either one of you is having trouble sticking to your dry trial, then it's time to take measures to get further support.
Now go on and gather more information about how alcohol is impacting your relationship! Good luck. As always, we're here for you when you need us.
Cassandra McIntosh is the Head of Content at Workit Health. She brings a unique mix of expertise drawn from her background in counseling psychology, socio-organizational psychology and consumer insights.