I’ve been involved with an alcoholic for ten years now. I know, I know, I should have learned my lesson, but I’m stubborn. I try to talk to him about it, but he comes right back at me with some criticism about something I did or didn’t do, that makes me feel like a total failure. Pretty soon we’re having a big argument which ends with me feeling miserable and him gone to the pub. A week later we do it all again. I can’t seem to get past this.”


Sounds like he’s bullying you. Verbally, that is. He keeps you off balance with a vigorous recitation of your flaws. The implication is that if you were a better wife/girlfriend, he’d be a better husband/boyfriend. That somehow, in some way, his drinking is your fault.

Well, of course, that’s not true. So why buy into it?

When you respond defensively, he’s got you. The argument that follows is mostly drama. As long as the focus is on your imperfections, the discussion is, for all practical purposes, ended. It’s only a matter of time before he’s gone out drinking again. Probably sitting at the bar thinking, “she made me do this.”

The trick is to change your response. Next time he starts in with the heavy critique, try an old assertiveness technique called fogging. It’ll sound odd but should work.

The first step is to agree about something in his complaint — however small it may be.

Him: “You’re a shrew! What man would want to come home to a woman like you!”

You: “I know I’ve been unhappy. I don’t mean to nag you all the time.”

This immediately throws a bully off balance. You’re not rising to the bait. You simply acknowledged some truth in what he said. That doesn’t detract from your concerns. You’ve conceded nothing. But it has the benefit of stopping the drama mid-scene, before it can degenerate into yet another bitter argument.

He’ll probably continue to provoke you, but if you keep fogging, he’ll eventually get tired and stop. Once it’s clear that bullying no longer produces the desired result, he’ll move on to something else.

There’s a game-like quality to bullying. It may look spontaneous, but it isn’t. It’s just a tactic that some people use to get their way. Once that tactic proves unsuccessful, it’s usually abandoned.



You have given this man the gift of your company for 10 years, maybe you can give the same to yourself. If you spend a little time each day with yourself and enjoying your own company, you will not believe everything a bully says about you and will not react to criticism in a defensive way.
In al-anon I have learned to see things as they really are. Arguing with an alcoholic is a waste of my precious time.

Comment by Martha — July 19, 2014 @ 9:35 am

Changing one’s behavior is hard but if you have tried the same approach a few times and it doesn’t see to be working, changing it is the only way to go.
I belong to al al-anon group where I have learned to focus on the changes I need to make about and for myself. It has been difficult at times, especially when I thought that I was not the one who needed to change at all in the first place!! But my life is so much better now that I gave up on changing someone who does not wish to that I wanted to share this with you.

Comment by Martha — May 13, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

This is great advice on how to stop the verbal bullying. If it turns physical you need to get out of the situation and not go back until there is major progress in his recovery.

Comment by drugrehaborg — October 3, 2013 @ 9:29 am

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