Do you ever think that you and your partner could be encouraging each other to drink more than you would really like? By working together, you could help each other cut back on how much alcohol you drink.
When we live with a partner it’s easy to adopt each other’s habits, such as drinking more alcohol, without even realising.1 We often develop habits based on our shared behaviour and home environment. Having a drink to relax after work, opening a bottle of wine to drink with dinner or sitting down with a beer in front of the television can all become regular habits triggered by the time of day and or a particular environment.2
These repeated behaviours can become difficult to change. This is because we experience these same environmental cues every day and, because they are shared habits, we reinforce each other’s behaviour. One of you might not feel like a drink that evening, but if the other persuades with a gentle ‘go on’, our resistance can easily weaken.
The good news is that making positive changes is also easier with the support of a partner. When one partner makes healthy lifestyle changes, the other is more likely to join in and adopt the positive changes too. So it’s helpful to make changes to your drinking habits together.3
How to help each other cut down on drinking
Making a joint plan to cut back on your drinking has the potential to be more successful than trying to make changes alone.4
With your partner, think about the benefits of reducing the amount that you drink. Try to focus on the things that would improve your relationship. You might sleep better and therefore feel less tired and be less irritable with one another. Perhaps your sex life together will improve. Drinking less can improve energy levels and concentration so that you enjoy your time together more. You could consider what you might do together with the money you save. These are all benefits that people have observed when cutting back on drinking.5
It’s important that you work together to develop a shared vision of what your relationship might be like with less alcohol.6 If you are alone in wanting to make changes to your drinking habits, emphasising the shared benefits may be more persuasive than telling your partner to change.
Plan for change
One reason we find ourselves saying ‘yes’ to another drink is because we don’t always have a clear intention to say ‘no’ or a plan for how to say ‘no’.
With your partner, think about situations where you might drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines (it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis). Talk about how you could avoid those situations, or discuss what you can do instead.
For example, if you tend to open a bottle of wine when you get home from work, why not agree to delay opening it until you have your meal and make sure you have a bottle stop handy to help you avoid finishing it. You could agree to keep track of what you are drinking together or plan out your units in advance. Consider what you might do in social situations such as events with family and friends.
Decide ahead of time how you will refuse top-ups or decline drinks altogether. It can be helpful to have some pre-prepared phrases. You might say ‘we are making some positive changes together’ or you might take some non-alcoholic drinks with you and pour yourself one of those first. In this way your habits will be driven by new goals rather than the usual triggers.7,8
Do something different
If you have formed habits that involve drinking alcohol, it’s useful to have some alternative things to do to help you cut down. Planning exactly what you will do to change your behaviour leads to greater success.9 You might decide to sample alcohol-free drinks together, or plan alternative activities such as going for a walk or a cycle.
Try to commit your ideas and plans to paper so that you have a clear idea of what you will do. Writing down specific plans such as ‘when we do our shopping we will replace beer with alcohol-free beer’ or ‘every Friday evening after work we will go for a walk together’ can help you to form new habits and stick to them. Making changes to your routine can also be a great way to discover new, shared interests.
Encourage each other
If one of you is starting to lapse, that’s when the other’s support is more important than ever. The language we use to discuss changes to our drinking can make a big difference – encourage your partner to stick to their goals, rather than demanding they do so. Instead of ‘you must do this’ or ‘you need to do that’, try highlighting the advantages of drinking less. Point out what you’re both gaining by making changes. Remind each other of why you are making these changes and the benefits to your relationship.
Feel the benefits of cutting down on alcohol
Working together towards a goal and supporting your partner to achieve something is a positive thing to do. When you start to feel the benefits of the changes that you are making, acknowledge them together. If your mood has improved, you’ve lost weight or are enjoying a better sex life, talk about this together, tell each other about the positive changes you’re noticing, congratulate each other, and it will help you stick to your goals.
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