Life is full of events that lead to personal distress. And stress can build upon stress which can lead to marriage problems. If one of you drinks to reduce stress, in time the drinking itself causes stress and becomes a major roadblock to solutions.

Quite naturally, you look around to see what’s causing your distress and the only person there is your spouse, so you instinctively blame him or her for upsetting you.

Blaming your spouse is a gut reaction that escalates marriage problems, because it generates resentment and alienation. It is the Achilles’ heel of an intimate relationship.

The question is this: how can you deal with stress, while in a relationship, in a way that does not lead to resentment and alienation? The solution comes down to four basics, and the fourth comes with a major caveat.

First, take time to reflect on all the stressors affecting your life at this moment of upset. Are you short of money? Has one of your children been ill? Is your partner facing the reality of possibly having to find another job, which could require a move in the next year or so? Is either of you drinking more to medicate that stress? Important: it is impossible to “reflect” on your stress while drinking, because self awareness and reflection are incompatible with even mild alcohol sedation.

Second, be aware that the distress you feel inside is based on your internal, often unconscious interpretation of all these events, not on the events themselves. You can no doubt think of other couples with much greater external stressors in their lives, who don’t blame each other.

Third, take responsibility for your feelings, emotions, needs and wants. They are yours. No one else “caused” them. Of course, you have to be aware of your feeling and emotions, and therefore sober, to take responsibility for them.

Fourth, consciously assume that what you’re feeling is not coming from your partner; instead start with the assumption that he or she is acting in good faith with love and respect. It took love and respect to build your marriage to start with, and it still requires both to resolve marriage problems.

Now the caveat: If the love and/or respect is already gone from your marriage and it’s no longer possible to believe your partner is acting in good faith, or if you know you yourself aren’t acting in good faith, then don’t maintain the charade. The evidence of bad faith could be infidelity, neglect, abuse or denial of an addiction or other lies. Look inside, and if you can’t continue as is, stop the charade. Get help from a psychologist or a lawyer, or both.

On the other hand, to the extent that you can master these four basics with love and respect intact, you and your partner can face almost anything with the strength of two. Take some time with your partner for sober reflection on how to better incorporate these principles in your lives.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Neill Neill, psychologist, author and columnist, maintains an active practice with a focus on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic - A Woman’s Survival Guide. From time to time life presents us all with issues. To find out what insights and guidance Neill shares about your particular questions, go to