The “Dear Sugars” podcast is an advice program hosted by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. The audio contains more letters; submissions are welcome at email@example.com. If you’re reading this on desktop, click the play button below to listen. Mobile readers can find “Dear Sugars” on the Podcasts app (iPhone and iPad) or Radio Public (Android and tablet).
My husband and I have been together for 10 years and married for two. Early in our relationship, he used cocaine casually, and I told him I didn’t want him to use it. It was a nonnegotiable. He accepted that and we were O.K., but recently that’s changed. I’ve caught him using it three times in the past six months. Each time, he’s lied to me about it.
He thinks I’m narrow-minded. He says I’ve turned into a cop. Most of his friends do cocaine frequently, and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. To him, I’m a party pooper. I think it’s reasonable to ask him to stop doing something that hurts our marriage and potentially his health. I love clubbing with him! I can go to clubs all night and not do drugs — and so can he, or at least he could in the past.
I’m 35 and at a crossroads. I know he’s not an addict, but I’m still scared and I’m drained by our fights. I love him deeply, but I don’t trust him, and I’m not sure I can start a family with someone I don’t trust. Am I being unreasonable? Is there hope for us?
Cheryl Strayed: You say you “know” your husband isn’t an addict, Snowblue, but you describe a pattern of behavior typical of addicts. Your husband promises he won’t use cocaine but does, even though doing so threatens to ruin his relationship with you. He lies to you, and when you discover his deceit, he justifies his drug use by diminishing its harm. Then he twists the story so you’re the one in the wrong (the party pooper, the cop). Every person reading your words who has loved or does love an addict is nodding his/her head and saying, “Yep. That happened to me too.” It’s because breaking promises and lying and playing down the consequences of drug use and covering up lies with inane excuses and rationalizing it with distorted thinking is what addicts do. These behaviors are symptoms of the disease. Whether your husband is an addict or simply in a destructive relationship with cocaine that could lead to addiction is beside the point. You’re acting like a person caught in a web of the sort an addict weaves. Wondering if you’re being unreasonable even though you know you are not, giving your husband second and third chances after he’s lied about using drugs — these are deeply familiar dynamics found in relationships in which one partner is an addict and the other is struggling with loving one.
Steve Almond: The most telling sentence in your letter is this one: “I’m 35 and at a crossroads.” It travels to the heart of your dilemma: If you listen to your instincts, you’re likely to upend your life. This is the reason you’re able to discount all the obvious signs of addict behavior Cheryl cites. You’ve spent a decade with this man. You’re clearly thinking about having children with him. Which brings us to this: “I love him deeply, but I don’t trust him, and I’m not sure I can start a family with someone I don’t trust.” Take a long look at that last clause, Snowblue. Are you really “not sure”? One way of reframing this letter (a scary but necessary way) would be like so: I no longer trust the man with whom I planned to have kids. The next question then becomes: How can I begin to rebuild that trust? Unfortunately, you’re not the one who can do that work. It’s up to your husband.