Afraid that boyfriend will drink, cheat, and forget

Dear Alice,

My boyfriend and I have been going out for over a year and we live together. Lately, he has been drinking with his friends a lot every weekend, even without me. Everyone (including me) says he won't ever cheat on me, but all the girls love him. I'm scared he's going to get drunk and cheat on me and not realize it until the next day. What should I do?

Dear Reader,

From your letter, it seems like you have two different issues to sort through. First, it sounds like your boyfriend may be drinking more than usual, and it's understandable that you're worried about it. Second, you also have concerns about him potentially cheating on you, particularly when he's been drinking heavily. While these two things are certainly connected, it may be helpful to think about them separately, at least at first. This may help you figure out how you want to proceed. 

To start, you may want to think about your boyfriend's recent change in his drinking behavior. When did he start drinking more than he used to? Has something changed in his life, such as more pressure at school, starting a new job, the recent death of a loved one, or something else? Sometimes people drink more when they're stressed because alcohol makes them feel better, at least temporarily, by helping them forget about their current problem(s). You've also mentioned that he often drinks on weekends with his friends when you're not around. Has anything changed in your relationship? Is your boyfriend hanging out with a new crowd of people? Do you feel like you're being excluded when he goes out without you? Thinking through some of these questions may help you figure out what the cause of these changes may be. 

Next, you mentioned being concerned that he won't remember his actions from the night before when drinking. Sometimes memories are fuzzy after a night of drinking, but this is different than when someone drinks too much and can't remember parts — or even the entirety of the evening before. This type of memory lapse is called a blackout. Has your boyfriend ever blacked out before, with no, or an impaired, recollection the next day? Blacking out, particularly repeatedly, may be a sign of alcohol use disorder. Have the two of you ever discussed his drinking before? Although many people drink in order to loosen up and have fun, if someone's behavior changes drastically while using alcohol and other substances, or they act in ways they end up regretting later, it's usually a sign that it's time for them to sit down and take a reflective look at their drinking habits.

Finally, you expressed how you're nervous that your boyfriend may cheat on you when he's drinking. Though it's normal to feel insecure sometimes in relationships when we care deeply about someone, if your boyfriend hasn't ever cheated on you or given you any indications that he will in the future, then you might want to ask yourself why you're feeling the way you do. Maybe you just need to hear him reassure you that he would never cheat on you. If you still feel unsettled, then your current situation may be a signal that there are larger questions about trust in your relationship. Are other things going on that bother or upset you? Were there issues like this in any of your previous relationships — even non-romantic ones? Has he ever behaved in ways that make you feel uncomfortable when drinking that lead you to believe he may behave this way? 

It would probably be helpful for you to take some time to think about each of these issues before talking with your boyfriend about them. You may want to explore your feelings with a trusted friend or family member, or even with a mental health professional, who can help you sort through how you'd best like to handle the situation. When you're ready, talking openly with your boyfriend about how you feel could give you the reassurance you need and ease some of your anxiety. You may want to address each of your concerns separately, rather than potentially overloading him by attempting to address all of them at once. Give your boyfriend a chance to hear your concerns and respond to them. At first, he may feel confused, deny the possibility of a problem, or simply feel overwhelmed or attacked. Be clear about what you've noticed and what you worry about. Some ideas to try are:

  • "I care about you a lot, and lately I've noticed that you seem to be drinking more than you used to. Is there anything going on that's causing you stress?"
  • "I've noticed that sometimes when you drink, things happen that you don't remember. I'm wondering what you think about that... [give him a chance to respond]... Maybe we could strategize some ideas together to keep it from happening again in the future."
  • "I know you would never cheat, but I worry that other women will try to make a pass at you when you've been drinking."

Being honest about your feelings can get these issues out into the open so that you and your boyfriend can start working towards a resolution. Whatever the issue is, talking with your partner is the only way to know what's going on, and regardless of the outcome, you'll have the clarity you're looking for. Wishing you both the best! 

Last updated Oct 07, 2022
Originally published Mar 24, 2000

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