We’ve all been there: something’s been grating on you for a while, then after the third glass of vino, you let loose on your SO. Trouble is, most boozy fights end in more than just a bad hangover – they can hurt your relationship, too. Here’s how to deal – and how to avoid fights in the future:
How alcohol can fuel a fight
According to Drinkaware.co.uk, ‘Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance [of chemicals and processes in our brains], affecting our thoughts and feelings.’ So you know how that first drink can make you feel more relaxed and confident? The same chemical changes that glass of wine is having on your confidence levels can also affect your emotions, and your ability to check what you say and do.
‘Alcohol reduces our ability to think straight,’ says Professor McMurran, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham, speaking to Drinkaware.co.uk. ‘It narrows our focus of attention and gives us tunnel vision,’ he says. ‘If someone provokes us while we’re drunk, we don’t take other factors into account, such as the consequences of rising to the bait. This can lead to violent reactions from people who would usually shrug things off.’
So if you add in a depressant substance (alcohol) with a limited ability to assess a situation, chances are you’re more likely to have a negative result, like a fight with bae. And that fight is more likely to escalate if you’re drinking, because you’re in that cycle of not being able to exercise your judgement as well as if you were sober. Add in the fact that if you’re drinking, it’s likely your SO is also drinking, and you have two people in a relationship not able to make measured decisions at the same time = chaos.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, fight!
Blaming booze for an argument, though, isn’t a simple way out of a tequila-fuelled fight. Whether you said something drunk or said it sober, your words are still out there and the same amount of damage can be done. Aside from hoping bae forgets what you said because they were also drunk, your result is the same: hurt feelings.
It’s also important to note that the topics of your boozy fight may still be relevant issues to deal with when you’re both sober. Just because it came up when you (or they) were drunk doesn’t mean it’s not important to address. In all likelihood, because alcohol can remove our inhibitions – making us more willing to speak up about something we’re pissed or upset about than when we’re sober and, say, scared of our SO’s reaction – the reason for your fight may be very real. It’s just that it escalated quickly thanks to tequila.
Try these steps the morning-after-the-night-before:
- Think about your boozy argument and try and write down the key things that caused the fight. Bullet point these if possible, and then try and arrange them in the order they happened: for example, 1. I was upset that he was flirting with his ex 2. I confronted him angrily and said some awful things, which caused his upset 3. I was then hurt by how he responded, especially when he said ‘X’.
- Ask your SO to do the same – then, compare notes. You’ll quickly see where you both agree that hurt was caused (and how), as well as find out what upset you (or bae) that the other was completely unaware of (or can’t remember thanks to tequila).
- Work through your list together. Talk through why the other was hurt by something, and allow space for both of you to explain your points of view. Listen carefully to your SO to help them feel heard; then respond – calmly – to anything you disagree with.
- If you can identify key issues that are bigger than ‘drunken behaviour’ issues – say, you just don’t trust him around his ex – set out an action plan on the steps you can both take to avoid this becoming an ongoing issue. If addressing this with a relationship therapist will help, do it! Sometimes it’s good to have a neutral ‘referee’ help you and bae iron out concerns, and build a stronger future together
Spot your triggers – and avoid boozy fights in the future
Most of us have been drinking – and fighting – long enough to know when we can hit the tequila hard without things turning into a fight, and when we just can’t. Try and isolate what your triggers are. They could be:
- If you’re already sensitive to or upset about something, drinking will likely only make you explode
- If you’re super-tired before a drinking session, making you react more angrily or less rationally when you get upset
- If you know there are unresolved issues with bae before you go drinking together
Once you know what your triggers are, you’re better placed to try and avoid them. If you’re due to hit a braai with bae but you’ve been fighting all week, set an evening aside before you hit the drinks to talk things through calmly so you can head out feeling like things are at least on their way to resolution.
And if you can’t resolve something before your next drinking session? It may be best to keep things to one drink that night rather than risk a tequila-fuelled fight.
Feel like you need alcohol to be honest with bae?
Most of us feel more comfortable talking about difficult things once we’ve had a drink – that’s pretty normal. But the moment we have to rely on alcohol to talk honestly with our SO, we’re headed into shaky territory. A relationship therapist is best placed to help you learn to speak up when things are bothering you, without relying on that glass of vino. It’s an important skill to develop, BTW, since a fear of opening up without alcohol likely affects how you speak up in other scenarios, such as at work, too.
Another idea: be honest with bae about why you may fight most when you’re drinking. Saying something like, ‘I find it really hard to be honest with you when I’m sober because I’m scared/worried of [upsetting you, feeling embarrassed/insert your reason here]’. This lets your SO understand that you need their support when you speak up, and that talking to them about an issue is hard for you.
Setting aside a specific time to talk about a tricky issue with your SO may also help: you get time to think about what you want to say, and bae can approach the talking slot with a mind-set that’s more sensitive to creating a safe, honest space for both of you. If it’s your SO that struggles with DMCs, reverse the logic and ask them if they’d feel more comfortable if the two of you made a specific time to tackle tricky issues head on, together.
Struggling with alcohol or substance use? Visit Sadag.org or call the Department of Social Development’s 24-hour substance abuse helpline on 0800 12 13 14, or SMS 32312