Melanie told me that her husband, Don, was drinking every day—five or six or more beers—and also smoking marijuana daily. "It's not like he becomes abusive or anything," she said with Don sitting next to her, "but he just disappears. Even if he's in the room with me, it's like he's gone."
"I think that's an exaggeration," Don said.
"It's very unlikely," I said, "that she would be making this up or even exaggerating," I said. "She wants an intimate relationship with you. She wants to feel your presence—which is sweet—so if you actually were present, why would she ruin it by complaining that you were not? Put in another way, why would someone complain that they were hungry if they had a plate of food in front of them?"
"That's a point," Don said.
"Oh, there's more," I said. "Not only would she not make this up, but you – on the other hand – would almost certainly lie."
"So you're saying I'm a liar."
"Yes, absolutely, but rarely are you aware of it. After the first couple of drinks, or the first few inhalations of marijuana, your perception and reasoning become impaired. That's a known fact. You don't think clearly when you're on drugs, so you really lose your ability to know how much you've used or how impaired you are."
"Okay, you win. So I won't drink or smoke when she's around."
I smiled. "Alcohol stays in your system for hours, and to some degree marijuana affects your behavior for days. So even if you drink or smoke when she's not around, your alcohol and drug use will affect your behavior around her. This is not a complicated decision. Do you want a fulfilling relationship with Melanie? Yes or no."
"Then it's not difficult to make a decision about whether to use mind-altering drugs of any kind. Would you rather cross the ocean on a large cruise ship or on a raft?"
"A ship, of course."
"It's bigger, nicer."
"Why does it matter that it's bigger?"
"Less likely to sink?"
"Yes, by quite a lot. A cruise ship is so big that it can float over the crests of many waves at a time—even during a storm when the waves are big. That means that unless the captain is incompetent and turns the ship sideways—relative to the waves—it's pretty hard to sink a big ship. They also have huge gyroscopes and other devices to stabilize the ship. A raft would actually be quite fun in water that was perfectly still, but most of them are only a few inches above the water, so a big wave can flip it right over, or wash you off the surface, or both. A big ship simply has more margin of safety."
"So is happiness in your marriage as important as traveling on the water?"
"Yeah, it's the most important thing."
"So you'd rather have a big safety margin in your marriage too, right? A ship rather than a raft?"
"When you drink or use marijuana, your senses and your reasoning and your ability to love are all impaired, like your ability to stay afloat on a raft. Why would you do that to yourself?"
Don got the point. He quit drinking and using drugs of any kind, and he found that the stability and fulfillment in his marriage increased dramatically. People are often trying to find out what they can get away with in a marriage—how much can they drink, how much marijuana can they smoke—instead of eliminating any behavior or substance that would interfere with their sailing in a ship as big and safe as possible.
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