When an alcoholic quits drinking, his wife no longer has a chance to nag him. Often she feels lost and without purpose in life. One way I sometimes deal with this is to see the alcoholic husband and wife together. I ask him to define the problem situation for me. He'll say something like, "I don't think I'd be an alcoholic if my wife didn't nag me all the time." My comment to the wife is, "I doubt if you really nag him; I expect you express your legitimate regret that he drinks excessively. And that has used a lot of your energy in the past. As he improves, what are you going to use that energy for?"
I persuade her to wonder about that. But by putting it that way, I give the husband an opportunity to watch her to see that she uses her energy in those other areas. And he has to stop drinking so that she can have that energy to use in other areas. You always tie the two in together, but you never tell them that. When you commit her to use her time and energy elsewhere, you're committing him to give her the opportunity.
I'll point out, "Each morning you wake up with a certain allotment of energy. During the day you use it up, and by bedtime you're tired. You want to go to bed and replenish your supply of energy. When he stops drinking, how are you going to spend that energy during the day?"
Sometimes I take the same approach with the whole family, since there is always a reaction in the family when an alcoholic improves. I might ask the daughter as well as the wife, "When your father ceases to be an alcoholic, just how are you going to spend that time you spent in the past wishing he wouldn't drink, or avoiding him, or hammering away at him to mend his ways?" I've had school children say, "Well, I can put it in on my geometry." I've had a wife say, "Now I'll have a chance to do some committee work at church."
Taken from Milton H. Erickson & Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapies; p. 240. W. W. Norton & Company.