Alcoholism Acronym: Three S’s-Step Back, Shut Up And Smile

Bald Smiling ManIf you want to have more control of the things you say in response to an alcoholic pushing your buttons, try the three S’s approach, step back, shut up and smile.

The biggest problem I had in communicating with the alcoholic was constantly reacting to his button pushing. He used to be able to send me into a rage with just the right words. Since I’ve been learning how to cope with alcoholics my communication skills have improved greatly.

I learned the three S’s acronym in an Al-anon meeting. This method of not reacting instantly to the alcoholic works wonders during a heated discussion.

Getting a handle on the things that come out of my mouth has been a difficult task. Taking the time to step back, shut up and smile really helps me have self-control over not saying hurtful things. It’s amazing how three seconds of discipline can make a world of difference in what comes out of my mouth. It’s like having a reminder to take a moment and think in order to determine if I actually want to respond to the alcoholic or not.

35 comments to Alcoholism Acronym: Three S’s-Step Back, Shut Up And Smile

  • C

    Thank you for this – I am going to try the 3 S’s, but it is going to take all I have not to answer when the A is making comments that are nasty or don’t make any sense. It is almost impossible to deal with an alcoholic. I think after their 2nd drink, all hell breaks loose. It is better to be in another area of the house or leave if possible! They are a loose cannon. Amazing neighbors don’t seem to pick up on it, nor do his family members. Amazes me!

    I don’t drink, didn’t have any desire even when I was young. Alcohol should be under lock and key in stores so only those who can handle it can buy it!! Oh, well.

  • Yeo KH

    Indeed the 3S’s are not only useful for addiction, it is also useful for stepping off a situation, which one does not have to be in control of every/all situations in life, just step back, shut up and smile, enjoy the performance of others around him/her. As a psychologist/psychotherapist, I believe people have the solutions to solve their own problems. As parents, we often overly concern for the children, even at their early adulthood. Learning to step back, shut up and smile, enjoying the performance of the children is an art and act of having faith and love of their lives.

  • Cherri

    I had the same trouble with the guy in my life his family was that way and I believe they are still like that. He never wanted to change not even when his life was turned upside down when me and his daughter left. I meet up with him at one of those christmas paformences for our daughters K class and I had been giving him a chance thinking that he was not drinking anymore. Oh! But no I smelled beer on him and looked into his eyes and saw they were blood shot. I guess he will never change. That’s why I believe his family is the same because he has made no progress. I’m hopping in the future soon that I can go back to court when my daughter can tell what she realy wants to do. She was probed and was made confused by him and his atterney. So when she is older that hopefully will not happen. And I think the 3’s sound great to me I will try that two.

  • Jule Allen

    It’s important to remember that everyone has a vice, addiction, attachment, and nasty flaw they’re blind to. When we humble ourselves, we can see that we have no room to judge anyone. We know from our own weaknesses how nearly impossible it is to resist our own “carrot sticks” that we run to when the going gets tough. Alcoholics and drug addicts are the worst because they introduce chaos into what should be peaceful family life, the one place we hope and expect to find love. I’ve encouraged my alcoholic to remain unemployed after his second layoff so that he has limited access to cash. I’m essentially his alcohol “dealer”. He gets six beers a night and sometimes a couple of shots of whiskey. After that, it’s hidden and out of reach. He can give me looks that kill once it’s taken away, but he’s thankful several moments later once the disappointment passes…just like a kid wanting more candy.

  • Jule Allen

    By the way, an alcoholic must have written this piece of advice because it’s the go-to order of most, if not every, alcoholic. They love to rant and complain but can’t take their own medicine…such sensitive souls. Hm. Shut up!

  • Jule Allen

    By the way, whatever happened to happy drunks? Don’t they exist too? I guess their spouses and s.o.’s don’t need to vent on websites and forums. Anyway, look on the bright side…if nothing else, alcoholics teach us to accept that we are all flawed, to embrace our imperfection, and that we really are all emperors without clothes.

  • Jule Allen

    What I really need help with is dealing with an alcoholic telling me to “shut up!” He says it whenever we argue and he doesn’t like the truth I’m telling him. How do you back out of the argument when “shut up!” sounds condescending, arrogant, and chauvinistic? The imperative to “shut up” leaves no option but to continue arguing so as not to appear submissive or controlled.

  • maj ol

    im at the stage,that i need him gone out of my home with two kids,aanyone been through this,its choas already,hesays he goin he understands wht he has done to me,im just physical being at this stage living on total anxiety,he sayshe go give him aa few days thts two months ago,he finallystrted pckingtoday and left half way thru,bombed out somewhere so will have to wait for the showdown later and the quilt trip of how the evil bitch kicking him out at xmas,am i wrong too

  • Kadge

    Im always one jagermeister away from being the worst b*tch, ugliest woman, control freak etc etc. I have known him 2 years he has been drinking for over 30 but I am responsible for him being homeless, being dirty, drinking too much. He lies, he’s abusive and has now started with mild physical abuse. I lock him out he shouts and wakes the neighbours until I open the door, I sit in a cafe away from the house and he shouts at me in front of everyone, I try to ignore his phone calls then he comes to the house. I cannot get rid of this man no matter what I do. I try hard not to argue he then rants I am ignoring him, I try agreeing with him he rants I am humouring him, I disagree with him we have the argument. I smile he berates me for laughing at him. I walk away he follows and continues shouting. I stay at a friend’s he sleeps outside my front door until I return, urinating in the watering can, the rubbish bin etc and leaves it there for my return. I live in the Canary Islands and the police do nothing to help. I dont want to move but he is making it impossible to stay. Help. I see my only way out is to leave this lovely island where I came to start a new life. One size does not fit all what else can I try? Please.

  • Glynis

    My AH is continually making nasty derisive remarks about my children (from a previous marriage). He tells me he is going to call them and tell them to f*** off and never come to see me . How can I use this method of detachment when the subject of his taunts is so emotive for me, and if followed through, so destructive to my family? When he is drunk he is very likely to carry through with the threat…how do you step back, shut up and smile in this situation…I’m just terrified that he’ll do it.

  • Vicky

    I totally thought i was the only one going through this! I tried one Alanon- meeting and was not comfortable, although I could relate with many people there.

  • rose

    I let 80% go now thank god – so much more peace – and no longer feel at all responsible for his behavior. But when my husband gets really nasty and steps way over the line I just reply with “gee wouldn’t your grandfather be proud of how you’re speaking to your wife?” “Wow I bet your boss would so admire how you behave at home” etc. I just keep up that line until his fury boils over…then he comes back 20 mins later ashamed. Then I quietly say something like “you know I’ve known and loved you since you were seventeen, sort yourself out, or the only person who loves and stands by you will just walk away because she deserves better”. He’s about to go into rehab…the only one of his five abused and abandoned siblings who has, so I’m proud of him.

  • ZuckerRat

    My alcoholic doesn’t usually attack me personally… rather, he will attack things that he knows are very dear to me… friends and pets and things like that.

    Here is an example. I used to have 2 Ragdoll cats. He used to absolutely RAGE irrationally and routinely each time he found a cat hair or anything (but only when drunk). After months and months (years, actually), I caved. He broke me. I gave my cats away to a good home because I just could not take him anymore. I should also mention that he did NOTHING in terms of caring for them… no cleaning, no grooming, feeding… nothing at all).

    Then later, when I was visibly upset and missing my cats, he softly and sincerely said to me… “It was your choice to give them up, honey.”

    If I would have had a baseball bat at that moment… I would be writing this from jail.

    Does anyone else deal with this level of manipulation??

  • Rebecca

    We all deal w that level of manipulation and worse. It’s sickening. I do believe alcoholism leads to a sadistic form of narcissism. You can’t win here, and he is not worth it. Get out into the world & find kind, loving, normal people as companions. I really believe leaving is the the only way to save yourself. He’s enjoying the torture he creates.

  • Barb

    I believe all addicts/alcoholics are manipulative, it’s part of the diseases Alanon can give you the necessary tools to help yourself as none of us can help or fix them. Please learn to take care of you.

  • Hey, ZuckerRat, you are not alone. We all go through that type of manipulation. My partner does his in a more direct approach. It is especially true when he doesn’t get his way in some situation. He uses the “guilt” card and the “If you love me, you will do this or that”. He also belittles and demeans me. I try to help him, but he just makes me feel like everything is my fault. He manipulates me into getting him things and do things for him. I understand how you feel.

  • Tonya V

    My alcoholic says F### you and calls me names when we argue or just when I say something he doesn’t like. He is oblivious to the fact he behaves like a 2 year old with a sailors mouth.

  • Tonya V

    And I forgot to add he lies about nearly everything…its absolutely crazy!

  • Traci

    I left my alcoholic 7 months ago and it was the best decision I ever made. He was lying to me about seeing an ex girlfriend and accusing me of being crazy. They now live together. She’s a drunk too. The lies never stop.

  • David

    I think Rebecca is so accurate referring to narcissistic behaviour coming into play, this was my experience. I have been free of her, and of all the cruel drama that went with the relationship for over a year, and its like breathing fresh air. You must put yourself first. My ex is now with another alcoholic, thirty years older than her and dying of emphysema. I urge you to take the kind advice from the folks here on this threatened, and wish you love and light.

  • David

    I think Rebecca is so accurate referring to narcissistic behaviour coming into play, this was my experience. I have been free of her, and of all the cruel drama that went with the relationship for over a year, and its like breathing fresh air. You must put yourself first. My ex is now with another alcoholic, thirty years older than her and dying of emphysema. I urge you to take the kind advice from the folks here on this thread, and wish you love and light.

  • Denise

    When you have had enough of your back being up against the wall, you will push back- guaranteed! And then the alcoholic will wonder what he/she did to deserve that- REALLY!!!!!??????…….. Don’t sugar coat anything . Nothing. Diplomacy if it is warranted. Throw the truth at them and then tell them to STFU ! Stand your ground.

  • Michele

    Mine also targets things I enjoy. He didn’t like my Tiger Lilly flowers along the side of our house because when he drove the lawn mower on that side of the house they touched him. He told me that I needed to do something about them. I told him that I loved them. One day I came home from work and he was tearing them all out. I was so angry and hurt by this, he thought I was over-reacting, and round and round we went like we’ve done for 20 years. I’m learning to do or act in the opposite way I would normally act. They pick fights with us, so they have a reason to drink, it keeps them in the disease. I busy myself now, I focus on myself, I do nice things for myself to make up for the pain. I also repeat “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” He has a disease of the mind. It has damaged his brain, it even shows up on the days he’s not drinking. The mood swings, the impulsive decisions, immature conversations. Do I hate it, absolutely!! All I know, is what I’ve been doing all these years has not fixed it, made it better or put an end to it, so I’m learning about Alanon meetings, what it means to be codependent and an enabler. Words I ignored and denied until recently. After all, I was the good one, nothing was wrong with me, he was the one with the drinking problem. That was my a-ha moment! I needed to fix me!! I needed to break my addiction of trying to fix him! I’m trying to get better instead of bitter.

  • Maria

    My husband told me he was going to Alberta for job interviews. He went to Germany instead. He lied about it till the end. I told him he can not come home again. That was last June. (2016). He put liens on my house and money. I have to pay him $50000 or go to court. Where he lies about everything what he did in my house, he says he improved it. He destroyed my house. He worked 1 year of the 7 years we where married. He is very verbal and emotional abusive when he drinks. He has mental problems. He takes pills. He still lies and blames me for everything. He says he stopped drinking. When I write this and think about the hell he put me thru all these years. The money and my health it cost me. I do not understand that I still miss him. We sighed the papers this week and I told him no more contact. But I’m sitting here trying to find a excuse to contact him. Why? I’m so stupid. What on earth is wrong with me. I’m so lonely. I do not believe myself wanting contact with him, knowing it will hurt me. Any one else felt tthat after the separation?

  • Kathy

    During the relationship with the addict we can become addictied to the addict. The disease is so consuming for us the oartner. We wonder on our way home did they drink today , how much did they drink. Will they be passed out, or really drunk. Will they be in a bad mood. I should pick up something they like to eat. Etc etc we pay so much attention to them we forget about ourselves. You need to relearn how to think of “you” find yourself again and remember what makes just you happy.
    Michele… he tried to take away everything you loved as addicts need our constant attention. They also need or want their partners attention. K doing or unknowingly he was breaking you down until you only had him to love. I’m glad you broke away and are getting support. I ask my alcoholic often to educate himself on the affects his drinking has on others. The reality would be to great so they stay in a state of denial.
    Thank you for sharing stay strong.

  • Maria

    Kathy, That makes sense. Thank you for your time. (-:

  • Dawn

    I go through the same thing. It’s amazing that things I once loved seems to be too hard to enjoy around an alcoholic. I even canceled an important trip that I’ve been doing every year because he insists and demands to go too. The problem is it’s a small weekend trip with my girlfriends so then him coming would mean staying in a separate hotel room and me catering to his needs and NOT visiting with my friends hardly at all. After crying about not going he turns around and says, well it’ was YOUR choice not to go. This is just one of many many manipulation he performs. Oh and the control….

    I thought there’s no way I would ever give up my cats for any man….boy was I wrong as I sit here in a house that’s in MY name that I’m paying for, but here him and his own cat sit. I had my mom take my cat because his cat hated my cat and they would fight. I must be crazy to let this happen. And HOW did I let this happen? I completely understand where you’re coming from!

  • Sarah Tobias

    I honestly think that the level of manipulation is a learned behavior. I have a friend who is an alcoholic. He is a good person with a good heart. I sometimes think he doesn’t know he is trying to manipulate people. I think his manipulation is part of his addiction and I accept that.

  • Sarah

    I can definitely relate to your comments. My alcoholic husband also targets things that I enjoy. I am not especially materialistic, but I do have a beautiful antique cookie jar that I like. One evening in a (usual) drunken rage my husband deliberately (it’s an object that is out of the way, so he would have had to intentionally go after it) knocked the top off the cookie jar breaking a piece off of it. I was on the other side of the house and heard the noise, but didn’t realize until several days later what had actually broke. I was really sad because it was something he knew I liked very much and he decided he was going to destroy it. This type of behavior surfaces often. It’s usally in the evening after a long day of drinking and the behavior comes on almost instantly.

    He also picks fights about strange things–the way the refrigerator is organized, for example. It’s a nightly ritual for him to get into the fridge in an angry rage. He mumbles that I know “nothing about organization” (the refrigerator is neat and orderly) and then he starts shoving stuff around, knocking down jars and bottles, making a grand gesture that he’s “fixing the mess” and that I should “take a lesson”. There is usually a lot of F you’s thrown in, too. I don’t talk to him or give him any response, as I know he’s looking for a fight. He has the maturity of a young child. He throws stuff and carries on and I count the minutes until I know he’ll finally go to sleep and I can have some peace.

    I know in the past I have been an enabler. I also know what I married. He was an alcoholic before I married him and he will always be an alcoholic. Rather than spend my time arguing with a drunken, senseless, shameless person, I am doing things to take care of me. I attend Alanon meetings and I focus on what I have control over. I ignore his stupid comments/bad behavior and focus on how I can become a better person. I will not give him the satisfaction of manipulation or trying to take me down. I find that the best thing I can do for my alcoholic is to make myself stronger.

    I wish everyone all the best in their personal stories. You are all amazingly strong individuals. Continue to grow stronger, wiser and take care of yourselves. You deserve peace and happiness.

  • Ksren

    I have found at the hardest but the best thing you can do is to stop interacting with the alcoholic remove them from your life if at all possible. Restore peace and serenity to your life you don’t deserve to have to go through the chaos they create.

  • Janet

    Does there ever come a day when they get better, healed, cured or whatever, that they come to realize that what they did was their fault? Do or will they ever apologize? Or will the hurt and guilt of the partner or parent continue to the end of their lives? My son is an alcoholic and I feel the hate and treatment and accusations he has thrown to me will never end and he will never say, “I’m sorry, Mom”.

  • John

    It’s a life long problem that will never go away–unless alcohol consumption ceases completely. My alcoholic had a big heart in a very real way. She was altruistic, generous, cared for others more than herself. But alcohol turned her into the exact opposite at night. It was unbelievable. Like Jekyl/Hyde. Hurtful comments, manipulation, just like posts mentioned by others above.

    I just couldn’t take it anymore and so I pulled away a little bit, trying not to get so wrapped up in the chaos and manipulation, mainly so I could breathe and think clearer. The three S’s was very helpful to help me regain my sanity. But what I didn’t realize is that in addition to alcohol affecting her brain and personality, her body was starting to shut down. High blood pressure from years of drinking enlarged her heart. And it suddenly stopped one day, in the middle stage of life–early 40s.

    Friendly FYI…if you pull away from your alcoholic. PLEASE remember to also say you love him or her. One never knows when time is up. I was so angry & exhausted at the time that I didn’t say those words to her for a week or two, and now she’s gone…and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. It’s been five months, and my eyes well up even as I type this.

  • Just another piece of alcie fodder

    I’d never been with an alcoholic before, and it’s taken 8 years to realise all the games. He promised to cut down to half a bottle of wine a day, but was slurring his words, and would deny he’d been drinking. I thought I was going crazy. I finally proved he was secretly drinking, and was told I have driven his drinking underground! He had no intention of stopping, just lied to me and carried on! We moved to somewhere he wanted to go, he wouldn’t need to drink here…that didn’t work. I was about to leave him when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve gone on sabbatical to be with him, and he’s told me that was my decision, nice that he’s so grateful. He actually did give up drinking in order to have surgery, so when his life was a stake he could do it, and stayed dry until after his operation. Repeat scan showed recurrence, so he’s back on chemo and booze, yet there is still a possibility of cure. I told him if he started drinking again I would leave him, so I am now living in the same house, but he’s in another bedroom. His alcoholic breath was giving me migraines. I have told him our relationship is over, but my grief and loneliness continue. We had some of my friends to stay and he got drunk and told them I didn’t love him and gave him no emotional support whilst he had major surgery! His abuse is verbal, his selfishness and narcissism typical. I hope he gets cured so I can physically leave him, at the moment I am stuck as I cannot leave a man who may be dying of cancer, despite his behaviour. He is now having conversations about wanting me back…but it’s still all about my giving him the initiative to stop drinking. Been there and done that. It would again be my responsibily and nothing would change. When I tell him during these moments that he needs to stop drinking for him, he looks bemused, yet I tell him he did stop for him, when his surgery depended on it. I’m sad that nothing will change, and trying to find peace. I’m going back to work soon and day by day learning to live for me. I was alone with him, and I’m alone now, still crying and hurting, but it will get better.

  • Diane

    I read all the above stories and sadly can relate to all of them. My ex is an alcoholic who just keeps showing up with stories about how sick or homeless he is and of course I fell for it at first. I thought I was helping him but seems I was just being an enabler. I helped him get a vehicle and a job (one that pays 3 times as much as mine). He was supposed to move out when he got on his feet–that has not happened. I have had to call police many times because of the physical and verbal abuse. It has not helped. The police here say that if he gets mail here-that establishes “residency’ and he has the right to be here. I have tried restraining orders and formal evictions–nothing has stopped him. He went to a few AA meetings and then straight to liquor store after. After one particularly bad fight when he destroyed the house and a few of my possessions–he was put in jail. I come home from work the next day to discover he has broken in and was disconnecting my TV to pawn it. I bought this house after the divorce and can’t afford to just up and disappear. I am 63 years old and all the verbal abuse he has inflicted on me has left me with no confidence at all. I am afraid and the loneliness i feel when he goes on binges and disappears for days at a time–confuse the crap out of me.. Ok rant over.. Like one of the comments–I was alone with him here and I am alone when he is gone–just feel lost

  • […] is a lie, rather than reacting and defending your character, you can just look at them and use the three S’s, step back, shut up and smile. Then say something along the lines of, “Well, that’s your opinion,” or you can […]

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