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What Should You Do if You Are Married to a Gambler?

by Stacey Elkins, studioD

A spouse who has a problem with gambling may be addicted to the thrill he gets from betting on sports, playing poker, buying lottery tickets or hitting the slot machines. This addiction can lead to marital, financial and career problems. Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, a gambling addiction has no clear physical symptoms, according to HelpGuide.org. The ability to recognize a gambling addiction, and how to handle it, can help your spouse get the treatment he needs.

Learn about Gambling Addictions

Educate yourself about gambling addictions. Someone with a gambling problem may use gambling to escape from feelings of helplessness, remorse, sadness and anxiety, according to The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. It's important to know what signs may point to a gambling addiction. For example, your spouse may appear preoccupied with gambling or may get defensive when you bring it up. She may have tried to cut back without any success and may continue to gamble without the resources she needs to do so. Once she starts gambling, she may not be able to stop. She may lie to you about her whereabouts, what she's doing or how much money she has lost. She may also have depleted your savings and borrowed money from others to support her habit.

Recognize Denial is Common

Someone who struggles with an addiction is often in denial about his circumstances or may not want to seek treatment, according to experts with the Mayo Clinic. Your spouse may justify gambling by pointing to the time he won big, rationalizing the negative impact gambling has on his life and those close to him, thinking it will all be worth it when he hits the jackpot. You may need to take steps to protect your family finances.

Confront Your Spouse

Pick a time to confront your spouse when you are calm and can talk without distractions. Express your concern about his gambling, but do not be confrontational. Be prepared to provide specific examples of how his gambling has negatively impacted both of you. For example, maybe he called in sick to work or neglected to spend time with you and other loved ones because he was gambling. His gambling may have put your family in debt. Point out that you are willing to help him get the assistance he needs, but that the destructive behavior cannot continue.

Set Boundaries and Stick to Them

Be prepared to set boundaries, and stick to them. If she is in charge of your finances, you should seek that role. Change any passwords that you need to and limit the amount of cash and credit your spouse has available to her. Don't make excuses for her or bail her out. It's also important that you don't pay off any debt that she owes. Paying off the gambler's debt can make the problem worse by enabling the gambler to continue her addiction, says HelpGuide.org

Seek Professional Help

A gambler recognizing that he has a problem is the biggest step in seeking treatment, says HelpGuide.org. If your spouse is ready to get help, organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous and treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy have been known to help. A debt counselor can also be helpful. If your spouse refuses to seek treatment, you can't force him to get help. Let him know that you are there to support and encourage him in the treatment process, if he changes his mind. Stick to the boundaries you set and seek help for yourself. Gam-Anon is a support group for those with loved ones with a gambling addiction. It can help to talk with others who understand what you are going through.

About the Author

Stacey Elkins is a writer based in Chicago. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and a Masters in social work from the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she specialized in mental health.

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