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The Gambler’s Wife

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins Director, The Marriage Recovery Center
  • 2009 3 Mar
The Gambler’s Wife

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I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, plastered across the front of the magnificent building, complete with circular drive, parking attendants and revolving doors, were the words, “Where Winning Comes Easily!”

Having not seen this majestic building before, my first guess was that it was a hotel, replete with parking garage, advertising for on-site spa services and shuttle. What else could it possibly be? I pulled over to take a closer look.

No, it was not a hotel, nor a spa, though it had a hotel adjacent and obviously connected to it. It was not a retreat center, though it certainly touted its fitness center and spa services. I had to take a closer look.

You’ll never guess what it was—a casino.

“Where winning comes easily?” I thought to myself. How is that possible? If winning is so easy, who paid for this monstrosity? It certainly did not fit the stories I’ve become accustomed to hearing over the past several years where men and women lose paycheck after paycheck to blackjack dealers and “one armed bandits.”

How easily does winning come? Not as easily as losing, unfortunately.

I counseling more and more individuals with gambling addictions, but I am also receiving an ever-increasing number of requests for interventions in families because a member has become addicted to gambling. In fact, this surge in gambling addiction was one reason for writing my book, Breaking Everyday Addictions, where I discuss ways we become lured into easy pleasures, only to be ensnared and distressed.

This problem is anything but new. The Apostle James says it like this: “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1: 3-5) Who of us hasn’t lived this story?

Here is one reader's story:

Dear Dr. David. I am desperate for help. My husband has become addicted to gambling. Of course, he would never admit it. He stops by the local casino several times a week and plays Blackjack. He tries to manage his spending by only taking a limited amount of money with him, but after he loses he feels so bad that he goes to the bank machine and goes back to win back his losses. Of course that never happens.

I’ve become so frustrated because I can’t talk to him about his problem. He becomes defensive and angry. He denies having a problem, and greatly minimizes how much he loses. I don’t even know anymore whether he is telling the truth or lying. What I do know is that he has taken out an additional loan on our house to pay off credit card debt.

Since he won’t admit he has a problem, what can a spouse do? In some ways I wish he were an alcoholic, where I could see how much he is drinking. This way, I cannot control what he spends. I can see our life’s’ savings going down the drain and feel helpless to stop it. Please help me and thousands of other wives and husbands whose spouse is sucked into this mess. ~ The Gambler’s Wife

Dear Reader:

Reaching out for help is the first thing to do. Good for you. Many spouses attempt to manage the problem on their own, or get caught in the power struggle of trying to talk their mate into rational behavior—giving up the gambling. An addiction is not a rational process—it creates distorted thinking, irrational behavior, and altered brain chemistry.

Second, it is critical to view this problem as an addiction. As such, he cannot control his gambling, nor can you. You cannot expect him to tell you the truth about his problem. Addictions thrive in secrecy. They escalate because the addicted person denies the damage this process (or substance) is having on their life. Addicts of any kind will lie, minimize, deny or try all kinds of wild schemes to deceive themselves and others into believing there really is no problem. But, they are wrong!

Third, don’t shame him. Don’t bully him, scream at him or try to shame him into changing. If he is addicted, and it certainly appears that he is, his cravings for gambling are intense. The pull of the casino is greater than any shame or guilt you might want him to feel. At some level he knows the mess he’s in, but that is not enough to cause him to choose treatment.

Fourth, get support. You must have sources of support who will tell you the truth about addictions. They will confront your denial and “stinkin’ thinkin.’” You must have prayer partners who will pray with you for wisdom and strength. You must have another perspective so you can make good, healthy choices. You will need friends around when it’s time to take action.

Fifth, the problem will get worse without intervention. Please understand you cannot wish his problem away. You dare not get drawn into his rationales that he is only one win away from having his money back, or that he is not spending as much money as you suspect. His addiction is out of control—yours and his. Get help. Find an addictions treatment program in your community and see if they treat gamblers. Learn all you can about this problem and addictions in general. Learn about interventions and then prepare to take action.

Finally, take action. After getting help for yourself, and becoming clear about the power and ravages of addictions, lovingly let your mate know that you are finished trying to shame him into changing. You’re done trying to “guilt trip” him into altering his behavior. You’re finished taking responsibility for his problem and trying to think up new ways to get him to stop gambling. Now it is time for action.

It’s time to let your mate know they must seek treatment. Let them know there is a treatment facility nearby that deals specifically with gambling issues. Let him know how much you love him, but you cannot live with this addiction. Let him know his choices: he can choose the facility in town or the one in a neighboring city. If he chooses to have your support, he must choose treatment. Otherwise, let him know you are prepared to leave the home while he considers his choices.

Tough love, you say? Yes, it is. But, if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got—and that is ruining your marriage and your lives. There is a path of healing, and you both need to take it.

Published March 3, 2009

Dr. Hawkins is the director of 
The Marriage Recovery Center  where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.