Conquer His Gambling Addiction

One spouse's addiction affects the whole family.
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Gambling is a huge problem across the country. Addicts love the adrenaline rush, and for compulsive gamblers, the lure of the high is tremendous. Unfortunately, many families, educators, and even law-enforcement agencies turn the other cheek, not believing that the problem is real or here to stay. In situations where one spouse gambles the family's money away the couple must rebuild their marriage from the foundation up. Here's how Joanne Gaffney-Bennett, R.N., L.C.S.W., a marital therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts, suggests you start:

Understand what's behind the addiction.

Anyone growing up in a family with addictions, especially if the addiction is not addressed, is at high risk for developing their own addiction. It's not uncommon for children of addicted parents to tap into a quick, feel-good mechanism--anything to help them make sense of an unpredictable world. Rather than learn the skills needed to deal with stress, addicts use gambling or alcohol or sex to camouflage their inadequacies and give them a false sense of power and control.

Join a support group.

Insist that the spouse with the addiction join an organization such as Gambler's Anonymous. Just like a recovering alcoholic can never have one drink, a recovering gambler can never place one bet. Groups like Gam-Anon, which offers support to the families of compulsive gamblers, can be helpful as well.

Put the past behind you.

Although it's not easy to do, especially if you were the spouse betrayed by the gambling addiction, it's crucial to live in the present and let go of what happened in the past.

Don't fall into the blame-game trap.

It doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong. You need to listen to each other and empathize. A great tool for doing this is the Dialogue, developed by psychotherapist Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. The technique can be especially helpful for couples dealing with addiction problems. In such cases, you and your partner may have different needs, but you need to talk calmly to each other. Here's how the dialogue works:

Mirror, validate, empathize

  • Mirroring: The person who has something to discuss begins by expressing his or her thoughts to her partner. The "listener" then has to mirror word for word what his partner has said. Then the listener says, "Did I understand you correctly?" The speaker answers yes, no, or has the chance to add other thoughts. If the conversation becomes heated, stop talking until you've both calmed down.
  • Validation: The listener now must validate--that is, acknowledge--their mate's feelings. Instead of saying, "You're crazy," or "That's not the way you should feel," the listener makes clear that he or she has understood the speaker's words. This doesn't mean the listener necessarily agrees. It simply means that the message has gotten through.
  • Empathy: The listener must imagine the world through the speaker's eyes. For example, if a wife is angry that her husband failed to do something he promised to do, he can say, "That makes sense to me. I know that when someone promises to do something, but doesn't follow through, I feel hurt too." Empathizing doesn't mean you agree, just that you understand the situation from your partner's point of view.


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