Say No to Bailing Out Your Problem Gambler Spouse
What do you do when the problem gambler is your spouse? Do you bail him or her out time after time, all the while anguishing over whether this addiction will ever end? If so, it’s time for a reality check. You aren’t doing your spouse – or yourself – any favors with your constant bailouts. In fact, bailouts never work – whether it’s the federal government or a loving, caring spouse trying to bring peace to the household.
It’s time to say no to bailing out your problem gambler spouse.
Reasons Why You May Bail Out Your Problem Gambler Spouse
Before we look at how you can get your head around this troubling situation and actually do something about it, let’s look briefly at some of the reasons why you may be tempted to bail out your problem gambler spouse.
It’s easier than dealing with the actual problem. You’re probably in denial if you tell yourself, consciously or subconsciously, that it’s easier just to bail out your spouse with a gambling problem than it is to deal with the actual problem. Maybe you think that this is just a phase and your spouse will somehow come out of it. That’s not only unlikely, but research proves that gambling addiction left untreated only gets progressively worse. In other words, if something isn’t done, you’re just setting yourself up for even more negative consequences as a result of your spouse’s problem gambling. Sooner or later you’ll have to deal with the problem that is, not the dream world you want your home life with your spouse to be.
It’s just this one time. When your husband or wife (or partner) asks you for money to bail him or her out of a jam caused by problem gambling, chances are that the excuse will be that it’s just this one time. These are famous last words. In fact, they’re so common that they’re the staple of late-night comedians (although for a lot of different reasons). The point is that once is never all that it will turn out to be. If you bail out your spouse now, you’ll be bailing out your spouse until you get up the backbone to realize that this is a no-win situation.
It isn’t that much money. If you look at isolated incidents of when you’ve given in and bailed your spouse out of a problem gambling jam by handing over some money otherwise destined for household expenses, you may think that it’s no big deal because it’s only a small amount. Oh, really? Do you keep a tally of just how much this little bit has added up to over time? And if you are lending (okay, giving) money to your spouse, what makes you think he or she isn’t also borrowing money from every friend, relative, or anyone that can be convinced to fork over some cash? If you justify giving money to your spouse because you tell yourself it isn’t that much money, you are only aiding and abetting a continuing gambling problem. Let’s face it. Gamblers need money to gamble. They’ll do and say anything to get it. It isn’t the amount (although that will add up over time). It’s the fact that you’re providing it. You need to stop.
It’s easier to keep peace in the household. At the heart of this matter could be something very dangerous to the overall well-being of you and any children in the home. If you bail out your problem gambler spouse time after time because you feel the need to keep the peace in the home at all costs, the real question you should perhaps be asking yourself is, is it worth it? What kind of a "peace" is it if everyone tiptoes around, afraid to upset the problem gambler for fear he or she will "go off" and perhaps resort to physical violence, after a lot of verbal abuse? Think this can’t happen to you? Many a spouse and parent has had to contend with the ramifications of progressively worse situations a compulsive gambler gets into – and as the addiction worsens, so do the consequences for all concerned. This includes everyone in the family.
He (she) promised to stop. Another of the litany of lies a problem gambler will tell a spouse is that the gambling is going to stop. If you buy into this fallacy, you’re continuing to bury your head under a mountain of deception. How many times do you have to hear the lie before you stand up and say, no, I’m not going to bail you out any longer? If your problem gambler spouse promises to stop, the only way there’ll be any teeth in the declaration is if he or she agrees to and goes into treatment to overcome the addiction. No problem gambler will just stop. He or she may say they’ll cut down and, in some cases, may actually mean it. But the lure of gambling is just too hard to resist without professional help. He or she will be right back at it – and you’ll be in the same situation of being asked to bail him or her out all over again.
It’s too hard to fight him (her). Many a spouse will do anything to avoid conflict, even justifiable confrontation. Certainly problem gambling falls into this category of a negative situation that requires confrontation. If you find yourself unwilling, because of fear or lack of information or some other reason, to face up to your problem gambling spouse and you continue to provide bailouts, what do you think will happen in the long-term? Do you think the problem will just magically go away? It won’t. In fact, it will just go from bad to worse.
What You Can Do To Stop Bailing Out the Problem Gambler
After looking over some of the reasons why you may be bailing out your problem gambler spouse, you’re probably wondering what, exactly, you can do about it. The answers may surprise you. Cutting to the bottom line, however, there’s actually a lot you can do – for you and other members of your immediate family – although you can’t force treatment on the gambler. That’s something the gambler has to agree to personally – and follow through on.
Still, you need to take care of you and the family. Here’s how you can stop bailing out your problem gambler spouse – and some steps to take to ensure your own sanity and well-being in the process.
Get support. What you need right now more than anything else is support from others who know what it’s like to live with a problem gambler. Fortunately for you – and for thousands of others in your shoes – there is a support group called
that can help. Gam-Anon is an offshoot of Gamblers Anonymous. Both are 12-step self-help groups. Gamblers Anonymous is for the gambler who is committed to quitting gambling, while Gam-Anon is for family members, friends and loved ones of compulsive gamblers who have been affected by the gambling problem.
You undoubtedly have many questions about how you can go on – even if your compulsive gambling spouse continues to gamble. There are things that you need to consider, as recommended by Gam-Anon. These include the following:
- It’s important to accept and learn to live with the fact that compulsive gambling is an illness.
- Questioning or interrogating the compulsive gambler will serve no purpose. You can’t force the truth out of a gambler who’s adept at hiding it. You should recognize that you are powerless over this situation.
- Nagging your problem gambler spouse about losses and financial crises due to gambling or playing the "what if" game will only be detrimental to the gambler’s recovery as well as your own.
- Whatever happened in the past is gone. You won’t find any peace until you let it go and accept it – without resentment.
- Do not call the gambler’s creditors to make restitution. This is something the gambler needs to take personal responsibility for and handle on his or her own.
- Don’t borrow money or co-sign any loans to pay off gambling debts. Experience has shown that this is not helpful when the gambler is still gambling or when the gambler starts attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
- The problem gambler spouse should not go to work with the specific intention to cover gambling debts.
- The non-gambling spouse should probably take over handling the family finances. That’s because experience shows that problem gamblers are not often able to handle this responsibility. While that may change over time, as long as the individual is gambling, and even during the treatment and early recovery phase, the compulsive gambler should not be handling family finances.
- Talk with friends and relatives and ask that they not lend your compulsive gambling spouse any money – for any reason.
- If your problem gambling spouse begins going to Gamblers Anonymous meetings, you should encourage that but stay out of it. In other words, don’t interfere with the process or start quizzing your gambler spouse about it.
- Since gambling debts occur, generally speaking, over a long period of time, it’s going to take time for the problem gambler to start paying them back. Don’t be discouraged by this reality. Your problem gambler spouse may need to pay back small amounts over an extended period of time. But make sure that normal family expenses come first.
- Recognize that recovery from compulsive gambling takes time. Offer encouragement to your spouse as he or she begins to go through this process of healing. It’s also important to have faith.
- Perhaps you would be wise to take a personal inventory of your own character defects and begin to work on them. After all, you’ve been co-dependent by bailing out your problem gambler spouse for some time now, and that behavior means you need to make some positive changes as well.
- Continue to attend Gam-Anon meetings even if your spouse keeps on gambling. You need ongoing support and understanding and that’s what Gam-Anon offers.
Of course, helping yourself to gain some understanding of problem or compulsive gambling is one thing, but how can the problem gambler begin to overcome the problem? In other words, where can he or she find treatment?
Since compulsive gambling is regarded as regarded as a symptom of an emotional disorder, it stands to reason that psychiatric counseling is perhaps the best form of rehabilitative therapy. Many say that emotional factors involved in compulsive gambling include inability or unwillingness to accept reality, emotional insecurity, lack of self-esteem, and immaturity. Some psychiatrists say that the compulsive gambler has an underlying desire to self-destruct.
Compulsive or problem gambling is an obsession that takes over the gambler’s life. It’s no longer just a desire to gamble. It becomes a real physical and psychological need. Everything takes a backseat to the compulsion to gamble. Family, job, friends, finances, health – all are relegated to the background as the compulsive gambler becomes increasingly more fixated on – and in deeper trouble because of – gambling.
National Council on Problem Gambling – One place to start is to check out the resources available through the National Council on Problem Gambling. You can check out information for your problem gambler spouse, or get your spouse involved in the research with you. Go to the NCPG website or call their toll-free number at 1-800-522-4700.
The NCPG site also has links to help by state, including counseling, treatment, self-help and support groups. In California, for example, there are listings and links for the California Council on Problem Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous, Gam-Anon, First Step to Change Online Workbook, California Office of Problem Gambling, diagnostic screen for gambling problem and problem gambling criteria (which do not take the place of a face-to-face evaluation with a trained clinical professional), National Certified Gambling Counselor (NCGC) Directory, inpatient residential treatment locator, other links, literature catalog, and real stories.
You can also research psychiatrists, psychologists and other clinical professionals who are licensed and specialized in treating individuals with problem or compulsive gambling. Some problem gambling spouses may be more motivated to begin treatment through this means, while others may go to a residential or outpatient gambling treatment program and then augment it with continuing counseling upon completion of a formal treatment program.
Ask for referrals to counselors and seek help to find the best "fit" for your problem gambling spouse. Again, while you cannot force your spouse into treatment for problem gambling, it’s important to be ready to help with your support and encouragement when he or she is ready and willing to accept treatment.
Substance Abuse and Problem Gambling
Since a great number of problem gamblers also have substance abuse problems – alcohol, drugs, or both – it may be that your problem gambler spouse needs dual diagnosis treatment. If this is the case, look for a treatment program that can handle both simultaneously.
Check out the Treatment Facility Locator maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or call their toll-free treatment referral helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. The site also has listings of state substance abuse agencies you can contact for additional help and resources.
When to Start
If you’ve been bailing out your problem gambling spouse – either by financial assistance, lying to friends, employer and family members, denying there’s a problem, making excuses to justify your own actions – the time to start to change your behavior is now.
Bottom line: you have to just say no to bailing out your problem gambler spouse before anything is going to get better. In the long run, while it may seem difficult at present to see how your life with the problem gambler can change, the fact is that you owe it to yourself and other members of your family to begin the process now.
You can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. But you can do something to heal yourself and bring peace to the family. Through support of Gam-Anon and other self-help groups, you can find a way out of the morass that your problem gambler spouse’s behavior has caused. No need to suffer in silence, blaming yourself for your constant to-the-rescue actions bailing out your spouse who continues to gamble. Reach out and ask for help, for help is readily available to you.