What to Do if Your Significant Other Has a Gambling Problem

Gambling is intended as a recreational activity, not an all-consuming distraction.

Gambling is intended as a recreational activity, not an all-consuming distraction. It should be lighthearted and entertaining instead of stressful and erratic. If you are noticing that your partner spends an excessive amount of time and money at the casino or in the online gaming sphere, they might be a compulsive gambler. Here are some questions to ponder if you think this could describe your significant other:

  • Do they turn to gambling as a form of escape from conflicts or difficult situations?
  • Do they often place reckless wagers then feel the impulse to chase their losses?
  • Do they tend to isolate while gaming or lie to avoid confrontation about the behavior?
  • Do they shirk their obligations like school, work and household in favor of gambling?
  • Do they seem disinterested in pursuing their relationships and other hobbies?
  • Do they resort to extreme or unpredictable mood swings when they lose money?

If any of these scenarios resonate with you, it’s plausible that your partner has a gambling issue. This can become a serious problem with negative impacts on your relationship, but although it might seem overwhelming at times, don’t feel like you need to navigate this alone. The advice below can point you toward resources, guidance and support, both for yourself and the person you love.   

Help your partner establish healthy limits

When it comes to recovering from any kind of compulsion, maintaining accountability is crucial. So urge your partner to create boundaries for the frequency and duration of time they can spend gaming. On some of the gambling sites, you can regulate their spending by activating self-exclusion features on the site. This tool can enforce limits on wagers, losses and the time allocated for playing. It also gives the option to suspend account usage altogether for a minimum of one week. These restrictions will teach your partner how to gamble safely in moderation.

Take responsibility for financial decisions

While you don’t want to be overbearing and controlling of your partner, since they have an unreliable track-record with money, for the time being, it’s a smart idea to manage the household finances yourself. If the other person if willing to cooperate, decide together how much access your partner should have to the joint bank accounts, then open separate accounts for the remaining finances and keep the login credentials hidden. You also need to be prepared to withstand your partner’s requests for money, as those with gambling issues are often prone to begging or manipulation tactics.   

Take responsibility for financial decisions

Be supportive but avoid enabling the issue

The line between extending compassion and becoming part of the problem can get blurry, so remember it’s not your job to shield the other person from the consequences of their actions. Even the sincerest intentions of supporting and encouraging your partner can turn into enabling the compulsion if you’re not careful. For instance, although it might be tempting to give your partner the cash needed to repay their debts, it’s more beneficial when you allow them to experience the brunt of their choices and learn from their mistakes. Otherwise, you are just reinforcing the irresponsible behavior.   

Encourage your partner to seek counseling

Since the causes of compulsive gambling often mirror those of substance abuse, your partner might not be able to control their urges despite a genuine desire to quit. Biological, social and environmental factors can all contribute to a gambling issue, so your partner might need to seek professional help to recover. In fact, gambling emits the same chemical reactors in the brain as certain drugs which can give the person a sense of feeling high. A licensed therapist can assist your partner in figuring out the roots of their problem, then teach them how to utilize interventions to help break the cycle.

Encourage-them-to-seek-counseling

Find outlets to process your own emotions

There are many complex emotions involved in watching someone you love struggle with any kind of compulsion. You might be feeling anxious, betrayed, helpless, frustrated, scared, angry or all of these combined. You desperately want to reach them but have no idea where to begin. So as the significant other, you need to create your own network of support to deal with these ramifications. Find safe spaces to process what you’re feeling with those who understand and empathize—a support group for the friends and family members of compulsive gamblers is an ideal starting point.  

You might be intimidated or fearful to confront your partner for their gambling issue, but this difficult conversation can be the most loving action you take for them. If you’re unsure how to navigate this process, the Responsible Gaming Foundation has online resources, advice and a free hotline to assist you. Gambling problems are serious, but they don’t have to derail your entire relationship.

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Mackenzie Kreitler has been in the communications industry for over 7 years. She writes about relationships, parenting, family and travel.
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