February 7, 2005

About Shokooh

My gambling husband

Dear Shokooh,

I just found out that my husband has gambled away nearly all of our savings. I am so angry that I cannot even talk to him about it. I can't believe he would be so irresponsible and so selfish. We were saving up for a house and now we have to wait another year or more! I am so hurt and feel very betrayed. I love him but I am just furious right now. I don't know what to say to him. I have been giving him the silent treatment for days because I have no idea how to tell him what I feel.


Dear O.P.,

Oftentimes, in the midst of emotional turmoil, we may feel so upset and so worked up that words escape us. You have shared that you don't know what to say to your husband. Yet, in a few short sentences you have shared a great deal with me about how you are feeling. Don't underestimate yourself -- you may be feeling very angry right now, but I hear your feelings loud and clear.

Why not start with some of the words you have used with me? You say that you are angry, to the point where you can't express the anger to your husband. You feel that he has been irresponsible and selfish. You are hurt. One word in particular stands out -- betrayed.

Betrayal feels awful. To feel betrayed means that somehow, in some way, trust has been broken. In marriage, a husband and wife are on the same team. When one betrays another, the partnership has been violated. In your case, it sounds like you and your husband were working together towards the goal of buying a home. In gambling away the savings for this project, your husband has communicated to you that the immediate rush and thrill of gambling means more to him than your shared goal. It is no wonder that you are furious!

Most patients have difficulty taking time to think through their feelings before attempting dialogue with their partner. They are upset and go straight to yelling without pausing for reflection. In your case, you are so upset that you are having difficulty starting the conversation. I see this in a positive light -- you have a unique opportunity to delve into your feelings before going headfirst into an emotionally charged situation. Take advantage of this -- ask yourself some questions.

Does your husband have a history of gambling or is this a new change in his behavior? Is anything else going on with your husband? Have you noticed any shifts in his mood? It is important to realize that pathological or problematic gambling can also take place in the context of other mental health conditions. For example, individuals who experience mania often have episodes where they will make grand, excessive, financially irresponsible decisions. What is the background to this home purchasing plan? Was the decision to buy a home something you both agreed upon? Was he fully committed to this plan? Perhaps gambling was an easy way to get out of a larger financial commitment he wasn't prepared for. I urge you to try and look at this situation from a variety of angles. The greater your perspective, the more likely you are to come to an accurate understanding.

Psychologists diagnose Pathological Gambling by looking for five or more of the following symptoms in the context of persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behavior:

1. Preoccupation with gambling -- for example, reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble

2. Need to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve desired excitement

3. Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling

4. Restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling

5. Gambling as a way of escaping form problems or of relieving mood -- for example, gambling to relieve feelings of anxiety or depression

6. Returning to "get even" after losing money gambling

7. Lying to family members or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling

8. Committing illegal acts (such as forgery, theft, or embezzlement) to finance gambling

9. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling

10. Reliance on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling

I strongly suggest that you discuss psychotherapy with your husband. If he does have pathological gambling tendencies, he can work on an individual basis with a psychologist as well as join groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. You have strong feelings about what has happened and will likely need a safe place to discuss these feelings. Marital counseling can provide you both with a positive environment for the discussions that will no doubt need to take place as your husband, and relationship, recover.

To learn more about Pathological Gambling, visit the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, which runs the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders. Gamblers Anonymous can be found at GamblersAnonymous.org.



This column is for general educational purposes only-- it is not a substitute for medical attention, counseling, or therapy of any kind. The Couch and the staff of this website urge you to seek immediate medical attention if you are in an urgent, harmful, or potentially dangerous situation. Psychiatric emergencies or urgent matters should be handled by calling 9-1-1 or going to the nearest emergency room.   Please note that your emails will not be answered on an individual basis and your confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Top

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