My partner has a problem with gambling and I didn’t know and I’m devastated…
Gambling addictions are unlike any other addiction – there are no obvious physical signs, so people can more readily hide their gambling problem and it is common for problem gambling to go on for years, perhaps becoming a bigger problem, as time goes on.
Gamblers become skilful at hiding their addiction from their partner perhaps for fear of losing them. The early-warning signs of gambling addictions often go unrecognised until there are devastating consequences for the partner and/or family members. The secrecy and lying surrounding the gambling commonly causes the disclosure to be sudden, drastic and devastating and it is not unusual for the partner of a problem gambler to feel betrayed.
Some partners become extremely anxious as a result of this disclosure and continue to worry whether their partner is continuing to gamble, they may also become vigilant about finances and time-keeping i.e. needing to know where their partner is at any time of the day. Many partners become dissatisfied with aspects of the relationship and may even decide to leave the relationship.
Partners of problem gamblers commonly withdraw from friends and family members as they also feel much shame – and their partner often does not want their gambling disclosed to friends or family which can add to the pressure and isolation partners feel as they have to decide whether to keep this secret or not.
For many partners, physical and mental health can become an issue as they become tired or exhausted or begin to feel a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. In some instances, partners may also feel depressed or suicidal, and the gambler may even blame them for their gambling adding stress and pressure to the situation.
For many partners, learning their partner has a gambling problem is traumatic – as they were completely unaware of the extent of the gambling, there is a sense that their world has been turned upside-down.
Some partners experience blame, humiliation, anger, resentment and breach of trust due to the secrecy and continual lying that commonly surrounds problem gambling. And even though they have done nothing wrong, many partners feel guilt and shame, they also constantly worry about their future.
The financial consequences of problem gambling can also be sudden and devastating for the partner or other family members. Many discover large extensions on mortgages, very high credit card debts, money owed to family and friends, or perhaps illegal debts. There may be many unpaid bills, an inability to pay bills or make ends meet.
These consequences are often life-changing for the partner. Sometimes entire assets are at risk including the family home and there may be additional worries if the gamblers has committed crimes to fund their gambling or lost their job.
As their sense of financial security is destroyed, many partners lose trust in their partner and the relationship can be threatened.
Some partners will try to take over the management of the money and determine the priority of payments. Often this causes more stress in their relationship with their gambling partner as they are now faced with dealing with lawyers, bankruptcy trustees and creditors.
As a result of taking over the financial affairs, communication between partners may also become impaired and the partner may also be at much greater risk domestic violence. Should this occur or if you fear that you are being threatened and need help immediately call the Police. Other services to assist include DoCS Domestic Violence Line (24/7) phone 1800 656 463 or TTY 1800671442, Domestic Violence Advocacy Service 02 8745 6999 or 1800 810 784 (TTY 1800 626 267 ) or contact the Domestic Violence Liaison Officer at your local police station.
Many partners also make changes to their life and make sacrifices that also impact of the lives of their children, perhaps returning to work earlier than planned, working more hours or sometimes two jobs as well as drawing on any savings of their own, borrowing from their family and cutting back on the family budget. How much do you spend on gambling?
Financial consequences for a partner are long-lasting and sometimes the partners or family members are unable to recover fully financially long after the gambling has stopped.
Partners/family members also feel responsible for the mental health and well being of the gambler as some may become depressed, anxious, have attempted suicide or sadly have successfully committed suicide.
It is important to take all threats of suicide seriously and call the police if you believe the threat is imminent, otherwise call Lifeline 13 11 14, Gambling Help 1800 858 858 or contact your local GP.
Family members and partners often feel isolated and are very welcome to access free help at gambling, financial and legal counselling centres. Call Gambling Help 1800 858 858 for information on gambling as well as referrals to gambling, financial and legal counsellors if required.
Partners may request individual or family gambling counselling when phoning Gambling Help.
Partners of gamblers sometimes attend gambling counselling for support and skills to help them cope with this situation and to rebuild their confidence.
Counselling also provides a safe place to work through how they are feeling about their relationship and to determine whether they will stay or leave the relationship. Through counselling partners can learn how to protect themselves from debts incurred by any future gambling by their partner.
Partners, friends and family members of gamblers, can also find information and support online. At Gambling Help Online you can begin live chat or email with a counsellor any time of the day, any day.
If you would like a copy of a very helpful booklet recently published by the Gambling Impact Society NSW Inc called ‘Problem Gambling A Self Help Guide for Families’ click here.
Or you can ask Gambling Help to send you a free copy.
This booklet thoroughly explains problem gambling, its impacts, how to identify it, how to protect yourself, how to seek help and contains many personal stories that may help you understand problem gambling and the impacts it can have on family and friends.
To sum up partners are placed in very difficult and stressful situations by their gambling partners and it is important to seek help when feeling overwhelmed – call 1800 858 858 or go to www.gamblinghelponline.org.au for help and referral to free services near you.