What to do when your partner has a gambling problem

Kimberly Gillan
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Image: Getty

Discovering your partner has a problem with gambling can be devastating, so it's important you get support as well.

Unfortunately, most partners don't find out about problem gambling until it's spiralling out of control.

Rosemary Hambledon, manager of the gambling help service at Relationships Australia (SA), says secrecy is a common symptom.

"It's not unusual for someone to discover that their partner is gambling and that they are in significant debt."

"The partner of the gambler can have a strong emotional response."

Anger, shock and stress are all common reactions, and the way people respond to the situation varies greatly.

"Some of them want to help their partner, others say, 'I don't know how to deal with this financial stuff' and some say they want to get out of the relationship," says Sanja Cosic, psychologist and general manager at Gambler's Help.

Problem gambling can be associated with depression, anxiety, disrupted sleep and alcohol dependence, so although it's easy to flip out at your partner, Simone Rodda, project manager of Gambling Help Online, says it's best if you can keep calm.

"It's really important to approach the subject with a non-judgemental attitude as people who develop gambling problems typically feel a great deal of shame," she says.

Related:Spotting a problem gambler

Look after number one

Regardless of how you respond to the situation, talking with a professional is always a good idea.

"Partners and family members can feel isolated and like they are the only one going through this," Hambledon says.

"They should be encouraged to access support and work through how to deal with the situation they find themselves in."

The counselling process usually involves education about the complexities of gambling.

"We run a program that helps them understand what the gambling experience is like and what they can do to assist their significant other," Cosic explains.

"Then we organise a plan to help them move forward."

Managing the money

The finances are usually the first thing that needs to be reviewed when a gambling problem is discovered.

"The non-gambling partner might take control of all the money, and issue the gambler a small allowance to help with their daily requirements," Hambledon says.

"As they get access to more money, there might be some accountability requirements put in place so the non-gambling partner has an understanding of what is going on."

In other cases, the problem gambler might ask the bank to reduce their daily withdrawal limit.

"They might drop it to $100, so that's all they can take out unless they go into the bank," Cosic suggests.

"If it's a Saturday or a Sunday and the bank is not open and they delay, the urge will pass."

Rebuilding the trust

Partners of problem gamblers can find it difficult to trust, so it's important measures are put in place so the relationship can survive.

"The ex-gambler needs to be understanding of their partner's worry and fear and make an effort to reassure them," Hambledon says.

"But the non-gambling partner should also understand the constraints their gambling partner is now living under – often they complain about living in a fish bowl."

Encouraging the gambler to seek professional counselling is also a good idea.

"A lot of people come in for counselling and as they start talking about their lives, a lot of things are exposed that they have never talked about before," Cosic says.

If they're hesitant about face-to-face counselling, suggest they go to Gambling Help Online.

"Online services appear attractive to those who experience high levels of shame and stigma," Rodda says.

"Our clients say that it is convenient, easy to access and they find it easy to talk there."

Concerned about someone? Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through Gambler's Help. For free, confidential advice, call 1800 858 858 or visit gamblinghelponline.org.au.

For more information, go to gambleaware.vic.gov.au or responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au.

Do you have a story for us? Email us at healthwellbeing@ninemsn.com.au

Image: GettySpotting a problem gambler Image: GettyWhat to do when your partner has a gambling problem