She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I feel stuck & don't know what to do.
My partner and I have been together three years, and about six months ago he dropped a major bomb on me.
He told me he has a gambling addiction and had been gambling in secret for the past year or two, and had racked up approximately $25,000 in debt. He ended up telling me because I was confused & frustrated about our finances and kept pushing to keep track so that we could get ahead.
I felt shocked & furious to hear his confession. This means he has been skimming money off his paycheck before he put it in our joint account, using secret credit cards for cash advances, and telling me we've got to be careful with our spending on things like groceries.
That's lying/withholding every day for years!
I completely trusted him & thought he was an honest guy and would have never doubted him before this. He told me he kept going because he just wanted to win enough to go on our world trip that we have planned.
Over our three years, we've enjoyed a good relationship. We enjoy each other's company, share the same life goals, and I honestly haven't ever felt this way about someone. I have walked away from relationships for much less before… I don't want to walk away from this, but don't want to be a fool.
The past year, he had been under major stress in a job he hated (which he quit mid-year), had taken up casual smoking, and our relationship was really, really, really suffering from a disconnect. Around the time he quit the job, but before he told me about the gambling, he saw a therapist about twice & they gauged he was mostly stressed, followed by mildly anxious and a little depressed. Honestly, I feel like he's been a bit down for years now (before I met him) but I keep thinking there is a healthy, on track, anxiety-free him.
Is that foolish?
After he told me about the gambling, our relationship got so much better. He had been a shell, and he was finally coming back to life. The secret had been killing him. I told him he needed to get his life on track. Stop gambling immediately, get a better job, pay off all the debt himself, start exercising again, stop smoking, and part of the deal was he must go speak to someone. I said I wanted him to do all this by the end of the year as I can't live in this half-life state.
He's stopped gambling and started paying off the debt, but that's about it. He has another job, but it's very basic. He joined the gym again but only went twice. I wish he would understand it's very important for me to see him better himself. All the things I've asked him to do are things he's expressed he wants to do… but just can't seem to bring himself to do.
Oh and one thing I realized about him is his history of mooching (money and help) from parents, friends, and ex-partners. I called him out on it, and he hadn't seen it like that before. I myself had been the same about mooching until I was woken up to it about four years ago.
Also, I know what it's like to fuck up. In the past, I cheated on an ex and lied about it for months before I came clean. Apart from devastating my ex, I completely gutted my trust in myself, and it took a long, long time to rebuild. I would never do that kind of damage again. So that's another reason why I've been willing to work with my partner on this.
He is a very sweet guy who adores me, and we get on so well. He is supportive & kind, but I am terrified he won't do anything about his situation and just continue to go backward his whole life and drag me down with him. I'm afraid this issue will crop up again in scenarios like our future daughter won't be able to go to camp because Dad gambled the money saved for it etc. I'm 28 and can't afford to waste my time in the wrong situation as we plan to have kids in two years.
I don't want to leave him, but I have a certain expectation of my life, and it's going to be a good one. My parents worked hard to give me a good life, and I don't want to let it go to seed.
Please, what should I do?
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Okay, the first thing you need to get clear on here can be found in what he told you.
He told you he has a gambling addiction.
Gambling addiction operates similarly to an addiction to drugs or alcohol. And it is my belief, as well as that of doctors who specialize in addiction and recovery, that it needs to be treated similarly. That means there is no quick fix for this. Additionally, gambling addictions often coexist or morph into other addictions.
In your email, you said that you’ve told him the things you want him to do immediately: stop gambling, stop smoking, pay off the debt, get a better job, start exercising.
The thing is it’s not that simple.
Recovery from any addiction is a process.
One does not snap their fingers, stop the addiction, and resume life as normal. His brain is not wired the same way as yours. Addiction is bigger than just f*cking up.
As someone who was in active addiction for 15 years, I can tell you this: recovery takes time and patience, and work, and the probability of relapse is high (and a normal part of the process).
I understand how daunting that is. But, I don’t want to give you unrealistic expectations, and I don’t want you to place them on him either. If you want a chance at making this work, you will have to readjust how you are approaching this, both separately and together. This is not an impossible situation, but you need to go into this aware of what may be ahead.
The best shot anyone dealing with addiction has is some sort of professional addiction treatment (be that inpatient or outpatient rehab), PLUS individual therapy and some kind of support group. From my experience, the 12-step variety is the most accessible and beneficial.
Secondly, there is work to be done on your end as well.
In my experience, addicts seek relationships (often subconciously) in which the dynamics allow the addiction to flourish.
There is something broken there. That is not to blame you, but repairing the relationship will require you both to participate.
If he hasn’t already, I suggest your partner checks out Gamblers Anonymous. And, I highly recommend you check out Gam-Anon, which is a 12-step program for the loved ones of gambling addicts. Al-Anon is another 12-step program for you to consider. Although not aimed at gambling addiction, it covers the same territory of loving an addict.
I can’t tell you what to do. This is a choice that you will have to come to on your own. There are no guarantees, even if he seeks help, that this gambling addiction will not pop up again.
Whatever you decide, it is imperative that you speak with your partner about this in a sincere and nonjudgemental way.
You can’t fix this for him. And, you may have to face the fact that this is not something that will be resolved overnight.
If you’d like any additional resources in your area, don’t hesitate to reach out.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, recovery, friendship, sex, consent, what I’m reading, Fluorite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo