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Husband's Gambling Problem
Wreaks Havoc on Marriage

QUESTION: For the past four years, my husband has had a significant gambling problem. While he seems to be under control right now, I am still angry and resentful over the financial and emotional problems that his past actions have caused. I feel as though he doesn't take my feelings seriously when I tell him how much hurt he has caused. How can I make him understand?

ANSWER: You are sensitive to the damage that has been done in the past four years. Trust has been injured and understanding diminished. Part of your husband's recovery process must include developing an ability to have empathy for the pain he has caused. Empathy is necessary not only to repair your emotional relationship, but also to ensure that your husband's changes are more likely to be permanent.

Part of your ongoing resentment no doubt results from the fact that despite getting his gambling under control, he remains unresponsive to your emotional pain. Without understanding his impact on others, your husband may remain responsive to only his immediate gratification when faced with the decision to gamble or not in the future. What would stop him from going back to gambling if money were not a problem? Can he feel the destructiveness of his past actions, or is he numb to those feelings for himself as well as for you?

Most addictions are forged as a defense against low self-esteem and depression. Your husband's inability to empathize suggests an emptiness in his emotional connection to you. His gambling addiction no doubt stems from deeper problems with finding emotional meaning in life, including his relationships. It is possible that he may have difficulty with attachment and intimacy in general.

Invite your spouse to become a part of the solution. Ask him to consider professional help for his problem. Your husband may benefit from joining a Gamblers Anonymous 12-step program, which includes apology and making amends as integral parts of taking responsibility for past actions. But don't stop there: Tell him that you love him but that you need him to understand the nature of your experience in past four years in order to rebuild trust in the relationship and move forward.

If your husband continues to stonewall your attempts to resolve the past, seek a marriage counselor's help. It is essential that your husband accepts responsibility for repairing the emotional damage done to the marriage if your relationship is to recover.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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