Patricia's husband of 23 years admitted last year that he had a gambling problem and they agreed that she take control of the finances, giving him a weekly allowance. But now he's "lost" his expensive watch, and a silver clock's gone missing. Accused of selling them to gamble, he angrily denies it and says it's impossible to live with someone who doesn't trust him and who wants to control him. Patricia feels terrible. What can she do?
There seems to be increasing evidence that we have two kinds of brain - one that lives in our head and one that lurks in our gut, our gut brain, where our intuition lies. These days few of us in the West listen to our gut brain, let alone trust it when we do listen, but I'd like to assure Patricia that her intuition is absolutely correct. How do I know? Because my own gut brain tells me so. I know it like I know that black is black and white is white. It's not a case of it being very likely that he's sold the watch and clock for money to gamble; he has sold them for money to gamble. Patricia doesn't suspect her husband of this, she knows it, and what she should do is tell him.
He'll fight back with arguments that she can't prove it, that she's paranoid, she's trying to punish him for past mistakes and so on. But she should stick to her guns. "How do I know? I just know," she should reply. "Don't ask me how I know, I haven't any physical evidence, it's just that something very peculiar has happened to me. I know. I'm not even condemning you for either selling the things or for gambling because I know that you have an overwhelming addiction it's intolerable to live with. But I do know what you've been up to, and it really hurts me that you're lying to me because I love you."
Faced with such certainty, the promise of there being no retribution, and knowing that he's done wrong and his wife knows it too will help Patricia's husband to reaffirm what he discovered a year ago - that, as the first of the 12 steps of Gamblers Anonymous says, he is powerless over gambling.
Although in theory the partner of a gambler should try to develop a hands-off technique to allow the gambler to come to his own rock-bottom, it's asking too much if she risks crashing to the rocks below as well, which is what might happen if he loses the house and all their assets. So what can they do?
Patricia and her husband came to a bizarre arrangement in the past which sort of worked for a while - although when one partner has such control over the other, even if it's mutually agreed, resentments will usually be bubbling below the surface, erupting in mysterious coldness or disastrous sex lives. Could his habit now be brought out into the open? Could it be agreed that he can use a specified amount of his allowance to gamble, since he clearly does already? Controlled gambling usually works about as well as the alcoholic's controlled drinking, ie not very well, but it would be difficult for him to acknowledge his powerlessness over his addiction until he's had a hopeless crack at controlling it first. At least approaching it like this means they're both acknowledging and sharing the problem.
Having had far too much experience of addictive personalities myself, my hunch is that Patricia is in for a load of lying, pain, and denial - not to mention poverty - in the future. But 23 years are a lot to throw away. Perhaps if she herself joined Gam-Anon, even before her husband has admitted his problem fully to himself, she would get help. If only one person in the family owns up to the existence of the problem, it can be a real beginning to a healthier future.
Gam-Anon, for gamblers, their friends and relatives: 0171 384 3040
What readers say
Your husband is in pain
Your husband is an addict. I know because I am an addict, too, only my drug is alcohol.
You cannot hope to "control" his addiction by physical means such as controlling his money supply. Already he has begun to steal from home. I once tried to steal the money from my five-year-old's moneybox as he stood weeping in front of me.
He is denying the stealing because he is denying he has an addiction. Perhaps you are too. I did for years, perhaps decades. He is gambling because he is in pain, he has lost his self-esteem. Your letter doesn't give any clues as to the cause. Mine was a mixture of a disastrous love affair, a rocky marriage and a calamitous posting in the office.
You both need help to identify the pain. He may find that Gamblers Anonymous works. Alcoholics Anonymous works for very many, though it didn't for me. Only long-term group therapy at an alcoholic treatment centre has helped me to begin my recovery. I am now back in my marriage and my job.
Help is available, but you both need to ask for it. Start by going together to your GP. And be prepared for a long - but worthwhile - haul.Good luck.
He must admit he is lying
I used to dread Thursdays - that was when my father got his pay. I was never quite sure what I was going to get for tea that night. It depended on whether my dad fancied a "flutter" on the horses, except that a "flutter" often used to mean nearly all a week's housekeeping. All I can remember are debts, borrowing money to pay back loans, mistrust, suspicion and instability.
My advice to Patricia is based on first-hand experience. Her husband may or may not have "lost" the items he claims. But her husband must admit that he has a problem. Taking financial control herself will not remove his desire to gamble. Real trust needs to be established by everyone involved. Remember her husband must be made to realise the price that has to be paid when continued lies are told - not only to members of the family, but, and more importantly, lying to himself.
The addiction will always come first
In truth I'm sure you know the answer as by writing your letter you indicate, I suspect quite correctly, that you don't believe your husband's protestations. Addicts will ultimately always put their addiction first. They know that they are unable to control their craving, but can, to some degree as you have indicated, control you, if only in the short term. And it's in the short term, the "now" that the addict exists. He is playing for time.
He has to know that you know, that you will not be fobbed off. He has to admit that he has much more than a "problem" with his gambling. He has to say this as more than simply a platitude. He will have to hear it himself and want to do something about it. Then you can start from here.
Next week's dilemma: My father is having an affair
My parents live in the country and as far as I know are very happy. My father lives in town during the week because of his work but goes back home at the weekends. I often see him for the odd lunch. Last week he paid with a card, and went to the men's room, but as he'd pulled his wallet out of his pocket he let a letter slip onto the floor. As I picked it up, I couldn't help seeing it was a love-letter from a woman and reading it quickly I realised they were having an affair. I said nothing at the time and he stuffed the letter back in his pocket, but I feel increasingly angry. Should I tell my mother what I've found out? I feel it so disloyal of me to know something that she doesn't. My father has rung me a couple of times since and clearly has no idea I saw the letter.
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