Problem Gambling and Divorce

Problem gambling is often referred to as the “hidden addiction” because there are no visible signs as there are with substance abuse (i.e. the smell or slurring of speech that accompanies alcohol abuse, etc.). Consequently, it may go undetected within a marriage until things get really bad. As a spouse (or couple) searching for information on gambling and divorce, you may already be there. While it may or may not provide you with some sort of solace, you need to know that you’re not alone. The statistics regarding gambling and divorce are actually quite telling, with one research firm recently uncovering the following:

Another body of research conducted by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found the following:

While gambling related divorce rates vary by region and severity of gambling disorder, there’s no denying the relationship between the two; gambling and divorce are unfortunate bedfellows. If gambling has driven a wedge between you and your spouse, please keep reading for further insight in addition to advise about how to proceed if you desire to save your union.

Why Divorce Rates Are High When a Spouse is a Habitual Gambler (and what couples can do about it)

Signs and Symptoms of Problem Gambling Are Bad for Relationships

Many signs and symptoms of problem gambling are initially isolated to the individual. Given that these impact the mental health of the problem gambler, they eventually reverberate into relationships and indirectly compromise marriages. However, a number of signs and symptoms may directly impact the spouse of a problem gambler. These include the following:

  • Lying to their spouse to hide the extent of the gambling
  • Forgetting and/or bypassing important occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) because of the time and energy spent gambling
  • An inability to focus on their partner’s, or shared, interests

Some Symptoms of Problem Gambling Can be Harmful to Spouses

Another possible cause of high divorce rates for problem gamblers comes down to select symptoms of the disorder that directly impact the wellness of a problem gambler’s spouse. In extreme cases, a problem gambler can get irritable and angry when not betting, which can manifest as aggression and violence against a loved one. In addition, they may steal from their spouse to recover losses and/or fund wagers. Furthermore, theft and fraud against others (outside of the marriage) can land the non-gambling spouse in legal hot water if they are found to be equally liable for their partner’s actions.

Physical Consequences of Problem Gambling Not Good for Love Life

Intimacy is important to maintaining a healthy marriage. While everything above can have a negative impact on intimacy, compulsive gambling can negatively affect libido in the following ways:

  • Creates adrenaline and cortisol imbalances
  • Related sleep deprivation can lead to reduced sexual desire and arousal
  • Concurrent psychological factors disrupt sexual performance

For more information, please read our article on the gambling and sex drive problems, and how gambling is connected to erectile dysfunction.

Debt and Divorce Connection

Another well documented symptom of problem gambling is debt. The average debt of a male problem gambler in the U.S. is between $55,000 and $90,000, and the average debt of a female problem gambler is $15,000. As with problem gambling and divorce rates, debt and divorce statistics are also very telling:

Given that problem gambling leads to debt, and that debt is associated with increased risk of divorce (along with everything else detailed above) it becomes clear that married couples that count a problem gambler in the union have the chips stacked against them.

What Couples Can Do About It

Before throwing in the proverbial towel, please note that fighting to keep the marriage alive is not only important for those who still love one another, doing so could be in instrumental in helping a spouse beat gambling disorder. When discussing how marriage has been associated with reduced risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD) via the ‘marriage effect’ (where marriage may be protective in that spouses often monitor and control each other’s alcohol drinking) researchers point to the potential for healthy marriage to help heal the spouse with a gambling habit:

“It is conceivable a similar ‘marriage effect’ might be observed for gambling such as spouses intentionally encouraging alternative activities to gambling for example (positive social control). Marriage might also instill an expectation to restrict gambling involvement to prioritize financial and social obligations that follow marriage.”

National Library of Medicine

If you want to fight to keep your marriage together, intervention through counseling and therapy is strongly advised. Below are two courses of action that we recommend.

Problem Gambling Counseling

If you’re married to a problem gambler, initiate conversation (or stage an intervention) about your concern in a caring non-judgemental manner. Let your spouse know that you’re willing to do the work with him/her, even if that means stepping back as they discover options that are available to them. There are online counseling options that they can participate in on their own, and/or together with you. Let him/her be the one to let you know what they is most comfortable with. They may wish to begin with one-on-one counseling, and then eventually invite you into the recovery process with family counseling that focuses on gambling disorder. That being said, you don’t need to wait on the sidelines the entire time as the grip of gambling loosens. For instance, you can enjoy these healthy alternatives to gambling together as a couple.

Couples Counseling

As a holistic supplement to one-on-one and/or family counseling for gambling disorder, it is recommended that you also explore traditional (so to speak) couples counseling to work on BOTH of you. View more on online couples counseling available to you today via Kindbridge Behavioral Health.

Is Gambling Ruining Your Marriage?

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Gambling and Divorce