The Man I Love Has A Compulsive Gambling Problem And I Don’t Know What To Do

by Kathy Black
Originally Published: 
A desperate man gambling in a casino

After you get a divorce, everyone tries to set you up. Then you have the already-divorced friends who practically manage your dating profile, and they love it and are your biggest fan.

After almost three years of being a forty-something woman who felt ready to stop beating myself up for my divorce and make a life with someone else, I didn’t think I’d meet them online. But that’s exactly how I met my boyfriend a few years ago, after what seemed like an eternity of dating.

I went on the apps, then ditched them after two weeks feeling like I couldn’t stomach the stupid back-and-forth banter another minute.

A few days after another lukewarm date with a man who was vetted by one of my best friends (who failed to tell me he’d moved out of his family home less than two months ago and I was his first date), I thought I’d try one more time.

After a few days of not even looking to see if I had any matches, I crawled into bed one night after a tough bootcamp class while my kids were with their dad and told myself to stay positive. I saw a face I’d never seen before, which was refreshing. When you are on the dating sites for over two years, you see a lot of repeats.

After a few exchanges and finding out he was a Tinder virgin and had only been swiping for a few weeks, I was intrigued. We had a lot in common. He was funny. He led an active lifestyle, but loved fast food as much as I did.

We agreed to meet in a few days, and as soon as I saw him I was completely at ease, yet so attracted to him — which doesn’t usually go hand in hand for me.

After three hours of chatting and eating appetizers, we’d covered it all. Our teenagers, our divorces, our dogs, and the fact he’d lost a woman he really loved almost seven years ago because he was gambling a lot and lying to her about it. Those were his words, and the hairs on the back of neck warned me to proceed with caution.

On our second date, I brought it up again. He said he didn’t gamble much any more and had it under control. I wanted to believe him — I figured he had learned his lesson the hard way — but there was a part of me telling me to end this before it got started.

Then, my best friend reminded me this was a 45-year-old man who had a past and should be allowed to make mistakes. “What if you miss out on something that could be great because he used to gamble a lot almost a decade ago? Is that fair?”

On our third date when he came to pick me up, I saw a Gamblers Anonymous book in his car.

On our fifth date, we were eating outside on a warm summer night and one of his friends came over to talk to us. He introduced me and when he left I said,”Did you two work together?”

“No,” he said, “I met him at Gamblers Anonymous. He used to get himself into some deep shit, but he’s squared away now.”

I never saw any signs of gambling or strange behavior in those first few months. I was cautiously falling in love, yet I kept hearing my friend’s voice.

Is that fair?

One thing I learned about him early on was that he wore his heart on his sleeve, and there were times he’d reveal a bit too much. You know, bathroom habits, mentioning to his friends (in front of me) how hot our sex life was.

He doesn’t have the best filter, but it’s one of the things I love about him. He doesn’t want to stay all buttoned up.

I noticed he started making bets for his sports teams online, asking me who I thought would win. When he saw I was surprised he still gambled, he said it was under control. Suspicious, I got friendly really fast with one of his friends’ girlfriends who’d known him for almost ten years. “Yeah, he had a problem. But he worked really hard to correct it,” she assured me.

Then, he became more and more distracted, constantly looking at his phone. I’d watch out of the corner of my eye as he’d stare at several different sports scores, then refresh the page over and over and over again.

He started to forget things and had trouble sleeping. He was watching sports constantly and I told him that while I didn’t mind watching a game here or there, that eight hours of sports and him being so distracted with his goddamn phone wasn’t going to work for me.

He stopped.

Just like that, he stopped. That was last fall, and things seemed to calm down. Until these past few months.

Recently, the same things started happening again: the forgetfulness, the distraction, the staying up late to watch a game and not wanting to have sex until the game was over — which doesn’t work for me either.

I started denying him when he wants to have sex at midnight and told him again that this wasn’t how a relationship works. It felt like there was another woman I was competing with. While I like to win, I am not going to try and divert a man’s attention from a gambling habit. I’ve got other things to do.

He admitted to me last week he was gambling a lot again — something I already knew, of course, but I am not going to throw it in his face with a smug “No shit.” I wanted to give him the space to talk to me.

“It’s taking me to a place I don’t want to go, and I promise you, you will see a change and it won’t happen again,” he said.

I want to believe him. I want to believe in him. But I know how addiction and compulsive behaviors work.

“It won’t go away if you don’t deal with what’s driving you to do this,” I told him. “Get the help you need because if you don’t, even if you don’t start gambling again, it might manifest into something else. I love you, but I don’t know if I can stay for it. I just don’t know.”

You can love someone, but love yourself more and want to leave for your own mental health.

You can want to stay and see your partner through anything.

Both of these things are the right answer. Situations and how we deal with them aren’t one size fits all.

But I know myself. I need peace, calm, and security in my relationship — for the most part anyway. I don’t want to feel like chasing a bet is coming before me, or taking away from a partnership, when there are so many other life factors that get in the way on a good day.

I can only do so much for him. I already have felt a part of my soul chip away, and I’m not willing to let it crack completely under the weight of this.

This is the only thing I know for sure: I don’t know how to be in love with a compulsive gambler.

If you or a loved one have a gambling addiction, there are resources out there to help. Call the National Council on Problem Gambling’s confidential 24/7 help line: 1-800-522-4700. Find help specific to the state where you live as well as treatment facilities at the National Council on Problem Gambling’s website.

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