"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 10, 2013
My Husband Plays the Lottery
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My sweet husband's total retirement plan — literally — is to win a big lottery.

He buys at least $20 worth of lottery tickets every week, more when the jackpot is bigger. The expense really strains our budget. 

He spends most of his day figuring out how to spend his winnings. He tours houses we can never afford, and thinks about charities he wants to help. 

He says this is his only entertainment (pretty much true), so he deserves to have a little fun. Help!

Answer:

Let’s skip right to the worst-case scenario. Your husband has a gambling addiction. Or what is currently known in the psychiatric world as an impulse-control disorder.

The fact that he sees gambling as the way to make money for retirement is a huge red flag. As is spending more and more money you don’t have chasing a big win. As is allowing this “hobby” to strain your marriage. As is spending his days making elaborate plans for his imaginary winnings.

What do you think? Does it fit? Or are you revolting at the word “addiction?” Are you saying, “He might have a problem, but not an addiction!” Are you protesting that playing the lottery is not really gambling? If so, take a deep breath and consider whether you are wrong.

Playing the lottery is indeed gambling: Thousands of people put in money and one person takes it all home based on chance. It’s completely delusional to think you can win a big lottery, and more delusional still to use the lottery as a long-term financial plan.

(Note: I don’t want to hear any nonsense about the lottery being the same as the stock market or insurance. Assuming the risk of an investment is totally different from entering a game of chance, even if you can lose money doing both. If you are investing in companies that are no better than a game of chance, you should re-think your investment strategy, not add “Play the Lottery” to your financial plan.)

Whether or not you think your husband is a problem gambler, I suggest you do five things.

One, research gambling addiction. Go online and look for reputable sites that describe the signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling. Look at lots of them and see the common signs of problem gambling. Then, consider honestly if they describe your husband’s behavior.

You might be afraid. What if it turns out your husband is addicted to gambling? There are so many moral, financial, and social implications of addiction. But it is the kind of problem that will only get worse if you don’t identify it and do something about it.

Your research might also turn up information that can help explain his addiction. For example, some prescription medications have been linked to compulsive gambling.

Two, investigate your finances. Check balances and withdrawals from all of your accounts. Carefully review your credit card statements. Look at all the bills that come in to make sure they have been paid and your accounts are current. Get a credit report to see if there are credit cards or accounts in your name that you did not open. Check to see if valuables have disappeared from your house or safe deposit box.

This is not snooping. These are your finances, and if there is a problem, if your husband is really spending $100 a week and not $20, you need to know about it immediately.

Three, if your husband is a compulsive gambler, you both need professional help. But the help you need is quite different from the help he needs. He needs help to cope with his addiction. Addictions are not something you can just snap out of, or overcome with willpower. You, however, need help from someone or some group who will help you understand and address the impact his addictive behavior has on you and your family.

Herein is a problem. If your husband is a problem gambler, there is nothing you can do to make him get help. There is nothing you can do to fix him. He is the only person who can change his behavior.

You can approach him with your concerns, you can attend support groups for family members of addicts, you can protect your finances and life as best you can. But you cannot fix his problem with any amount of nagging, reading, lecturing, monitoring, cajoling, crying, or threatening. You just can’t.

What you can do is seek help, study, pray, and read your scriptures to know what you should — and shouldn’t — do. Remember that knowing what not to do, what not to say, and when not to speak is critical in marital conflicts.

Look in your phone book or online for organizations that help compulsive gamblers and their families. There are hotlines you can call. Look for doctors or therapists who specialize in treating problem gamblers. Research them as best you can. You might have to try a few groups or treatments before you find one you feel good about.

Your bishop can help. He might know of some reputable treatment options. You might contact your stake’s Addiction Recovery Program, which is completely confidential and can be attended without notifying your bishop. You can read about this program, including the support it offers for spouses, and how to find a meeting, at arp.lds.org.

Four, talk to your husband. It seems you have already voiced your objections to him about his gambling, but he has brushed them aside. Not everything he says is wrong. Everyone does need some fun. Spending $100 a month on a hobby is not an unheard-of sum. And everybody needs some personal money in the marital budget that can be spent without oversight or criticism.

But if he has crossed the line from casual gambling (which is objectionable on many grounds even if it has not become an actual addiction) to problem gambling, you need to talk to him about it.

I cannot tell you how to have this conversation. One purpose of doing research and attending support groups is to learn how to approach your husband about his problem, and what boundaries to set for yourself.

But if you find that money has gone missing from accounts or bills have not been paid, you need to talk to him about it immediately. And to do that you really need the advice of someone who understands addiction and how to deal with addicts.

Five, remember that you are not his monitor, his overseer, or his conscience. You are not a policeman, a social worker, or a judge. You are his wife. You should continue to express love for him and appreciation for his good qualities even as you protect yourself and your finances.

Finally, if you do your research and honestly believe your husband does not have a gambling problem, here is what you can do.

One, talk to him. Tell him all of your objections to his lottery habit. Show him the numbers on how unlikely he is to ever win the lottery, let alone enough to retire on. Tell him your fears for the future, how you feel when he tours those mansions, and your moral objections to gambling.

Two, listen to him. Really hear what he is trying to say, without arguing with him.

Three, see if you can reach an agreement about how much money each of you gets to spend each month on personal fun. You can hardly object to his lottery spending if you spend just as much on your hobbies.

Four, suggest other activities you could do together with some of your combined fun money. Make sure these activities sound fun and worthwhile to him.

Five, let it go. You don’t have to approve of his gambling, but in the end, there is nothing you can do to make him stop.

Six, always keep your eyes open in case his hobby turns into a habit.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


Bookmark and Share    
About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com