Reader Scared of Husband's Gambling writes,
I handle our family finances and recently discovered an irregularity. I initially chalked it up to a bank mistake, and I asked my husband to pull together the documentation I needed to straighten it out. He hemmed and hawed a little and blew it off. I asked again a few days later, this time a bit suspicious, and his response was definitely dodgy. Then I specifically asked him if there were anything I should know and he flat out said "no."
The next day I pressed the issue and learned that rather than depositing a paycheck, he had cashed it and spent more than $8,000 on poker tournaments and online poker over the preceding month. I know he plays poker and had been to Las Vegas recently, but he has never (to my knowledge) blown that much money. I was/am shocked and worried about the money and also that his hobby has become something worse. He left later that day for a week-long business trip so we never closed the loop on it (his usual habit of conflict-avoidance). Here we are a month later. He shuts down whenever I try to bring it up, and every time I think about it, I get furious.
I'm angry that he would spend so much money without consulting me. Granted, he works long hours for good money. This won't break us and I don't begrudge him the opportunity to splurge, but this was excessive and secretive. Also, I'm angry that he didn't come clean when I first started asking questions. Maybe he was embarrassed or worried. I don't know because he won't talk about it.
Beyond feeling angry, I'm also resentful. First, I'm a SAHM, and I rarely splurge on myself. I buy my clothes at Target and drive a 10-year-old van. I manage our finances so that we can save for our house remodel, college tuition and retirement. That money would have paid for two awesome family vacations (which we rarely take), a nice chunk of new flooring, or any number of things. But instead, it is GONE and there's nothing to show for it. I also feel resentful because he seems to have no fire or passion for much of anything. He's the passive husband you've discussed. But THIS is the one thing that gets him fired up.
Lastly, the situation makes me feel scared. I grew up with a single mom, so I still act and feel like a paycheck-to-paycheck kid sometimes. Seeing $8,000 vanish in an instant frightens me. But more than that, I'm worried that his poker playing has gotten out of hand. He always has reined himself in when I've pointed out in the past that he's getting a bit obsessive. Maybe that's why he's secretive now. Asking him if it's a problem (which I did) seems futile, because even if it were a problem he wouldn't either know it or admit to it.
How do I bring it back up and get him to engage? How can I know if he has a gambling problem? This is eating me up and casting a shadow over everything else.
I hear you. This is a very scary situation for a partner to be in, both because there is the threat of your husband ruining you financially, and also because he has lied so overtly that it makes you wonder what else he lies about. It sounds like your husband is avoidant attachment and passive, as you mentioned, and very conflict-averse, as you also mentioned. So it's going to be like pulling teeth so get him to be open about something that he knows will upset you and will lead to A Big Discussion, which he thinks of as A Fight (as I discuss here).
Your husband likely thinks at some deep level that he is a little too involved with gambling, but pushes it out of consciousness and rationalizes that he makes good money, he is stressed and this is his release, he has no other vices, he's gotta have some fun somehow, and so forth. He likely rationalizes his lying by saying that you would make a mountain out of a molehill, you would worry, you would reprimand him, and you just wouldn't understand. This is how addicts rationalize all the time about their addictions, and if you ever had experience with alcoholics, it will sound familiar.
While I don't know if your husband has a gambling addiction, he certainly exhibits secretive behavior that falls in line with how addicts act. If you act complicit in allowing him to not discuss this further, you are enabling him, and I wonder if you saw enabling patterns in your parents (prior to their divorce, or with either parent and a new partner), and are unconsciously replicating them, or even if you acted as a parentified child and cared for the emotional needs of your mother, which would prepare you for an enabling "I won't push you but I will be secretly angry at you" role with your husband now. (As usual, read Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples to understand why you may subconsciously pick someone who then pushes all of your buttons.)
In terms of what to do right now, I suggest that you tell your husband in no uncertain terms that you are extremely upset by this incident and anxious that there is a bigger problem with gambling than he is letting on. Either way, tell him how hurt and angry you were about his dishonesty. If he does not want to confide more in you about this issue, set up an appointment with a couples counselor.
In a worst case scenario, this is the moment you'll remember in five years when you learn that your husband has gambled away $50,000, not $8,000. Or more. Or else you'll remember it when you find out about other things he's hiding. You are correct to say that this is a big deal, and unless you are the Rockefellers, losing $8000 should not be hidden from a spouse. Even if he is ashamed of himself and this was a fluke, this is not a situation where he can just choose to bury the evidence of his misdeed. He needs to understand your anxiety and talk about it with you.
Good luck, and keep me posted. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Gambling Is A Real Addiction, So Stay On Top Of This.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.