Wife fears she is enabling husband’s gambling problem

Q: How do I know if I’m “enabling” my husband’s compulsive gambling problem? I don’t want to do anything that might encourage his behavior.

Jim: I’ve tapped our staff counselors for this answer. “Enabling” is essentially any action that makes it easier for the addict (in this case, the gambler) to pursue his addiction (gambling). It’s an unwitting, well-meaning, but nonetheless destructive response to a loved one’s addictive behavior. There are three basic categories of enablement: covering up and covering for the gambler; attempting to control his behavior; and cooperating with him.

There really isn’t space in this venue to adequately describe and unpack each of these types of enablement. But it’s enough to say that all of them just make things worse in the long run. By covering up for him, you’ll only be putting off the natural consequences of his gambling and indirectly green-lighting further destructive behavior. Trying to control him might backfire and sever your relationship entirely. Cooperating with him won’t encourage any change, and could draw you into the same destructive pattern of addiction yourself.

Addictions of all kinds are progressive in nature. If your husband is a confirmed compulsive gambler, as you say, then it’s only a matter of time before his escalating condition lands him in some serious trouble. That’s why it’s critical to confront the issue head-on. Urge him to get some kind of professional help. If he’s unwilling to listen, see if you can enlist the help of an objective third party — a pastor, a relative or a male friend who agrees with your assessment of the situation and who would be willing to come alongside you in order to strengthen your case.

If all else fails, try to pull together a group of friends and supporters who can help you stage a formal intervention. You may want to include a licensed counselor or therapist who specializes in this kind of activity. Overcoming addiction of any kind is a long process that requires specialized guidance. Our Counseling Department can help direct you to qualified individuals all over the country; call 855-771-HELP (4357) or see FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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Q: As a single woman, the whole dating scene exhausts me. I’m tired of wasting time on guys who aren’t interested in commitment. Help!

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: It might surprise you how many single men and women have told us they’re confused by dating. Generally, the problem is a lack of clear boundaries between friendship and romance, so singles hang on too long to a relationship that’s going nowhere.

“Going on a date” is about friendship. It’s enjoying someone’s company with the understanding there’s nothing exclusive or even necessarily romantic between you. It’s an evening out to dinner, a movie or a cup of coffee because you’re friends.

“Exclusive dating” is completely different. It’s committing to one person and moving your relationship toward the possibility of marriage. During this time, you have to be intentional about determining whether or not this is really the person you want to be married to. If not, you have to be willing to move on.

The trouble comes when singles treat friendship in the same way as an exclusive relationship, or vice versa. Sooner or later, one person gets romantically hooked and spends months or years hanging on to the relationship, hoping the other person will want to marry.

So if you’re dating, keep the boundaries between friendship and exclusive dating crystal clear. You need that kind of focus so you don’t get stuck in a relationship that’s going nowhere. Focus on the Family has an outreach called “Boundless” that addresses single life from a faith-based perspective. Check it out at Boundless.org.

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Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.