How can partners influence the gambling habits of their gambler spouse?
Background: People in the life of an individual with gambling disorder must deal with the deleterious effects generated by his gambling habits. An average number of six individuals in the life of the pathological gamblers (PGs) are confronted with such negative consequences. However, the romantic partner will be particularly affected. Hence, to adapt to their spouse’s problematic gambling habits, they may use an amalgam of coping strategies. An increasing number of clinical and empirical studies document the coping strategies used by partners of PGs. A postulate for this is that they may be useful for dealing with their partner’s problematic gambling behaviors. Despite a widespread endorsement of this postulate, no study has yet documented their effectiveness: does the use of these coping strategies impact the gambler’s behavior? More precisely, the objectives of this study were: (1) to assess the impact of coping strategies used by partners of PGs on the gambling habits of their spouse; (2) to better understand the underlying mechanisms that account for the intensity of this impact on their spouse’s gambling habits.
Methods: The participants were recruited in three centres specialized in the treatment of PGs and situated in the Québec City region (Canada). A total of 19 participants were met with in this study, including: 8 couples of which one member was a PG, 2 PGs whose partners did not participate in the study, and 1 partner where the PG did not participate. Thematic analysis was performed on qualitative data. This research project was approved by two research ethics committees.
Results: Qualitative analysis of the interviews lead to a first main observation: via diverse coping strategies, partners of PGs can influence their spouse’s gambling behaviors. The impact of these strategies may occur as initially expected by partners, that is by a reduction of gambling behaviors (for instance: Emphasize how positive the atmosphere is in the family and couple when he is not gambling; Provide gambler with a safe context where there are no gambling temptations; Help the gambler to begin treatment). However, the use of certain strategies can also increase the PG’s gambling cravings, though this is not generally their partner’s intention (for instance: Make sarcastic or hurtful remarks about the gambler’s habits; Look into the gambler’s recent gambling behaviour; Use gambling winnings to have some fun).
Conclusions: The results of this study support the important role of coping strategies used by partners of PGs in the lives of both members of the couple. These strategies are a promising avenue for intervention with partners as they seem to have a potential influence on their spouse’s gambling habits. In fact, some intervention programs were created with the direct aim of intervening on coping strategies used by partners of PGs. This study illustrates partners’ strong investment in their efforts to help their gambler spouse reduce his gambling behaviors or maintain abstinence, which supports the important role of close family and friends in the recovery of PGs.