Getting Back Together with the Ex

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Dad with gambling problem wants to reconcile

June 2002

I am a single mother of a 2-year old girl, and have recently been faced with a pretty difficult decision to make. I left the child's father almost 2 years ago, mainly because his growing gambling problems were too much for me to handle financially and emotionally. I moved back to California, and presently have managed to make a modest but stable life for me and my daughter. I've also registered to go back to UCB to finish my bachelor's. (By the way, he has been visiting us from time to time.)

The father is now asking me to move back to Hawaii with him. Apparently, he has a chance to work in the family business which is actually very lucrative. He swears up and down that he is completely rid of his gambling problem, and that all he wants is for us to be a ''real'' family. The main pros of this situation are that 1) my daughter can be with her father (whom she adores), and 2) I could afford to stay home or go to school in Hawaii full-time without financial worries. The main cons are that 1) I wouldn't be able to go to UCB, 2) there is the risk of his gambling problem recurring, and 3) my family was and is opposed to us being together.

I realize that this is probably a very unique situation, but I would appreciate any insight that could help me to better reach my decision...should I or shouldn't I?

Finish school at Berkeley first. This will give you the time you need to decide if he really is turning over a new leaf. Stay here with your daughter, work out a child support and visitation agreement with him while you are finishing your degree. If he sticks to this, and he is still doing well in Hawaii, then you can have that conversation. Too risky to make the move now without any evidence he really has changed.

This is a tough one, but the one thing you didn't tell us: Do you love this man? Is he someone you want to live with, be intimate with, and share your life with? I think it's best for the child to see her mom and dad in happy, healthy relationships, even if that means you with a new partner somewhere down the road, rather than you with her real father, but not really happy. While it is important to consider the advantage of your child seeing her father more, it's also important for your child to see her parents in a healthy relationship, not one simply for practical reasons. Good luck in your difficult decision making. anon, please

It would be great if you all could be a ''real'' family. I think that you must let time be your test, though. I would wait at least a year or two and finish your B.A. to see if he is really over his gambling problem before uprooting your daughter. I am sure that this isn't the first time that he has ''sworn up and down that he is completely rid of his gambling problem.'' A two-year test is not very long when you are talking about a lifetime commitment. Best wishes. Anon

Well, in some ways your situation is very unique; in others it isn't unique at all. It sounds like by moving to Hawaii you'll be losing your chance to fulfill yourself on your own terms; put your child through a huge change; and risk ending up with a man who has an addiction to gambling. I am very skeptical of his desire to be a ''real family''--you already are! He has a connection with your/his daughter; your daughter has a stable home with you and you with her. This is family. It sounds like he is trying his very best to live up to the ideal ''American dream'' vision of family--we struggle, go through a crisis, become estranged, feel great sorrow from the separation, go to a self-help group, believe and promise that if we just play at being the standard ''family'': dad the breadwinner, you, the totally-dependent-on-him-financially stay-at-home mom/possibly amateur student at a college that is WAY below your level. The possibility that he will re-manifest his gambling problem, either as a gambling problem or in the form of another unbalanced behavior is always looming in the background. Moving there to be with him will somewhat weaken your connection to your family--they have a bad feeling about this guy and don't want you or your daughter to get hurt in any way.

Here's my advice, but do take with a grain of salt--I don't know you or the situation: thank him for his kind offer to try and have a traditional family structure with the two of you; tell him that you're already a family. Encourage him to remain free of his addiction and to make money at this lucrative business and to use part of this money to maintain and strengthen his ties to the two of you by traveling to see you frequently. Tell him that when you're done with your degree(s) at UCB and ready to embark on a career of your own if things seem right to you at that time you will consider moving there with him. This will sort of enable you to be diplomatic, respectful, and not self- destructive. You can feel him out. If he wants you to be totally dependent on you, then there's a problem. People who make promises like this to lure women into a co-dependent situation such as this one has the potential to become make me nervous. I believe that people usually have the best intentions, but even the best intentions can misfire.

I wholeheartedly believe that whether or not you do eventually decide to try to ''be a family'' with this man you should make sure that you're comfortable with your reasons for doing so and that you are independent enough to always be able to find a safe and comfortable way out for yourself and your daughter.

Let me add that if you move to Hawaii and marry him, if you regret it and try to leave the state, you may lose your legal right to take your child with you because of federal kidnapping laws. Good luck Amalia

You're going to get a lot of conflicting advice about this one, so I'll just toss my opinion into it. You never mentioned if you still love your child's father? If so, go for it. If it were me, I'd always wonder if we had another chance and I blew it. I'd probably also ask for a commitment from him to make sure his gambling is no longer going to be a problem. Even if he says he's kicked the habit, you could ask him to join and regularly attend some Gamblers Anonymous type group. If he's willing to do it, he's serious about making things better. If he's not, he might still be in denial and susceptible to a relapse if times get tough. If he insists he no longer needs help you could point out all the risk you're taking to get back together, and everything you're leaving behind, and ask him to do this for your family.

You can always attend school there. And if things don't end up working out, you can always re-enroll here.

As far as your family is concerned, I'd ask them exactly why they feel the way they do, tangible complaints. Listen to see if they have some insight you don't. But the decision has to be yours; and remember that they are completely biased to you and hate the idea of you being hurt again. So you are the only one who can accurately access your risk, and determine the risk you are willing to take.

If it turns out to be a mistake, so be it. At least you followed your heart and tried. Life won't be over and you can pick up the pieces knowing you've tried all you can to make him part of your family and an everyday part of your daughter's life. Michelle

Dear one: I know that as you consider the possibility of living with your child's father, it is the child you are thinking of... my advice is... please don't, this relationship has to be about you and your former partner. Your child will grow up to be much healthier if she sees her mother happy and eventually in a good and healthy relationship. It doesn't sound from your letter like you are in love with him, or like that would be the main reason for you to go back with him. TThe only reason should be deep care and commitment for one another. If neither of those is present, then it will be much healthier for the two of you to remain friends but apart.

I stayed with my husband for my children's sake and spent many years very unhappy, and both of us silently angry. Now after divorcing and spending our time apart we can be friends and mutually help our children, but we are also in good, healthy marriages of our own. A family is made out of love, not finances, opportunities, etc., and I have a hunch that your family's opposition to this reunion is on the right track... they love you, listen to them. Best to you.

I would suggest asking the father what he has done to solve his gambling problems...for how long has he stopped gambling? Most importantly, is he involved with gambler's anonymous? If so for how long? Does he attend meetings regularly? Does he have a sponsor? Is he working the steps? If he isn't in the program is he working with someone else privately around his addiction issues? Is he paying off his debts? It is easy to make promises and a lot harder to keep from returning to an old pattern that must have been a serious problem if you chose to leave him when you did...with a newborn. Also, are you still in love with him? You showed a lot of courage and strength to take your child and yourself out of a very difficult situation. You have worked hard to create a healthly life for yourself and your child. Take as much time as you need to think about giving up the life you have created. Good luck. Andrea

Take your time deciding on whether to reconcile with the father of your child. In reading over your questions and comments, I think you really have to consider what has he DONE to prove he's got his gambling under control. Is he attending support groups, etc.? Another question you need to consider is WHY does your family oppose you being with this man? Once you have answered those questions, reconsider them and redo your pros and cons list. If you can't attend UCB, make sure you set your career goals and aspire to them in Hawaii-you can do it anywhere you set your mind to getting it done. Wishing you true happiness for all involved

About risk: You have a safe option (keeping the status quo) and a risky option, so if you choose the risky option, be prepared to FORGIVE YOURSELF if you have to pull up roots again and return to California.

About love: It seems apparent that he truly loves his daughter and most likely he loves you, too. Do you still love him after all the emotional turmoil of the gambling problem? In my experience, love is necessary but not sufficient for a successful relationship, so don't let ''your heart'' be your only guide.

About gambling: Have you seen any hard evidence that this problem is over? Is there any way to test his claim that it is? You may need more than his word over this. What do his friends observe? Can you trust his family's opinion on this matter?

About your family: They disapprove of him, but are they willing to offer you the concrete support -- money, *free* childcare, etc. -- that you will need as an undergraduate single mother? Do you trust their opinions and advice on other matters, or -- red flag -- is this the only area of your life where you disagree with them?

About UC Berkeley: The least compelling of your concerns, in my opinion, especially if you can go to school in Hawaii. If you can get into UCB, you can get into UH. The dirty secret at UCB is that undergrads don't get near the faculty attention that they do at less ''prestigious'' schools, so let this go if everything else feels right. Keep your daughter's interests in front of you as much as you can. Good luck. Older and, hopefully, wiser

You didn't mention whether or not you loved this man, enjoyed living with him when he was not wrapped up in his addiction. I have 2 small children and a husband with an addiction. He is in recovery now thankfully. But it takes a lot of work on his part to resist his addiction and we are both in therapy together. I think that if you love this man, and are still in touch with the facets of him that you first fell in love with, that it is worth the effort and the risk. As long as you both agree to therapy, and it is understood that if the addiction takes over, you will be gone. Your parents concern is for their daughters well being,if the reconciliation works out, then it will be for your good as well. If the future becomes stable and healthy, they will have a chance to see your spouse in a different light. Albert Camus once said: that's what freedom is all about- a chance to be better. Just my dollars worth..... anon

I think you are in a very difficult situation and I don't have any special insight to share with you. But I wonder whether having spent so much time apart trying to make a better life for yourself and your child, whether you couldn't wait a little while longer. Is it possible to let the father move back to Hawaii and prove to you that he is willing to work hard and stop gambling in order to have his family back? If you are unsure, waiting seems a small price for a little better sense of whether he has really changed. Also, if he has a gambling problem, is he going to gamblers' annonymous meetings (sorry, I don't know the exact name). That would also seem to be a good sign of a long-term change. Maybe you can also talk to someone else who knows him well to get a second opinion. Stephanie

Hi, I know people have mentioned Gambler's Anonymous for your husband, but have you considered a group for yourself? I don't know if there is an 'Alanon' group specifically for family members of gamblers, but if not, you might be able to attend a support group such as Alanon (for family members of alcoholics) as addictions tend to have many commonalities. A group like this may help you decide how much you want to accept about him and how much you just can't live with. As someone who has battled addictions and also has many loved ones with addictions, I have found my own recovery around codependency to be invaluable, and I also know how hard it can be to recover from addictions and not relapse. Whether or not you stay with him, this kind of support might be helpful and comforting to you. Best of luck! anonymous