Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gambling His Way to Self-Destruction

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: My husband and I and our two kids (now 9 and 6) moved to Las Vegas in 2005 when things were booming, especially in the construction industry. Until early in 2008, he was making over $150,000 a year as a project manager for a big casino hotel that was going up, and I was adding to our income working occasional weekend shifts as an emergency room R.N. Then things came to a grinding halt. He got laid off from his job, found another one (at half the pay), and then got laid off from that job. He hasn't worked at all in 2009. I've increased my shifts at the hospital, but things are tight there too, and I can't get a full-time position. The worst part of all this is that I accidently learned recently that my husband hasn't been looking for work (as he claimed), but has been spending his time and what's left of our money at casinos. Instead of taking cash out of our bank account, where I would see any withdrawals, he liquidated his 401(k) account and opened a new bank account in his name to stash the 401(k) proceeds. In three months, he's blown through over half the 401(k) money, and what's left will probably have to go to taxes and penalties (if he hasn't gambled it away by April 15). I'm so angry with my husband I can barely stand to be in the same room with him. I really need some advice before I do something drastic. ("At Wit's End" in Henderson, Nevada).

DEAR "AT WIT'S END": Sometimes it takes a crisis to force people to admit there's a problem and to do something about it. If you and your husband can quickly get on the same page and come up with a step-by-step plan to address the multiple issues you're facing, there's still hope--- for your sanity, your marriage, and maybe even your finances.

The first thing that has to be addressed is your husband's gambling addiction. Although Las Vegas is about the worst place in the world for a gambling addict, at least there are plenty of Gamblers Anonymous-type programs there. Get him into one no later than next week and make sure he stays in it.

Unless your husband's gambling addiction pre-dated his job layoffs, his gambling may well be a symptom of depression. A guy like your husband, who was making a lot of money at something he was evidently very good at, will often become completely adrift if his job---his identity---is suddenly taken from him. He's undoubtedly anxious about his future in the construction industry, and fearful of being seen as a failure.

Most men, though, will not seek psychological help on their own, so if you think your husband may be depressed you'll have to gently but firmly get him to someone who can help.

Of course, you're not going to want to go out of your way to help him if you're angry at him, and believe me, you have reasons to be angry. He lied to you repeatedly, he did things behind your back, he jeopardized his family's financial future. But if you want to stay in your marriage---and at this point I think you should stay---you may need to get some counseling for yourself, apart from whatever help your husband gets. You may also want to consider marriage counseling, but I'd be cautious about overloading your husband and yourself with too many programs and counselors at the same time.

As for the purely financial issues, you're going to have to insist on taking complete control of the money that comes in and the money that goes out, at least until your husband has overcome the gambling addiction and dealt with the psychological problems underlying his addiction. No excuses, no exceptions, and zero tolerance for any further transgressions on your husband's part.

And with respect to money, I realize that the counseling I'm recommending will probably cost more than you feel you can afford, but I think it's worth it in the long run. Look at it this way: it's cheaper than a divorce!

I'm not qualified to give career advice, but once the current crisis is under control I think you and your husband should look hard at the career options you both have, and figure out whether Las Vegas is where you need to be. With your nursing degree and his construction industry expertise, your long-term prospects may be a lot better than you might think.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Be So Modest, Girl!

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I remember hearing you on a radio show a while back discussing online dating profiles. I think you said you didn't like it when someone says "My friends think I'm pretty", but I'm not sure why you think it's a bad idea. I'm in the process of writing my own profile for, and I feel funny about saying something that might make me sound conceited (like "I'm a very pretty woman"). Can you explain what you meant? ("Lori" in Indiana)

DEAR LORI: You're right: I did say that I dislike the "My friends say I'm..." type of statement. The reason I dislike it is that it makes the person (usually a woman) sound as if she doesn't quite believe what she's saying. I think the average man reading such a statement would interpret it to mean something like: "My friends do say I'm pretty, even though I've never really thought so myself. But maybe I should say it just in case they're right."

I agree with you 100% that you want to avoid sounding conceited. But there's a difference between being conceited and being confident. Confidence implies that you know who you are and that you're comfortable with who you are, whereas to be conceited implies an exaggerated opinion of yourelf and an attitude that you're better than everyone else. If you honestly believe you're pretty (or smart, or funny, or whatever), it's perfectly OK to say so---simply and straightforwardly.

The underlying point here is that people---both men and women---respond positively to someone who is quietly confident. Confidence is a desired trait in relationships, because confident people tend to be less needy, less "clingy", and less likely to suppress the personality traits that make them unique. As I say, confident people know who they are. They know they have something good to bring into a relationship, and they're not going to settle for less than they deserve. The only people who typically don't want a confident partner are people who have a need to dominate and control their relationships. My guess is that you're not looking for someone to control you.

Good luck, Lori, and let me know what happens with your online dating search.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Common Law Confusion

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 63 years old and living with a 71 year old man on a ranch he inherited from his parents many years ago. He was widowed ten years ago and we've been living together nearly eight years. He's not in great health (he has emphysema and diabetes). I hate to sound selfish or greedy, but I worry about what would happen if he passes away. A couple of friends have told me that after seven years of living together I'm considered his common law wife. Is that true? And does that mean I'd inherit the ranch if he dies before me? He has two daughters, if that matters. ("Joanie" in Nevada)

DEAR JOANIE: Common law marriage is a very misunderstood subject, but the bottom line in your case is that it doesn't apply to you or your relationship. There are only nine states that currently recognize common law marriages, and Nevada is not one of them. And even in those nine states, living together does not automatically grant the couple common law marriage status, no matter how long the cohabitation has lasted.

So if the man you're living with were to die, you would not automatically be entitled to a share of his estate, the way you would if the two of you were married to each other. You could still inherit the ranch, as well as any or all other property he may own at the time of his death, but only if he leaves a valid will naming you as his beneficiary. Without a will, his daughters would inherit everything.

I know it may be awkward to bring up these matters with him, but you've really got to. You've invested eight years of your life in a relationship that could---for no fault of yours---end suddenly, and you'd have nothing to show for it. Even if, for whatever reason, he doesn't want to get married, he should at least have a will, and so should you. It would cost very little to have an attorney draw up "reciprocal" wills---wills that are the mirror images of each other, and that leave everything to the person who dies first.

The truth is, even though he may be in poor health, life sometimes throws a curveball: he may outlive you. The fact that you'd be willing to leave everything you have to him if he's willing to do the same, should make it easier to discuss the issue without your looking selfish in any way.

Good luck, Joanie, and please let me know what happens.