Dear Amy: I am a 72-year-old (divorced) man. Four years ago, I met my widowed girlfriend (age, 70). After dating for over a year, she asked me to move in and live with her in her spacious house, where her sister (age, 64) also lives.
“Sister” suffers from severe clinical depression, and is on medication and medical care.
I accepted my girlfriend’s invitation after receiving assurances from Sister that she is OK with this plan.
When Sister doesn’t get her way, there is hell to pay. We walk on eggshells out of fear that Sister may attempt suicide. Sister has attempted to kill herself six times in the past 30 years. The last time she attempted suicide was after I moved in.
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Although trivial, the things that bother me the most are that Sister leaves her things in the common area, and although she eats in her room, she does not clean her dishes promptly, while my girlfriend and I are spotless and organized. Sister also gets upset if we don’t comply with her request to open doors and windows when she gets hot.
When she gets upset, she will withdraw and not talk to us for days, which upsets Girlfriend.
I love Girlfriend, and would like to have our relationship grow, but she feels caught in this loop of continuous upset that occurs almost weekly.
Obviously, I can resign from all attempts to feel at home, act like a visitor and comply with Sister’s ways. Is there another solution?
Dear Confused: The most obvious solution is for you to move out. The secondary solution would be for you and “Girlfriend” to renovate the house so that “Sister” has her own private suite with a kitchenette, so that she can live more independently, and you two will be separated by some sturdy drywall.
Be aware, however, that you seem to have wandered into the plot of a Tennessee Williams play. Simply put, “Girlfriend” and “Sister” were locked into this family system before you came along, and they will still be in this relationship after you’re gone. Their relationship outranks yours, and because they are anchored to their own toxic dance, you can either dance along with them, or reclaim your own independence and love your gal from a distance.
You don’t mention how (or where) Girlfriend lived before her husband died; learning more about that dynamic might lead you to your own answers.
Dear Amy: I have been taking care of my elderly mother for eight years. She is 84, had a stroke and is confined to a wheelchair. She needs extensive care and lives in a nearby nursing facility.
My mother is a priority for me and I visit her almost every day. I participate in activities and volunteer at the nursing facility so as to be a part of her life.
I do her laundry and bring her anything she needs. I hold her power of attorney, as well.
The problem is that my brother and sister-in-law are always butting into my husband’s and my business.
We are condemned and criticized for buying a home and we are judged for what we do with our money.
My husband is a disabled veteran who served in Vietnam, and we do what we can in our lives to make each day the best. My brother and his wife do very little to help with Mom, because their lives are all about them.
How can I stop them from minding my business and making sarcastic remarks to us whenever we decide to do something for ourselves?
Sick of Critique
Dear Sick: You give someone license to make you feel bad if you behave as if you have something to apologize for. You do not.
Don’t share any personal or financial details with these relatives. Be completely transparent about your mother’s care and finances, but don’t offer any information about your own.
Sarcasm is the lowest form of retort. Don’t stoop to a response.
Dear Amy: “Worried Wife” described life with a hoarder.
If you ask my husband why he is keeping something (like “junk mail”!), he doesn’t know. He has some idea that maybe he will be able to use it in the future.
When I tripped over a pile of mail and broke my arm, he moved some of his stuff to a storage facility. There are now new piles on the floor.
Dear S: This perfectly describes the pernicious persistence of a hoarding disorder. Your husband needs professional help, not another storage unit.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.