My boyfriend is enmeshed with his 84 year old mother. Has anyone else experienced this?


Stay or Go?

My boyfriend and I are in our early 50s and have adult children. We should be enjoying the fact that we are both high level professionals at the top of our careers,…but we can't because his mother is the center of his life. This is fairly recent. Ten years ago, his father's dying words were, "take care of your mother." However, his father and mother had been divorced for two decades and she had remarried and divorced - four times! - in the interim, because her Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Bi-Polar Mood Disorder make her IMPOSSIBLE to deal with, let alone live with.

I didn't know this when we met. We had a whirlwind romance for the first six months where his mother lived in FL and we lived in NJ. We decided to move in together and get a place where his mother could live too. We bought a house and spent $45k making a gorgeous MIL suite. Then the next six months were a living h*ll. She would wait at the door for us to walk in from work, and be at us until she went to bed. We were not allowed to leave the house without her, and she demanded to be taken to some kind of store even if her in-home caregiver took her places that day. Sometimes we had to barricade ourselves in our bedroom (she would beat at the door). The two of them fought every day. She kept threatening to throw herself down the stairs and say we had done it. She said if we locked the door between her apartment and our home, she would claim elder abuse and accuse us of stealing her SSI and medication. She demanded to be moved back to FL.

That was a year ago, and from the day she left, she started begging to come back. I discovered a month ago that he was plotting to move his mother back in with us without telling me. We have been fighting bitterly over this. The attachment is not because she has always been his beloved mother. Quite the contrary! At one point, she put him in foster care with his sisters because her new man didn’t want kids. At 17, she signed him into the Army, he says, to “get rid” of him. She had been absent most of his adult life and when she did emerge, she would wreak havoc and then disappear again. He has two sisters that do not speak to her because they believe she is toxic. They are correct. He wants his sisters and I to keep giving his mom chances, but consider she has a 50+ year history of “chances” followed by awful behavior. She won’t suddenly change because she can’t; mental illness is as real as cancer, and a person with cancer can’t just decide to stop having cancer.

He has agreed to a compromise of moving her to an Assisted Living facility near us, but I worry that she will still end up being the central focus of his life and/or she will eventually convince him to let her try to live with us again (her apartment is sitting vacant, so it would be easy for her to just show up). I also worry because facilities here in NJ are more than double the cost of FL. We would have to pay thousands a month out of our pockets. Folks, trust me, every dollar would be well spent, but I wonder how long we could afford it. Months? Certainly. A year or two? Probably. Beyond that…yikes! What if one of us loses our job (or wants to retire) or has a medical emergency? What about *my* mother?

First and foremost, I love him. I’m not a perfect person either and I want to support him. But there is another side to this. Yes, he is controlled by FOG (Fear, Obligation, and Guilt) from her. However, he is a very willing participant. She calls 5-6 times a day and he almost always picks up, even in the middle of a nice dinner out. If she doesn’t call for a few hours, he gets worried and calls her. I recently discovered the term “Emotional Incest,” and it fits. He refuses to set boundaries, and I think it is because he enjoys her dependence. He feels needed. Our relationship won’t progress because he already has a “wife.”

I feel like given the situation, most people would move on instead of continuing to go through this. What would you do? It sounds to me like most normal people wouldn’t volunteer to be involved in this kind of mess, even for love.

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My comment above was not meant to stop the conversation, and I am sure many here can learn from decisions you have made to improve your life, meet your goals, and have a safe, sane retirement plan after your great career. Any progress?
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"It sounds to me like most normal people wouldn’t volunteer to be involved in this kind of mess, even for love."

You have good insight into your own problem here. Good luck with that.
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You have not said how your relationship is apart from his Mother. What does he give you? Is he emotionally supportive of you? How do you feel when he is with you and Mother is not around? Do you feel loved?

It's very easy for people to say write him off and move on but how much time have you invested into this relationship? Have you ever said it's me or your mother and that's it?

My story is different than yours but I have never liked my husband's family and have little or no relationship with them. I've made it clear to my husband that if at any time in the future he says any one of his parents are going to move in with us, that I will move out and get my own place. He knows I'm serious. I know it will never happen.

I think if you give someone an ultimatum you have to stand by it rigidly cause the first time you ease off of it, they will know you're not serious and you've lost your credibility. So make an ultimatum and make sure that you have an escape plan if it doesn't pan out and from what you've told us it sounds like that will be the case.
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I am a very conservative person, and if I heard a married lady with a houseful of kids talking about how the toxic MIL beat on the door, planned ways to hurt herself and blame the family for it, and what else you have described, I'd tell the wife to get a good attorney to build her case for full custody of the kids. I'd send the wife and kids packing to her parent's house to stay there until they all grew up.

You don't even have a marriage contract. He's bought into a psychological lie, and the only way he will be able to grow is if you leave him. Just like a drunk, he has to hit bottom because of his addiction to his impossible hope for mother's approval. This is how you will help him become the man the Lord wants him to be: By showing him that he has an idol in his life, and that idol is his mother. Leave.
Book: Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud.
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I agree as well. A man leaves his family when he chooses a wife and vs versa. I know you aren't married yet but if he truly loves you he'll put you first, not his mother who has manipulated him all his life and continues to do so. Just the fact he was making plans to have her leave Florida and come back without discussing it with you, his partner, shows where his priorities are. I am sorry as I know you love him, but does he love you? His actions don't reflect it. He's a big boy now and needs to step up and make a big boy decision. 
Too bad she's so toxic. People who are bipolar & don't take their meds as prescribed are very very difficult to cope with but can be managed well with meds. But insisting you spend every waking hour at her beck and call after you've put in a long day at work is quite selfish on her part. 
I am sorry but go. The above poster who suggested moving into the MIL apartment until you either get bought out or choose to leave on your own. Her being near you in AL won't last long either- she'll find a way back to your home and probably uses finances as the issue.
So hard to hear, I know. But you must seriously decide if you want to play second fiddle to a woman who only cares about herself and has no problem taking anyone down with her and leaving nothing but scorched earth behind. She doesn't love him either if she is willing to have him lose someone that could turn out to be his perfect life partner. 
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Sorry..I agree. Get out now.

Sell the house...force it if you have to and move on.

This is going to get a lot worse, and your boyfriend is both passive/aggressive and co-dependant. RUN
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You've received some excellent advice here. It's up to you to take it or make your own way. (Not trying to be harsh, but I see that you're having difficulty with the idea of leaving him to deal with it because you love him.)

Love is love, I get that - but my advice on this situation is: run. Run far, run fast. This situation is never going to change - not with assisted living, not with counseling. Counseling may help, but until she is out of his life permanently, he will always feel that siren call to run back to help her. If he is making arrangements behind your back to move her back into the house, then this is never, ever going to change. He will always feel like he has to do something to help or "fix" her.

He is seeking the approval and love from her that he never had in his earlier years, because she kept dumping him somewhere (foster home, military, etc). She is seeking the love and support of a man that will tolerate her mental illness and abuse - because as shown by her track record of multiple marriages/divorces - no other man will. So she's taking whatever she can from her son, and he feels obligated to kowtow to her because she's his mother and he never got the appropriate mother-son relationship when he was younger. This is an incredibly toxic relationship, and you don't have to be part of it. You can make the choice to do better for yourself. You *deserve* better than this.
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Is she off her medications for bipolar? Did she at all cooperate with the caregiver?

This is not yours to fix, imo.
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Q: Are you sure this isn't dementia?
A: No, it's not. She suffers from a form of BiPolar disorder where when she is "Up" she is productive (she is an artist and still paints) but paranoid, and when she is "Down," she is violent and makes threats. She is also entirely deaf, but doesn't know sign language. All of this looks for all the world like dementia, but it's not. She is lucid, but not sane.
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UPDATE: First, I can't thank you guys enough for taking the time to respond and help me to feel like I am not some kind of horrible person for feeling the need to cut and run.

Here is what has resonated with me:
CMagnum: Move on. It will not get any better! (Yep, I’m afraid you’re right)
Veronica91: He feels at long last his mother actually loves him and wants to make up for all he missed growing up. (I didn’t see this, but you are probably on to something here. Sadly, it is so untrue! She doesn’t really love him and I’m not the only one who sees that. If she had a man in her life, she’d never call.)
Sendhelp: He made his choice, and it was mother. (I know. *Sigh*)
CTTN55: A man in his early 50s is probably not going to change for you. (True, but he has not been this way his whole life…it was after his father died about 8 years ago, which I hear is typical for a child stepping in as spouse. But, bottom line, he has to want something different; I can’t make him change)

Here are some answers to your questions (well, some aren’t questions you asked, but seemed to ask):
Q: Is she jealous because he has found someone that truly does love him?
A: Aw heck yes! But it’s not jealousy; it’s fear. She was strikingly attractive in her younger years and jumped from man to man looking to up her social status. She ended up penniless. She thinks I am a gold digger and there’s nothing a gold digger hates more than another gold digger trying to jump her claim.

Q: Do you want to be made financially whole for the house and/or other contributions?
A: No. I’m fine with just walking away with an expensive lesson learned.

Q: Would he accept hearing that his plans are bad from a professional?
A: He went to counseling after she moved out a year ago. The counselor was a woman who was older than him and either because of the way he told things or because she projected her own views onto the situation, she decided I was jealous of his mother and encouraged him to get rid of me and focus on finding someone who “accepts him for who he is.” I was furious! Next time needs to be couples therapy or not at all.

Q: Is there an inheritance that your boyfriend (not husband) is counting on?
A: LOL!!! She’s got NOTHING. She has her SSI and disability and that wouldn’t even cover a shared room up here. He gives her help now just to keep a roof over her head in FL, and on top of it she wastes money left and right, then calls and begs for more.

Q: Won’t you be stuck in this mess until his mother dies?
A: Research says no. It says that people with in enmeshed relationships get WORSE if the person dies before they resolve things because then they sense that the disapproval is omniscient.

Q: You’re not married so why stay?
A: That’s why I’m asking you fine people! I love this man and I hate to see him going through this. But, I know that if I can’t get him motivated to end it, I will end up sucked into the middle of it all. I spent most of my life struggling, first in school, then in a bad marriage, then financially after the divorce, and now I have a great career and enough money to travel and have nice things. I feel like it is materialistic to dump someone I love in a miserable situation so that I can visit Rome and buy a nice car. But I am really, really worried that if I stay, it will never be “my turn.”

Q: If you're asking, don't you already know the answer?
A: You're right that I'm asking because my brain is saying "Run, Forrest, run!!!" but the hold up is that my heart hurts for him. I have never felt for a man the way I feel for him (and lord knows there have been plenty of them in my life). I had given up that I could actually develop this depth of feelings for a human I didn't give birth to. Maybe it is because he is so flawed...I don't know...but after what happened with my marriage, I just could not let anyone in. Now that I have, I'm afraid that this was it. G-d gave me someone He needed me to help and and I feel like if I bail, that will be my one chance...gone.
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