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Hello. My father-in-law is dying and it is happening quickly. We went from thinking he had heart disease to realizing his cancer is back and it is aggressive. My FIL has been battling a handful of illnesses for 11 years and is ready. My husband is just like his father - selfless, hardworking, loyal, and all-or-nothing. All good traits to have, but they make for a neglectful husband sometimes, both to me and to himself. When we heard his father had a month to live at most, he ran to his family home (3 hours away) and is trying to work (his job) from his parent's home while helping his mother care for his father and clean out their home in preparation for MIL moving. My husband did the same thing with his grandfather - dropping everything and taking on the caretaker role wholeheartedly while working full time, ignoring me, and not taking care of himself. When he was ready to return to some sort of normalcy, he was behind at work, had gained weight, and grumpy. We argued a lot during this time. I should note that both my husband and I are only children.


I will say that his father is very tenacious. He lived for 11 years in remission from pancreas cancer, which only 5% of pancreas cancer patients do. So, I suspect he will hang on longer than anticipated. Also, after FIL passes, MIL will need an enormous amount of help cleaning out her estate as FIL is a bit of an eclectic hoarder. So who really knows how long he will be staying at his parent's place. When I asked my husband if he brought a book, a guitar, or running shoes, he said "no." I have hinted that I don't think it's realistic for him to stay at his parent's house for more than a couple days at a time. I've hinted that he needs to take time for himself. I seem to be coming across as a selfish jerk rather than a caring spouse. Right now we are just playing it by ear, but from experience with grandpa I am really fretting over the impact this will have on my marriage and my husband's health. I can't manage the house by myself. I can for the short term, but I also don't want to have a list of chores for him to do when he does come home. I read that it is best to have this conversation upfront, but I don't know how to have a conversation around setting boundaries and staying healthy without seeming like a jerk. I tend to be a bit of a control freak and I'm having a hard time with this "wait and see" time frame. Do you have any advice on how to handle this better? Any advice on how to get my husband to set realistic boundaries? FYI, I am going back to his parent's house on Friday to help out and see my husband, so I am helping and I am experiencing the situation. But I am scared.

My husband was very similar to yours, and I am much like yourself. Here's what happened in my marriage when my husband started caring for both of his parents when his mother, now deceased, got sick with a neurodegenerative disorder.

My husband was very, very close to his mom. His mom was the glue that kept their family together. When she fell ill, my husband took it hard. He ate a lot and gained weight. He drank a lot and gained weight. He moped around and gained weight. He still wanted sex but at that point his neglect of himself and of me hardly set the mood. There was a lot of imbalance in our marriage.

His parents moved to independent living, and my husband became their POA both medical and financial. It was a lot of work. Secrets were discovered and my husband saved his parents from financial ruin. It was a lot of stress and work. More stress eating. More stress drinking. More stress moping. He still wanted sex but again, hardly the kind of situation that puts a wife like me in the mood.

Men and women view sex differently. Our sex life suffered.

After saving his folks from financial ruin, hubby became a little more assertive and started establishing healthy boundaries. A little less stress eating, drinking and moping, and a little more sex.

MIL died and FIL continues to live at the indy living in a 2-bedroom, burning through his money at an eye watering pace. The stress eating, drinking and moping started again. Our sex life suffered again.

Throughout every one of the aforementioned times, we also argued a lot. He was making decisions unilaterally, and dropping everything to go help his parents and, after his mom died, helping his dad. I felt nothing was left for me when he got home. The drinking continued. The stress eating continued. And he complained that we weren't having sex. We were fighting more.

So far most of the responses have been to be understanding and cut your husband some slack because this is only temporary. In my opinion, that advice ignores your feelings. There can always be found some reason or excuse to neglect a spouse and marriage. It's called taking your spouse and marriage for granted. And it's not okay. And what exactly is temporary? Temporary is 1-2 weeks; months and years are not temporary.

When your husband enters into a "temporary" situation with his parents leaving you at home alone to deal with things as best you can, he's doing so with the full understanding that he does not know for how long he will be gone!!!

As for me and my wonderful husband, with whom I've stuck through thick and thin, things only really got better when I stood up for myself and established and enforced healthy boundaries, and verbalized to my husband what my expectations of my marriage and of him were.

I made "I" statements. I said things such as "I need you to silence your phone so that when your parents call at 0700 I am not woken up" and "I need you to help keep the house clean by picking up after yourself" and "I need you to stop eating all the cold cuts and leave me some so that I can make a sandwich for work" and "I need you to spend quality time with me and let your dad's (incessant) calls go to voicemail".

I also established healthy boundaries and told my husband what I was and was not willing to do for his parents.

I was criticized for the way I handled things. Yet, from my perspective, those who criticized me did not understand what I was ***living*** day to day, crisis to crisis both real and imagined on account of my inlaws and the way my husband was (poorly) managing his parents.

Sorry for the long post. I've been in your shoes. Marriage is work. He's not doing the work and marriage has no Family and Medical Leave Act. Yes, be understanding, but a neglected spouse is like a ticking time bomb.
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KatD81 Mar 21, 2020
He's a lucky man that you stuck around!
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You are very aware of how your husband is in these situations. He is all his Mom has at this point. Hounding him is either going to stress him out or make him mad. You say ur at the height of your careers. Maybe help DH by hiring someone. A teenager may love to have a job mowing ur lawn. Will it be perfect, maybe not, but it will get done. Hire a handyman for those small things. Your FIL is dying. Allow hubby to do what he can for him. If u don't, he may resent you. Part of marriage is supporting each other. I really understand your concern about DHs health though.

My MIL lived in Fla, a 2 day trip for us. She was considering coming to live back here. TG she was looking for places to live near us not with us. And my DH didn't invite her to live with us. But I know if she had come back, my DH would have jumped every time she needed something. Complaining would only make him mad. This is my DH but...if we had something planned I came first. He was the son who sat and held his Moms hand when she was dying. I know that he will do that for me, too.

This is only temporary. Let him do what he needs to. Find MIL a nice place to live. When the dust settles, that's when to set boundries.

When u get to inlaws. Give DH a big hug and tell him you miss him. When u leave, tell him to take care of himself for you.
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Jojothepogo Mar 19, 2020
Thank you, JoAnn29.
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Jojo, that's a lot for your family to handle, especially in the ever changing climate of life with Covid-19. Someone once told me that if Plan A doesn't work, there's always 25 more letters. Adapting and adjusting will be the norm these days - there's so much out of our control. Pancreatic cancer is so quick that I doubt your FIL will be in this phase very long. The more your husband can get done with the house now, the less he will have to deal with when he and his mom are somewhat distracted and shutdown with grief after your FIL passes. The reality is that as the only child, he'll be the one helping with all involved in his parents' transition. And it'll take time. If your husband has a device and internet access, there's much for relaxation and diversion -- music, library books, movies, exercise, tours of museums. As far as your household chores, triage out what is critical and what can wait. I gradually took on chores as my husband's health changed. I learned to change out a p-trap, fix the dishwasher. Since he's been gone, I've used youtube videos for all sorts of things out of need.
We're in a new time and unfortunately, wait and see is the norm.
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Jojothepogo Mar 19, 2020
Thank you.
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Your poor hubby. Poor you. And poor Dad. This is self limiting, hon. Try to be ONLY supportive. Sit with him sometimes, give him a glass of wine of whatever and just ask him how he is feeling, how it is going for him. Try to give up the control and be only a support. It's good practice. You won't be able to do it always. My control issues come from a bit of OCD I think, and it is hard for me just to shut up. But when I manage it, the results are so good. I am trying to send you all the support in thought I can.
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Jojothepogo Mar 19, 2020
That's exactly me. I want to control the situation. I want to have a part in fixing it. And right now, I have 0 control and no one to talk to (in part thanks to Covid 19).

That's a good idea about the wine. I think when I go up there on Saturday, I'll bring his mom a bottle and my husband some beer.
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I think I know somewhat how you feel. Please correct me if I am off base.

I sense that you feel like you are ‘going through the motions’ each day. You’re not mad or angry. I don’t even think you are annoyed. Things feel different because they are.

It’s not that you don’t have empathy. You have wonderfully acknowledged your husband’s good qualities.

I don’t think you are selfish and wish to deny anyone, your sweet husband (by the way, he sounds like he’s a gem!), your MIL and certainly least of all, a dying man.

I think you are trying to adjust as best as you can. Your life has transitioned into what is is now. Face it, it’s a loss. You have lost the normalcy in your lives, along with the losing a family member. Hard, isn’t it?

I don’t have any magic answers. No one does. I can say that I empathize. and send a bazillion hugs your way. I do wish for you and your family to have happier days ahead and a peaceful death for your father in law.

You are a very special woman standing beside your strong but caring husband. He knows that. You know that. Your in laws know that. The focus has shifted for now and it’s okay.

One day, it will shift back to you. You will be proud that you were there for him. Just remember, when he is away for now he is beside you in spirit. I know that I probably didn’t offer much help in regard your current situation. All we can do is offer support and hope that we can send a little comfort your way.

Vent anytime. We are here to listen. Many of us have been through similar experiences.

Take care and stay strong in these trying times but you know what? If you feel like you are at your wits end, there is no shame in being frustrated or crying if you need to.

You will grieve. Don’t deny those feelings. Your husband will grieve his loss, certainly your MIL will. Allow yourselves to feel what is normal and healthy. If you feel stuck or confused or just in need of support, seek grief counseling. It helps.

I know everyone talks about how the sun will come out tomorrow and it will. But I believe it’s equally important to honor your feelings now and I am such a sucker for the other song in Annie, ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life.’ I love that song! I believe in being positive but I despise ‘Pollyanna’ types. It’s fake. Sometimes life is hard.

At some point in our lives we all go through the ‘hard knock life’ before the sun comes out. Right? This is one of those times, for you. Yeah, it stinks that it’s at the same time as the coronavirus because it only magnifies the situation. I’m so sorry.

Take care, 💗.
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Daughter62sad Mar 20, 2020
Your response was very well thought out and I appreciate everything you wrote. I have similar situation in my own life - taking your words to heart. Thank you.
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Very tough to do this.

Send him a link to this forum, perhaps? He needs to be ready to hear the message.

You can only make "I" statements at this point, as in "I feel like you are over extending yourself and causing harm to your health. You might want to talk to your doctor about this".
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Honestly - if this is how he behaved in the past, i do not think it will change. You can visit him and help him (and see that he gets a break). As for the house stuff - hire it out. And go do what you want to do while he is away - ie, take care of yourself and your career so that one part of the equation is functioning well.
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Jojothepogo Mar 19, 2020
Yep. My husband actually used to work for an estate sale company, so he knows all about hiring it out and we will do that. MIL wants to move out right away, so we'll likely put some of it in storage until she decides what she wants to keep - and then hire out to an estate sale company.
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Your husband appears to have priority problems; he values his sick family member more than you. It would be one thing if you together talked about the issues and together decided he should go. However, your husband made this decision without you and did not consider your needs. He real;ly wants to be the white knight and help. Sound about right?

Take time to write down the issues of his extended absence: finances, work, upkeep of residence, your needs for his company... Maybe send him a letter of all the issues and set a date/time when you can talk them over. Decide what would be reasonable and be flexible when you do get to talk them over.
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FloridaDD Mar 21, 2020
This.  If the genders were reversed, many more on this board would be advising the woman, don't neglect your DH for your elderly loved one.   But a woman is advised to just take it?  That is wrong.
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Please make sure you take the book, the guitar, and the running shoes. Help him make a little time for these things when you are at his parents’ house. Make sure you two spend time alone.
just keep reminding yourself, this won’t last forever. You have been in this situation before and it appears arguing did not work.
I have felt this way about my husband and his mom for years but arguing does not help in any way. You cannot change your husband. You can only change your reaction.
Good luck!
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Jojo, I'm so sorry you and your husband are going through this.

Your husband sounds like mine - selfless, hard-working, loyal, all-or-nothing. I love those qualities about him, because I know that those qualities are golden in a spouse, golden and sometimes very rare! Treasure these qualities in your husband, and don't let them become a wedge between you.

This time will not last forever. I usually agree with the answers in this forum that tell people to put their spouse first and foremost, but I think that advice sometime has to be tempered with patience in certain circumstances, and I think this might be one of those circumstances.

Your husband is probably scared. The imminent death of a parent is scary, no matter how old you are when it happens. People handle fear in different ways. Can it be that he is throwing himself into helping his parents so he doesn't have to think too much about his dad's passing? You are correct in saying he needs to take care of himself - that part of the equation should be non-negotiable - but the rest - work around the house, etc, well, as my husband tells me, that will still be here tomorrow.

You can keep an "end date" in your head with a plan - for example, if your husband is still taking care of his dad by, say, April 15, you will revisit a conversation with him about the things that need to be done at your home. You don't have to "be a selfish jerk" about it, as you say. A simple "hey, honey, what do you think we should do about "abc" while you're dealing with your dad?" That's not being a jerk/nag/bad wife, that's simply gathering information. Maybe have some solutions in mind when you talk about it (ie: "hey honey, what do you think about hiring a lawn service to come in and mow the yard while you're tied up with all of this?").

When you're with him at his parents, maybe a walk in the morning or the evening, just the 2 of you, somewhere outside... it will give you some exercise, some alone time, and some fresh air all at the same time. If the subject of his health comes up, you can also remind him that you need him healthy, and so does his mom.

I wish you peace in this journey
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Jojothepogo Mar 23, 2020
Great advice. I went up this weekend and I encouraged my husband to go on walks. It took lots of nagging, but after the first walk, he started using walking as a way to get away for a moment. I will give an update on the larger post, but my FIL passed away on Friday. We spent the weekend helping his mother. Mostly, I took down the Christmas decorations, cooked, and did dishes.
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