My boyfriend is a caregiver for his mother. We are having relationship problems, and unable to move forward.

Asked by

I have been dating my boyfriend a year and 3 months. I'm 46, he's 47. We both live in NYC and have full time jobs and busy lives. He lives with his mother. His father passed away 2 1/2 years ago, and since then he has been taking care of her. She's in her mid-60s, diabetic, sciatic, depressed, and is in a fragile mental state. She was one of those women who was 100% reliant on her husband, and now relies on her son to take care of her. When we first started dating seriously last year, I was hesitant to get into a committed relationship with my boyfriend because I was concerned he did not have enough time to dedicate to a real partnership. Not only is a he a caretaker for his mom, he works full time, has an independent music label, and has a teenage son from a previous marriage. He convinced me that he was committed to being with me, so I decided to give it a try. He even said that he had thought about our future, and that if things worked out, he'd consider moving in with me. Things went well for the first year or so. We got closer. He did a few things to make his mother more independent, like getting her to take handidart to church, so that we'd have more time on the weekends together. We went on a two vacation to Europe in the summer. We have a wonderful love and friendship, and I believe the relationship has true potential. Throughout this period, I have frequently felt that my boyfriend does not make enough time to spend with me. I often feel that I am not enough of a priority. It is so hard to find time together, and he cancels and changes plans with me frequently. Recently, his mother stopped taking her medication and became so weak he had to take her to the ER. He learned that she did this to try and commit suicide. He changed his mind about moving in with me, and now he says he must live with her. His siblings do not live in the same city, so they cannot help. He cannot afford to hire care or put her in a home. We have also been arguing a lot. We only see each other twice a week, and he changes plans frequently which is hurtful. Our relationship is not progressing, and I don't know where I stand anymore. I'm ready to be in a more committed relationship with someone and I'd like to move forward. I spent my earlier years being very career focused and travelling, and now I really want to be in a relationship. Do I break up with my boyfriend because he doesn't have time for me, has no plans to live with me right now, and needs to be with his mother? I don't actually believe she needs full time care but he believes she does. What solutions exist? I would really appreciate some advice.

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
Top Answer
Perfect answer from Dorianne.

You have to ask yourself if you want to be that partner who can get your boyfriend through this: help him take his mother to a better more independent place, be an amazing stepmother to his son. Me? - I wouldn't even try it, not for all the tea in China. But that's the job description you're looking at: two weeks' vacation, fifty weeks of cancelled plans, last minute crises, fitting in with his existing commitments. Only you know whether he's worth it.
So, honestly, as someone who's been providing care for my mother for just over 2 years, and as someone who just started staying with her in June....I think I can see this a bit from your boyfriend's perspective.

The first thing that comes into my head is that I had no idea how much physical, mental, and emotional energy staying with her would suck out of me. It's wayyyy different being with her in the same home than it was before I started staying here. I am often very overwhelmed, frustrated, ill-tempered, and resentful. I have barely enough energy left to socialize with friends a couple of times a week; I force myself to do it because I'd lose my mind without my supportive family of friends. I definitely do NOT have the energy for a relationship.

Which kind of makes the second thing pop into my head: it's possible that your BF has called off moving in together as a kindness to you. Might even be subconscious, but I bet he's thought about it. Caregiving an elder parent is a huge job, and it would be a huge burden to bring someone else into. If she's only in her 60s, he may be looking at 20+ years of providing care, especially if he can't afford a care facility. Personally, I have lost all interest in dating and relationships since I started caregiving, since there is no way I would put a partner in this position alongside me. Especially if that partner had already expressed doubts about how I've chosen to provide care.

I think suicide attempts are often a cry for help, not just attention-seeking. Depression is insidious, especially when coupled with physical pain.  And whatever else is going on, Mom has cried out, and Son has answered the call. If you are in any way ambivalent about joining him in facing this task, in being a true partner in this new turn his journey has taken, then I just don't think it's the right relationship for you or him.

I'm not saying you're wrong or bad if you don't want to do it! It's perfectly reasonable to want your relationship to be the priority in both of your lives. If you truly think he's the one, then go to him and tell him you will do this with him, that you will be his partner in this and work through it together.  That's what real commitment means to me, that's what "for better or worse" means to me.  I mean, I'd probably cry with joy and relief if somebody I wanted to be with came to me and said that.  But if you can't say it, then it's probably time to think about letting go. 
I would be concerned that eventually you would be pushed into doing hands-on caregiving to help your boyfriend.
Leave Mommy's boy with Mommy she is never going to undo the apron strings. Of course he won't want to see you go but he has to learn he can't have his cake and eat it too. Just my warped vision of your situation.
He has a teenager. Does he spend time with the kid? If not, that is a red flag about his long-term commitments. If so, you have to assume this will always be a high priority in his life. Would having a teenager in your life be a bonus or a burden?

His mother, who genuinely needs help but perhaps not to the degree she is insisting on, is in her mid 60s. Are you prepared to be second in importance to her for the next 20 to 30 years?

Good idea to research what might be available in NYC to help his mother. But if he does not make genuine progress in getting extricated from her control now, I think you ought to look elsewhere for the kind of relationship you want at this point in your life.

This experience hasn't been a waste of time. You had some good times, a nice European vacation. You've learned a lot more about what is important to you. Chalk it up to a nice friends-with-benefits situation, and move on.

This doesn't sound like an ideal relationship and I wonder if he isn't using his mom as an excuse to move on. But you should understand that his mom's resources, not his, should be used for her care. Does she qualify for Medicaid? NYC has perhaps the most generous of Medicaid waiver programs in the country and will pay for 24/7 aides in the home if medically warranted. I wonder if he's looked into this.
His mother's health will eventually get to the point that she's total care 24 hours a day - if she doesn't die of sudden death. You'll always be number two while his mother is alive. You just have to decide - now - if you're okay with this - and - also be okay with hands-on-care with this elder because I can see your boyfriend either asking you or hoping you'll volunteer to assist (i.e, bathe, feed, changer her diapers, take her out, etc) his mother when she gets to this stage of her illness...unless he's got money to hire a fulltime live-in caregiver. You're young - find another guy - now. Don't drag this out; either you stay in or get out. Take the time to read a bunch of these posts to see what you're potentially facing with this elder's decline. His mother's illness is workable now but it's going to get more ugly over time. Excuse me for being brutally upfront but we caregivers know what we're talking about.

I
I am taking care of my father now. He has dementia. I have been married for 36 yrs. I would not even entertain the thought of a
relationship with a man that already has a problem with his 60 year old mother. I don't even want the last years of my life to be taking care of my dad. I want to spend them enjoying my husband. I have no choice and I hate that he has no choice either.
I know my husband loves me, but I can tell you he would not be here if he had any other choice. Unless you have cared for an elderly patient with dementia you can not possibly understand
how much of your life you have to give up! My dad is 85. You have many years to be tortured if you choose this relationship!
@CarlaY - hmmm, that makes me think, if he has avoidance issues....some people will turn into passive-aggressive "difficult" people in order to get the other person to end the relationship. Then they don't have to feel like the "bad guy." I've had someone do this to me, and it's not a nice thing to do, but it is what weak people do.

That said, please PLEASE don't settle for someone on the "at this stage of my life" point of view. I know LOTS of people who have found life partners later in life, in their 40s, 50s, 60s....my father was 54 when he and my stepmother met, and they were the loves of each other's lives, true soul mates. I'm 48 - my mom has end stage renal disease and I will be surprised, honestly, if she lives another 2-3 years. I don't plan to give up forever, although I've reached the point where I'm happy to go it alone, too, if that's the way it works out. But for sure, being in your 40s is not a reason to settle for someone who can't give you what you need and may only cause you pain from neglect.

Sometimes we need to find out what we don't want in order to discover what we DO want.
I'm single, never married, so take my advice with a grain of salt. :) What I see (with a career in human resources, i.e. dealing with all kinds of people) is a mother with a longstanding set of very dependent behaviors. I would also hazard a guess that she's manipulative to a degree (not taking her meds in a suicide attempt) to keep her son close to her when he starts to get closer to you. I'm 67 and can't imagine that level of dependency.

My point is, it's not likely to change, no matter how many resources you locate for her. And if your BF is interested in getting her to be more independent, HE should be researching those resources, not you. You can't make him change his priorities. You can temporarily force the issue, but I think in the end, his mom will be his top priority. You've already see that play out.

I think you'd be better off to try to find a man who is emotionally and physically available to you now. To build a solid relationship, you both need to be willing to be there for each other. He may want to be there for and with you, but his life circumstances aren't such that he can do that, given his priorities. And I don't see that changing anytime soon. You're still young enough to find someone who's at the same place in their life that you are.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support