Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“The Codependency Between My Boyfriend and His Mother is Ruining Our Relationship!”

My boyfriend of a year wants me to move in with him. He owns his own business, and I work as a teacher. I’d help with bills and I’d contribute as we will be a team as we always have been. However, his mother lives with him and is very dependent on him. She won’t go anywhere without him. She doesn’t take up much space, but she is an emotional wreck and she has no consideration for anyone around her. She makes my boyfriend feel like a piece of scum most of the time, and he refuses to say anything because he was raised with the whole “children are seen, not heard” method.

She had a run-in with identity theft a few years ago, and since then she has not used her social security number. Everything she has my boyfriend pays for or it’s in his name. She even works for him, and he pays her by housing her and feeding her. She has literally nothing without him. However, he’s more than open to helping her move out if she would be willing. She just got a boyfriend and they say they want to move in together, but she’s playing all these games with my boyfriend. She can move out, she can’t move out. Blah blah blah. And she’s telling him that he’s “holding her back.” She says she can “start using her social security number in June,” but it sounds like a load of bull all the way around.

I’ve decided that I can’t move in until she’s out because I have two cats to think about and she does not treat her animals too kindly. This is putting a lot of pressure on our relationship, and I’m not sure what to do. Should I talk to her and tell her my struggles and that I feel held back in my relationship with her son? Do I just let her do her thing and hope to God she moves out soon? My boyfriend won’t push her out and I don’t want her pushed out if she’s not ready because she’ll just be back at his door a month later. I’m just hoping for an outside perspective. Thank you!! — Parent Trapped

You can’t move in with your boyfriend because you have two cats to think about?! What about thinking about yourself? This situation is a nightmare and you shouldn’t want to be anywhere near it, regardless of whether you have pets or not. Your boyfriend is a doormat who has enabled his mother’s manipulative behavior for years, and she shows no signs of relenting. He doesn’t want to push or nudge or do anything to upset her. He’s open to helping her move out, but only if she’s willing — only if it’s her idea. And you think if that even happened — which it probably won’t unless she has a sweet deal offered by someone else, like a new boyfriend — that your boyfriend is going to be free and clear of her? No. She’ll continue to manipulate and use him.

You need to make very clear — to your boyfriend, not his mother — that you are not moving forward with this relationship until your boyfriend sets some clear boundaries with his mother and gives you some clear signs he’s prioritizing his own well-being and happiness. This can look several ways, but seeking therapy, kicking his mother out, and learning to stand up and say no to her would be good indications of his commitment to this. Until you see any of this happening, you should put the brakes on this relationship. Certainly hold off on any plans to move forward and move in together. Even should your boyfriend finally get a spine and start setting some boundaries, you should wait at least six to twelve months before moving in to see how well the boundaries are respected and how strong your boyfriend can remain in the face of what you know will be strong resistance from the mother who has had years of getting her own way.

As for taking the initiative to talk to the mother yourself: no. That will solve nothing and will only serve to make you the enemy and to alienate you from the codependent mother-son dynamic. Suddenly the mother will have propaganda to use with her son against you. She’ll tell her son to break up with you and he probably will because he doesn’t know how to say no to his mother and he sounds petrified of disappointing her. So, be clear with your boyfriend that it’s his job to start standing up to her and, if you don’t see clear signs of that very soon (like, in the next month), you should seriously consider moving on already.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

21 comments… add one
  • avatar

    wobster109 February 23, 2017, 9:47 am

    LW, I’m concerned about the paying in housing and food thing. I don’t think that’s legal, and it makes me worry about the mother. A person being paid in money has some freedom such as the option to move out and find her own place. A person being paid in housing/food can’t do that, because she doesn’t have money in her name.

    She also says that her son is “holding her back”, which isn’t something people say lightly. It’s surprising because it doesn’t match the rest of the story. I’d expect a person who wants to stay dependent on their son to complain that he’s abandoning her instead.

    That’s two things in your letter that hint at the control is flowing the other way. I may be totally wrong about this, but here’s how you can tell. Whose idea was it for him to employ her? And whose idea was it to pay her in housing/food?

    Either way, WWS. You wouldn’t move in with your best friend and her emotionally unstable, dependent, always-present roommate. So don’t move in with this guy either.

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    • juliecatharine

      Juliecatharine February 23, 2017, 9:50 am

      Good point, that made me wonder also.

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      tangerbean February 23, 2017, 10:01 am

      I think he may be paying her in food and housing because of the weird social security number situation? Like maybe he can’t legit hire her? Still strange, though, and definitely puts the mom in a dependent position.

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    • avatar

      Ange February 23, 2017, 7:49 pm

      Not to discount the theory entirely but manipulators are very good at making you responsible for the situation they place themselves in and therefore making you feel guilty about it. All this holding back talk could just be mother keeping son exactly where she wants him: beholden to her.

      Either way runnnnnnn LW.

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  • juliecatharine

    Juliecatharine February 23, 2017, 9:48 am

    WWS 100%. LW, it’s only been a year you may want to run before you invest more in this relationship than you already have. What you’re describing is an incredibly ingrained, unhealthy dynamic between your boyfriend and his mother. Barring significant action on his part, this is what you would be signing up for. Are you really on board with that? You shouldn’t be. Don’t be, draw your line in the sand and prepare to MOA.

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  • avatar

    Hannanas February 23, 2017, 10:09 am

    A few strange things I noticed in this letter:

    – How did she meet her boyfriend, if she never leaves the house without her son?
    – The payment by housing her and feeding her. Is it not a given that you would feed and house your mother, without her having to work for it?
    – What’s the deal with her social security number? Why doesn’t she use it now or until June? Has the issue not been resolved so far or is it by choice? How can you even live your life legally, without using it? (I’m from Europe so maybe things are different here)
    – Where did she ever live before all this?
    .
    Either way, this – sadly – sounds like a bad, bad situation and I’d remove myself from it, if I were you.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros February 23, 2017, 11:27 am

      The first one is a good question.

      I also find the situation odd, but I have a few thoughts on the other points. I don’t think it’s a given that you’d feed and house your mother unless she was so elderly or disabled that she could not support herself. This might be a cultural thing, but the assumption is that an adult is going to support themselves if they can. My parents worked until retirement and pay for their home and bills. If they needed it, I’d help to an extent if I could, but that would be an extenuating circumstance. The strange part here is that she’s apparently his employee and instead of paying her wages, he’s paying her under the table through living with him and food. This is most likely illegal, and it creates a bizarrely dependent relationship between them.

      With the SSN, I read it as her being so paranoid that her identity would be stolen again, that she doesn’t want to use it anymore. If she’s working for her son and not needing her SSN for employment documents and his name is on all the bills, etc., then it’s possible she rarely uses it. Though I’m not sure how she could get health care without it.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph February 23, 2017, 11:45 am

        I agree such a weird situation. Are we sure the boyfriend actually exists? Is this an internet/potential catfishing type thing? Plenty of people pray on old ladies in scams like that.

        And idk, maybe the “works for him” is more of a domestic arrangement like she lives with him rent free but she takes care of household chores. If she doesn’t go out much anyways, she probably has plenty of time to do the laundry. In a lot of families the exchange of money would be weird in a way that exchange of services would not. If she’s a legit employee of a legit business though, I agree that he should be paying her– but then without an SSN it would still be under the table.

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      • avatar

        Hannanas February 23, 2017, 2:29 pm

        I agree with her being paranoid. I got that too. But then why does she mention her being able to use her SSN again in June? Why June? Would she not be paranoid anymore at that time?
        .
        Maybe it’s not a given for everyone to just take care of their parents living with them. But her working for him to get housing and food seems so wrong… What if she just stops working? Or doesn’t do a good job?

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    • avatar

      Steph February 23, 2017, 12:23 pm

      To your first point – I read it as the mom doesn’t leave the house without her son. That doesn’t mean the son doesn’t leave the house without his mom.

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      • avatar

        Hannanas February 23, 2017, 2:26 pm

        No, I meant, for the mother to have met someone, if her son is always out with her.

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  • avatar

    Vathena February 23, 2017, 10:16 am

    Oh helllllll no. You should get out now and don’t look back. Your boyfriend obviously has no real desire to change his situation, or he would have by now. I agree with Wendy – even if the mom is not living with you, she is going to make your life miserable if you stay with him. If you’re okay with a lifetime of her being dependent on you, and having your boyfriend NEVER have any boundaries with her, then carry on. But I would caution you to really think about what a life with your boyfriend would look like. Constant interaction with his mom. Constant catering to her. She won’t go anywhere without him? Imagine if you are married and have children; she will see you and your children as competition and manufacture crises to get his attention. When she breaks up with her boyfriend (and every future boyfriend) she’ll be right back at her son’s door, expecting to be taken in. And he will take her in, over your objections, because he doesn’t want to set any boundaries with her. You’re only one year in to a relationship with a man who is emotionally stunted. If I were you, I’d get out now. This is very unlikely to change.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros February 23, 2017, 11:15 am

    It’s putting pressure on the relationship because your conditions for moving in require him to make a huge change in his life that he either doesn’t want to do or is afraid to do. This isn’t going to end well. Like Wendy says, even if she moves out, she’s still going to terrorize him. And a person doesn’t just totally change their boundaries overnight. Move on.

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  • avatar

    RedRoverRedRover February 23, 2017, 11:23 am

    You might as well say “my boyfriend is ruining my relationship”. The co-dependency is part of who he is right now. You either have to accept that, or wait for it to change. And the only way it will change is if he wants it to, if he is willing to put in the work, and if he is willing to possibly lose his relationship with his mother. Otherwise it’s never going to change, no matter how much you want it to. Have a serious talk with him about this and see where he stands. If he’s not ready to make a massive change, then you may as well move on, because this is him. Take it or leave it.

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  • avatar

    SherBear February 23, 2017, 11:39 am

    The “start using her social security number in June” is complete BS…a Google search will tell you the steps needed to be taken after identity theft. Is she getting this info herself or is your boyfriend telling her this? Also, working for food and board is 100% illegal. As a business owner he should know better – and like others have said it’s a little concerning that he wouldn’t want to pay her actual money so she can gain some semblance of independence. This whole situation is off – I’d cut your losses and move on quickly!

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie February 23, 2017, 11:44 am

    Run away run away run away and do not look back.

    You know what happens when you work and don’t use your SS number? You don’t put away any money towards Social Security. You understand that by not actually making a living – she has nothing to live on right? That your boyfriend has created a non-solution is quite frankly terrifying.

    If she’s not making any money – and she’s not contributing to any retirement funds, your boyfriend has essentially committed to taking care of her for the rest of of her life.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph February 23, 2017, 12:18 pm

    I sort of disagree with Wendy in that I think it’s not worth talking about boundaries and then waiting to see if things improve. These things will not get enough better in a reasonable time period– it’ll be years of conscious effort to draw and enforce boundaries before there’s real improvement, and then constant vigilance for the rest of the mom’s life to keep her from sliding back in. And if the LW stays around, she’ll probably catch a lot of vitriol from mom as “that woman” who is making her son do this.

    Nope. Not worth it. I think you should MOA.

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    • avatar

      Vathena February 23, 2017, 12:32 pm

      Completely agree.

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  • avatar

    Emily February 23, 2017, 1:11 pm

    This sounds awful. DTMA.

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  • avatar

    Sketchee February 23, 2017, 3:11 pm

    The problem is the bf. He is an adult who has decided to stay in this situation. This is eerily similar to a situation I’ve been in.

    It took a lot of time to realize that while it might seem like the mother is at fault (and maybe it was when he was a child), the boyfriend is the one who has stake in the relationship with their partner.

    MOA. He may have other qualities. This is a really hard one to deal with. He may shake past it someday. Or deal with it the rest if his life. You don’t have to. If you stay, make it about your boundaries and keep him accountable to you for your boundaries. The mother has to be his responsibility

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  • avatar

    Ashley February 24, 2017, 9:00 am

    Yeesh. Is he super good in bed or something?

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