“All Of His Time and Money Goes to His Mother”

My boyfriend and I are both 28 and have been together for about six years. I love him and feel that he’s perfect for me in every way except for one thing: He still lives with his parents and he’s an extreme mama’s boy. He and his mother have a dynamic unlike any I’ve ever seen. The roles are reversed — it’s like he’s the parent and she’s the child. She’s married, but she treats her husband like a child and she acts more as if my boyfriend is her husband. My boyfriend goes to work, does ALL of the cooking for the family, and has to pick the stepdad up from work every day. He’s even been taking ALL of his mom’s online classes these past couple of years.

His mom and stepdad are financially irresponsible. Even though they are both in their early-mid 40s, they are always in a bind, but they never stress or make adjustments because my boyfriend puts the entire load on his shoulders. His mom doesn’t work (by choice), and the stepdad works at a bowling alley, yet they have a 4-bedroom home they can’t afford without my boyfriend’s income. The whole situation was annoying before, but it wasn’t unbearable. Now that I have moved into my own apartment and would rather hang out at my place than at his family’s home, it’s a struggle to get him to come over.

I’m scared because I want to settle down and build a life with this man, but he never has time for me because he’s either working or taking care of his mother’s many needs. He’s told me that he wants to marry me, but he wants to be financially stable first, and I just don’t see how he’d be able to save money to be stable when damn near all of his money and time goes to his mother. I know for a fact that his mother can’t afford her lifestyle without him, and I don’t see him leaving her to fend for herself. What should I do? —Second Fiddle to His Mother

If someone says he wants to marry you, but not until he’s “financially stable,” and then he goes out of his way to remain financially unstable, then in all likelihood he doesn’t actually want to marry you. It’s obvious that you have lots of issues with the dynamic your boyfriend has with his mother… but does he? You don’t mention anything about how he might feel. Maybe he’s fine with how things are.

Maybe he’d rather continue living with his mother and stepdad than move in with you? After all, you’re both 28 and have been together six years and you can’t even get him to come over and hang out with you because he’s too busy tending to his mother (and why would you want to build a life with a man who never makes time for you, anyway??). Have you considered he’s avoiding you and that his mother’s neediness provides a convenient excuse for not being present for you?

I’d have a heart-to-heart with him about the state of your relationship — how you’re ready to move forward and you need a partner who wants the same things as you and is ready and willing to take the steps to make it happen. I wouldn’t give him an ultimatum, but in your own mind you should decide how much time you’re willing to give to see if your boyfriend makes any attempts to move things along (I’d recommend about three months, and no more than six months, tops), and then, if he’s still engaging in the same avoidance of you and doesn’t seem to be moving toward shared goals, it’s time to MOA. You can really love someone and have a deep history with him, but it doesn’t mean you’re meant to be together forever. It may be that this relationship has simply run its course and neither one of you wants to be the one to call it…


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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.


  1. The boyfriend/mother dynamic seems to be a very common topic. Why is this? It makes me scared to one day have a mother in law :-/

    1. artsygirl says:

      I think actually most inlaws get along really well. I adore my mother in law and she loves me. She always joked that if my husband (boyfriend at the time) broke up with me, she would keep me since she saw me as a daughter.

      1. I’ve had excellent relationships with all past boyfriends parents, as well as current. The ex-fiance, his mom and I got along fabulously. After we broke up, she reached out to me. It was really sweet.

        Once the guy and I visit his family more, I’m sure I’ll be just as close to his mom.

      2. One of the best things about my marriage is that his parents are great to me. They aren’t perfect (and certainly neither am I) but every other boyfriend i’ve had has an insane mother. My first boyfriend’s mother was like the LW’s in that she expected my boyfriend to subsidise her lifestyle among other things. Another one was a stepford wife who hated me because I didn’t do everything for her precious son and the last one used to call me to defend her boy when he ran to her after an argument. Honestly until my MIL I didn’t think there was a normal mother out there besides my own.

      3. Second Fiddle to His Mother says:

        When we first got together, his grandma and his mom were extremely close, her disability check was coming in and she did all of the cooking and cleaning. Her mom’s room was upstairs, and she would be downstairs. They would literally be on the phone for hours in the same house. They did everything together. While she was alive, he and I had an apartment together. After the lease was up, we each moved back home. It was supposed to be for a few months, but ended up being for a few years. After she died a few years ago, my bf automatically took over. His mom wasn’t as attached to him then as she is now. She’s in ALL of our business now, nothing is off limits. If we’re outside by ourselves talking, she stands outside of the car and joins the conversation. For the entire conversation. If we go on a date, she wants to come and wants us to pay her AND her husband’s way. If we go out to eat alone, she wants us to bring an entree back. If we go to a cook out, she expects us to bring a plate back. When I was at their house, and we’d have sex, she would tell me how she heard everything. She wouldn’t say it as if she was offended or upset. It was more in a joking/lewd manner. She’d even give me a play by play of what she heard. I really did view him as super generous and sweet in the beginning, and his family as being closer than mine. I’m just wondering when will it end, if ever. I’m not sure of how long should I wait before I just give up. I’ve honestly never broken up with anyone before (he’s my 2nd long term boyfriend), it’s hard for me to let go. Especially when I love her, him, and everything about him, except for this one thing. Even though it is a biggie. I know this is long, but it’s just to acknowledge a few questions that were asked. I don’t want you guys to think she’s a bitch. She always let me stay there whenever my parents would put me out, and she’s offered on numerous occasions to let me live there. Anytime I’ve needed help, she was there. She’s not mean or hateful in anyway, but she is lazy, needy, and clingy to her son.

      4. All you can really do is have the conversation about boundaries and see if your BF is on board and willing to enforce them with you. If he can’t or won’t you have your answer. Personally I’ve been there and I ran YEARS before you, I don’t know how you’ve lasted this long.

    2. RedRoverRedRover says:

      Moral of the story is to just not get involved with a guy whose THAT into his mom taking care of him. Because either you’ll be fighting with her over him, or you’ll end up being the one taking care of him. Unless you don’t mind having her as a major part of your life, I guess.

      1. RedRoverRedRover says:

        Should have said “who is THAT into his mom taking care of him or vice versa”. In the latter case you’ll end up taking care of the mom too.

    3. SpaceySteph says:

      Dude I was thinking the same thing. We seem to have a rash of these kinds of letters lately.
      Like artsygirl, though, I wouldn’t worry. Most MILs are not horrible. I wouldn’t say that I’m THAT close to mine as artsygirl is, but neither is it a bad relationship.
      I think the mistake people (like this LW) make is thinking that they can come in and change an effed up dynamic like this (or, gosh, the one where grandma controls the finances, yikes!). If you look for a man with a healthy family relationship and reasonable amount of independence, you won’t have this problem.

    4. I think that there are a lot of people who are otherwise good spouse/boyfriend material but have very weird/codependent dynamics with their parents/family (this is a big “otherwise” admittedly) . So it comes up a lot in advice column questions.

  2. artsygirl says:

    LW – Based on the math, you BF’s mother was a teenager when she had him. It is entirely possible she never matured past that age especially if she always had someone taking care of her. Obviously you need to speak to you BF and discuss your future. You mention that he is taking his mother’s online classes (which is really screwed up) – is she working towards a degree? Is there a timeline for when your BF would be willing to move in with you? Is he willing to meet with a financial adviser to discuss how to get his parents to be financially independent? Unfortunately I don’t see this going well. I think he and his mother have established an unhealthy dependence pattern and it will be nearly impossible to change the dynamic.

  3. LisforLeslie says:

    You’ve spent 6 years watching this train wreck and only now you’re questioning whether this is going to work long term? If his parents are in their 40’s and have limited income that means they have no savings, no retirement fund and limited social security. Your boyfriend has signed up to fund them from now until death (knowingly or not). It means that he’ll likely not fund his own 401K (assuming he has one) because that money is needed for mom. It means any kids will have to share resources with grammy and gramps. This does not bode well.

    It sounds like he’s a nice guy, but he’s clearly getting something out of this reverse relationship that he’s not getting elsewhere. If you add marriage and kids – that’s not necessarily going to shift his responsibilities, only add to them. I really think you need to accept this is not going to change and move on.

    You’re young at 28. You still have time to find someone who has better parental boundaries and a similar outlook on what the future should look like.

    1. Avatar photo Cleopatra Jones says:

      >It means any kids will have to share resources with grammy and gramps.

      Haha, LfL they’re not old enough to be grammy and gramps. They are still clearly in the mee-maw and paw-paw range. They have at least another 30 years before they are grammy and gramps. 😉

  4. These things about your boyfriend have always been present no? I think there is a low chance he’s going to change. That family dynamic has been there awhile. I’d bet he’s going to find someone who doesn’t mind moving into that 4 bedroom house and becoming servant #2.

  5. Yeah I know you say everything is perfect, but it clearly isn’t. This thing that you say is just one detail really isn’t, it is your boyfriends whole lifestyle, and with his mom refusing to work, and the stepdad working at the bowling alley (which is probably fine depending on what job he has) he is never going to stop funding their lifestyle, and if he moves out of that house, and into one with you that means eventually when they can’t afford to stay there that they will probably be knocking on your door, and you boyfriend is going to welcome them with open arms. You need get out now, because if you stay with him he is never going to change.

  6. Juliecatharine says:

    WW&EES. One of the keys to relationship success is being happy with your partner ‘as is’. You’re not happy. Try laying it out for your boyfriend but I don’t think he’s going to suddenly prioritize building a life with you when so much of his energy is wrapped up in caring for his (apparently able bodied) mother. Prepare to MOA.

  7. dinoceros says:

    It’s odd to me when letter writer list problems that make a relationship sound completely intolerable, but then say they want to spend the rest of their life with the person. I think it’s some kind of delusion that allows someone to witness behavior and then have this perception of the person that totally ignores what they just witnessed. You can’t separate “who he is” with this behavior where he’s obsessed with his parents. That IS who he is. If that’s that the kind of partner you want, then HE isn’t the partner that you want. Small problems can be addressed with someone and they can be expected to compromise with you, but you can’t expect to overhaul this person’s entire way of living if he is not interested in doing so.

    1. It’s an extreme situation and everything you find strange about it most people would. I wouldn’t want to go through the process of explaining why it’s wrong then if he gets it waiting for therapy to help him if he’s willing and if he’s even help-able. Even if the mother and her husband disappeared today he’s still an odd person to have accepted this and probably has some emotional issue, even if he seems normal to you in many ways. I think you should cut your losses and look for someone who can be a regular equal partner to you. An adult who lives in reality, a man who has appropriate boundaries with all the people in his life, and if you want marriage/kids, someone who has the same attitude about working towards those things. The right attitude AND the right habits and capabilities. You don’t want a half way husband or a halfway dad for your kids. I do like Wendy’s advice about how to talk to him, you lose nothing by talking to him with respect, however I’d bet this is a lost cause. Check out JUSTNOMIL of reddit, there are tons of similar stories. And for those Daughter In laws who actually taught their husbands to set boundaries many still say not worth it, don’t get stuck with a man like this.

  8. Second Fiddle to His Mother says:

    His mom and I get along well, it’s just that she’s always there…always needing or wanting something. We have a great relationship. I thought their relationship was cute at first. I viewed him as being sweet and generous. It’s just too much though, it doesn’t end. I appreciate the feedback, it’s pretty much what my friends and family have been telling me.

    1. Well that’s nice that she’s not a bad person to you. Sounds like she is pleasant. But she is still not acting in his best interests.(Unless she’s planning to turn the tables and support him after he helps her get a degree with these courses? Doesn’t sound feasible though. )

    2. LisforLeslie says:

      Well the intent is sweet, and it is generous in theory. But this sounds like those instructions you hear on the airplane to put your mask on before helping yourself. This isn’t going to happen with this guy, he’s always going to put his mom first.

    3. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      When you are 22 you aren’t as aware of dealbreakers as you are when you get older. The situation was also probably not presented as permanent. More like I’m helping my mom out with some money while she gets her degree and you think how nice. He was just helping out while his stepdad finds a higher paying job, etc. He looks like a family oriented guy and if you want family oriented it looks good. Family takes care of family.

      After six years you realize that this is a permanent situation and no matter how nice they are the situation itself is a dealbreaker for most people. If you stay with him you will be financing them and they will continue to live beyond their means while you can’t save for the future. He may not realize how bad this all is and how much it will ruin his future but you can realize it for yourself and move on. Once you meet someone who isn’t support his mom and stepdad you’ll be glad.

    4. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      Have you asked him how he will become financially stable? He may have a vision that includes making enough to support mom, stepdad and a family and maintain two homes. If that’s what he’s thinking ask him how he sees himself reaching that income and if he could do that in time to have a family.

    5. I mean yeah, she’s nice to you now. Wait until you try to change the status quo.

  9. Another of the ‘my bf is perfect and our relationship is perfect, except..’ letters. This is a hell of a big except. And it hasn’t changed in 6 years. And LW expects that after 6 years it will somehow change. So, everything is perfect except for this GIANT deal-breaker. And really, to men ‘Mama’s boy’ is taken as one heck of an insult, sort of a cleaned up mf. So, if you can’t stand that your bf is a Mama’s boy, you need to just MOA. His relationship with his parents has been built over 28 years. You’ve had 6 years to try to moderate it and have achieved zilch. Head/wall, bang, bang, bang. The wall is gonna win this one and in your brain you know that. You are hanging on because your are afraid of change/being alone for a little while.

  10. I am not all on board with the secret deadline and change the locks in the middle of the day plan. Odds are that boyfriend is in this situation not entirely of his choosing and he’s probably caught in this dynamic more than wants to.

    I think LW needs to ask the boyfriend what kind of life they see together, family, kids, house, vacations, cars, … If the boyfriend eventually wants this then how he plans to get there? Even if LW breaks up, the boyfriend has to get out of this co-dependence. If she dumps him he still has to sort this out, but with someone else. I think it would be a lot less hurting going around of the boyfriend and LW do this together.

    I don’t know how the boyfriend breaks that up, it’s up to him to sort this out, but if he sees that his life plan is going to derailed by the demanding mom, he might find the courage to make decisions he doesn’t want to make (like moving out and dropping mom-dad for the girlfriend).

    I am thinking that the crux of the problem is how to break the dependency off. Cold turkey probably won’t work, but slowly might push the in-laws to realize that they have to make a go of it on their own. Say boyfriend stays at LW friday night because “they were out late” and couldn’t make it back to the house, then later stretch this for a full weekend because he has to help her to “paint”.

    Now if that (or something else) get boyfriend and LW cohabitating for a while, LW still has to be sure that there aren’t financial ties left with the in-laws. While pre-marriage, that’s probably acceptable, with kids and house in the mix it will have to be all-wallets-on-deck and the in-laws will have to be on their own and BF has to be in on the plan.

    I am not sure that it’s all doable in the end but that’s the way out of it as I see it. Finally, there is LWs biological clock ticking, and that`s her ultimate deadline, and probably the final threat she can levy on BF:
    “You are all-in on the kids train or I am out of here looking for an alternative because I am getting old”. I am not suggesting this weapon now, but it has to be clear that it’s an unmovable deadline that she can’t change and that eventually it will come up. He’ll come to realize that he can’t screw around forever and it’s not her fault. If he truly wants a future of his own, he should come around.

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      Change the locks in the middle of the day? Where did you get that? It’s perfectly reasonable to do what Wendy actually said, which was to talk to him about it, see if he agrees it has to change, and then give him some limited amount of time to actually make changes. She didn’t say he has to fix everything in 3 months. Just that he has to do enough to show her he’s actually working toward those changes. If they talk, he agrees it’s a problem, and then months go by and he’s done absolutely nothing to fix the problem, then it’s totally fair of the LW to leave. She’s already been with him for 6 years. How much more time do you think she needs to invest in this guy if he shows no signs of changing?

      1. It’s not clear at all that BF sees the urgency of actions needed on his end. That’s the first thing he needs to confront and decide upon (mom or LW).

        Then he needs to agrees that a change is needed and is committed to do it and at what rate. All of these are negotiable between LW and BF. If BF agrees to a change and can’t deliver than that’s another matter.

        Wendy somewhat implies that if the BF changes aren’t delivered according to LW’s schedule LW is out of there. That could be hard from BF to do, in no small part due to push back from the in-laws. It will be to LW to judge if there is enough movement on BF’s part.

        I would agree that the BF needs to agree to changes and in short order, I would think cohabitation within 12 months would be reasonable goal. Of course that could slip, but in 12 months LW can’t be at status quo and she has to make that clear. (and she has to make clear that breaking up isn’t her favored option but one she’s willing to entertain if she has too in order for her to follow her live goal of having a family of her own.).

        We have somewhat the case of an immovable object and an irresistible force https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eKc5kgPVrA

        Obviously something will have to move in the BF’s case but both inertia on this part (and I don’t subscribe to the notion that he’s unwilling or just delaying to string along LW) and push back from in-laws will both be hard to overcome, but have to be inevitable.

        If it comes to it that breakup would preferably be mutual, both that the LW doesn’t see enough progress and the BF agrees he can’t make the changes required.

      2. RedRoverRedRover says:

        You’re just saying the exact same thing as Wendy then, but with a longer timeline?

      3. Well the way I am reading Wendy’s advice is that once the secret timeline elapses, at the discretion of LW, she tosses BF at the curb sight unseen.

        My argument is that LW should be upfront in her first discussion, that breaking up is the ultimate outcome of BF inaction if they aren’t hitting certain milestones on a certain schedule (that is negotiable but stil short term, I suggest a year but it’s up to LW to pick calendar points that jives). I would expect BF to agree with her and at the same time push back on deadlines in the account of the dependency of his parents but that ultimately he would agree because it should be obvious to BF that the problem will be the same with his next GF should he choose that route. BF has to make changes as well and I don’t expect them to be easy or him go easily accept that hard decisions he has to make (essentially abandonning his parents to their own device. Here I question LW’s assertion that the parents can’t take care of themselves, they certainly did when BF was a child so unless something changed, they should still be able to do so, if not, it’s still BF parent’s problem and one LW isn’t signing onto. Fair is fair).

        Ultimately Wendy argues that BF wont make the changes and it shows he isn’t worthy of LW, because if he was such a catch, ring, houses, picket fences, kids and cars would already be in LW’s life. There I disagree because I don’t think BF sees the urgency of the situation. Wendy may still be ultimately right, and in 10 years LW could be in divorce court but that I don’t have a read on it with the letter as it stands.

      4. RedRoverRedRover says:

        Wendy’s saying the exact same thing as you, except you think the timeline should be agreed-upon by both. The reason that usually doesn’t work is because it makes it easy for the person to look like they’re making changes up till the deadline has passed, then slip back once they feel “safe”. This is pretty typical for people who don’t really want to change.

        Here’s the thing. If he wants to change, it doesn’t matter if LW’s deadline is known to him or not. He’ll change. If he doesn’t want to, it’s better for the LW to not let him know the deadline, because then he can’t use it to lull her into complacency.

        Either way, the advice was to make clear to him that this is a dealbreaker. I’m pretty sure he can figure out whether or not it’s urgent based on that.

      5. How can BF fake “changing”? Either he moves in with LW and spend his evening with her at “their” place or he doesn’t. I would think LW would notice.

        You could argue that the inlaws would call every night and what not. Let’s cross that bridge when they come to it.

        Marriage and moving in together is a big change and tons of people have pulled it off. I am not suggesting marriage of course seeing LW doubts but I doubt BF sees the current situation as urgent and dire as you or LW think it is. He probably thinks he’s balancing all the demands the best he can. I am not questionning LWs reasonning, it’s sound, but BF might not perceive it and see the timescale. They need to start a family by about 30 yo, to have the last one out of the house before they are 60 and give them a breather before retirement and sickness starts to restrict them. It’s coming up fast but it’s not obvious unless you start doing the math in your head.

        I suppose that the one thing that bugs me with the hidden timeline is that LW and BF are supposed to trust each other completely. You are suggesting that LW plays a charade to BF with hidden milestones. I think that such a hidden agenda is the antithesis of the trust that is supposed to exist between both.

      6. So you are suggesting the LW should give a dead line outright to the BF and walkout if he does not shape up by then ? That would certainly be truthful and honest on the part of LW.

      7. RedRoverRedRover says:

        You seem really bothered by the idea that she’s allowed to decide, on her own, how much more time to invest in this relationship.

  11. Had a similar dynamic with an ex and his mother. Lasted about a year. And with my therapist I slowly realized I stayed for my own reasons and insecurities. She was extreme, sure. And he was okay with that. I wasn’t.

    That he wanted different things was difficult to accept. Or he wanted different things without doing the work to change the problems.

    Ultimately, this LW will be happier if they figure out what they want and what they are willing to accept. Communicate those needs as Wendy suggested. Accept his response and actions at face value. Don’t imagine a future based on things that aren’t happening.

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