The problem is, Darlene is a hoarder. I didn’t really know this at first because she hid her stuff at a storage unit until she couldn’t afford it anymore. I didn’t initially let her know how much it bothered me, but I can’t take it anymore. It’s gotten to the point that I’m embarrassed to have any family over—-including my kids—-because I don’t want them to know how I’m living. Darlene also has two older children (18 and 21) who have absolutely no interest in doing anything. No college, no job – nothing.
I do love Darlene and because of that I don’t want to just up and leave. I’ve expressed to her that I don’t want to live like this, and I don’t know what else to do besides leave. I’ve had this on my mind for a while, and I’m looking for some advice. Anything is appreciated. — Can No Longer Live with the Hoarding
First, I’ll state the obvious: Everyone in this scenario needs therapy, especially Darlene. Hoarding isn’t something that someone can just get over, like recovering from a cold. It’s a sickness in the way alcoholism is or having an eating disorder or a drug problem is. People need dedicated treatment that addresses the root of the problem, and then long-term support and a plan to modify behavior. Your expressing to Darlene that you don’t want to live the way you’ve been living is a start, but without the support of a licensed mental health professional, she’s not going to be able to make the changes you need her to make in order for you to be happy living with her.
Now, maybe the less obvious point: It’s not great that you’ve been with Darlene for seven years, talking about marriage and telling her you’d be ready for that step once you were financially secure, and now that you ARE, you want to leave the relationship because of the hoarder lifestyle. I appreciate that you didn’t understand the scope of the problem when you first began dating, and maybe it wasn’t as bad then as it is now. But surely, at some point in the past seven years – maybe during one of your talks about a future marriage – there was an opportunity for you to address the elephant in the room, and it sounds like you didn’t take that opportunity until just recently, once you had secured the promotion and a better salary.
I’m not sure what you want me to say here. That it’s OK for you to leave Darlene now? That you were a real champ for sticking by her side all these years despite the hoarding and that you deserve to live the life you want now and shouldn’t feel guilty about it? I hope that’s not why you’ve written to me. I hope you aren’t simply in search of someone to relieve you of your guilt. At the same time, you shouldn’t stay with Darlene if you’re unhappy. I just wish that you would’ve tried to address the root of your unhappiness before you got the salary you told her you needed to have before you’d consider marrying her.
You can’t go back and change the timeline now, so here’s what I would advise: If you care about Darlene, try to get her some help. Offer to pay for some therapy for her. Find someone who has experience supporting people with a hoarding addiction. If she is open to getting help, maybe there’s still hope for a future for you two. If she isn’t open to help, even after you tell her that a future marriage is contingent on her getting treatment for the hoarding, I think THEN you can leave the relationship with a clear conscience.
If you decide to leave the relationship regardless of whether Darlene gets help, or if you aren’t prepared to help her pay for the treatment, I’m not sure your conscience will be as clear. That doesn’t mean I would advise staying with her anyway. You should definitely leave if you’re unhappy and don’t see a path forward together. But know that the kindest thing would have been ending the relationship once you understood the level of the hoarding problem and the effect it had on you, not leading Darlene on for years to think you were going to marry her once you felt more financially secure and then dumping her once you attained that security. At the very least, take this lesson and do better in your next relationship.