His ex has months to live

We chat at 1 p.m.

I am madly in love with the man I'm dating. The only problem is he's still married. Before you roll your eyes, you should know that he's been separated from his wife for five years, ever since he found out she was cheating on him. They did not get divorced right away for financial reasons. Five years after being separated, he went over to her apartment to have the final divorce papers signed, and she complained of a sharp pain in her side. He took her to the hospital and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and was given months to live. She said she wanted his name on her grave – as in, she didn't want to get divorced. Meanwhile, it's been over a year and he is still very involved in her life and caters to her every need. Trust me, I have no problem with him bringing her to chemo appointments or being there for emotional support, but it's the constant attention she needs from him, and he gives her, that I have a problem with.

Her family does not live far from here, but has not come to visit because she told them they are not welcome due to the fact that she knows if they come he will not be as involved in her life as she would like him to be. She knows about me, but it's not really acknowledged because he feels like he can't hurt her feelings. I don't know how else to say this without sounding like a cold-hearted person, but how long am I supposed to be OK with this? Again, I have no idea what it would be like to have a diagnosis like hers, but I just don't know how long I can go on with our relationship being second to her. Am I being completely unreasonable? How do I set healthy boundaries?

– Setting Boundaries


The first thing to do is to acknowledge the reality of this relationship. You've coupled up with a man who is a primary caregiver for his not-quite-ex-wife. She is his first priority, at least for now. If you don't want to come second in a relationship, you're with the wrong guy. He's made it clear that he's going to be her source of support for as long as she needs him.

If you can cope with being second, and you just want to maintain your relationship during this difficult time, your best bet is to let this man know that you're happy to care for the caregiver. You can ask questions that allow him to talk about his feelings. Like, "This must be so difficult. How does it feel to be at these appointments?" You can also offer practical help. As in, "What can I do to help you relax? Want to zone out and see a movie?"

This won't be easy, but if you're there for each other as he's there for her, the relationship might grow. Take some time and think about whether you're open to the limitations.

– Meredith

Readers? Can she ask for more? Is she being unreasonable?