His ‘child’s issues monopolize the family’s life’

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I have been dating "Tim" for about a year and a half. I am in my 40s, divorced with two young kids. Tim is in his late 40s, divorced with two teenagers. I love Tim deeply, and when things are good, they are amazing. I have more fun with him than I remember ever having with anyone else ever. It feels magical when we are together. I know he loves me and wants things to work out. The problem is, we have been having the same argument on/off  for the last year. One of his children has a very serious mental illness. As a result, this child has been unable to attend school successfully for more than a year, is unable to attend family gatherings/holidays, etc. He now lives full time with his father.

Without giving too many specifics, this child's issues monopolize the family's life. This has been an issue in our relationship, and I am often frustrated and resentful. Our plans get cancelled at the last minute because the child is having trouble. Tim spends many hours a day devoted to this child, which makes him behind at work, which means he has limited free time; we can't travel because there is no one else the child can stay with. Tim feels chronically stressed and worried.

Generally, I do a good job being quietly supportive. I try not to give unsolicited advice because I know it makes him feel judged and criticized. I know he feels guilty that his son's illness impacts our romantic relationship, and I know he feels guilt that he hasn't been able to help his child more. However, I recently got frustrated and told Tim his child needs more help than he is currently getting. His child has made no progress in the last year, and I don't want to find myself a year from now with nothing improved. Tim and I had a giant fight over this because he thinks I should keep these opinions to myself, and it seems like we have probably broken up. I guess my question is: When is a situation too difficult? How much should you put up with when you love someone? How many sacrifices do you make because when things are amazing, they are amazing? When I was in a bad marriage, this is exactly what I wanted – someone I loved to be with and felt passionate about. I know Tim is trying his best. I also feel like if I stay and become more bitter and resentful, I do both of us a disservice. But I adore Tim and I don't want to walk away.

– Trying


"I guess my question is: When is a situation too difficult?"

Every person has a unique set of boundaries and limits. You've hit some sort of wall – because you've written this letter – but you're not ready to walk away just yet. You want to keep trying.

But Tim has made it clear that he does not want you to tell him how to parent his child. With that in mind, is there a way you can talk to him about the relationship without giving him unsolicited advice about his family? It might be more productive to ask him what he needs from you to make it possible for the relationship to continue. If he says, "I need you to accept this as is," you'll know it' time to rethink your desire to stay with Tim. If he says, "I want you to be patient as I figure this out," you'll know he wants some change, too.

If the timelines in this letter are accurate, Tim's son began needing more help right around the time that Tim met you. That means Tim never had the chance to adjust to one thing before adding the other. A year and a half seems like a long time to you because you're focused on the relationship, but for Tim, all of this is still new and evolving. Instead of trying to fix it, just ask him what might make this better for him. That kind of question might get you somewhere.

– Meredith

Readers? How can the LW work on this relationship without being insensitive about Tim's needs?