DEAR AMY: My husband and I are in our mid-50s. We were married four years ago. We are both highly-educated professionals. My husband bought his parents’ home almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, he is attached to the decaying belongings left by his parents and other relatives that lived in the house. He promised me before I moved in that we would start clearing out the house and make the overdue and necessary renovations. Over the years I have tried to understand his attachments; I’ve sought counseling for us, and tried to get him to talk with a de-clutter specialist. He will have none of it. I have done what I can to clear it out, but it has been a constant battle. Last summer, neighbors filed complaints about our home with the county. We were told that our job was to get rid of the stuff! We were supposed to meet with a contractor next weekend. Last night he got a box and began clearing out bags of old twist ties, wine bottle corks, broken utensils, etc. I said, “Where is that going?” He said, “Into the basement; I will go through it later.” He then said that he does not want to renovate the house, he is not getting rid of anything and he never confirmed the meeting with the contractor. He basically said that if I want to leave, I should. Amy, if the house and all this stuff means so much to him, then why doesn’t he take care of it? Everything is just heaped in piles. It is becoming more difficult for me to live here. I’m having nightmares about being suffocated by an avalanche of stuff! Should I figure out a way to live with this, or should I move on?
DEAR WORRIED: Your husband seems to have a hoarding disorder. My reading on this is that it both relieves and produces extreme anxiety, and that it is a tough and persistent illness.
Your husband’s need to keep — rather than discard or recycle — what is basically trash (detritus in the “junk drawer”) is a sign of how deeply involved he is. His unwillingness (or inability) to make any changes or seek help tells you that his illness is calling the shots.
I do not offer this lightly, but in my opinion, you do need to leave this household. At this point, your own mental health is at risk. The nightmares you have about being buried beneath a mountain of stuff are revealing your very real fears.
Perhaps you can continue to love your husband from a (tidier) distance and support him in getting the help he needs. Counseling — for you — will help you through this tough transition.
DEAR AMY: My son “Kevin” has been married for 15 years. They have three beautiful children. My daughter-in-law “Brenda” and I have always been very close. Kevin and Brenda recently got a divorce. Kevin now has a new girlfriend, “Kristen.” She has never tried to get to know me. She seems to be threatened by my relationship with Brenda. Kristen sends me nasty texts telling me that she knows that Brenda and I are talking about her (we’re not). I brought this to my son’s attention and asked that she stop sending these nasty texts, but he doesn’t seem to care that she’s being disrespectful to me. This has made me feel very uncomfortable about going over my son’s house. Should I hold out for an apology from her? I have a feeling that no matter what I say to her it won’t matter. Please help!
DEAR MAMA: If you are receiving texts that make you uncomfortable, the first thing you should do is block that number from your phone, so you won’t see them.
The next thing is to accept that your son has someone else in his life and do your best to get to know her. That means communicating respectfully (in person), even if you feel she is not.
If you don’t handle this well, you risk estrangement from your son and his children.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your compassion toward “Angry Father,” who is wrestling with his rage after his wife’s death. I agree that meeting with a “grief group” could be very helpful for him. It has made a world of difference to me.
DEAR ALSO GRIEVING: Meeting with others who gather to talk and support one another can help to heal from a loss. I know because I’ve done it.