I am in a committed relationship with a man I love very much. We are older and in no hurry to get married. We currently live in different states but can see each other easily because we work for an airline. He is very educated, smart, kind, and almost too disciplined.
He has millions but won’t spend a dime. I’ve always been completely self-sufficient and would never want a dime from a man (my own issues, for sure).
But as we both approach retirement, I can see that he is not going to allow himself to do anything but continue to just keep building his fortune and accumulating things. When I saw him last at his home, it was obvious that his hoarding isn’t just a passing thing. In fact, after hours of discussion, I am afraid I have just ignored too many signs that he may really have some issues.
We have been in a standoff for almost two months, and I have no idea where to go from here. We truly love each other, but this isn’t doable, when there is nowhere to sit because of all the stuff on the sofa and no way to eat at the kitchen table. I’m beside myself.
I can see the fear of losing me in his eyes, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to make him change, as if he really can’t change.
You’re asking important questions about this relationship before you make the commitment to marry and move in together. Your long-distance relationship allows you both shelve and ignore the hoarding problem. However, in the same way that his stuff is piling up in his home, this issue is taking up too much space in your relationship and requires you to address it. Let’s talk about your options.
First, recognize that a hoarding problem is unlikely to go away without some professional help. It’s a mental illness that is often associated with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), trauma, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The causes of hoarding disorders are often rooted in losses and trauma. It can also be an extreme manifestation of an indecisive personality. Regardless of the root cause, it’s complicated and stubborn to treat.
While I know nothing of his awareness or willingness to do anything about his hoarding problem, it sounds like you’ve directly addressed your concerns with no resolution. While you can certainly try asking questions to better understand why things are this way for him, nothing will change unless he’s open to caring about the impact on you and the relationship. This care and concern will need to ultimately translate to seeking outside help.
If he’s not willing the face the reality of his hoarding, you’ll have to decide if you can face the reality of what this will do to you and the relationship. While its hurtful to see him prioritize his money and possessions over the relationship, he’s making it clear what you can expect in this relationship. Are you willing to continue forward if he never does anything about this problem? Are you willing to keep organizing around this issue?
Most individuals with hoarding disorders don’t understand they have a problem. They aren’t aware of the dangers they’re creating for themselves or others. They have built a life around their things and don’t have any real motivation to change. Heightening awareness with love is a common strategy, but it’s often met with minimizing and denial. You can certainly speak to his fears of losing you and giving up accumulating money and things. You can have compassion for his struggle. You can even reason with him and bargain with him.
However, at some point, you’ll have to decide what you can personally live with. You’re dating this man, and this is the time to observe the patterns you’re willing to tolerate. While there will be other surprises as you share more of your lives together, this is a known issue that is creating a crisis. As you think about your future together, you must accept that this may never change. Will that work for you?
Dating long-distance makes it easy to ignore the reality of these patterns until you’re physically in his house and competing with all his stuff. If this issue is a marriage deal-breaker, are you open to exploring other ways to stay in each other’s lives? You’re not married, so you always have the option of keeping it long-distance and enjoying a meaningful friendship without the challenges of his hoarding problem. Ultimately, you may desire to invest in a relationship where you can share space with someone. Don’t focus on changing him. You’ve invited him to see the impact on you and you have to respond accordingly.
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.