"His Elderly Parents Are Too Demanding!"

Their mismatched priorities are dissolving this couple's relationship. Can this marriage be saved?
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Her Turn

"Don is juggling way too much, and unfortunately his family is last on his list," said Lisa, 44, who lives near Boston with her husband of eight years and their 5-year-old daughter, Carrie, and 3-year-old son, Zack. "For three years Don has been overwhelmed with caring for his ailing parents, who are in their mid-70s, and rebuilding his struggling architecture firm. He's so worn out he has no energy left for me or the kids. On the nights he doesn't fall asleep in front of the TV, he clowns around with them until they get so wound up that he explodes. They don't understand why he is so short-tempered, and I don't understand why his parents always come first.

"Don functions as his parents' personal ATM, paying for everything from car insurance to roof repairs. His dad, Tony, is a former stockbroker who lost everything to risky investments and gambling debt. He declared bankruptcy when Don was 17, and then worked low-paying retail jobs; Ann, his mom, was a receptionist. Their combined income could barely cover their monthly expenses, so about 15 years ago -- before I even met Don -- they started coming to him for handouts.

"Don thinks nothing of secretly slipping them $1,000. I always find out, of course, because in addition to holding down a full-time paralegal job, I manage our finances and the books for Don's business, which took a hit after 9/11 and has yet to recover. We can't afford to support Tony and Ann anymore. It's tough enough to pay our own bills, let alone theirs. And we've put nothing aside for the kids' college education or for our own retirement.

"Three years ago, Tony suffered a massive stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and often confused. That increased Don's involvement in their lives. Even though Don has three sisters who all live no more than a few hours away, Don's the one who arranged for Tony's rehabilitation and care -- practically a full-time job in itself. In the past three years Don has forked over more than $60,000. If I complain that he's putting our own financial future in jeopardy, he accuses me of being heartless. I'm not heartless! I love Tony and Ann, too, and they're doting grandparents. I want to help them, but we cannot continue at the current level.

"Unfortunately, Don and I just don't communicate. He avoids conflict by walking away, which enrages me. So I keep pushing until we're screaming at each other. We've even divided the kids. Carrie takes Don's side, yelling 'Be nice to Daddy' while Zack tells his dad 'Don't be mean to Mommy.' We're setting such a bad example! Lately I've been so angry that I've lost all interest in sex -- something he then jokes about to our friends. Does he think embarrassing me is going to rekindle my romantic feelings? If so, he's dead wrong."

Continued on page 2:  Her Turn, continued


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