Q&A with Geoff: What are the risks of marrying a hoarder?Dec 15, 2021
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 combine households.
Your long-distance relationship has allowed both of you to shelve and ignore the hoarding problem. However, in the same way that his physical stuff is piling up in his home, these relational and emotional issues are taking up too much space in your relationship, making it impossible to ignore. Let’s talk about your options for how to proceed.
First, recognize that a hoarding problem is unlikely to go away without some in-depth 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 to 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 it’s 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?
Hoarding money and stuff create an unequal and unstable relationship. While some couples successfully choose to keep their finances separate or even maintain separate households, they usually do it with mutual respect and plenty of transparency. I suspect these conditions aren’t present in your relationship. You’re contending with his refusal to make room for you in his world. This will become a more serious challenge as you try to move closer to each other and blend your worlds.
Most individuals with hoarding disorders don’t understand they have a problem. They aren’t aware of the physical and emotional 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 dating 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 must respond accordingly.
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