Mitch and I have been through a lot together as a gay, biracial couple. Totally rejected by our families, we’ve really been on our own. Over the past 20 years we’ve moved from one coast to the other for my work and never really built an extended family. Now it’s just the two of us against the world. And yet, I’m lonely.
We are completely co-dependent on each other in this relationship even though we have very little in common. Mitch complains about this often. Our sex life has never been great, but it’s been good enough to sustain us. The physical chemistry isn’t there, but the love is.
Mitch doesn’t work due to long-term disability, so he spends all his time cruising the internet for who knows what. When I get home from work, he acknowledges me, but doesn’t really spend any time with me. He does some basic household stuff, but I pay someone to clean and prepare meals.
I’ve tried to build a nice life for us, but it’s not enough anymore. I want to be on my own, despite all the scariness and risk that comes with it. But what happens to Mitch? He really can’t fend for himself. I do everything and even though I’ve tried to help him be self-sufficient, he doesn’t really seem able. He can’t afford to live on his own and we have nobody to fall back on.
We have lots of moments where it feels like we could and should just go the distance. We’re in our 50s and I worry we’re both a little old to start over. Maybe I needed to do this 10 or 15 years ago. Any advice?
Whenever one person in a relationship is taking care of the other in ways that the other person could actually do himself, both people wind up resenting each other. So my first suggestion is that the two of you discuss how your relationship is being affected by the way you’ve structured it.
I wonder how much Mitch would do if you weren’t so dedicated to being his caretaker. Yes, I know that he’s on long-term disability, but if he is able to spend his days cruising for who knows what, I gather he is capable of doing more, both for himself and for the two of you.
My hunch: your shouldering almost all of the responsibility is perpetuating your unhappy relationship. You’re resentful as hell and he’s dependent on someone who resents his dependency. He’s also not doing any work on improving his own life. If you two work to construct a more equitable, balanced relationship, you might respect each other (and yourselves) more. And you might feel closer and enjoy being together.
You can ask Mitch to be more of a partner in your relationship, but there’s no guarantee he will do anything different from what he’s currently doing. But you can definitely change your own behavior and do your part not to act in ways that don’t help your relationship or yourself.
Do you have a history of care taking others, maybe going way back to when you were growing up? Knowing why you’ve chosen this role at different points in your life may make it easier to step out of it now.
That said, you don’t have to stay with Mitch if you don’t want to, even if he is going to have a hard time on his own. You could continue to be helpful to Mitch without being partners. But you also have a responsibility to the life you want to have and if you’re going to be in a relationship, you should be in it freely, not because you feel trapped.
And yet you say that you love each other and often feel that you should stay together. What are you both doing at those times that makes you want to put forth the effort? You and Mitch should talk about this if you want to figure out together how to strengthen your relationship and your warm feelings for each other.
Only you can decide how you want to resolve your ambivalence. If you do decide to stay with Mitch and want a relationship worth being in, here’s what you should keep in mind: A relationship is a commitment that you must make daily, to hang in there, to take yourself on about your limitations and to confront yourself and your partner when need be about what isn’t working.
One final point: It certainly isn’t too late to start building a network of mutually supportive, caring friendships.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.