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The Moneyist: ‘He has thrashed her new condo beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my life’: My wife’s son, 30, has lived with us for 5 years. He earns $150,000, but pays no bills

Dear Quentin,

I would like your opinion in relation to my current situation with my wife and stepson. We got married just over two and a half years ago; however, we’ve lived together since 2017. We both worked in the healthcare industry: She is a nurse, and I owned a business for 10 years that I recently closed down due to stress and burnout. 

Her 30-year-old son has lived with us for five years. He makes $150,000 a year but pays no bills. He’s extremely disrespectful to his mom and me. He has thrashed her new condo beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my life. If she asks him to do anything, he screams at her like a lunatic, and the one time I ever said anything the situation only worsened. I was kind and respectful, but things with him will never change. 

I’ve grown resentful about the entire situation because I’m beyond tired of living in filth, cleaning up after him, and watching him treat his mother — who’s given him everything — like dirt. I’ve expressed my concern to my wife for years now. My wife doesn’t see the degree of damage he has had on our marriage, and on her personally as well. We both agreed on moving out of state to finally have a life of peace and freedom together, and she keeps pushing the date back. 

“‘My wife doesn’t see the degree of damage he has had on our marriage, and on her personally as well.’”

I literally cannot take it anymore. I’m constantly angry and unhappy now, all because of him and her not taking action. We have the best relationship, but only when we’re away from here. He never goes out with friends and is always home when he gets out of work late at night. He stays up all night making noise and sleeps until 3 p.m. This has got to stop. 

We’ve both been through so many challenges in life prior to this situation, and all we both have wanted is peace. Our only problem at this point is him, but he’s a tremendous problem and I don’t see an end in sight. She’s rescheduled with the Realtor four times now and I promised myself if she does so again that I’m leaving alone. 

Am I being unreasonable about this? What do you advise in a situation like this one? Your response would be greatly appreciated at this point in time. I feel as if this is almost a hopeless cause. Please let me know your thoughts. 

Thank you very much for your time. 

The Stepfather

Dear Stepfather,

Everyone has a right to a peaceful life, and everyone has a right to a safe home life. I’m raising your concerns to Code Red: While there’s a fine line between toxic and possibly coercive behavior over many years and domestic abuse, I believe your case may fall into the latter category.

It may seem atypical, but domestic abuse perpetrated by adult children is not such an uncommon phenomenon. Your stepson earns a good salary, whereas some studies report that the majority of domestic abuse cases involving adult children typically involve those who are financially dependent on their parents. The abuse may also happen in tandem with mental-health and/or substance-abuse problems. 

It’s also important to realize the impact this kind of abuse takes on a person: physical and mental exhaustion, low self-esteem and — perhaps worst of all — the gradual normalization of an abusive living environment.

“Sometimes, you have to risk losing something — a relationship or friendship — in order to make the necessary changes and save it.”

If your stepson were still a minor, my advice would be different. Yes, your wife may have been manipulated over a number of years and been made to feel guilty about what — if anything — she could have done differently with his upbringing. But he is now an adult, and one who has taken his parents hostage. You are a hostage to his mood swings, trapped in an unhealthy and potentially unsafe environment.

The other theme in your letter is the constantly moving deadline. Sit down with your wife outside of the home — with a marriage counselor or mediator, if it helps — outline the toll your stepson’s behavior has taken on your marriage and your happiness, and state clearly what it is that needs to happen, and by when.

It may be giving him one month to find another place to live, or giving your wife one month to move out of state, or both. Otherwise, you will be stuck in this game of cat and mouse, the mouse being a life free of toxic behavior. Sometimes, you have to risk losing something — a relationship or friendship — in order to make the necessary changes and save it.

“You can’t force someone to seek help. They need to recognize it themselves and want to change.”

It seems like you are upending your lives when you should be moving your stepson out of the house, but you have made a decision to start afresh elsewhere, so it’s time to issue an ultimatum.

You can’t control what your wife decides and you can’t control your stepson. There is only one thing you can control: what you will do if this deadline is not met, and what kind of life you choose for yourself. The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health is one organization that can provide support and resources.

You could include your stepson in a family mediation meeting — if you could get him to agree and show up — but that would be to encourage him to seek mental-health counseling and address whatever other underlying issues may be at play here, and to transition him into his own living accommodations. But you can’t force someone — your stepson and wife — to seek help. They need to recognize it themselves and want to change.

Ultimately, only your wife can decide that she deserves to be happy and leave her son’s abusive behavior behind.

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, call the free, confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

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