how can I help save my boyfriend’s family business without losing my mind?

A reader writes:

My boyfriend and I have been together for what will be two years at the end of October. I love him very much. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

However, not long after we met and started dating, his father passed away, leaving him and his mother with a small convenience store family business. After his dad passed, it became my boyfriend, his mom, and me running the store. I offered to work at the store (my mistake, I suppose, I know) so he didn’t have to worry so much.

It’s just his mom and me running the store, for the most part. However, his mother is running the business into the ground as the predominant manager. She has no business skills, she’s stubborn, she does what she wants, and nobody can tell her differently. She is very involved in the money as well. I, however, run things like a relatively tight ship since I’ve worked retail/customer service/stricter jobs before. So whereas I stress being on time and closing on time, she does what she wants and we never open on time. Whereas I stress organization, she puts papers everywhere and never stocks anything. Like…nothing. And then by the time I show up, if things aren’t stocked, people look at me like I’m the one not doing my job.

Apparently the business is tanking. His mother knew this near the beginning of the year and now that the store is hardly making any profit, she decided to reveal that there’s not a lot of money and the business is tanking … but she’s not doing anything to turn things around and is operating as if it’s business as usual. But she wants there to be more money, obviously. So, with whatever business sense I have, I came up with potential marketing plans, events, cost cutting actions, research, etc. Bu these things never get done, and now I’m at a loss.

How do I work under this woman who is my boyfriend’s mother who is also risking the one business that funds everything else and not lose my mind completely in the process? Right now I’ve almost lost 100% of my mind. I’m right at 90%. In order to keep the other 10%, I have to act like I don’t care about a lot of things, and that sucks too.

You need to go find a job somewhere else.

It’s not your job to save this business. It’s very kind that you’ve pitched in and offered to help, but it’s not working. You’ve offered ideas, and they’ve been ignored. Ultimately, how to run the store is up to your boyfriend and his mother, and you cannot save them if they choose to proceed on the track they’re on.

You might feel like you have a higher obligation to stay than you would at another job, because of the personal connection. But you don’t. You can and should move on if the situation isn’t good for you, and this one clearly isn’t.

If you’re worried that you’re going to sink them by leaving, realize that you’re not going to. They can hire someone else (and then they can proceed to ignore that person too, if they want).

This isn’t a relationship advice blog, but I have to point out that it’s generally a bad idea to try to “fix” a partner or a partner’s family, particularly once they’ve shown that they’re not leaping to take your advice. You’ll create a dynamic where you’re resentful, frustrated, and nagging and where your partner is resentful and infantilized. This dynamic, no surprise, is Not Good for your relationship and will corrode it and ultimately ruin it if it goes on long enough.

So look at it this way: If you stay, you’ll be prioritizing trying to save the business (a relatively futile attempt, no less) over your relationship with your boyfriend. Is that the choice you really intend to make in all this?

Assuming it’s not, it’s time to move on. Give your boyfriend and his mom plenty of notice, but get out of there and go pursue a job where you’re not mixing work, romance, and family.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

    1. Time to Get Real*

      I’m sure his balls are tightly cusped in his mother’s hands to protect them from any girl that may take her baby boy away from her momma. You’ll never win in a “mother-in-law” situation. More than likely she’s being even more stubborn with the OP cause she is the girlfriend.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Can we stop with the sexist language? This isn’t about balls. This is a valid question and a good answer and a lovely and smart comment section (usually). People can be strong without balls and other people canebe close to someone or have high familial expectations for them without “firmly cusping” anything.

        1. LondonI*

          Agreed. I would be much happier in life if people stopped using the word ‘balls’ when they actually mean to say ‘courage’.

          1. KellyK*

            Absolutely. Courage, guts, strength of character, commitment, intestinal fortitude…it’s really not hard to express that concept without implying that it has anything to do with male body parts.

            1. Camellia*

              Yes! And until we stop using the slang for a female body part to indicate the opposite – weak, no guts or strength or commitment – how can women truly be considered as equals to men?

          2. Ariancita*

            Plus, using the language of sexual genitalia outside the context of a sexual discussion really grosses me out. I don’t want to picture anyone’s balls when I’m thinking about work conundrums. I’m too much of a visual thinker.

    2. want to remain unknown*

      Totally agree. NOT ONCE was he mentioned as far as tasks, responsibilities–only that he’s the “boyfriend.” If the writer is reading–this AIN’T YOUR PROBLEM…and as Ask A Manager stated -this isn’t a relationship-blog, it’s clear that you’ve mixed EMOTIONS, BUSINESS, FAMILY (and not yours because a boyfriend IS NOT A BLOOD RELATIVE) into the equation and now it’s a MONSTER that’s “off the chain.”

      I’d move on. Give them proper notice. If they refuse to accept, and/or deal with it, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. Even that’s not YOUR ISSUE–IT’S THERE’S. :-).

      They’re using YOU–even the boyfriend. :-) RUFF, BUT TRUE

  1. Colette*

    I’d add having one conversation with the boyfriend about this – i.e. “In order to have a chance of turning things around, the store needs to open and close at regular times and be properly stocked. I’ve talked with your mother and she’s not interested in making changes to the way she does things.” If there are ways to fix the problems, he deserves to know what they are (since it sounds like he hasn’t been very involved to date). Then it’s on him to address or not, while the OP goes off and gets a new job.

    1. Elizabeth*

      OP, I also think it’s important for you to be honest with your boyfriend about the toll this is taking on you emotionally and mentally. You’ll want to be careful how you phrase things as you talk about his mother, of course, but if he cares about you then your emotional well-being should be important to him as well. Also, from your comments below, it sounds like you’re doing this partly to support him pursuing his dream. This isn’t the only way you can support him, though. Your getting a paying job and helping him with bills could actually do more than your continuing to work at what sounds like it might be a doomed business.

  2. The IT Manager*

    I don’t know how econominically connected you and your BF are, but if you live together or something, you owe it to both of you to find a secure job at a business that’s not about to go under.

    It’s probably too late to save the family business since Mom’s running things and doesn’t want to change them.

  3. JMegan*

    It sounds like the business is going to go down with or without you. You’ve done everything you can to help, but it really doesn’t look like they are interested in taking your advice. Which is too bad, and it must be an incredibly frustrating situation for you.

    But ultimately, there’s nothing you can do to change it – either the situation, or the people involved. The only thing you can do in either case is change your response – stop spending time and energy on coming up with plans and ideas that you know will be ignored, and take your talents elsewhere.

    1. Lanya*

      I agree with JMegan – your boyfriend’s mother may indeed *want* the business to fail so that she can be rid of it and the memories that may be attached to it. Go and find something else. I don’t think you will damage your relationship, as long as you leave graciously.

  4. Anonymous*

    Cynically, his parents might be ignoring your sage advice suspecting you have undue pecuniary interest in their family business. I work with a guy whose ex-fiance showed similar ‘concern’ for his family business only to be slapped with a very stringent pre-nup agreement.

  5. MrsKDD*

    That all sounds so frustrating. I can’t help but wonder, however, if the mother’s lack of interest in doing things properly is more about how the loss of her husband is affecting her. Obviously that doesn’t excuse running a business into the ground and making her family miserable in the process, but perhaps that’s part of the explanation. If this was a business the family built together, maybe it’s too difficult for her to face the business every day. Again, this does not excuse her behaviour, but it might explain it.

    1. FD*

      I wonder that too.

      Several submissions here have been about trying to work just after a tragedy; I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to run a business. I don’t know how much of the business, if any, her husband ran, but that may make it difficult too. For example, it’s one thing to take over managing new employees; it’s another to take over from the husband you just lost, when every document you have on the procedures is in his handwriting.

      It might help the OP to remember that her boyfriend’s mother may not be being stubborn out of spite, but rather because she’s trying to cling to the way things are and deal with her own grief (albeit in a way that won’t be good in the long run for the business.)

    2. Max H.*

      Yes, this, plus if the mother is (rightly) depressed about losing her husband, she’ll be even more resistant than usual to change anything so heavily associated with him.

      I think the OP needs to fully debrief the BF about what is going on, as he would be the best one to try to help the mother deal with her issues, whatever they are. Plus, it affects him a lot more than it affects the OP, so she should let him know. He may have known about this, and have already decided that because of the business climate and his mother’s intransigence, the family business is a lost cause, but is still showing up sometimes to be there for his mother in a personal sense.

  6. RubyJackson*

    Wow, there are so many levels of dysfunction happening here. First, if you are not a business partner, you should not be trying to run the business. As Alison mentioned, ” it’s generally a bad idea to try to “fix” a partner or a partner’s family.” He is your boyfriend, not your husband. Perhaps you are doing this to ‘prove’ your love and devotion to what sounds like an ambivalent boyfriend. Been there, done that. It never works.

    But, what I really honed in on was the fact that maybe the mother is disorganized and lackadaisical about the opening/closing hours because she is in a clinical depression over losing her husband. If her husband ran the company, it’s likely she’s in over her head. Lots of widows who were married to husbands who took care of the business, meaning paid the bills, etc., are totally lost when their spouse dies. Maybe the best thing for this business would be to sell it. Plus, she may need grief counseling.

    1. FD*

      Yeah, and remember that for a lot of couples from our parents’ generations, the husband did the bills or other financial matters, even if the wife worked outside the home. My own parents do it that way. Many women in that situation have a lot of trouble when their husbands die, even if it’s only the ordinary bills and so on and not a business to run.

      This is an awful situation, but it’s probably not one the OP can fix.

      1. Lily*

        I’m in my late twenties and my husband handles our finances. I have a basic idea of what is going on but am not really involved. We reverse traditional gender roles in a lot of other ways (we both mow the lawn, cook, clean, etc.) but since he is an accountant I just let him handle it. ;)

        1. Sadsack*

          Ugh…I am sure he’s a great guy and all, but it is a terrible idea to be clueless about your finances and leave them up to someone else to handle. You should both be knowledgeable about them and be working together making the decisions. I at least hope you have a stash of your own socked away somewhere.

    2. LJL*

      Even if they’re married, it’s a good idea to have the man deal with his own family and the woman with hers. The spouse/partner can be supportive, but ultimately it comes down to family dealing with each other.

  7. Nerdling*

    I have to agree with Alison here. You can’t fix this situation – if he can’t get his mother to change the way she is running the store at a fundamental level, it’s going to go up in smoke no matter what you do. We had a store with business partners that we had to sell for a variety of reasons, including that they were not forthright with us about financial issues, and we could not recover. It’s painful, but it may well be inevitable at this point, no matter what changes are made.

    And I agree with other posters who talked about the fact that his mother may be reacting this way out of depression or shock or simple lack of knowledge now that her husband is gone. But regardless of the reason, your boyfriend d likely has a better chance at talking it all out with her. If he approaches her out of concern for her well-being, not just that of the store, he may get further.

    1. Nerdling*

      Also, if they have run the store for years, the loss of it is likely to be an additional source of grief for her.

    2. Jessa*

      I agree, you really cannot fix this, you gave it your best shot. You need to walk away for your own mental health and for the sake of your relationship. If you want to stay with this guy you need to not have this in between you or there’s going to be huge problems when you finally lose that last 10% of your mind (to use your phrasing.) You’re going to go off on him and you won’t have him any more. If you love him, it’s not worth your sanity and your life with him.

      Tell them you’re sorry but you’ve tried to help, but you’re the wrong person to work there and walk away.

  8. Delilah J.*

    Hello. I am the person who asked this original question. I’ll try to address a couple of things. Yes, my boyfriends father was in charge of a lot of things because he had more initiative and motivation. My boyfriends mother is about appearances. Material stuff. Doesn’t handle a lot of important things.

    She cheated on him with this guy that she’s currently with. They’ve been together for a little while. However he’s not invested or responsible and doesn’t care about the store. Doesn’t like it much. So he’s not much help. Granted, the father cheated in the mother a long long time ago. But he cheated on him while he was sick and needed her most.

    Yes the situation is dysfunctional. For real. And yes I do work for free, with the exception of gas money and such. Certainly not minimum wage or anything. But I do love my boyfriend and he’s in graphic design now which is what he went to school for. He does that part time and is on call as needed. But if it weren’t for my stepping in, he wouldn’t have been able to take that opportunity. Now I’m unemployed and currently looking as I’ve exhibited skills in marketing, accounting, management and retail informally. I just can’t do this for much longer. Hence the “losing my mind” part.

    I know the Internet is a place where you can be anonymous, but please let’s not be rude and mention balls and whatnot. It’s a hard situation and I didn’t have people to turn to.

    Thank for listening, DJ.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      OP, if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you? I feel like you’re being taken advantage of – a lot.

      This is not a good situation. Remember, right now you have no legal or financial obligation to these people. That’s good. I would get the heck out of the business side of this as quickly as possible.

      1. Brittany*

        +1. This is the kind of situation that can go bad FAST. When a business and money is mixed up with family, it can be a recipe for disaster. Please keep a level head and speak to someone with expertise that will give you good facts (like a lawyer) about what your obligations are to this and what the next steps you should take are. Your boyfriend’s mother can choose to listen or not but ultimately, you need to distance yourself from this situation before you’re in over your head. There will most likely be resentment on his mother’s part and she could take it out on you, but if you learn anything from watching shows like Kitchen Nightmares, people need to be in a position to be willing and ready to listen and change before positive things can happen (Amy’s Baking Co, anyone?).

        Regardless, I really hope you speak to someone who can help guide you and you’re able to come away from this unscathed.

      2. some1*

        “OP, if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you? I feel like you’re being taken advantage of – a lot.”

        Also, on an unrelated note, as someone you used to get all put out by other people’s affairs when I was a young woman, you will be much happier when you learn to MYOB about them. I can understand why your boyfriend would be upset that his mom cheated on his dad, but her personal life should not be your concern and isn’t relevant to the situation being discussed, except to make her look bad.

        1. Crazy Dynamics*

          I typically post under a different name, but I what I will say, sometimes crazy family dynamics do have a part of the story. The MYOB to the OP isn’t constructive either because she’s living in the crazy family dynamic–it may be by choice–but decisions that were made by others in our lives have a profound impact on us and those we are related to. I would venture to guess that Mom’s resentment of Dad or son’s resentment of Mom play into the business falling apart. I don’t know the full story but coming from a family that crazy with a side of super crazy it wouldn’t surprise me.

          OP, what everyone else said–get out. There’s nothing you can do at this point on the business aspect. You need to look out for your own future. Good luck!

        2. Forrest*

          Thank you! I was wondering 1) what cheating had to do with any of this and 2) why the mom’s cheating was worse than the dad’s. Cheating is cheating, regardless of when the cheater does it. The mom’s not worse than the dad simply because she cheated while he was sick.

          I think the LW needs more empathy for the mother and maybe relations will get better.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Given that other commenters were speculating about whether the mother might be depressed following her husband’s death, and whether that might be why she’s not taking proper care of the store, I read DJ bringing up the cheating as kind of a response to that.

    2. Del*

      That is a super-hard situation and I’m sorry you’ve found yourself in it :(

      It really does sound like you and your boyfriend are going to have to let this business go. If he isn’t running it full time, and you’re trying to run it for free, it is just plain and simple not going to work. His mother is running it into the ground, and either she needs to surrender the reins and let you and your BF take over both running it and receiving the income from it (what there is…), or you need to step out and stop tying your financial futures to it. There’s not really any other way out of this.

      Given what you’ve said here about both her cheating and her new SO’s lack of interest, it sounds like Mummy Dearest here isn’t actually all that attached to the business either. If actually running a business isn’t her thing, plus she was emotionally detaching herself from her husband before his death, plus her new guy isn’t being terribly supportive or involved in a family-run business, that’s a trifecta of “she will not pour her blood, sweat, and tears into this thing” and it sounds like that’s what the business needs if it’s going to have a prayer of staying afloat.

      This isn’t your baby, this isn’t your dream, and this isn’t your responsibility. Let it go and take care of yourself and your own future.

    3. Elle D*

      It was kind of you that you made such a sacrifice in order to let your boyfriend pursue his own goals. That said, you definitely need to move on from the store – it will be best for your career, your financial situation and in the long term, your relationship.

      I agree with the poster upthread that recommended having a final conversation with your boyfriend – more for your own peace of mind than because you have any obligation to the success of this business. Tell him that you need to focus on finding another job, since you had ideas X, Y and Z on how to improve the business but were unable to implement them and working at the store is no longer feasible for you. If he is only working part time, he may be able to assist in executing some of the ideas you had, even though he can’t dedicate 100% of his time to helping the store. He also may have better luck suggesting them to his mother, or helping her come up with a plan to implement the ideas on her own. After that, wash your hands of this situation and jump full speed ahead into your job search. Unless you absolutely need the gas money, I would walk away from this position entirely so your schedule is free for working on your resume and cover letter and attending interviews. If you do need to stick around for financial reasons, you should still make job searching your priority and let prospective employers know you can start immediately upon accepting an offer. Just let your boyfriend’s mother know as soon as you find something else.

      Good luck with both the family/relationship situation and your job search. I hope that you find relief from this stressful situation soon.

    4. CoffeeLover*

      Ah, Love. It makes doing things like getting the heck out of that whole family situation impossible. :P

      OP, I think you need to realize that Mom doesn’t want your help. Even if she says she does, her actions show otherwise. While it was generous of you to offer your help, it is not your obligation (moral or otherwise) to drag this woman out of the trench she’s dug. As others have said, there is literally nothing you can do to save this business because quiet frankly, it doesn’t seem like the owner of said business wants to save it herself. Even your boyfriend seems to have washed his hands of this and I suggest you follow suit. Yours and his happiness are not tied to this business, and I would even guess that this business is tearing a whole in that happiness at the moment.

      If you’re worried about potential backlash that may result from you leaving, I think a simple: “I need to find a job that pays me”, will do the trick.

    5. dejavu2*

      Hey OP! I feel very empathetic towards you, so I really hope you won’t think I am being insensitive…

      You wrote ” if it weren’t for my stepping in, he wouldn’t have been able to take that opportunity.”

      Since his mom is completely ignoring and refusing to implement your suggestions, what exactly is different than if you weren’t there at all? I mean that seriously. It doesn’t really sound like there is any purpose to the incredible sacrifice you are making.

      Objectively and from a distance, it is very hard to imagine the circumstances under which it makes sense for you to work for free and dedicate your life to this thankless task, so that your boyfriend of two years can go to school part time. You mention that you’ve “exhibited [certain] skills” in this job, but realistically I’m not sure how well that is going to serve you, since it sounds like your suggestions have either not been implemented, and/or have done little to turn the business around. I think you need to get out.

      This will probably (and understandably) make you feel defensive, but based on the limited information you provided here and in your letter, it sounds like you need to break ties with this family entirely (including your boyfriend), and find someone who values you enough to not force you into a situation like this. Believe me, I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to see from the inside of a situation like this just how bad it is, but please try to be brutally honest with yourself. From the perspective of a stranger on the internet, there is really nothing you could say about your boyfriend at this point that could make this seem like a redeemable situation. In fact, this situation actually has some hallmarks of emotional abuse, such as financial control, forcing you sacrifice so much for so little, etc. Please consider leaving these people.

        1. Natalie*

          But he actually doesn’t – his mother can’t force him to work in the store. He may decide it’s preferable to arguing the point or enforcing the boundary with her, but that’s not the same as a “have to”.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I can’t imagine a boyfriend who has your best interests at heart allowing you to work for no money so that he can pursue his goals. I don’t like this situation. :(

    6. Colette*

      I think you might need to reframe the situation.

      First of all, I understand how you got into this, and why you feel like you need to help. I get it. But the thing is, your boyfriend would have been able to pursue graphic design if you didn’t step in – he just would have had to make decisions about keeping the store/turning it over to his mom to run as she sees fit faster. It’s not your responsibility to take this burden from him so that he can pursue his dreams, and if it’s making you feel like you’re losing your mind, it’s OK to walk away from the business. It is. The business will probably fail, but … it’s doing that anyway.

      Give him (and his mother) and end date and work on finding a job that will pay you for working.

    7. Anonymous*

      DJ your ambitions, wants and desires are just as important as your BF’s, and from your description it sounds like he’s ignoring your needs, and that makes it look like he doesn’t love you as much as you love him. You need to have a long discussion with him, not just about the store, but your relationship with him, and if you’re up to, his relationship with his mother.

      1. FD*

        Exactly! I understand that as women, we’re frequently told that it’s better to put other people’s needs above our own. But, that’s a really dangerous message, and your dreams and goals are no less worthy than your boyfriend’s! Please, please stop putting your own goals and needs on the shelf for other people, and do what’s best for you. I know that feels selfish, but it really isn’t. You can’t help anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.

    8. TheBurg*

      Mega points to you, OP, for this thoughtful response to the comments. :)
      I can only imagine how frustrating and emotional this must be for you, but I hope it works out well for you and your boyfriend.

  9. V*

    Your working for free needs to stop. Now. Unless you are independently wealthy, you need to look for a job that will pay you. While it may be unlikely, imagine if your boyfield leaves you tomorow (or you leave him). You will have no ownership stake in the business, no means of supporting yourself, and no salary history for the time you were working at the store. No healthcare or means to buy it. Likely no retirement savings or any saving at all from the time you spent working at the store. In some states you MIGHT be able to get “palimony” from your boyfiriend, but you would need to hire a lawyer and go to court to get it, and that is expensive.

    In fact, this scenario is just as bad if you and boyfried do stay together. Again – you are earning no income, have no salary history for this time, no healthcare or savings. Legally, the business should be paying you minimum wage and paying taxes on your behalf – your boyfriend and his mom are breaking the law by not paying you and I’m sure none of you want to deal with the fines and penalties that would be assessed against the business if the government were to enforce the law against your boyfriend and his mom.

    Finally, not to get to far into the relationship aspect, but you are devaluing yourself and your time if you continue to work for your boyfriend and his mom for free. You are telling them that their paychecks are more important than yours. This is not a situation where a couple decides that one partner will work and the other will take care of the home/kids/pets, etc. This is you working so that your boyfirend and his mom don’t have to pay someone to do the work. If the business needs someone other than his mom to help run it, then that person needs to be your boyfriend in his role as co-owner, or a paid employee (you or someone else). If the business can’t stay afloat without free labor then it can’t stay afloat period, because labor is not free.

    1. V*

      Please don’t let my apparent inability to spell “boyfriend” correctly distract from my concern for you and this situation.

    2. LCL*

      …and, if you are in the US, no contributions are being made to Social Security for you. (The federal government ‘retirement’ plan.) Not everybody qualifies for SS; people that have worked hard their whole lives as domestic workers, for example, get completely screwed when it comes to retirement if SS contributions weren’t made.

      As part of the job, no doubt you are handling boxes and stocking shelves. Who will pay your medical costs and disability if you fall off a ladder, or slice your hand on a boxcutter, or God forbid get shot in a robbery? I’m not trying to dis convenience store workers, they work too hard for too little pay as it is.

      1. Andrea*

        Excellent points. I can guarantee that the OP wouldn’t be covered for workers’ compensation benefits in the event of an injury; she’s not even an employee, and I am sure that given the way the mother runs this business, she’s not up on payments for this insurance. OP, do you even have health insurance? No one ever wants to think that they might become injured or disabled or seriously ill, but it happens every day, and you should have a plan in place for this scenario.

        (Also, sorry if this seems snarky, but I’ve known several owners of small retail businesses, and none of them have any time after working incredibly long hours to have affairs all over the place.)

        OP, you seem like a nice person who wants to help these people, and I sure hope your boyfriend appreciates your sacrifices. It sounds like your boyfriend’s mom isn’t interested in growing this business and trying to help it succeed, so you shouldn’t be either. Focus and use your energy and talents to find a real career for yourself—you won’t regret that, I bet, but you might come to regret spending your time and energy working for free at a dead-end position.

        1. CEMgr*

          Don’t be so quick to guarantee that the OP wouldn’t be eligible for workers’ compensation. That is a legal determination based on the exact facts and state law. It is NOT required that the business owner have done everything right to get the OP coverage. The OP actually may have far more rights, not just to WC, but also potentially to back wages and penalties for all of her unpaid labor.

          I know this isn’t a relationship column, but just thinking of this BF who is happy to let the GF work for free while he pursues his dreams makes me cringe. I think the GF is getting advantage taken of her by both family members.

          Also, OP, please do not assume that the business is necessarily losing money and that there is nothing to pay you with. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the owner is just putting cash in her pocket at the end of the day and in fact using the cash register to cover her living expenses. You might be surprised at how much she is draining away, off the books.

  10. Ruffingit*

    This is a difficult situation because you’ve tied yourself to something in order to help your boyfriend achieve his goals of a graphic design career.

    One of the hardest things in life is realizing that you are not responsible for the decisions of others and that you cannot make them change. In this case, you took on an unsavory work situation so your boyfriend could pursue his goals. It is now time to “give your notice” to your boyfriend that you can no longer assist him in this way.

    To continue in this is to cause yourself sustained damage in the form of no income, no retirement savings (social security or otherwise), no workman’s comp insurance in a job where you can easily be injured, and no room to build or advance your skills and professional goals.

    You must leave. There is no other decision that can be made that makes sense for you. Your boyfriend may balk at this, but if he truly loves you, he will see the sense in you removing yourself from an untenable situation. You have made great sacrifices in your time, finances, and sanity to help him. Now, it’s time for him to help you by not putting up an argument against you leaving and by finding another way to pursue his graphic design goals so you can pursue your own career.

    Best of luck!

  11. fposte*

    OP, what I heard in your narrative of the family’s backstory is your strong belief that walking away makes somebody a bad guy, while staying makes somebody a good guy. And I think that’s trapping you here, because you’re convinced that the only thing a good person could do in this situation is stay and work harder. And that’s not true. It’s so completely not true it’s often destructive to believe–Al Anon, for instance, is all about imparting to people the necessity of walking away for the good of *everybody,* not just the person walking away.

    I hear that you really want a story where your boyfriend’s family business turns around, where your expertise is useful and vital, where the person you respect least in the family understand what she has to do or at the very least stops interfering with your rescue attempt. But it’s good to think about other stories that would be okay even if they’re not the desired triumph, and to remember they’d be okay: the story where you gave it a try, but the business closed, and then you were able to find a job that appreciated you, paid you, and used your skills well and you and your boyfriend were able to save more money as a result–that’s an okay story too.

    It is not your job to be the person who holds your boyfriend’s family business together when his family can’t do it. It is not your job to be the local hostage to the family business, working in your boyfriend’s place so that he feels he’s allowed to go to school instead because you being there means he’s not somebody who walked away. It is not your job to be the responsible capable woman who’s not like his mother–you’re that whether you’re working in his store or not. If a business only succeeds by not paying half its staff, that’s not a viable business, and this one isn’t succeeding even with your unpaid labor. If your boyfriend’s mother never gets better at this and maybe even gets worse, how long will you stay at 90% losing your mind? Until the landlord evicts the business? What if that takes five years? Won’t you want those five years of your life back?

    You can be a loyal support to your boyfriend and even to his mother without throwing years of your life on the fire for them. You gave it a try, but your being there isn’t keeping anything going; it’s just altering the speed of the trajectory. Even if you don’t leave now/soon, at least use the moment when you’re thinking about this to decide when would be enough. Don’t spend your life waiting for something else to change it–this is the life you have, and this is how you’re going to spend it until you decide to make the changes. (And I think you deserve better, and I hope you think so too.)

    1. Ruffingit*

      Excuse me while I execute a 10-hour standing ovation. That was truly brilliant fposte!! You said everything I was thinking in a much better way than I could ever convey it. Love this.

  12. Delilah J.*

    fposte, I agree with you. I agree with many of the above posts. (minus the leaving him part. I get that a lot when I read online posts about relationships. No wonder the divorce rate is so high!) I actually was able to get my boyfriend to speak with me more about the store. He was so down in the dumps about it that there really wasn’t an option other than to talk it out. He explained to me (and I can hear the non-agreement now, lol) that basically everything I’ve went through in the past year and a half or so has already occurred with him. His dad was the organizational one. His mom wanted everything to be her way. My boyfriend was the one doing exactly everything that I’m doing. So because of the fact that I’m just experiencing these things, I’ve been flipping out because I’ve noticed the dysfunction. I’ve been doing things assuming that they either didn’t want to do anything or they just weren’t seeing what was wrong or didn’t know how or whatever. But nope. They’ve just been through it before and they want out. Now, he said (and I’ve heard this before) that granted, the store looks better now which makes it more sellable thanks to the work I’ve put into it. It’s stayed open longer which has helped them think things out instead of it just closing or my boyfriend having a bigger meltdown because I work there now. So there have been some advantages of what I’ve done. They’ve just been through it before, didn’t want to put as much effort, there’s no resources to put anything into the store and it’s time to sell it. That’s the consensus.

    Now granted, I’m a little frustrated because if my boyfriend and his mom knew what I was doing, and knew what that effort and stress felt like and knew this that and the other, I don’t see why they didn’t stop me. I can’t tell you how stressed I’ve been over doing what I thought was working only to have his mom do the same thing every day and barely do anything. I can’t tell you how exhausted I’ve been only to tell my boyfriend and have him give me the “that’s life” notion. So it kind of sucks that I’ve essentially taken years off my life just worrying way more than I usually do, and to have them essentially let me do it. But their perspective is that if someone helps you or offers to help you, you let them do it. And now my boyfriend’s perspective after I’ve put so much effort into the business and the house is to put more effort into us. Which I figured I was doing. I figured I was doing more than my share and helping out and trying to make things easier on him. Which I did in many ways. But he admits and I agree completely, that I need to start saving up and thinking about us. Spending energy on us so that we can eventually move out and his mom can eventually do what she needs to do since she wants to get a job and all of that (but hasn’t put much effort into finding a job. Not my main priority issue, I suppose?)

    So in a way the issue has gotten resolved and I feel like we’re all on the same page: find jobs, sell the store and just work at the store until it sells. I think I can deal with that. I’m accepting the fact that I’m not saving a sinking ship because it was already sinking. I was just plugging a few holes and making the ship look more fabulous before it’s completely under water.

    Does that sound alright to everybody? hahaha

    1. fposte*

      Works for me :-). So long as you have a deadline on the “until it sells.” That’s not a loophole to keep you there for years.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I’d even go so far as to recommend to start on a job search now, and not turn down a good offer if one comes before the store has been sold. Job searches can take a while, so it might not be a conflict at all, but leave yourself open to the possibility that it might come up.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have to ask, because it seems so glaring — is your boyfriend putting as much energy into thinking about how to help you and actually helping you as you’re putting into helping him (and his mom)?

      What you describe above sounds exhausting, and I’m hearing that your boyfriend has simply allowed your experience to be that way. Is he giving you just as much?

      1. Forrest*

        I find it extremely alarming that the boyfriend is all whatever, that’s life to the OP’s problems….when the problems are caused by him and his family.

        1. KLH*

          I find it alarming that a) they haven’t discussed this before and BF hasn’t clued her in on the history, b) she’s willing to adopt his problems as her own when he’s basically checked out and moved on, and c) she’s putting all this work and angst into people who are willing to use her and has only been in a relationship less than 2 years.

          BOUNDARIES. They are good.

    3. Ruffingit*

      I just have to address this point you made: So it kind of sucks that I’ve essentially taken years off my life just worrying way more than I usually do, and to have them essentially let me do it. But their perspective is that if someone helps you or offers to help you, you let them do it.

      If you offer yourself up as a doormat, people will walk on you. And that is not something you blame them for, it’s something you recognize in yourself and make a change so that you are not allowing yourself to become that doormat.

      You can do nothing about the actions of others. You cannot change anyone else. You can only decide how much you are willing to give. So often, people will say “But it’s unfair that he/she has allowed me to do all this worrying and stressing and…” YOU allowed yourself to do that. YOU made that choice.

      I say this not to be mean, but to highlight the fact that we all have choices to make. You chose to worry/stress over things and they chose to let you. You can only control your actions so set some boundaries and choose to stop worrying/stressing over things that simply are not your problem.

      Selling the store is a good idea. Make a timeline here. Tell your boyfriend that you will work in the store for X number of months and if it hasn’t sold after that, you need to move on. This will allow everyone in this scenario to know exactly how much you’re willing to give. It’s a bad idea to say you’ll work until the store sells. What if it takes a year or two or more for that to happen? You need to set a timeline independent of the store selling and stick to it so you have a concrete plan for moving on in your own life. Tell your boyfriend it’s his job to find a reputable commercial agent to get things moving. If he hasn’t done that by the time you’ve decided to leave the store, that’s on him. It’s his CHOICE.

      Good luck!

    4. EngineerGirl*

      Your boyfriend saw that you were being harmed and has done nothing to stop it. Worse, he’s now blaming you for not putting enough work into the relationship ?

      That’s all you need to know. He’s a jerk. Leave him.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, I read that as *him* saying he needed to put more in the relationship, but upon rereading I bet you’re right. Crap. Wishful reading on my part.

        So another note, Delilah–another reason why the divorce rate is high is that people overlook the signs that they’re not with a supportive partner and marry them anyway, and then can’t stand it down the road.

      2. dejavu2*

        Reading that part made me feel physically ill. He sounds like a real Svengali. I really, really think OP needs to leave this guy. It just sounds so much like emotional abuse.

      3. Rana*

        Agreed. Delilah, are you familiar with the advice blog “Captain Awkward”? I encourage you to read what she has to say about relationships like this (and the comments, too) and why sometimes ending a relationship is a healthy thing to do.

        You might wish particularly to look for the posts about “Darth Vaders” and “houses of evil bees.”

        1. Rana*

          I am also thinking of the oxygen mask analogy: you need to make sure that you’re getting what you need to be healthy – emotionally, financially, physically – before you put energy into helping others. Otherwise it’s bad news all around.

          1. Elizabeth*

            My college advisor used to say that you can only pour other people a drink of water so many times before you need to go refill the pitcher.

    5. Katie the Fed*

      “. I agree with many of the above posts. (minus the leaving him part. I get that a lot when I read online posts about relationships. No wonder the divorce rate is so high!) ”

      You’re not married yet. You don’t have to stay committed to every relationship either.

    6. Forrest*

      “No wonder the divorce rate is so high!”

      There’s nothing wrong with people leaving relationships. Espcially if they are not healthy for them. No one is obligated nor should it be encourage in some situations, to stay in relationships that are harmful for them.

      Your boyfriend struggled for a year – but then let you take over for two years? He knew what you were entering and he didn’t say anything? For two years you made no money, no savings, etc?

    7. Hlx Hlx*

      So your boyfriend gets to go after his dream of being a graphic designer. Thanks to your help.

      What’s YOUR dream? The situation you’re in would not make anyone happy. Why do you think you deserve this? Can you allow yourself to pursue something that will truly be fulfilling, instead of this career dead end?

    8. Natalie*

      “It’s stayed open longer which has helped them think things out instead of it just closing or my boyfriend having a bigger meltdown because I work there now.”

      This makes me sad. Doing tons of unpaid, unappreciated work to prevent your boyfriend from experiencing emotions shouldn’t be your job. That doesn’t sound like a healthy balance for either of you.

      Leaving your relationship aside entirely, I want to encourage you to set a different deadline for leaving the store. Given the state of the business market at this moment, “until it sells” could be years, or possibly never. How long, reasonably, can you subsume your needs and wants to other people’s needs and wants before your completely tapped out?

      It sounds like you may be falling prey to the sunk costs fallacy – since you’ve put all this work into the store you want to keep putting in work until it pays off. The fallacious part here is assuming your work will pay off, and will pay off enough (either fiscally or emotionally) that it will have been worth your effort.

    9. EngineerGirl*

      One more comment on commitment and boundaries.

      Commitment is only good if you commit to the right thing. You should never commit to dysfunctional, boundary smashing behavior. You should never commit to others that treat you as if your needs are less than theirs.

      The next is love. It is never loving to enable someone in destructive behavior. Consequences are good because they correct bad behavior and reward good. Your enabling behaviors have prevented consequences of destructive behavior. That will only let boyfriend and mom get deeper into trouble.

      The third is this: a man who truly loves a woman will do anything to keep her from getting harmed. Your guy is doing the opposite.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    I am shaking my head… this is a train wreck in slow motion. We see what is happening and we know what will happen next.
    These slow moving train wrecks are the hardest thing in life to watch. We are just waiting for the inevitable crash… and waiting and waiting…

    OP, the problem with helping people that do not want to be helped is that the helper usually ends up hurt/injured. And not just emotionally. As emotions and fatigue run high so increases the chances of physical injury from accident. Why the accident? Oh- just from not thinking clearly, feeling drained, being preoccupied, etc.

    The way I frame it inside my head is “We can’t interfere with other people’s learning experiences.” You have done way above and beyond the call of duty. You are a good person. But sometimes people have to go through “stuff” to learn what they need to learn.

    I can remember feeling that my mind was 90% gone … I ended up in the ER. The doctor said that I had total and complete exhaustion and I needed bed rest for 30 days. I went to sleep and woke up four days later. But I retained the over all point of what the doctor was saying. Dial everything back and start investing in myself. We would not attempt to drive a car without putting gas in it. The same goes for ourselves- our health and our lives. We have to put something into ourselves every day-good food, education, rest and so on. The reason you feel 90% gone is because you are giving and giving and you have very little that is refueling you.

    It’s time for a change, OP.

    Going forward- you learned lots of stuff with all the projects you took on here. There is no doubt in my mind that you held off the inevitable crash. And you see a huge part of your identity- you are a kind person who cares about other people. These are the good parts of the story. Take this parts and move ahead.

    Send us an update.

    1. Jean*

      Yes, OP, your first responsibility is to yourself: to assure that you are in a good place financially for the present and the future. Take good care of yourself and give AAM an update.

      I also remember that you said in an earlier post that you came to AAM to vent & get advice because you didn’t have people in real life with whom to share your problem. Hmm, this made me think. I know that some of us are more outgoing than others of us, but I strongly recommend that you expand your social circle so that you have other people to whom you can turn if you need support. Even if you stay–happily–with your BF (with the store hassles resolved satisfactorily and no further grief from his mom) you can only benefit from enriching your life with the presence of others. Think of this not as adding yet another obligation to your To Do list but as a way to add more happiness to your life (interesting people, good conversation, companionship for whatever activities you enjoy).
      Good luck!

  14. Limon*

    Al-anon is good, but codependence anonymous is about 100x better! it really gets to the root of our dysfunctional behavior. I find it incredibly helpful in looking at my own behavior and thought patterns.

    For example:

    “I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.”
    “I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.”
    “I put aside my own interests in order to do what others want.”

    OP, this might be your new door opening. It can feel great to finally take all that energy spent on others, and now put it towards your own life and goals. Friend, learn from this experience!

    1. Ruffingit*

      +100 on Codependents Anonymous. I was coming here this morning to suggest that to the OP also.

  15. Editor*

    Delilah, I hope you are looking for a job actively, even if that means dialing back the hours you spend at the store. I’m glad you saw fposte’s analysis.

    I have one other thing to add here that others haven’t touched on. I’ve been a widow for several years and mentioned it before. From my perspective, your boyfriend and his mother are probably both grieving in addition to (not) dealing with the business problems. Even when someone has conflicted feelings about a spouse or parent, they still have grief to deal with when the person dies, even if it is just wanting to tell the not-so-dear departed a few choice words. Your boyfriend’s mother seems to be acting in just the unfocused way I felt and others I know have felt in the first year after a death. Some of us held it together for work, but not everyone can cope that well. I hope your boyfriend and his mother have found separate grief support groups where they can talk and also learn from other members. I am so sorry this death has affected not just the family, but the family business. which seems not to have had a succession plan or proper insurance in place.

    Please understand the reason your boyfriend might have taken advantage of your help is that he is grieving. However, don’t allow yourself to continue to be sucked into the family conflicts or the business. Despite being sympathetic, I would encourage you to tell both of them you are dialing back the work hours in two weeks to actively search for work, then begin the search or try for temp jobs or something similar. Reduce your hours as needed, perhaps telling them now that by the time x number of weeks have passed (less than six, ideally), you won’t be working at the business at all.

    I know widows who are still dealing with recurring feelings five years or more after a spouse’s death, even when the relationship was excellent and they’ve found a new relationship that is also good. Dealing with grief is a long-term process, and healthy grieving won’t stop at some predetermined time. Don’t expect your boyfriend’s mother to deal with her feelings quickly or easily, but do take yourself out of being economically dependent on the results of her feelings, and don’t feel guilty about finding your own employment.

    For an unpleasant perspective on the corner you could be backing into, consider women who are isolated by controlling partners and have no friends or jobs — leaving them in a difficult position when they want to leave. You aren’t a victim, from what I can see, but you are positioning yourself to be isolated from friends and isolated from the job market, and maybe the panic you are experiencing is because you are realizing this. Please make sure you are not isolated and are employable, for your own health.

    You’ve made it possible for your boyfriend to move on in his career. If he truly appreciates what you have done, he needs to make it possible for you to move on.

  16. scarydogmother*

    You can’t save your boyfriend’s family business without losing your mind. You can’t save it at all and, more importantly, it is not your responsibility.
    The more you sacrifice your own needs for this boy, the less likely he is to reciprocate. He doesn’t respect you. Even a woman in a 25 year marriage shouldn’t accept anything about the situation you’ve described. You definitely should not.

  17. VintageLydia*

    Everytime I reread this post and your follow up comments, the more angry I get at your boyfriend and his mother. They are taking major advantage of you. I second Rana’s suggestion to seek out Captain Awkward’s blog and find posts concerning Darth Vadar boyfriends and House Full of Bees/Velociraptors.
    And do NOT let them make you feel guilty for finding another job/taking time for yourself/seeking out outside friendships and support groups. You need to figure out what’s best for you and what your own goals are. You can’t take a backseat forever and you shouldn’t defer your own wants and desires for the sake of someone who doesn’t appear to want to reciprocate, and definitely not for his mother!

    1. rlm*

      I agree – I am more annoyed by this than I was to begin with! Regardless of whether or not the mother and boyfriend are grieving, it seems like they are treating the OP like an appliance to get them through their struggles. I know this isn’t supposed to be a relationship advice blog but I can’t help but say this – Delilah, if you do choose to stay in this relationship (I’m assuming at this point you are definitely leaving the store in a soon-ish time-frame), please begin to define what is important to you in a relationship, and what your boundaries/deal-breakers are. I would start with the fact that you deserve to be treated with respect, and that you have the right to be as happy as your partner. Good luck :)

  18. LCL*

    “Spending energy on us so that we can eventually move out”
    OP, are you living in the same house as his mom? Go sleep on a friend’s couch somewhere, so you can get some space to decide what you have to do.

    1. Editor*

      Or, worse yet, does everyone live above the store and if the business is sold all of them will have to find new housing?

  19. anonymous*

    I want to put in a plug for working with a therapist on these issues.

    In my experience (and I come from a place of doing similar things as you describe), although what everyone said makes sense (and is correct in my opinion), it can be incredibly hard to implement if you are not used to setting boundaries and really valuing your own self. And of course, if you change, there are also repercussions that can be painful (especially if others have benefited from your lack of boundaries – as I would say they have here (both mother and boyfriend)). A therapist can work with you so you can untangle some of these knots and also support you in the process.

    On top of the what others have said, this raises a red flag to me: “But he admits and I agree completely, that I need to start saving up and thinking about us. Spending energy on us so that we can eventually move out”.

    I would think you both need to work on this, not just you and you had been thinking of “us” all along by working in the store. And he let you. Just as it’s not your job to save the store, it’s not your job alone to make the relationship work.

    That’s why I think a therapist would be really useful – to me, the above is you doing the same thing as you are doing in the store but in a different scenario.

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