DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother-in-law has a boyfriend who continuously treats her like trash. She kicks him out of her home once every few months, but he always ends up back in the house -- it's a toxic cycle. It is hard for me to keep watching her take him back, but I don't want to overstep. What can I say to help her understand that she needs to leave this man for good? -- Protective Daughter
DEAR PROTECTIVE DAUGHTER: Years ago, I was in an abusive relationship. What I remember for myself and what I have witnessed in others is that the abuser seems to have the ability to control your mind somehow in these situations. Reason leaves you, and what seems obvious to others is not so clear to you. In my case, it took living with my sister and not wanting her to see how horrific this relationship was for me to leave. He tried to get me to come back for years, but thank God I never did.
You do not have any power in this situation. Your mother-in-law is blinded by whatever spell her boyfriend has cast upon her. You can tell her you love her and want her to be happy and safe. You can tell her that it hurts you to see her suffer with this man. You can encourage her to look in the mirror to see who she has become because of being with this man. You should not tell her what to do or demand that she leave him. She must come to that conclusion on her own.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am accepting a job offer on the West Coast that would finally allow my girlfriend and me to move in together. We haven't found a place yet, but the job would demand that I start working right away. My girlfriend's mother has offered to let me stay with them for the first month so that I can start working while we secure an apartment. We'd be saving a ton of money this way. Could this be a bad idea? -- Saving Money
DEAR SAVING MONEY: It sounds like your girlfriend's mother is being very generous. To ensure that everything is in alignment, do your best to create boundaries. Decide on a move-in date and a likely move-out date. If there's a chance you might need to stay longer than a month, talk to her about that upfront. Offer to pay rent, even if she doesn't accept it. Understand her house rules. It can be challenging for adult children to live with parents. Be neat. Contribute to the cleanliness of the household and be engaged. Do not treat her home like a hotel.
Thank her profusely when you leave. Consider the time you spend together as bonus time for getting to know each other better. It can be a time you will treasure if you treat it like that.