Dating a mentally disabled person

Not saying that your sister couldn't or won't "grow out of this," but what if she doesn't? What if "Corky" becomes your brother-in-law? What are you going to do then? Let your sister live her life. It sounds like she's already had enough people meddling in it already your parents - let her make her own mistakes. So is it your opinion then that any kind of retardation means the person is condemned to a lonely existence without the any romance or love, ever? That's one cold outlook. Maybe you ought to think on that a bit. Fundamentally, there's nothing wrong with her. The world has all sorts of people and letting others even in-laws live their own variation of Life is what keeps each other from becoming boring and nosy.

I think this is exactly the ethical problem you're trying to put your finger on, OP -- that if there isn't a compatible level of intellectual curiosity, and they aren't able to converse on levels your sister-in-law is interested in and accustomed to conversing on, you're wondering if she is just using him to feel better about herself. I wonder if there's an association that advocates for the mentally retarded that might have some advice on dating and relationships?

Your wife could bring her sister those concerns, along with some background, and still be treating her like an adult. It's her call what to do about it all, but there's nothing illegitimate about a family member expressing concerns. I believe you are right to be concerned about the exploitation of persons who are not quite fully capable on engaging the adult world on their own. You might even be right to be concerned that your sister-in-law has some issues to work through. However, this relationship is not necessarily exploitation, is not necessarily counter to her working through her issues, and is not necessarily your responsibility.

Mentally retarded adults often have romantic relationships. Sometimes they are the same sort of boyfriend-girlfriend relationships that third-graders have; sometimes they are more than that. Mentally retarded adults have jobs, lives, and all sorts of relationships outside those they have with their families and caretakers, and--shockingly--they have them with people who are not mentally retarded.

It is usually someone's responsibility--much like a parent's responsibility--to make sure that mentally retarded adult stays safe and makes good decisions; it is not yours in this case. If you are concerned, talk to this man's family. If your sister-in-law and this man are connecting on a real level, let them connect. Everyone needs human contact and everyone deserves human contact with people who treat them like someone valuable.

If your sister-in-law is not treating him like someone who is valuable or is treating him like an inferior, or a puppy or a kindergartner who brings her flowers from the playground, then you should talk to her about how she's treating this person. First of all, what does your wife think? This is her sibling, not yours. On the other hand, you do have a cause for concern because if this relationship develops to the point where procreation becomes a possibility, then, depending on the health of your wife's parents, there is the remote likelihood that a child will exacerbate any possible mental health issues your sister-in-law has, and the state may find the father lacking in necessary parental skills.

Meaning, there is the very offhand chance that you and your spouse may find yourself either legally unlikely or morally a bit more likely, but still not very likely responsible for any child resulting from this relationship.

Though that's a long way down the road, and although I'm inferring a lot for instance, your sister-in-law may have absolutely no mental health issues , the fact is something similar to this did happen to someone in my family, many years ago. The father ran away, the mother had a nervous breakdown, and grandma and grandpa raised the daughter for the first few years of her life until it was obvious that she had severe mental and emotional disabilities, at which point she was taken away to state facility. Bad story, awful, no good comes of it to even think about it.

But stuff like that happens. Anyway, your sister-in-law probably just enjoys the attention she is getting from this guy. That will wear off after awhile. I don't think you should be worried, but I do want to say that I understand why you are concerned, and I don't think you're an evil person for having such thoughts. You want the best for her, and you want her to grow up, but the fact is, she has to live her own life and make her own decisions and learn from them.

I don't think this is fundamentally wrong for her to do--she's not dating him to exploit him or take advantage of him. She feels comfortable with him and thinks he's sweet and nice to her--which is much better than dating a controlling abuser, in my opinion. If you get involved, it seems like you'd be no better than her controlling, coddling parents, which is what put her in a situation where she lives at home at 30 and doesn't drive. You disapprove of how they treated her, so why are you trying to mimic it? It depends on whether she's actually exploiting him and it doesn't sound like she is.

Retarded is like short. We're all a little retarded, it's just a question of degree. I can understand being driven slightly nuts by her life, it's understandable to want to 'fix' her, but she's thirty years old and unless she has suffered some trauma that needs to be recovered from, she really needs to make her own choices. I'd be freaked out too, but I think you need to work on letting go of feeling responsible for her life.

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Oh, and I'm not saying no neurotypical person should ever date a non-neurotypical person, just that there are extra concerns about exploitation there, depending on the severity of the impairment it seems that when the genders are reversed, people tend to recognize that more easily , and it might be well to talk to people who are versed in these issues. Please don't refer to him as retarded.

My sister has developmental disabilities, but for the last 6 months has become engaged to a guy who I do not approve of - he takes advantage of her and basically uses her as a babysitter for his 3 children. He has friends who have been in and out of jail, and he may have been too, but my sister won't tell anyone the truth. So I basically have your concerns, in reverse.

I think she should be dating someone in a similar situation to herself, not this guy who has immense problems and complications that my sister really does not need. But she's obsessed with marriage and believes she'll never find anyone better. But ultimately, and it is so hard for me to admit and to say, she has to choose what she wants. And so does your sister.

The Top 5 Realities of Dating Someone with a Mental Illness

Unless she wants my advice, I can't give it. We have grown apart over the years and it has been difficult for me, but this is the path she has chosen for herself. Unless she's in some kind of danger, support her until she asks your advice. I can't help thinking the replies thus far would be different if the genders were reversed. Relationships are nominally between 'equals' and you don't see them as such which makes you uneasy. That's fine, but not your call to make. If they're happy and not showing any unhealthy signs, I'd just wish them the best.

In the long term a big intellectual gulf might cause relationship problems; but fundamentally, they would be her problems, not yours. They might work out as a couple. They've got the right to find that out for themselves without you sticking your oar in. Do you think she's exploiting this man simply because he's got a lower IQ?

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Because if he's happily calling her his girlfriend and introducing her to his friends he doesn't sound like he feels exploited. There are some nasty cases where people with learning disabilities have been exploited by partners without LD - milk them financially for everything they've got, then leave. Your sister doesn't sound like she'd even consider doing anything like that. What's coming through loud and clear in your question is frustration with your sister-in-law. Which, as pointed out previously - it's her life.

Unless she's asked for your help changing it, take a deep breath and a step back. Is it a genuine relationship? Can you trust yourself to determine whether or not it's a genuine relationship, understanding that "genuine"! If your sister-in-law is dealing with this man honestly and on a level appropriate to his understanding, then I don't see an ethical problem. If she's not manipulating him, being cruel to him, or being completely unrealistic about his capabilities in this relationship, then this is your issue to get over, not hers. I can understand your concern - the power differential between the two could potentially be very unbalanced - but you're not making a concrete case for that happening here.

Based on what you've said about your sister-in-law's work and personal life, it sounds like this relationship could be just fine for both parties. If it works for the two of them, there's nothing wrong with it. And ultimately this is their decision. That "we're working on her" expression in your question brought me to a halt as I read. It's nice that you care about this woman and are trying to help her, but maybe your attitude towards her could do with some adjusting. I have a friend who has an at least average IQ, probably higher, and who married a guy who probably has an IQ on the borderline of being handicapped.

They've been married for something like 12 years now, and were together maybe three years before that. She is a very controlling and self-absorbed person, and I think all she really wanted in a man was that he let her run their lives and be her audience. He's willing to do that, and moreover he's a sweet-natured, hard-working, conscientious and good-looking guy.

Her former relationships were blitzkriegs; in his he got used for sex and then dumped a lot. It seems to be working. They seem happy, and they've got a nice home and good life together. Not my cup of tea at all, but it's also not my life so my preferences in tea aren't even really relevant.

There can be very different dynamics in relationships. Try to keep an open mind and you might learn something here. This sounds sketchy to me, just because of the power differential.


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At first I thought, "what's the harm? Maybe get another opinion from someone who knows more about it, knows the people involved.

I don't think you're overreacting. Seems to me like it is normal to be worried in a situation like this. Remember that what you are also saying is that the mildly "retarded" man can never have a relationship with anyone who isn't "retarded. As the brother of someone with serious developmental delays - which is to say the brother of someone who had two kids and then dumped the kids with her husband, and ran off to learn to be a rodeo barrel racer out in the country - I fully understand your concern.

And yet, I'm here to tell you that no matter what you do, it wont be the right thing. If you agonize over this, making impassioned pleas to your sister-in-law and laying out all the reasons why this is a bad idea, it will only do a handful of things - and none of them good. It will drive a wedge between you. It will inspire her to chase after this man harder. It will take up your precious time, wasting it with trivialities. And ultimately it will prevent you from being what your sister-in-law needs: If you say nothing, she may still pursue him. She may still marry him.

And she may still have children with him. And he may still live up to whatever doomsday scenario you are playing out in your head. But the good news is that the odds are lower that she will do that simply in an effort to assert her independence from you and from her family. The doomsday scenarios can be terrifying.

What if they have children and pass on the disability? What if he becomes violent when he can't argue on her intellectual level in a heated discussion? What if they are incapable of supporting each other and become a burden to the family? What if, what if, what if But the truth is that those scenarios could and do! We're all just longing for a bit of companionship, and we are often blinded by that desire.

Let your sister-in-law try for it also, with full knowledge that people change and grow and learn more about themselves by trial and error. This may be one of her trials. This may be an error. Or this may be the love of her life. Keep in mind that you might not be able to do anything about it, and disapproving of romantic relationships tends to cement them. Best thing to do might be shut up and put up, for the time being. I have no opinion on your question "Should I just get over it, or is this fundamentally wrong for her to do? You may find some data that will help you decide how to feel about this situation going forward.

Although you didn't say what type of disability this man has, one place to start is this list of organizations posted by the National Down Syndrome Society. I find this horrifying for multiple reasons. Very clearly your issue, not theirs. I hope one day you can look back on this question and hear the way it sounds to everyone else. I can relate feeling concerned or protective about who my family members are dating, but your extreme reaction to this is inappropriate.

I'd be freaked out if any of my siblings started dating somebody that was developmentally disabled. But, there's really not much wrong with this situation, so long as your sis-in-law isn't really taking advantage of him - in a use-him-and-lose-him sort of way. The "this seems exploitative" is the worst part of the social equation, but I'm not sure I see it here. There are a lot of bad relationships out there. I understand being protective. But, I mean, in the larger scheme of things, she is going to get into relationships, some of which will not end well.

Why not let them do it together? You never know how it might turn out. The main concern I would have in this situation is whether he's capable of informed consent. He lives in a group home. What do his caregivers think of their relationship? We are all reading a lot into this very difficult question, myself included. In the US typical nuclear family scheme of things, this is not your business. But not everyone lives that way, even in the US or similar countries.

To you and your wife and her family and sister, this might very well be your business. There is no way of knowing without details about the dynamics of your family, how yall all think of "family," sister-in-law included. That said, I completely agree with palliser. This seems like a question for your family to discuss with a professional. Consult your family doctor or the nurse line provided by insurance companies if you are in the US.


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Either should be able to direct you to the kind of professional guidance you need. But I would start with websites for caregivers of special needs adults or whatever you want to call adults like your sister-in-law's boyfriend.


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You may even find a forum to pose this question. And if you practice a religion, you might also speak to clergy for peace of mind. Finally, your concerns do NOT make you a judgmental, condescending, or a bad person. This is an unusual situation, made even more complex because your sister-in-law comes from a very sheltered background, and you're not really sure what level she's functioning at herself. Now she has a potentially sexual relationship, likely one of her first if not first of its kind.

At the very least, someone needs to take her to Planned Parenthood and familiarize her with birth control. Good luck and don't beat yourself up for asking a really hard question. You say her growth has been stunted by the way her parents have treated her, but perhaps they've treated her that way because of her natural capacities?

I appreciate your concerns, and would think it odd if intellectual but depressed people I knew were deeply emotionally involved with those whose mental capacities were severely limited, because it would strike me as setting up an unfair power dynamic and not being a good motivational source, so increasing depression. Whether I would say anything would depend on particulars, but I don't think you're wrong to notice if you think your sister in law is an intellectual sort.

However, you haven't given specific indications that your sister in law is interested in mental pursuits. She has a college degree, but having taught adjunct in local colleges, I know it depends heavily on what kind of college it was whether that is meaningful or basically just more high school. Otherwise she likes caring for Alzheimer patients, going to church, and staying home with her parents. Maybe you are projecting your own desires onto her life a little bit.

She could have a very average or low average IQ and be okay with a life that isn't focused on ideas or achievements. She could just want to find someone nice and be happy and maybe have some babies and that's it. No need to even learn to drive. So just check that you're really thinking of her, and not what you would want if you were in her position. You might have cause for concern, but try to see it from her perspective first. Could I gently suggest that maybe your sister-ij-law has more profound stuff going on mentally than being the victim of coddling?

A lot of people are overprotected as children but still act on the urge to strike out on their own independently. Look, I don't know your sister-in-law, and perhaps I would share your opinion that there's nothing wrong with her that living on her own and therapy couldn't fix.

But you seem to be very clear on categorizing her as "normal" and him as "having something wrong with him," despite the fact that you characterize her as emotionally and developmentally stunted, unwilling to live independently, and suffering from chronic depression. I'm not entirely certain where the concerns over exploitation are coming in, but I think that you're implying that your sister-in-law has decided to pursue this man because he's a "sure thing?

Or she may really be developing feelings for him.

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Regardless, I think that when you talk to her about this, you're going to need to suppress your visceral reaction to her new relationship. Getting her defensive is no way to discuss your concerns with her. I know that this goes against the grain, but I find myself agreeing with you. Yes, be a solid presence. Yes, love on them without end. But no — do not take their problems on as your problems, or soon you will be drowning alongside them. This is a tough one. When I met my current partner, I knew he was stressed and low.

I wanted to arrange everything — introduce him to everything — fix everything for him. It fed into my own issues of self-worth and wanting to be needed by someone else. I need to step back and let him take care of himself. Two people with illogical thoughts can come to many unhealthy and illogical conclusions.

Consider joining a group like Celebrate Recovery or find a compassionate listening program like Humble Warrior to get an outside perspective on your inside problems. Whereas I was a chatty pisces needing to bear my soul every five minutes, my husband was not a talker. He tended to shut down instead of facing issues head on. But mental illness makes it even more important.

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The Top 5 Realities of Dating Someone With a Mental Illness

Both partners need to feel fulfilled and valued. If one person is constantly melting down, forcing the other to be strong and stable, it will probably never work. And check in often to make sure you are succeeding in those efforts. Find a friend who is not your partner to keep you accountable for sticking to them. Building a successful relationship with someone with mental illness is not impossible.

But when both people struggle with mental illness, it can take a lot of work and commitment. Both partners need to give what they can to help their partners stay healthy. But both also need to be able to receive what they need to stay stable. Follow this journey here. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Find this story helpful?

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