Dear Amy:

My boyfriend just asked me to marry him. Neither of us has been married. We are in our thirties.

I told him that until we find a solution to one very important concern that I have, I cannot marry him. I love him dearly and would love to spend the rest of my life with him. However, I do not want extended family members living with us.

When I was 16, my grandmother came to live in our house and I saw the problems that it created for my parents. They were unable to go out with just the two of them because they felt guilty leaving grandma alone. My boyfriend has a sister who is a few years younger than he is. She has a disability. She lives with their parents and is dependent on them financially, socially, for transportation and for all meals.

His parents are getting older, and I can easily see that my boyfriend is going to become the sole provider for his sister. I do not want to feel pressured to take her in. They have the finances to set her up in a residential facility where she can learn to live with a roommate. I understand that these facilities can provide transportation to and from the part-time job she has; they provide entertainment, have structured activities and can teach her to live more independently.

I am not asking him to abandon his sister. We can visit with her, pick her up for visits at our house, have dinner together, etc.; but we will still have time to be together.

Is this unreasonable? I love him very much, but I foresee many problems in our future if we take in extended family.

Future Sister-in-Law

You don't say that your parents regretted their decision to take care of your grandmother, but I can understand how it might seem from your point of view.

This is an opportunity for all of you to find a compassionate solution and I urge you to do so. If you and your fiance and his family (including his sister) are in basic agreement about what would be in everyone's best interests, then you should approach this as a team. Do your homework and research nearby facilities. The right "fit" might enhance and expand this young woman's life.

You and your fiance must talk this out thoroughly in premarital counseling. No matter what her living arrangements, I'm sure you know that your future sister-in-law always will be a major part of your life. Where she is and how she is doing will influence where you live and how you are doing. I must remind you that in your life together as a couple, the world will hand you many surprises and imponderables.

There are so many things you simply cannot prepare for, and I hope you have the heart and compassion to accept these circumstances as they unfold.

For inspiration and information, read "Reflections From a Different Journey: What Adults With Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew" (2004, McGraw-Hill), by Stanley Klein and John Kemp. These essays by disabled adults will definitely affect your point of view.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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