Unmotivated Boyfriend…What Do I Do?

Reader’s Question

I am a female in my mid twenties and have been dating my boyfriend for over three years. When we first got together he had a stable, good paying job. After about a year of dating we started moving around for my job, and he worked off and on during that time, which didn’t bother me because my company covered expenses. However, we have been “home” now for a year and he has been without a job for a year and a half. I work full time and also go to school full time. He claims to look for employment during the day but has only had one interview the entire time. He has a bachelors degree in a generic field and should have no trouble finding something. I believe he is unmotivated, somewhat lazy, and too picky. I am getting very sick of paying for everything and would like him to get a job so we can get a house and get married. To top it off, he also tries to criticize me for my spending habits, which I feel is unfair given he does not make any money. Everyone keeps telling me I should dump him, make him move out, and/or give him an ultimatum. I don’t know what to do. At times I feel bad for him but at other times I just want to scream at him. I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him but I don’t know how much longer I can take all of this stress. When I try to talk to him about the issues (job, house, marriage, etc.) he just ends up getting mad and telling me that he wants all of that but it’s not the right time and if I’m not happy then we “should talk”. I don’t know what to do, help!

Psychologist’s Reply

I suspect you’ve hitched your wagon to a dead horse. While some people become immobilized by depression or stress — your boyfriend doesn’t seem to have that problem. This sounds like a personality problem more than a relationship issue. While he may focus on being too picky, there are several foundation issues that are damaging your relationship. The core of this problem is his near-complete selfishness. He’s comfortable with the current situation and the fact that it bothers you is still irrelevant to him. There is also a disrespect and disregard for your feelings, efforts in the relationship, and attempts to keep the relationship going. He’s not only unmotivated to work, but he’s unmotivated to improve your relationship. Despite his superficial comments, he’s making no attempt to make your life better. He only has emotional distress when he’s asked to accept responsibility or to contribute in the relationship.

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Years ago we had a diagnosis called Passive-Aggressive Personality. The definition went something like “a long-standing resistance to the requirements of normal vocational, social, and personal functioning”. Individuals with PAP resent responsibility, authority, and the requirements for normal relationships. Rather than be aggressive, they are passive-aggressive, displaying their resistance using procrastination, intentional inefficiency (half wash the dishes), claims of forgetfulness, complaining, blaming others, resentment, preoccupation with unfairness, sullenness, resistance to suggestions by others, and behaviors that sabotage any demands for adult-level responsibility. When asked to do something, they create such drama or problems that people stop asking them to help. If you ask them to help clean house, they throw away your favorite nick-nacks “by accident”. They miss job interviews because they ran out of gas or were treated unfairly by the office receptionist. When you try to talk to a PAP about their behavior or the situation, they make the discussion so emotionally uncomfortable that you hesitate to talk about it again.

If this sounds like your boyfriend, then it’s most likely a personality disorder in which case, it’s not something that will go away. Even if he obtains a job, he’ll quickly quit due to some imagined unfairness or problem on the job.

When we suspect this situation in a relationship, I often advise putting the relationship on probation. Probation involves a period of time where we will see if anything happens, changes, or improves. During the probation time, we will encourage an improvement in the situation, encourage job hunting, etc. If at the end of the probation period, say three or four months, nothing changes — then we acknowledge that the horse is dead and not likely to spontaneously recover. We end the relationship and move on. It’s better to go though the distress of a breakup than allow your life to plateau in your mid twenties. Keep in mind, the more responsibility in the situation, the more “unmotivated” they become. Marriage and children only make them less likely to get off the couch. Sad but true. That’s my two cents.

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