Boyfriend Moves In, Then Quits Job and Does Nothing

Reader’s Question

My boyfriend and I recently moved in together, and I find myself getting frustrated over his laissez-faire habits that never bothered me before. Soon after we moved in together, he quit his job because he claimed he was overworked, but he only goes to school for four hours a day and has no other responsibilities and used to work from home. I’m supporting us now, and though he claims he looks for jobs I never see him doing much of anything at home. I offered to help him find a job and he agreed, and since he has a degree I didn’t think it’d be hard. But whenever I send him e-mails filled with jobs I’ve found for him, they sit unopened in his inbox. I’m getting frustrated with him because I feel I’m doing all the housework and all the work for our relationship. He claims he can’t help me in the house because he doesn’t know how. All I do is get mad and disappointed now every time we talk about jobs, money or our future. We started dating because I’m a very driven person and understood him to be too, but now I’m seeing this whole new side that sits in bed all day. I don’t know what to do. Will this ever work out? Which one of us needs to change?

Psychologist’s Reply

It’s unlikely you’re seeing a “new side” of your boyfriend. It’s more likely you are seeing the “true side” of your boyfriend. He seems to be all talk and no action. In the past, psychiatry called these folks “passive-aggressive personality” — a type of personality disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders on this website) in which the individual passively resists any and all requirements for normal social, financial, employment and relationship competency. They consistently resist, sabotage, and undermine any effort to elevate their level of functioning by those around them. They are full of multiple excuses for their alleged inabilities such as his inability to help with the housework because he doesn’t know how!

Also consistent with a personality disorder, your boyfriend 1) has little or no concern for your feelings about this situation, 2) has a high tolerance for a low level of financial and social functioning, and 3) has no visible distress about his situation unless you bring it to his attention.

Adult males who operate in this manner often have promises of a great future, waiting for that “perfect job” or college graduation, etc. In reality, each time their ship comes in — they’re at the airport! They are full of stories of near-misses and jobs lost due to misunderstandings and unfairness. Under all the excuses and deceptions you have an educated adult male who won’t run the vacuum or help take out the garbage without a protest. These are extremely selfish and immature individuals who move in quickly, reduce their level of responsibility, then hang on to their dependent situation as long as possible. They know eventually you will give an ultimatum at which time they will play the victim, accuse you of being hard and cruel, etc. They never acknowledge that their behavior creates the problem in the relationship.

In these situations, I often recommend placing the relationship on a “secret probation”. Over the next few months (or weeks, whatever you decide), continue to try to improve on the relationship, help him find a job, etc. If nothing has changed at the end of the probation period, give him the boot and move on. While he may have a variety of intellectualized, pseudophilosophical excuses — his behavior is based in his personality, something unlikely to change at this age. As a driven person, you’ll need to find another driven person to accompany you though life…not a lethargic partner you’ll have to drag with you. Be cautious, many of these individuals are experts at obligating their caretakers using such ploys as buying large items together, having a child, signing a two-party lease, etc. From their standpoint, it makes it more difficult for you to detach and gives them a longer vacation from the responsibilities of adult life.

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