When your partner refuses to get a job

When I sat down to write this blog today, I knew that I would be writing about a topic that I am very passionate about, as well as something that I can relate to. Many of us have been involved in relationships where we don’t feel like our partner is pulling their own weight. Recently, my colleagues had a discussion about a trend in couples that we have observed where one partner refuses to get a job to support the household or have a stable employment. (This topic does not apply to couples/families that agree that one partner will stay home).

Many people think that therapists have all the answers and have special powers with which they can fix any sort of emotional dysfunction. The fact is, that’s not true. We are human beings who become very knowledgeable about our clientele and our work with advanced education, clinical experiences, and life experiences. For me, this article draws on all three, and I will share some of my own personal experiences with you.

This particular blog resonates with me because I was also involved in a long-term relationship where my partner wasn’t financially or emotionally supportive.  He refused to get a job which became a sore spot of resentment and was the source of almost all of our arguments for years. He came up with every excuse in the book as to why he shouldn’t get a job, and after every “discussion” we had on the issue, I walked away feeling like the bad guy who should be more sympathetic to his struggles. Clearly, he was very manipulative.  It wasn’t until I left the relationship for good that he decided to get a job. It was a painful but needed learning experience. While it is easy to say he was the “villain” in the breakdown of our relationship, I admit that I have some responsibility in “creating the monster.” Part of the personal and professional work that I had to do focused on understanding why I stayed in an emotionally unavailable relationship for so long.  Here are some reasons why people choose to stay with a partner who refuses to work.

1) The relationship provides a source of comfort and familiarity.

Even though you may start to feel a lot of hurt, anger, and resentment towards your partner, ultimately you stay in the relationship because you are getting something out of it. You have to be honest with yourself and explore what that is. Common reasons people give are: 1) I don’t want to be alone, 2) we have children together, 3) I have known this person for a long time and I know that they will change, or 4) I feel comfortable with this person, we have known each other for a long time and I don’t like the idea of starting over. Basically, there is some level of comfort to an unhealthy relationship, because it is familiar and predictable thus fear of the unknown. And even if your partner is not there for you emotionally, you may take pride in the fact that you actually have a partner which is more appealing to you than (dare I say) being alone.

2) Low self-esteem and self-worth.

We have all heard a friend or a loved one say “he/she is the best I am going to get. I am too old to start over. No one else is going to want me. Where else would I go? Who would want to date me at my age? Who would want to date someone with kids?” These are the statements of a person with low self-esteem. A person with high self-esteem has respect for themselves, their abilities, and knows that they are worthy of being loved and valued by others.  There is also something to be said when we pick out a partner that is not living up to their best potential. Typically, people pick out partners who need to be helped, because they are “less likely to leave.”

3. You are ashamed to leave your partner or tell others what life is really like at home.

Another reason why people stay who stay with a partner who is financially inconsiderate is because they are unable to tell the truth about their relationship problems to family members or close friends. They work diligently to present their relationship as one that doesn’t have any troubles to avoid criticism and attention. Often people who stay in relationships with a financially irresponsible partner don’t want to seem like a failure to their family and friends.

4. You have become your partner’s best defense team…even against yourself.

It is not uncommon for us to defend our partner’s honor, even if they are wrong. We do this because we refuse to believe our partner is selfish or doesn’t care as much for us or the welfare of the family as we do for them. After all, who wants to think that they are being used by their partner or spouse? It doesn’t sound very pretty does it? Sometimes, we may try to shield our minds by making excuses for our partner such as “he/she is depressed, he/she are doing the best they can, or he/she is waiting on a management position. “However, making excuses for your partner or allowing yourself to be manipulated by your partner’s excuses causes you to avoid accurately assessing and making the best decisions for your relationship. Your partner refuses to work to provide for the family! If your partner cares for you, they help you to build a relationship by working together. In a relationship, communication and emotional support are essential for the relationship to survive. Without this, the relationship becomes one-sided, with one partner doing all of the work literally and figuratively.  

Now that you know what some of the reasons are for staying in a relationship where your partner refuses to work; you are probably wondering how go about remedying the problem. Here are some tips that I would recommend for you to remediate the issue.

1. Put you and your family’s needs first.

You and your family need to survive, eat, pay bills, and have an emergency fund if something happens to anyone of you. Things happen, and even if they don’t it is always better to be safe than sorry. Working gives people a since of pride, and it allows them to make contributions to the family by helping to build and solidify an emotional and financial future together. Furthermore, finances provide stability and freedom, and allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor with your partner.

2. Recognize that you are being financially abused.

When your partner refuses to work or contribute financially to the household, therefore putting all of the financial responsibilities on you, that is considered to be mistreatment and manipulation – which are also considered as financial abuse. Further, if your partner refuses to discuss or try remedy the issue, or puts you down for their inability to work, then you are also being emotionally abused. That means that your partner is using their power over you to keep you at a disadvantage (most likely to continue supporting them, and never leaving the relationship). This is toxic, and it drains the relationship of its energy over time.

3. Recognize that you are unhappy….and probably overworked and overextended.

Typically what happens when a partner refuses to work, is that the other partner has resentment towards them. Resentment continues to build if it is not addressed. You may go through the cycle of resenting your partner and trying to work with your partner to build a better relationship. However, a relationship can’t be built or sustained if only one person is doing all of the work. What’s more is that if you are the sole financial provider, you may work a lot of hours, and are most likely exhausted when you get home. After all, who wouldn’t be? And if you have extra household responsibilities on top of working, you may also more irritable because of the added pressure.

4. Get some support.

If you and your partner have been arguing incessantly about their lack of motivation to work; there’s a good chance the two of you are not effectively communicating with each other. However, you need to get yourself some emotional support where you can feel heard and unjudged. I recommend that you should go to therapy – alone, at least initially. In a situation where one person may be manipulated, I would always encourage them to get therapy first before going with their significant other. There you can get support, build your self-esteem and empowerment, and receive unbiased guidance on how to cope with the issues.

5. Give your partner different incentives to change.

In order for people to change, they need to be motivated to do so. So reflect back and think about all of the things that you have tried to do in order to communicate with your partner. Note to yourself that these previous methods and suggestions did not work, therefore something different has to be done. With my experience, I left my partner. Then and only then was he willing to radically change. For you it may be something different, like confronting your partner within the family or suggesting that they talk to a career counselor.

These are some suggestions that I would recommend if you are struggling to communicate and enforce boundaries with a financially dependent partner. It can be tough to change relationship patterns, especially when they are destructive.

Feel free to give your feedback!

© Natalie Jones, LPCC, PsyD. | Clinical Psychologist