He's Out of Work, You're Out of Patience

Dear Karen,

 My partner has been unemployed for a few months now, and has basically moved in with me.  I don’t feel financially strained to have him here, but I’m running out of patience.  I don’t think he is working hard enough to get a job.  I need him to support me as a man, not financially, but I want him to be successful. I don’t want our relationship to end over this, nor do I want him to move out. How can I motivate / inspire him to find work and worth again? And, how can I deal /support him with all of this while he’s in this place? – Sally

Dear Sally,

Although the focus of your question is on his employment status (or lack thereof), I do want to address a couple of challenges you may have on your hands:

It sounds like he just became a fixture at your place; it doesn’t sound like moving in together was a planned-out next phase of your relationship.  If that’s the case, you may not have had the conversations about expectations and needs that would have been very important to have – for many reasons, one of them being that it’s a good way to avoid building up resentments.

When you’ve talked out how you both want things to be, what you want from each other, what your sensitivities/hot buttons are to avoid (“I will lose my mind if you come home late for dinner”, or “I’ll be pissed if you try to mess with my sports-watching rituals”), it makes life a whole lot easier.

By the way, please make sure you’re having those types of conversations when both of you are in a good place (connected, loving, etc.).  Don’t try to navigate this conversation when one of you is already angry.  It won’t be too productive, I can promise you that.

The next thing is that he “moved in” while being unemployed.  This could be tricky: he’s probably not feeling powerful, he’s not at the top of his game, and he isn’t in a place to give you everything he (hopefully) wants to give to you.  In fact, you are taking care of him.  This won’t tend to make him feel more empowered – it will have more of a tendency to make him feel weaker.

Here’s what I’d suggest: make sure you’re asking him to do things you know he’s able to do well, and that affirm his role as your strong and capable man (keep this in your mind, and don’t miss opportunities to ask him for help: would he carry the groceries in from the car?  Could he handle getting the car serviced?  Could he listen to X situation and give you some advice about how to handle it?).

Notice I didn’t mention things like asking him to: cook dinner; do the laundry; grocery shop; clean the house.

If he ends up doing those types of tasks, you may inadvertently be compounding the problem because he probably won’t feel more powerful after doing a load of towels, and you probably won’t feel more respect and admiration for him (both critically important – always – but particularly so right now).  What you stated was important to you in your question was that you needed him to “support you as a man”.

Now before you get crazy on me and think I’m saying that men should never do housework, let me clarify something here: you have an unemployed man on your hands that you’re having a hard time seeing in a positive light right now.  In fact, it sounds like you’re already leaning towards telling him what he should be doing, since you have a clearer idea what would be “right”.

If he starts doing things that move him even farther away from getting out there and landing a fabulous job that puts him back on top of his game, you’re likely to lose attraction for him.  This is not a good situation, and one you don’t want to risk, if you want this relationship to last.

The other question you had was about how you could “motivate / inspire him to find work and worth again?”  Here’s my short answer to that question:

It’s not your job to get him to find work – your job is to believe in his best, and to relate with him as though you admire, respect and trust him (and if you don’t, find a way to get there, and in a hurry – it’s going to be a disaster if you don’t).

You’re a very important “mirror” to him; what he sees reflected back to him in your eyes is going to be a big part of how he sees/feels about himself.

If you can get to a place where 1) you trust, respect and admire him, and 2) stop doing too much for him – and in fact get him to do more for you – you will have a situation that works much better (for both of you).  Before you know it, he’ll be happily employed and this will all be behind you.

And if you play it right, you’ll still be together.