Ask Elizabeth: Should I Stay Or Should I Go.
I’m looking for some advice here as the opinion of all of you would be very helpful for me with this tough decision. My boyfriend of 3 years and the father of my child can’t seem to hold down a job. Since I’ve known him, he’s probably had about 10 jobs. He normally gets fired but sometimes quits. We have thought about having him just be a stay at home dad but I’m not impressed with his ability to keep the house up. I think if someone is a stay at home parent, the house should be kept in order (for the most part) and dinner should be on the table (most nights, to a reasonable extent). Well, he can’t do this very well either. I make enough money to support our family but his lack of contributions significantly slows down my ability to pay off my debts and buy a house for us. I almost feel I would be better off financially just breaking up with him and being on my own. Is this a bad reason to break up and try to move on? I love him but the resentment towards him is growing. I bust my butt to provide a good life and he is mediocre at best. He is much younger, only 23. That seemed like a valid excuse for a while, not having any experience on his resume, but now it’s just a tired, overplayed excuse. Any advice and direction on this difficult situation would be greatly appreciated.
Thank for your question.
The main problem you have asked us for help with seems to be whether you should stay with your partner based on your perception that he is not pulling his weight in the relationship. Feeling as though contributions are equal in a relationship is incredibly important as this is how trust and intimacy is formed. Essentially working towards shared goals together is a large part of what being in a relationship is all about. People think relationships are all about being attracted to someone and sex, and I am not minimising those aspects of a relationship. However, if you don’t have shared values and goals, it can make being together incredibly difficult. I have seen couples get very caught up in this idea that a relationship should be a 50/50 proposition based on financial commitment. The reality is this is a relationship, not a business contract. So you are being very fair in suggesting that your partner could pull his weight by keeping the house managed and doing the bulk of the child management/care. No, you are not unreasonable in expecting that this work would be done to a reasonable standard as your boyfriend’s contribution to the relationship.
You mention your partner is a lot younger than you and yes this may be why he is having difficulty applying himself to a job. Many young people find it difficult to apply themselves at the best of times. Adding the stress of a young child and you have a recipe for disaster. I am not sure what circumstances were that caused you to get together but 23 is very young to have a child and it could be that your partner is having trouble coping with the reality that he is now a father. This may be causing him to unconsciously sabotage the jobs he takes because he is basically struggling with life being so serious so quickly at the age of 23. What are his friends doing are they at university or college? What sort of jobs is he struggling with – it may be that he feels his future is disappearing into a black void of responsibility. If he is really feeling resentful about this situation, he may be taking out his frustration on everyone else, rather than blaming himself for the responsibility he now finds himself having with a young child. Perhaps guilt is preventing him from leaving you and his child so instead he is undermining the relationship by being difficult so that you will give up in exasperation with him. This means if you leave he doesn’t have to cope with the guilt and shame of making that decision as you will have made it for him.
Having said all of this the reality is he does have a young child which he is responsible for, and sometimes in life, we have to do things we don’t want to do. It’s hard, but that is how it is. What this means is your partner will have to come to terms with – within himself – the harsh reality that the child he has helped bring into the world needs him to step up and take responsibility. It may be that your partner has an inflated sense of entitlement. This may have come from an indulged upbringing or may even be as a result of a personality disorder. It is hard for me to know because we are corresponding in writing and I haven’t met your partner or been able to talk to you about more specific detail. Think about the history of your boyfriend’s behaviour since you have known him. Has he always had difficulty applying himself? Does he believe the world owes him? If this is the cause of your partner’s behaviour then this pattern of being in the world may be very difficult but not impossible to change.
The reality is whatever the reason your partner needs to take responsibility for his role in your partnership. Otherwise, you are absolutely right you will become resentful if you feel you are carrying the burden, not just of your child but of him as well. He may be able to step up, he may not. Nothing you do can make him do this, the choice is his, just as it is your choice whether you should go or stay.
It is not helpful for me to tell you what you should do. However what I would suggest is that you have a meeting with him. Try to be as calm as you can. Emotion will only serve to complicate your message and won’t change anything about the outcome. You need to explain to your boyfriend that whether it is his intent or not the reality is he is not contributing to the relationship and upbringing of your child in a way that you are happy with. He may well have had other ideas for his future and may well find the jobs that are possible for him now very hard to do. But unless he helps you earn money in an ongoing reliable capacity or he is prepared to carry more responsibility with the house and your child it will not be possible for your relationship to continue. I would be very specific about what you require from him. Most importantly you need to explain to him that the way things are at the moment will only result in you resenting him because you feel you are providing for him and your child. In particular, if your child is witness to nasty arguments this is really detrimental to their development. Loud arguments between parents can make children very anxious, and don’t think they are too young to be effected. Nasty escalated arguing can be very unsafe for you too if the arguing becomes physical so please be mindful of safety. Write everything down if it helps keep you on track when speaking to your boyfriend. If you feel the conversation will be too difficult it can be helpful to write a letter, either to clear your thoughts before you speak with your boyfriend or to give to him to make sure he understands where you are coming from.
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