My girlfriend Kristen lost her job almost a year ago and my patience is wearing thin.
If I were in her shoes, I would be networking with everyone I know to find a job. But Kristen just applies to jobs she sees online.
I also think I would find part-time work to get out of the house, keep up my energy and bring in some income. I’m getting fed up with paying for everything. Instead, Kristen sleeps late, stays at home and spends hours in front of the television, which can’t be helpful to her finding a job or to her mood.
I’ve offered to coach her on how to be more outgoing and network. Despite my ongoing encouragement, she won’t step out of her comfort zone. She says she’s too shy and I have to let her do things her way. I think her shyness contributed to her getting fired, which makes me certain she needs to get better at social interactions.
I found her shyness attractive when we met two years ago. She had a modest job but found it fulfilling and that was fine with me. I don’t need her to make a lot of money, just be able to support herself.
When friends ask how she’s doing, I’m embarrassed and wonder if they think I am a loser for dating her. Many of my friends are couples where both women are pretty driven. I’m wondering if I am caught up in some kind of unrealistic Washington standard.
I’m feeling less attracted to Kristen lately and find myself snapping at her or making sarcastic remarks a lot of the time. I don’t feel good about my behavior and it’s not helping her find a job. But just acting like everything is normal doesn’t help either. Nothing I do seems to help.
I wonder if I should end the relationship. I don’t want to spend my life supporting someone who can’t get out of bed. Does that make me shallow?
When you try to “rescue” someone who could actually help themselves, you usually wind up creating a mess. You get resentful that the other person won’t take your advice and they get resentful over being told what to do.
You appear to be headed in that direction. Kristen knows her own personality and states that she does not want to be pushed. If she doesn’t want to put herself out in the world as you would, she doesn’t have to. You can’t force her to change her approach.
You also don’t have to keep supporting Kristen financially or even stay with her. But don’t threaten Kristen with these consequences in hope of getting her to do what you want; that will erode whatever love and goodwill exists between you two.
You can certainly let Kristen know how unhappy you are with the situation. This is different from threatening her or trying to force her to change. Perhaps knowing where you stand will lead her to take action. If not, you will have to decide if you are willing to remain in this relationship under the current circumstances.
All that said, consider some other possibilities:
First, Kristen may actually not be in a position to help herself. You have a girlfriend who sleeps a lot, doesn’t leave the house much, stares at the TV for hours on end and is making minimal effort to improve her life. Like you, I have a hunch that Kristen is depressed.
If that is true, Kristen really could use your support to get a grip on her life. Depression can be paralyzing.
How can you help? Sadly, there’s no guarantee that you can, because you can’t always get someone else to see that they have a problem.
Your best chance would be to raise the possibility of depression with Kristen in as gentle and non-critical a way as possible. If she thinks you have a point, perhaps she’d be willing to make some moves to improve her mood, such as doing aerobic exercise, stopping alcohol consumption if she does drink (alcohol is a depressant) or even considering psychotherapy.
I’d also suggest you explore with Kristen the possibility that she has social anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with being shy, but when shyness interferes with our ability to function in the world as you say it does with Kristen, we should take action to stretch beyond our limitations.
With regard to the possibility that you are looking at Kristen through a lens distorted by DC standards of success, yes, this is a competitive town of high achievers, but wanting a partner who ultimately can stand on her own is not an outrageously high bar.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.