Should you leave your unemployed partner?

Should you leave a chronically unemployed partner?

You are not a terrible person if you’re thinking of leaving a chronically underemployed/unemployed partner. We only get one life, and you’re allowed to put your own interests first. Love is lovely … but so is peace of mind and financial security. In some circumstances it might be blindingly obvious whether to stay or go. But in others it’s not – this one’s for you. (For the record: While things seem to be back on track, I’m keeping things separate so that they’re easy to untangle again if needed.)

How did I know I couldn’t keep going?

When I asked myself, is this relationship adding net value to my life? I could no longer say yes.

For all the good, the bad outweighed it, and had been for a long time.

Nobody knows all the gory details. They don’t need to. Honestly, I could have coped with it all – as long as he had a full time job. But all those things, combined with zero income … different story. Especially given the fact that going separate ways would render him eligible for unemployment benefits.

It is damn hard to tell where supporting becomes enabling, and being taken advantage of.

I am far from blameless. I made mistakes. There are many things I could have done better. And I’m much wiser for it.

I held on too long. Then I came to a crossroads.

I could keep being passive. And I would almost certainly wind up bitter and drained. Probably having a breakdown and having to take time off work – ironically, the only thing keeping us afloat financially, not to mention the only good thing in my life.

Or I could cut my losses. Put myself first for once. Heal from the toll of two years of uncertainty and stress.

Life was exhausting. Going from carrying the weight of two people to just me – it was infinitely lighter. I can’t quantify the relief I felt; I slept like a baby those first few nights after leaving.

There was second-guessing, of course. There always is. But after months of internal back-and-forth, I knew it was the right call. I’d done so much soul searching and so much reading, in pursuit of the answer.

What it boils down to, is that the discussions in these three threads hit me like a ton of bricks. Realising that we might never be financially stable  together. And I simply could not live that way.

It’s so important to have a financially responsible partner.

It takes two. You cannot do it all yourself. And nor should you.

Love and trying isn’t enough.

Love is not willingness to live in a cardboard box together.

Love is doing whatever it takes to not get to that point.

17 thoughts on “Should you leave your unemployed partner?

  • Reply Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial April 28, 2016 at 00:48

    “It is damn hard to tell where supporting becomes enabling, and being taken advantage of.” <– So much this. And it's hard when in reality it's not like your partner is not trying, but in your mind they're not trying as hard or in the same ways as you would be. They can't change their behavior but you're expected to carry the weight and change your behavior to support the both of you. You want to be there for your partner, but wonder if they'll be there for you. It's all so so tough.

    Glad to hear you guys are back on track in what sounds like a better-for-your-mental-health paradigm. I hope you find happiness and success, whether the relationship works out in the end or no.

  • Reply Revanche April 28, 2016 at 01:44

    :hug: You know my thoughts on these things. I don’t believe in martyrdom to a marriage or any partnership. There exists a point for everyone where leaving is healthier than staying and it’s different for everyone. You’re not a bad person for having or exercising a sense of self preservation, we’re supposed to have that. Ignoring our instincts to save ourselves, well, that’s just a recipe for a long desperate decline.

  • Reply SP April 28, 2016 at 02:43

    I’m happy you put yourself first, and while it is good that you are back on track, knowing that you can ALWAYS choose to save yourself is very reassuring and freeing. Good luck, and never think you are a bad person!

  • Reply Liquid April 28, 2016 at 04:59

    Good for you. It’s important to look out for yourself and protect your future happiness. Partners should see eye to eye, especially on financial matters. Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Being honest and clear about what each person wants can help, but relationships can be complex and the outcomes are not always certain. Best of luck. 🙂

  • Reply Linda April 28, 2016 at 07:17

    Oh, yes, yes, yes!

    The Dear Sugar thread where she refers to “compassionate indifference!” I’ve experienced that so much (as I’m sure you recall).

    In the interest of reinforcing again how much I can relate to this challenge you’re having, let me share that I have recently ended YET ANOTHER relationship where the guy (metaphorically) wrung his hands about how he just_couldn’t_get_a_job. Ugh!!

    At least this time I ended it after only 5 months instead of putting in 5 years like I did with the last one. I’m learning how to “fail fast” on these guys that are nice and sweet and have some other good qualities, but are failing to sustain a career or even a job and sabotaging their futures and not just their present time.

    With “most recent guy” I realized that even if he was supporting himself in the present (and he was…he had a fully paid for house and still had some money in the bank and was incredibly frugal), the fact that he hadn’t worked in six years and wasn’t pursuing a new job HARD meant that he had also screwed himself out of six + years of contributing to Social Security and retirement savings. In perhaps a year or two, he’d be left only with the equity on his house to support him, and he was at least 10 years away from retirement. And with his “woe me, I cannot find a job in my chosen, very narrow field, and I’m sort of unqualified now because I haven’t kept my skills up” approach to job hunting, he was sure as shootin’ going to be stuck living on that equity until it was gone, gone, gone.

    If I had continued to build that relationship and we had moved in together, was I possibly setting myself up for supporting TWO people on the money I’d been socking away for my own retirement? Maybe. My financial plan is not set up that way, and I’d have been beggering myself. Nope, nope, nope!

    I don’t know the details about what sort of retiree support is available in NZ, but I wonder if those were the sorts of concerns running through your head, too. It’s not just our present selves we are possibly short changing by staying with partners who are stuck in a big ‘ol rut; it’s also our future selves.

    I’m reading a great book right now called “How to be an Adult in Relationships” by David Richo and I highly recommend it. I’m doing my personal work, I’m not focusing on dating, and I’m going to throw myself into some career revitalization now.

    I’d love to have a supportive partner — and that could even mean one that doesn’t work in a traditional career — but the partner must be doing something constructive with his time and not just pitying himself. Maybe one day I can make that happen. *sigh*

    Do let’s keep supporting one another on this!

  • Reply The Personal Economist April 28, 2016 at 11:36

    Good on you, you’ve got to have some self-respect and at least align on your values. Obviously there can be ebbs and flows and my husband and I have supported each other through full time study, kids and a career change. But all parties have to contribute in some way.

  • Reply Financial Samurai April 29, 2016 at 09:59

    Oh no! What was the end result?

  • Reply Rice and lemonade – Windycitygal April 29, 2016 at 13:22

    […] I’ve had my own “don’t quit on yourself” moments recently. After I returned home from slogging through the mess of Mom’s health, I acknowledged to M that this relationship we’d started just wasn’t working out for me. *sigh* He’s very sweet and there are several good things about him and the relationship, but he hasn’t been working for a while and that makes me anxious. I put up with patiently waiting for my partner to get a job for two years when I was with B, and I’m not going there again. I’m not the only one put into a bind by a partner’s unemployment, either. […]

  • Reply Michelle April 29, 2016 at 15:05

    Sending hugs your way.

  • Reply Dividendsdownunder April 29, 2016 at 16:53

    If they seem to have no motivation / drive to achieve or do something with their lives (Looking after a child/ren & looking after the home counts, as does education, looking for the right job etc), if they literally aren’t doing anything, then that speaks volumes they don’t want to try to achieve anything in their life, so you probably won’t have a great life with them.

    Love is about more than just what you add to a relationship, but it’s a very one sided relationship if they aren’t pulling their weight with the needs of life.


  • Reply Jane April 30, 2016 at 01:38

    I’ve been a little worried about you. I can’t say anything better than the commenters above or the commenters on the linked threads, so I’ll just say I’m thinking of you.

  • Reply FF @ Femme Frugality April 30, 2016 at 15:21

    Thinking of you the world away. That independence is empowering, and untangles parts of your soul that have been mangled. Money and income battles, in my experience, and it may be different for others, are so often a symptom rather than a cause. But the symptoms are what send us to the doctor in the first place.

  • Reply Alicia May 2, 2016 at 12:35

    I understand all of this so much. I recently (3 months ago) ended a 6 year living-together relationship (the 5 year engagement says it all), and it came down to a lack of effort and willingness to even TRY to pull his weight. When close people ask what happened, my response is “it’s not from lack of love, which I’m not sure it makes it any better. But I couldn’t motivate him, and get couldn’t motivate himself” – I was just done because I didn’t want to be miserable, resentful, bitter and stressed for the rest of my life. So, single at 30 isn’t quite where I thought I’d be… but I’m filling my life with new opportunities, hobbies, and just saying yes to life after feeling stuck for so long. It isn’t always easy, that’s for sure – but I’m moving forward.

    • Reply Leigh May 2, 2016 at 16:56

      <3 I'm sorry, Alicia, but excited for the new opportunities and hobbies you're filling your life with!

  • Reply Jaime @ Jaime Donovan May 4, 2016 at 20:41

    Depends on the situation. I also think it depends what you mean by love. I think love means you love each other enough that you both work hard on meeting financial responsibilities.

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach May 5, 2016 at 01:15

    I’m so happy you are taking care of yourself. You do not have to feel guilty AT ALL!

  • Reply Little Miss Moneybags May 6, 2016 at 15:47

    What a difficult thing to face, and to speak about publicly. I’ve been thinking about you and I’m glad that things seem to be getting better, but happier that you did something about it rather than accept a status quo that was so hurtful to you. Would that my younger self had done that!

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