What to Do When Your Partner Spends All Day on the Couch

What to Do When Your Partner Spends All Day on the Couch
Photo: txking, Shutterstock

Not all advice need be professional. Sometimes your problems merit a bit of unvarnished honesty from a dude equipped with nothing more than a computer and a conscience. Luckily for you, I’m that guy. Welcome back to Tough Love. (If you’d like to seek my advice, email me at [email protected])

Today we’re tackling the issue of a partnership where one half works hard to bring in a vast majority of the family income, while the other half seemingly does very, very little. Where do you draw the line to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of?

Note: I’m a columnist, not a therapist or certified healthcare professional. My advice should be interpreted with that in mind. If you have a problem with anything I say, file a complaint here. Now, let us begin.

Dear Sam,

I’ve been in a relationship for I think 5 years (IDRK as I haven’t really kept track anymore). We have two children — a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. But there is tons of stress on our relationship to the point that I think often of leaving and dealing with the fallout of being a separated parent and all that comes with it. She brings in less than $400 a month while I bring in about $US4.5k to $US5k a month. She rarely works, maybe two nights a week at most. But I’m quite tired of being the only one bringing in the money.

She refuses to get a different job, even at nights, so I can watch the children. She doesn’t want to work weekends and that’s mainly why she’s doing this job she currently has. We rent a home that’s abut $US1200 a month and she never cleans it up. Most of the day is spent doing God knows what. I’ve come home to see the kids still in PJs and her on the TV. She’s not going to school like I’ve asked and we’ve talked about. She’s literally doing nothing but making sure the kids stay alive. She’s mean to the kids and it’s just a constant power struggle; she needs to be in control of every situation. I really don’t have a clue what to do. I’ve become distant to her and don’t really want to be around her much anymore. She wants to snuggle and watch TV and I’d rather go do something on my own. I just really don’t know what to do, and it doesn’t help that I have borderline personality disorder which means I can totally turn my back on her and not feel bad about it one bit.

Sincerely,

PLEASE HELP

Dear PLEASE HELP,

You’re in a tough position, and one that requires you to sit down with your partner and spell out exactly why this situation feels unfair. But before you do that, you have to take the time to understand why your partner might be living in the way you’ve described.

I’m not saying that what you’ve described to me is inaccurate, but someone who spends most of their day on the couch might be depressed or suffering from another kind of emotional struggle. Have you asked your partner how she’s feeling lately? Lethargy and a lack of motivation, which is kind of what you detailed, are common symptoms of depression.

Here’s what you need to do, if you haven’t done this already: Start with a sincere desire to understand. Does she have reservations about failure or another nagging hang-up? Is she having a mental health struggle? Is she depressed? Approach the situation with curiosity, because if there’s something there — and there likely is — you want to be a supportive partner and not a judgmental arsehole.

A refusal to work is one thing, but she’s at home all day with a two-year-old and a four-year-old. “Keeping them alive,” isn’t confined to just putting food into their mouths — it extends far beyond that — and spending all day with kids can actually be a full-time job. You’ve also noted that she spends all day doing “God knows what,” but her day-to-day will always be a mystery if you don’t learn to better communicate together. Not to suggest that you don’t already try — of course, I have a very limited scope of what your relationship looks like — but in order to get a sense of how your partner feels and how she spends her time, you have to ask.

Then, depending on what you learn, be the type of supportive partner you would want. It sounds like you face your own mental health struggles, so you can empathise. You can also tell her how this situation makes you feel — but first, ask yourself how you really feel, and find the right words to describe your emotions. Try to be delicate about how phrase your feelings, but express how you really feel. If you feel she’s “mean to the kids,” ask her why she’s acting that way, but do it in a nonjudgemental way. You’ll make zero progress if you don’t communicate.

For you to understand your situation, you have to understand your partner. First off, your kids staying in their pajamas isn’t the end of the world. Sure, you might expect your partner to have some kind of plans with them every now and then, but there are plenty of times when staying in your PJs for a day at home is fine and normal. I’ve been working from home the last two years and have spent a lot of time not getting fully dressed. Do I feel less productive as a result at times? Maybe, but my priorities are markedly different than a two-year-old’s.

Another thing to note is that even though you’re candid and honest about your borderline personality disorder, you can’t just leave her and not consider the consequences. Divorce sucks, and even if you aren’t married, the separation of parents is a hard thing for kids to go through (I know from experience). Think long and hard about this aspect of your situation, and know that leaving her and not thinking about the consequences, as you noted, is never an option. There will always be consequences and you shouldn’t ignore them.

I really hope you’re able to make some progress with her before it comes to that. Try to remember why you got together in the first place and be direct and honest about how the situation makes you feel. If conveyed from the perspective of honest emotion — it makes you feel unappreciated, etc. — you have a better chance of the message sticking. Just know that her emotions and personal situation matter just as much as yours. Good luck.

That’s it for this week, but there’s plenty more Tough Love to go around. If you’d like to be featured, please get in touch by describing your dilemmas in an email to me (please include “ADVICE” or “TOUGH LOVE” in the subject line). Or, tweet at me with the hashtag #ToughLove. Serious inquiries only: Don’t email or message me if you don’t want to be featured in the column. Disclaimer: I can’t respond to everyone, so please make sure you outline a specific problem in your note. I won’t respond to generalizations, like someone “being mean” or vague descriptions of “relationship problems” without any concrete examples of what’s ailing you. Until next time, take care of yourselves!

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