I know you’ve answered similar questions, but I had to send you mine. My boyfriend and I have been together for five years, living together for two years. We’re both in our early 30’s. For the first year that we lived together we had very little money, and we didn’t have enough money to do the things we wanted to do, but now we are both employed and I’m also in school. So now the stress is mostly about time, since we have difficult work schedules and my boyfriend has joint custody of his young son, and every other weekend is taken up with that. On the weekends when we are blissfully alone however, my boyfriend doesn’t want to do anything but watch TV (mostly sports). On our anniversary not long ago he promised to take me somewhere special, but then he didn’t. To make matters worse, he wont’ go anywhere I’m interested in, but he has socialized with a worker (a female who doesn’t even know that he has a live-in girlfriend, apparently) and has even gone to her home (without me, of course). I found out and when I confronted him he said that business was different than his personal life and simply wouldn’t budge on this. The real reason I’m writing to you now is that once again he promised we’d do something together. We planned it and the day came, and then he didn’t feel like going, and we didn’t go. I can’t tell if he is trying to get me to leave the relationship, or if he is just so overwhelmed with work and his parenting obligations that he doesn’t have time for a relationship with me. Either way, I’m the one paying the price. This isn’t what I signed up for. Should I leave?
Alison’s Take: I always feel the pain of the writer when I get letters like this, and I feels yours. Since the letter you sent us was long and involved, we’ve changed a lot of it to preserve your privacy and simplify the issues for our readers, but the core of the matter remains. Like so many couples, you started out strong, but are finding it increasingly difficult to stay connected and to communicate your desires to one another. It’s a common problem. Read: I’m Bored: All My Live-In Boyfriend Wants to Do is Stay Home and Watch TV!
As I see it, your relationship has always been plagued by different kinds of stress. You’ve managed to stick it out together for five years, but apparently the lack of money and now of time, challenging schedules, and other responsibilities, are taking their toll on you individually, and as a couple. It might be just the realities of life, but when you are both struggling this hard, it’s also difficult to maintain a healthy relationship. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of dedication and motivation. Apparently, yours, and your boyfriend’s, are fraying at the edges to the breaking point.
You may both be exhausted, frustrated, even disappointed and angry at what life has handed you, but even in the most difficult of times, you have had each other for support. And no matter what has happened or will happen in the future, if you are planning to stay together as a couple, you need to support one another more than merely “being there” in the same home. You each need some opportunities to renew and replenish your body, mind and spirit.
I like to consider people as vessels. Life can fill us with joy and well being, like a vessel can be filled to the brim with water). When we are fulfilled in our lives by work, friends, family and of course, lovers, we flourish. We can nourish others in return. But when too many people and things suck all the water from our vessel and it’s empty, there is nothing left in us to give. You and your boyfriend have become empty vessels. You both need to replenish yourselves. You do this by moderating the demands made on you and by asking for help from others, and by supporting each other. This sounds simple, but when you have lots of adult obligations, like jobs, school and parenting, it can seem like a daunting task. But you must find a way!
You are still young, and your relationship is still relatively new. If you don’t find the time to fill your “vessels” and keep them filled, you can’t nourish others because you haven’t anything left to give. So the first thing is to find ways to handle your obligations so that you can carve out a bit of time, no matter how small, to replenish yourselves as individuals, and as a couple. It might be as simple as slowing down your class schedule (take one less class now or do Summer school), and get a family member or friend to take “boyfriend junior” out to the park or to a playdate once a month, so you and your boyfriend can have some weekend time for brunch or to sleep late (together..bed…get it?). Ask for help and you’ll get it. Since you told us your weekday schedules are not in sync, take advantage of holidays and free days at your jobs and make sure you don’t waste them. And learn to say “NO” (just not to each other).
If you don’t make the effort to bond again as a couple, can your relationship really last? It doesn’t appear so.
So the next step is to get your boyfriend motivated to want to change the dangerous rut you are in (I will assume you already are motivated, since you write this letter to leather and lace advice). If your boyfriend is truly physically exhausted, making even small changes in your schedules and lifestyle choices can help. But if he has given up on the relationship, you should know that by now. It’s time to “have the talk.” Men tend to be lazy, and truly frightened, at having to break up a steady relationship, and so while he may have given up on the relationship long ago, he may just be staying put, coasting until either you leave, or you both agree to part. After all, if he can find the time to socialize with a co-worker, but not with you, there is something wrong with her priorities. And if he hasn’t told his co-workers that he has a live-in partner, that is a telling issue. Most people wouldn’t hide something so important, unless there were legal issues (you did mention he has a child and therefore I’m assuming, and “ex” somewhere).
The bottom line is that this relationship isn’t nurturing either of you. If you or he can’t handle being together, maybe it’s time to move out and see how the relationship goes, until your lives smooth out, or you realize you do/do not want to be together.
Tony’s Take: What we see here is a relationship that has devolved into being roommates. It is very clear that your boyfriend was enticed and drawn to the easy lifestyle of having a woman always available to him. But as you had to spend more time away, working and taking courses, he became bored and sought other forms of entertainment. For him, the relationship is now about having a roommate who will help with his son on the weekends his son is there. For you, although you are badly treated, you get a stable environment from which to study and work — although not much of a loving one.
Your guy is showing petulance and contempt by making promises and then not following through, and yet he has time to go to the movies and other events with his co-worker from his job. He is attempting to punish you for not making him your number one priority in all things. Yet, he won’t force the issue, because he has you to handle his son, and getting the co-worker involved with his son is problematic.
You must weigh how much personal abuse you are taking by being with this guy versus how long it will take you to finish your degree. Obviously, sharing a house or an apartment is much less expensive than trying to afford one on your own. But you should carefully segregate money to have an emergency fund so that you can leave on your own terms if necessary.