How do I help my partner become more responsible?
March 9, 2015 11:27 AM   Subscribe

My loving, intelligent, witty, well-read partner is also really irresponsible. Please help me approach him about it constructively.

I'm sorry there's a lot of text - since this is anonymous, I tried to include as many details as I could.

My SO and I do not make a lot of money. He is working a slightly-above minimum wage service job; he does get tips daily that supplement the otherwise miserly paychecks. I am in a part-time administrative position (under consideration for full-time employment in my dream field) that pays more if you compared paychecks alone, but still leaves me with very little disposable income after public transit/commute costs, utilities, rent, and groceries. We don't go out very much, although he is an avid Magic the Gathering player and goes to (free) events once a week. If he does spend money, it is on Magic cards ($40 - $100 a month), and he has accumulated well over a thousand cards this way. On more than one occasion, he has purchased cards before doing something like paying utility bills or buying Christmas presents for family members. But there are a couple of things that have grated on me:

1. My SO recently lost the ability to use his parents' extra car because he'd failed to pay two tickets (parking, I think), and they recently received a summons for one of them. It's not that he didn't know about them, but didn't deal with them right away and forgot. He was previously the only one in our relationship with a car, so this has had an impact on things like going grocery shopping, my commute (although I've adjusted just fine), etc. He was very upset at first. I'm pretty sure his family would give the car back to him if he took steps to be more responsible, but the event hasn't really lit a fire under his ass and that worries me.

2. My SO paid in advance to participate and volunteer in a convention that recently took place. Several days before he was scheduled to depart, he began to run low on discretionary funds. Since he had so little money left, I suggested that he not go at all - it was way out-of-state, hours away, and he had other financial responsibilities anyway. But he insisted that he'd already paid for the tickets, and it would therefore be a waste. Right before he left, his job rearranged his schedule - someone else just quit that day - so he ended up leaving far later than scheduled, and had to be back earlier than scheduled. He also didn't purchase a return ticket until last-minute, but used up the money in his bank account to do so. The ticket would have had him home with only a few hours until his shift began that morning. Due to several new circumstances - like the volunteers no longer being needed until late that night - he called in a state of panic on the last day, having already checked out of the hotel room. The idea of him being on the edge of a panic attack (we both have anxiety issues), with barely any money, in another state was unbearable, so I purchased a train ticket using the last of my tax refund. With the understanding that he would immediately pay me back once his paycheck cleared.

3. We have to move when the lease expires in a few months, as our other housemates are either marrying or moving in with serious partners. It was an illegal housing situation; we discovered it mid-lease, at the same time that we discovered that the landlord was allowing another tenant to steal access to our utilities (long story not related to the question; we will not be suing the landlord For Reasons). So there are more people than legally permitted - we cannot afford to live there with less people, so we have to move out.

Neither 1 nor 2 would have taken place if he was more responsible with money and with prioritizing things. I know that his combination of anxiety/depression and ADHD, all of which have gone unmedicated for the majority of his life (his family was not really into the whole meds thing), is playing a significant role in this. And I wouldn't mind being his financial safety net if 1) I was making more money and 2) he was making an effort to become responsible. He acquired health insurance recently, but hasn't made a recent attempt to resume treatment. He was briefly medicated a few years ago, but couldn't afford it without insurance.

And I really love my SO - like I could easily see myself growing gloriously old with him (I'm in my mid-twenties, he is in his late-twenties). We've faced quite a bit together, and he's supported me through periods where my neglect of my mental hygiene nearly destroyed my life. But I don't think it's quite registered how serious his irresponsibility is, or if he's aware but doesn't have the momentum to reverse course. I also don't think he's aware of how much his irresponsibility affects ME, or how it's really starting to affect our romantic life (my desire for sex has dropped as of two months ago, and this is why). And with a couple recent episodes where he was rather inconsiderate, it just feels like another depressive episode is looming overhead.

I want to grow with him, and want to be as supportive as I can while also not burning myself out (I have my own issues that must be managed). How do I talk to him about this? In what ways can I encourage him to really start making an effort to take care of himself before things really spin out of control?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think this is really hard to answer given the fact that you want to stay with him. (You know what the easy answer is: DTMFA.) You say that you want to stay with him, but you want him to change. From his perspective, why should he change? It's worked for him so far.

Yes, it's not really working, in the sense that it causes him all sorts of problems, but he seems to show no desire to move beyond sputtering along between crises. It is unlikely that there is much you can do to convince him to change, given that he seems to have no innate desire to do so. He is getting by, and seems to be happy with just getting by.

I have seen people make these kinds of changes. But they are self-motivated, and never instigated from the outside.

I think the real test would be to tell him how you feel, and see how he reacts. If he truly did not know the burden he was placing on you, and he (of his own volition) begins to discuss ways he could change and improve, then it's possible he has it in him to do this for himself. But if you present to him the consequences of his actions and he does not bring up ways he can change for the better, it is very unlikely that he will make the necessary changes.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:03 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think things like this can be hard to address since it's kind of a mindset/lifestyle/personality thing. So maybe try to address specific behaviors/actions. For example, since you are moving soon, this might be a good opportunity to sit down together and work out a budget. "We are both prone to anxiety, etc. Let's get the money thing sorted so we don't have to worry about it. We need $X for rent, $Y for untilities, $Z for food. That leaves us $amount for our own particular needs (my public transport, your cards, our clothing, etc.)" That might steer things away from "you're irresponsible" and allow you to approach it as "Money is a huge source of stress for both of us. It doesn't have to be. Can we agree to to these steps to minimize the stress and worry?"

In the past, my other half and I each had a separate banking account for our individual expenditures and one joint account for housing/utilities/food. We each agreed to put in a certain amount into that account each month so basic needs were covered then we did what we wanted with the rest of our money guilt- and worry-free. Do you both have direct deposit? Ask if you can split the deposits into more than one account. If not, maybe set up an automatic transfer from your separate banking accounts into the joint and agree not to change it without consent from the other.

Do you pay the bills and/or buy groceries? Maybe also agreeing to sit down once a month and do these things together will help him with a reality check on your financial situation. I'm thinking writing it all out - by hand on paper - will help clarify things for him. Money has always been hard to me to get a handle on and it's resulted in some spectacularly bad situations for me. When I sit down and personally hand write figures, it really helps me see things as they are. Online banking and commerce and credit cards are all extremely convenient but it's way too easy to forget that money is an actual tangible finite thing. So sit down together and actually write these things down on paper:

OP will set up an automatic transfer every month for $X on DATE
Boyfriend will set up an automatic transfer every month for $X on DATE
Rent/utilities/food will be paid from this account.
Rent is $X
Water bill is $X
Electric bill is $X
Food budget is $X
We will sit down together on the first Sunday of every month to pay bills and make sure we are on track financially.
We want to save up $X for [vacation/convention/birthday gifts]
There is [convention/Christmas/event] coming up in 2015. Once we are settled into the new apartment, we will sit down on DATE to discuss how to (financially) plan for them.
Any purchases over $X will be discussed and decided on together.
Any changes to the budget will be discussed and decided on together.

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 12:12 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


But I don't think it's quite registered how serious his irresponsibility is, or if he's aware but doesn't have the momentum to reverse course. I also don't think he's aware of how much his irresponsibility affects ME, or how it's really starting to affect our romantic life (my desire for sex has dropped as of two months ago, and this is why).

Does he know any of these things? As in, you have said to him in as many words, "you are dropping the ball on the basic stuff of life and as such, I no longer wish to have sex with you?" If you're just quietly seething and paying his way, he isn't going to think there's a problem. Don't expect him to read your mind; his priorities are clearly not yours, and he won't necessarily draw the same conclusions you want him to draw.

Then, you need to know what you want and be able to verbalize it. Consider whether the things you want are things a person can DO, or things a person needs to BE. Because he can't BE a different person--you might need to FIND a different person.

Examples:
Things you may want him to do, and can explicitly ask for:
make a doctor's appointment and get back on medication
find a supplemental or different source of income?
contribute $X more to monthly bills (even if it means no Magic cards)?
never ever stiff you on anything?

Things you may want him to be (but cannot expect of him):
more thoughtful
more ambitious
more responsible without prompting
less anxious/ADHD*

*This may be something that happens if he gets on medication; however, it's a thing he may always contend with, and solutions that work now may not work forever, etc.

But beyond that, you can't actually control anything he does. You can encourage him, but it isn't your job to. (and maybe part of your question is wondering whether it is your job? Well, it's not.) Your best bet is to take care of yourself like an adult, refuse to bail him out of anything but truly emergency situations, and separate yourself financially. Yes, I'm suggesting that you get your own apartment when your lease is up. No need to stop dating him, but make sure that you are well clear of any financial chaos that he might spin out into.

Best case scenario: he is inspired by your clear boundaries and good example to step up to the plate, face his issues, and get his life together. You two then grow gloriously old together or what have you.

Worst case scenario: he is not inspired to get his shit together. You, however, remain fine and stable, with the resources to help yourself and others.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:13 PM on March 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


oh and btw "truly emergency" situations are definitely at the level of "his house burned down and you are letting him stay with you while he finds a new place to live". Not "he made a series of truly bad choices and is now inconvenienced."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:15 PM on March 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


move out, this person is going to drag you into a sinkhole of financial and logistical nonsense and you are going to always feel like the one parenting him and putting out fires that he starts by being irresponsible and careless. it is not a fun place to be.

you can try making a budget and all that, but be prepared to be the one that does all the organizing for it, nags him to stick to it, and runs surveillance over where the money is going to make sure he isn't ignoring the budget.

if you think he's a wonderful partner then stay together but move out and separate your financial lives completely. don't bail him out when he is too lazy to pay the bills first or take care of things like parking tickets. i know you wrote you wouldn't mind being his financial safety net, but think about what that really means. what if he is just how he is, right now. and you keep having to pay and intervene and take care of stuff, even as you get busier and earn more money or your career changes, etc. do you feel ok about that? if he stayed the same as he is right now?

when you talk about moving out he is probably going to remind you about his adhd and depression. don't let feeling sorry for him sway you. it's up to him to take care of that and be a grownup who pays the bills before paying for hobbies and pleasure activities. he can treat his illnesses without the two of you living together. i have a feeling your depression and anxiety would also be less if you weren't financially interlocked with this person.
posted by zdravo at 12:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have a family member who sounds very similar to your SO. He bounced around between staying with various family members for a long time. And yes, it sucked for him because he alternated between depression over his situation and ostrich-like avoidance tactics (Magic and video games). He could never seem to scrape his way out long enough to really find himself and a way forward.

Good news: he found an opportunity, pursued it (funded by his parents), and turned it into a really well-paying job. He's making a lot of progress and finally living on his own outside a college environment and is truly thriving (and we're thrilled for him!).

I'm sure your SO isn't trying to use you, but he's using you regardless. He's prioritizing buying Magic cards over rent and being an equal partner in your relationship. He's able to do this because his entire life when things go horribly wrong and failure seems imminent, something happens and someone steps in and makes it okay. He's probably clueless over how much financial anxiety you're holding - and the longer you hold it, the worse it gets. Is he contributing in other ways, like chores or making food?

If you guys are close enough to his family to use their cars, would it be possible for him to move back in with them when your lease is up? I'm not necessarily saying to suggest this, but it'll function as an important safety valve in your head. You sound like you feel really responsible for him. After all, if you don't do it, who will? Who will make sure he has a place to stay, and food, and a trip home last-minute when he failed to plan for it?

If you were to split up, I guarantee you he will find a way to avoid homelessness. Likely, his family members will step in and give him a couch or a room that may eventually come with rent/utilities strings. His family has probably been enabling him for his entire life.

He probably needs therapy, but he has to want it for it to be effective. Right now, it's easier to ignore all the stuff that's stressful because enough gets taken care of that he's never forced to truly confront his situation.

I understand you love him and want to grow old together, but can you imagine it being like this, forever? He needs a serious wake-up call about how much of the burden of "our life, together" you are holding and planning for. At that point, whether his response is to help or to flail will dictate your next moves, but you can't wake-him-up for him.

Definitely make sure you have your own life-preserver on.

You can contact the mods to post follow-ups.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:46 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Your best bet is to take care of yourself like an adult, refuse to bail him out of anything but truly emergency situations, and separate yourself financially. Yes, I'm suggesting that you get your own apartment when your lease is up.

A million times this.

Your partner is a baby-man who doesn't know how to take care of himself, is not interested in learning, and has people bailing him out at every turn so why should he?

And the thing is, that's not love. What you are actually asking is "how do I make this person like me enough to not treat me and my life and our lives and our relationship like this?" But if you're not ready to look directly into the disrespect and contempt it takes for a person to let you figuratively wipe their ass for them, just consider the practical question: if this was the child of a friend, would you advise your friend to keep wiping, or would you say, "friend, you have got to put your foot down or he's never going to learn"?

It's one thing to have some blind spots. When we met, I was just learning not to be a moron about money but he was quite good at making a tight budget work and sort of reigning me in, and I was *glad* for it and I wanted to be better for him and for us. He was not so great at some other things, and he worked to get better - and that included ADHD medication and a surprisingly relentless year of serious self-training until he acquired the skills to handle it unmedicated (which doesn't work out for everybody, you have to do what's best), and it includes treatment for depression now. He did that because he wanted to be a better person and he wanted us to have better lives.

You can't make your guy want to do the right thing. And it makes him a bad person when he takes advantage of you, even if he's doing it because he's inexperienced rather than just mean.

If you move out and live alone or with roommates of your own and take firm control of your own business and life, you will be doing him and yourself a favor. And a lot of baby-people DO change, they do get their shit together when they have no other choice, but they really do have to get the experience on their own. It's very hard to do in a situation where you'll have to take up the slack in order to have your life the way YOU want it.

If you stay with him and you remain living with him, you have to accept him as he is. That means he may never get better and he may never treat you better, and if you're not okay with that, you need to decide what you're going to do.

Any change is going to be under his own steam. You can't make him want it.

Don't give him an ultimatum that you don't intend to follow through, because that's manipulation and it's gross, but it is perfectly legit to inform him you need him to step up to X, Y, and Z or you're going to leave, and then leave if he doesn't.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:47 PM on March 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure how he spends his time, but if it's with very time-consuming and involved hobbies (like say multiplayer video gaming) his personal interests might be keeping him from getting stuff done. For finances, I would suggest a regular time to work on that stuff. For me it's every Tuesday night. Yep - every week, not every month. Balance accounts, pay bills, deal with the weird annual stuff like car inspection notices, etc. If he's good with math you might consider putting him as the "team lead" of this and show up each week asking him to walk you through the current items. If he relies on you to do organize-y things, that will get worse and worse unless he takes responsibility. I'm the bill guy at my house even though my wife could totally do it, and I give her a quick update after I'm done each week.

This may not be solvable, but you need to let him know that you are worried about hitching your star to his because you don't need to be his mom forever. He needs to be devoting time to important stuff like parking tickets wayyyy before any hobbies or TV watching. For example (assuming there's money in the bank): Vehicle tax bill comes Monday but requires car inspection. He calls Tuesday morning and makes an appt. then takes the car in during lunch. That night, he goes online and pays the vehicle tax. This is what I just did yesterday :-)

Also, as someone with past history of depression, having scheduled tasks (like Tuesday bills) and Getting S*** Done right away has cut down on my anxiety tremendously. Getting there wasn't easy though.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:59 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


He acquired health insurance recently, but hasn't made a recent attempt to resume treatment.

Nope. NOPE NOPE NOPE. There is nothing you can do here.

Please help me approach him about it constructively.

"Your refusal to treat your mental health issues is impacting our finances and our sex lives. I need you to do something about it." Do NOT offer to make an appointment or remind him about the appointment or research medication or anything. He has to do ALL of it, to prove that he wants to. There are no magic words you can say to make this happen. You have zero control over what he actually does.

I am sure he's mostly a really great guy, but being able to manage your money and time is a big thing. And I know anxiety, depression and ADHD add a layer of difficulty for him. But he's responsible for figuring out how to make it. You are not 50% responsible for it because you're in a relationship with him. Or 10%. He is 100% responsible.

When one person is more responsible than the other - and that person takes on any degree of responsibility for the other - it sets up a Very Bad Dynamic. It will cause resentment that eats the relationship from the inside. The less responsible person ends up feeling controlled, and the more responsible person feels like the parent. No wonder you don't want to have sex with each other.

Sorry. I wish I had better news for you, but unless he is committed 100% to doing his part, it's going to be a continual struggle.
posted by desjardins at 1:07 PM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yikes, I missed the Magic cards bit, so I guessed right about the gaming. If he isn't loaded with cash, a hobby that requires a steady cash investment like that is not really appropriate. There are tons of games where you don't have to buy stuff. Magic is pretty cool but at a competitive level is designed as a money sink.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:07 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a completely different take on this.

I view situation number 1 (and 2, of course) as (an) untreated mental condition(s) with a possible mixture of shame. He might not realize the impact that it is having on others, however.

I know that many mefites will disagree and might pile on me for suggesting this, but if I were in your shoes (and it sounds like you might be at your limit and do not want to deal with the repercussions over and over again), I would make an appointment with a sliding scale couple's therapist/psychiatrist (or someone at least familiar with medication). I am usually the last person in metafilter to ever suggest counseling, but this is such a situation IMO because I don't think you should play the parent role in the conversation and a therapist probably has the tools to make him confront mental illness and suggest realistic next steps.

At the session, I would put what you have already stated in your post. It is impacting how you view him. I would also mention how this might affect his parents. Think about it carefully, but if it is a deal breaker, mention it. But at minimum, you are unhappy with situations 1 and 2. Now my guess would be the therapist would work with him to address the problems and come up with solutions, whether it be CBT, medications, whatever they decide upon. If your partner is okay with it, it might be useful if both of you can keep separate journals during his treatment; right now, it sounds like he doesn't believe in medication and sees no need for it - but if you later have a journal showing times when forgotten incidents/moods were off and then this was not a problem, it might help him see it from another point of view.

If you can do a session for yourself, too, OP, it might be helpful to ask yourself some questions: How much of this will be too much? Are there ways to mitigate what is happening (ie, maybe you can live apart but still date, or would you be willing to sit down next to him during bill paying night, etc.).

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 1:22 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure. People can get really defensive even if you gently suggest that not paying parking tickets, letting things go isn't a good thing. They're just make you the bad guy for making them feel bad and start hiding more stuff.

I think really getting that people don't change if they don't really want to or have habits like that---I'm just saying, you're going to be responsible for a lot of parenting & emotional labor if you want to attempt to help him. And in the end, he may just forget that you did this stuff for him, and just think,"She made me feel bad." It is really rare that I ever see women get thanked by the partners they've helped turned their lives around. All hemight get from it is,"She made me feel like an idiot and she doesn't respect me" or "She's trying to take over my life."

So I think whatever is going on with him is his to deal with right now. He'll realize or already knows this isn't great. But your trying to help him might just make him continue to do that stuff and hide his mistakes/reckless financial stuff from you and lie about it.

So, all I'm saying is, tread carefully. Some People have fragile egos.
posted by discopolo at 1:27 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


he is an avid Magic the Gathering player and goes to (free) events once a week

Speaking as someone who has had the CCG monkey on his back more than once, there is no such thing as a free Magic event, especially one that takes place in a store. If he's drafting, he's buying packs of cards/paying entry fees. If he's playing in format (Standard, etc), then there's usually a signup fee and even if there isn't, there's a new set that comes out every 3 months forcing a card rotation. On top of that, there's snacks and drinks and hey, just one pack wouldn't be that bad, yanno...?

I'd be surprised he's getting out of there without spending 40 bucks a week, let alone month.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I love myself, and I love my wife. She is who I want to be with. Fuck consequences.

If you had to endure a life of hardship as the result of poor decision making (or because the world is a piece of shit), is this the person you'd want to spend it with?
posted by garry.smith at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2015


I know that his combination of anxiety/depression and ADHD, all of which have gone unmedicated for the majority of his life (his family was not really into the whole meds thing), is playing a significant role in this.

I think you really buried the lede with this, and I'm not sure everyone is seeing it before answering. ADHD, depression and anxiety all majorly affect "responsibility" things like the ones you mentioned. The unmedicated ADHD alone could easily be the entire cause of everything you describe here - forgetting to pay tickets and trouble prioritizing are both textbook ADHD problems. If so, you're really not going to get anywhere by telling him how "bad" he's being - believe me, after a lifetime of unmedicated ADHD, he's got plenty of guilt and shame already that haven't helped him be more responsible yet.

Rather than having a conversation with him about his "irresponsibility", I would have a conversation focusing on mental health, with the things you mention being symptoms of these mental health problems, rather than character flaws. Tell him how his failure to deal with these mental issues is negatively affecting you - examples like you mention here are great. He might not be able to afford some ADD medications, but some generics are quite cheap, and doctors can also sometimes help with free samples etc. He (or you) can also find a bunch of non-medication-related ADHD (and anxiety and depression) tips that might help him a lot. Or ending the relationship is always an option if you don't feel able to date someone with these issues.
posted by randomnity at 1:50 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


He was willing to lose access to a FREE CAR by not paying parking tickets on time? And he's older than 18? This is a scale of irresponsibility you're not ever going to be able to fix.

That may seem like a glib and hasty judgement on the part of someone who doesn't know him or you, but I guarantee you this is what it boils down to.
posted by MsMolly at 2:43 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


There are natural things that help with ADHD. I know, I've been doing that since I'm not a fan of medicine myself. Sunlight, Vitamin D, fish oil, probiotics, b-12, b-vitamins, exercise, other vitamins and things you can search for but I can't remember since there are so many of them. These all require discipline to follow, though, and since I'm no fan of meds, I have incentive. How about you work out a plan for him to address his ADHD in a "lets do this together" sort of way, not unlike when couple lose weight or quit smoking together, meaning you can join in the exercise, the vitamin D ect. and both of you can get healthy together! (Trust me, these things also help with anxiety and depression, especially the exercise). If he's not willing to do this, maybe he needs a counselor?
posted by eq21 at 3:26 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


i struggle with a stew of depression, anxiety, ocd, and ptsd. i have chosen to not seek treatment or drugs for this. this makes my missteps in responsibility 100% my burden to bear. i have coping mechanisms. i have bad days. but i don't get to just keep fucking up, blaming my mental health, and refusing to do anything to address it. if my husband and my quality of life/relationship was being affected it would be up to me to find the solution, including treatment and drugs.

i've also been in relationships where i was made to parent - expected to clean up messes, punish a grown man like he was a child, and then kiss his booboos to alleviate him of feeling bad for upsetting me by not pulling his weight. i never found a way to fix it inside the relationship. i suspect it's something the child-partner has to crack out of first, or the parent-partner needs to be really great at asserting boundaries.

if you're dedicated to staying together, i think living separately is the best idea - it removes the extra burden of finances from your relationship that is struggling emotionally and sexually. it also lets him feel the weight of his inaction and hopefully pushes him into making the necessary changes.
posted by nadawi at 3:59 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


You are allowed to love someone and still have deal breakers and boundaries. If you are interested in building a life with this person, you need a partner who can contribute enough blocks to build with, you know?

Plus, if children are figuring in your future, you should consider if parenting with someone who cannot even parent themselves is a burden you are willing to take on.

Regardless, you need to lay out some boundaries here:

1/ He needs to seek treatment. You can help him lay out the steps he needs to take to do that, but he is responsible for executing them.

2/ You guys need a household budget, and you need a household account. His share of rent/bills/savings works out at $X per pay check, and comes out of each paycheck automatically and immediately. If that isn't sufficient, then you need a literal tip jar in your house and a daily target that will allow him to reach his obligations.

I don't really know what else to tell you. Put on your own life jacket first.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:16 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you really want to make it work, I strongly suggest that you have a conversation about how his behavior is impacting you. Give specific examples of recurring problems. A pattern that's often effective is "[Thing you do] affects me [this way], and when you do it, I feel [this way]. I would appreciate it if you [did this instead]."

As a rough example: "When you couldn't pay utilities because you spent the last of your money on Magic cards, I had to give up [a night out with friends/a week of breakfasts/new work clothes/etc.] in order to cover your share. It made me feel like you don't care as much about my time and money as you do about your game night. Can I suggest we each put $35 in a common utilities fund every payday, so neither of us has to dig into other funds when utilities are due? That would make me less anxious and make me feel like you value my needs."

I would also encourage you to figure out for yourself what behaviors will be dealbreakers for you if he can't change them, and to communicate those to him as dealbreakers. I once dated someone similar to your boyfriend, and while I'm not sad about the end of that relationship, I should have been more upfront about which of our issues were "things we can work through together" and which were "things that must change or they will end our relationship."

I can't promise that talking to him this way will fix his responsibility problems, but his actions after you have this conversation should guide you in what to do next. Whatever happens, please don't accept this situation as the status quo. He may be a wonderful person, but this dynamic is unhealthy and will hold both of you back emotionally and financially.
posted by Owlcat at 8:18 PM on March 9, 2015


I'm pretty sure the best thing you could do for him would be to tell him that failing to treat his mental health issues is ruining your relationship, and that if he doesn't get help, you're leaving.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:40 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know, i think i have to put in a vote for the side of "this sounds like untreated mental health issues" rather than "this is some character flaw and great personal failure that cannot be fixed".

Getting buried in this kind of stuff when you can't get help is like having to go outside and pour out a bucket of concrete, that's continuously filling itself to the point that you can't lift it.

I think "you need to follow through and get back on the path of treating this stuff or i can't do this because it's ruining our relationship" is a reasonable statement.

I also think a reasonable request is "you need to come up with a system of keeping track of shit you need to get done". Whether that's a whiteboard in the kitchen, or a notebook, or the notes app on his phone, or whatever.

Yea, i know a bunch of people on here are going to say he should be pulling himself up by his bootstraps and figuring that stuff out on his own and it's not your responsibility and whatever... but you're not doing it for him, you're just doing something between handing him the toolbox and telling him he needs to go get the toolbox.

Those are what i see as two major problems though. Not pursuing any kind of treatment, and recognizing that he constantly forgets stuff in an irresponsible way but not moving towards any kind of system to try and manage that stuff.


Spending money on stupid shit when you don't have any money is a completely different problem. As someone else who was once in to TCG/CCG stuff and has friends who still are or were very recently still in to that, yea, there's no such thing as "free". Getting in the door can be free, but you're always spending money on something else. The entire thing is a money sink. As are cons, especially if you're volunteering since there's rarely even free food.

I don't know what to say about that stuff. I was in to gaming and that kind of stuff a lot when i was in a shittier period of my life. I think solving the first two problems(or really, telling him he needs to deal with them or this isn't going to work) will put you in a position where you can actually discuss the third though.

However, "you can't blow the rent money on hobbies" is not unreasonable. I don't even know where to start with that one though, as i said.
posted by emptythought at 3:46 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised more people aren't taking his mental health issues into account. You say his anxiety and depression are untreated, but I'm going to suggest he is self-medicating with some kind of "retail therapy." I doubt this will self-correct until the root causes, his anxiety and depression, are addressed.

I think you should talk to him and explain that at this point his actions are harming you and if he won't seek help to stop it you will have to leave him. The key is he needs to seek help; him telling you he will stop is it enough. I know you want to make this work but you must be sure to take care of yourself first. Oxygen mask, etc.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:53 AM on March 10, 2015


As someone who is kinda like your SO myself I need to warn you that if he's not willing to make any changes it's definitely never gonna happen.

I am a very messy and forgetful person and I could never get myself to date another messy person because we will live in dissarray. However I've never managed to make it work with a very, very neat person either. They seem to have a difficult time understanding that though it is easy for them to be organized and neat, it is very difficult for me. Relationships that have worked for me are those where the person is significantly neater than I, (but not perfectionist) and who understands that I want to be more like them, but have a very hard time doing so. I do sincerely try and they help me. I help them in other ways. We created a system where when there is a bill to pay I place it out in the open which gives them an opportunity to remind me of it if I forget. Then when they remind me, I try to do it right then instead of telling them I'll do it "later" and putting it off. This way we work as a team.

The key is I WANT to make changes and am willing to take steps towards change. Without that it would never work. From what you've written here your SO doesn't sound like they're willing to change much and I'm afraid this means you're just going to have to accept your life as it is or DTMFA. You can't change them. They can only change themselves.
posted by manderin at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


he's supported me through periods where my neglect of my mental hygiene nearly destroyed my life.

This reads like you maybe feel like you "owe" him one for that. He helped you through your own serious mental health crisis, so it's tempting to feel like you need to stick around for his turn at having a possible mental health crisis now, even if it means your financial life and your sex life get ruined, or something? I hear you that you are in your mid-20s and you really love this guy. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stop enabling. And by "stop enabling," I mean disentangle yourself from getting dragged down anymore financially from him, and get your own place.
posted by hush at 4:23 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have learned a few things about life from AskMe in the last few years:

- There are people, lots of them, with the same list of issues that your SO has and they take full responsibility for them and get their shit done. Are they perfect? no. But they make goals and do the work needed to attain them. And if they have a setback, they don't expect anyone else to clean up after their mess.
- There is you and there is him and there is the relationship. You can love him more than you've ever loved anyone ever but if the relationship doesn't work then you're just going to end up with your heart broken in the end. Value yourself enough to have boundaries and expectations. Aren't you worth being with a partner who can take care of himself and also contribute to your relationship in the ways you need him to?
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:02 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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