Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it! This week I’ve got two reader questions that all revolve around the same theme: a man is unmotivated and won’t work, and the women don’t know what to do about it.
Letter #1: From a Motivated Girlfriend
Letter from Motivated Girlfriend
My boyfriend and I have been together for two years. I’ve known him to be a chill, relaxed, homebody, introverted person. It appealed to me as I was an introvert as well.
The downside to that is he has the same attitude at work. He has little initiative, he responds to additional work negatively because he would rather do the minimum.
He expresses to me that “the dream” would be to have a job where he could work from home, he would take leaves from work to spend time on his hobby, or just because he doesn’t feel like going to work. One time we were having a conversation about how I would need to run an errand before work and he assumed I would take the whole day off.
He’s not all bad. He does get his work done. But basically it’s minimum compliance. But he can be passionate too about other things he enjoys like automobiles, his hobby, he’s responsible in taking care of his home, he ensures he pays bills on time, he takes care of himself, he has good relations with his family…But this work thing is just troubling to me.
Maybe he’s just like this because he doesn’t enjoy his job? Maybe the reality of a family will change his drive and give him motivation to work? Or maybe God will cause a change in him as he matures?
Should this be a deal breaker with our relationship? And if so, what do I tell him?
Letter from a Desperate Wife
My husband and I met shortly after I moved to [his state]. He was 31 and living with his parents. We have been married for 8 years and have moved around a bit due to work, but we have been in the same place for almost three years now. That place is 2 blocks from his family (three siblings, their kids, his parents).
After so many years, and not so many great times with the mother-in-law, or snippy sisters-in-law, I am anxious to move near my family. My husband is in a dead-end job and I have been asking him our entire marriage to make financial/career goals of some sort. I have encouraged school, but he refuses to make any goals at all.
He says he will go to school, but he makes no initiative. Any time I bring up the goal of moving, he shoots it down completely. I want to feel safe and secure that our family will be taken care of, especially since we want to have another baby.
I read what you wrote about meeting his needs instead of concentrating on mine, and I’m trying so hard to be a good wife. I try to encourage him and appreciate him.
But I also read about being a peacemaker and not a peacekeeper. I must admit I tend to default to the latter. I don’t like conflict. I always feel guilty for bringing up touchy conversations or my needs that he doesn’t seem to want to fulfill.
I included both letters because I wanted the woman who WASN’T married yet to read the letter from the woman who WAS. I do think she’s right to be concerned.
So let’s tackle the broader issues for the woman whose dating an unmotivated guy, and then we’ll turn to the unmotivated husband.
The Unmotivated Boyfriend: How Big a Deal is That?
He’s paying his bills. He’s nice to his family. He does go to work. So is this a big deal?
The Research: Marriage Does Raise Men’s Incomes
In The Case for Marriage, researchers Maggie White and Linda Gallagher looked at all the big marriage studies, and did find that when men married their incomes went up. Marriage does cause men to be a little more grounded, and often work harder to get those promotions or to seek out a better paying job.
That’s the good news. Here’s the reality, though: just because that happens in the population as a whole doesn’t mean that it will happen with your particular guy. So let’s dig a little deeper.
It Could Be That He’s Unmotivated Now Because There’s No Need to Work Hard
Maybe he’s the kind of guy who will step up to the plate when responsibilities come. I’d talk to him about this. If he wants children, what kind of house does he want to live in? Does he want a two-vehicle family? What income will the family need? What is he prepared to do to make that income? Does he expect his wife to work while the kids are little? Would he rather be the one to stay at home? If so, is he prepared to do the housework and meals?
I’d definitely ask about that latter one, too, because a guy who is unmotivated to work may be unmotivated in other areas of his life. If you’re going to end up doing the vast majority of the work around the house, it’s better to know that now so that you can make an informed decision.
What Are His Basic Values?
To me, though, this is the real issue. If he didn’t want to work that hard because he was consumed with starting an inner city charity to help underprivileged boys, or because he was working on a novel and really wanted to be a writer, or because he was furthering his education, that’s one thing. Work can be just a means to an end–a way to get money. Our passions may lie elsewhere, and that’s okay.
But if your passions aren’t focused on others or making the word a better place (basically bringing the kingdom of God to this world), then I wonder what the purpose really is. It sounds like this guy’s ideal life would be to do nothing but his hobbies. That’s an entirely self-focused life, devoid of gratitude for what God did for you. Our lives should be about service, not entirely about leisure.
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The Unmotivated Husband: Now What?
I condensed the wife’s email for space’s sake, so there’s much more in it. But there’s one sentence I want to draw attention to. When she met him, she says,
He was 31 and living with his parents.
When readers share things like this, they often share it like, “Honestly, he was 31 and living with his parents! Can you believe that?”
But what I see is this: “He was 31 and living with his parents–and you didn’t think that was a red flag?” I’m going to be brutally honest here, and please forgive me if I sound mean, because that’s not my intention. But if you go into marriage with your eyes wide open and you see that a guy has a certain characteristic, you really need to learn to live with it. You married him–you made a vow knowing that he was unmotivated, lazy, and overly dependent on his family. It is not his fault if he doesn’t change; it’s really your issue for expecting him to change.
Wow. That is harsh, isn’t it? But I do see this as different from a woman who married a guy in school who then never graduates, or a woman who marries a guy with a job who then proceeds to lose that job and go through job after job for the next few years. He’s exactly the same as he was when she walked down the aisle, but now it’s a problem to her.
Habits may change but basic character rarely does.
That being said, here are a few thoughts:
Standing on Your Own Two Feet is Better for All of You
It sounds like he’s used to relying on his family. But, if you don’t mind me saying so, it sounds like you are, too. You’re saying, “we’ve lived near his family, now it’s time to live near mine!” Personally, I think it would be much healthier if your family were to move away from BOTH of your families and you learned to be a unit just on your own.
You May Have to Start Supporting the Family
If he won’t support the family adequately, then it may be that you will need to. If he isn’t interested in education, then perhaps you should start pursuing an online degree from home, or night training, so that you can start supplementing the income. No, it’s not ideal. Yes, it’s terrible with small children. But if you need the money you need the money. If he won’t do it, you will have to.
If you’re adamant that you can’t work with little kids/babies (and I certainly understand that), then often we can make a second income by figuring out how to be frugal. Seriously, if you can save your family $100 on groceries a week and $25 on electricity a month and $50 on clothes a month, that’s the same as earning $475 a month. So make it a project to figure out how little money you can live on. Search Pinterest for frugal ideas. It actually can be fun!
Get a Good Support System/Active Social Life
Sometimes what it takes to get a man motivated is to be surrounded by responsible, motivated men who can show him, “this is what it means to be a man.” So join a small group at church that has great couples in it. Ask people to become your marriage mentors (with his agreement, of course). Start having couples that you admire in for dinner. Surround yourself with people who can help you. If you expand your social circle where you are right now, then living so close to his family may not be that big a deal.
You’re Going to Have to Start Having That Tough Conversation
Nevertheless, at some point you’re going to have to have that difficult conversation. Instead of asking him to set goals, though, what about sitting down and doing it together. “Where would you like to be in five years? What kind of home would you like to be living in?” Now let’s work backwards from there and see what it takes to get there.
I have some visioning worksheets you can work through with your husband here.
What I wouldn’t do is to start the conversation with: “you need to get a better job” or “when are you going to start on your education?” Let’s instead set goals together and then brainstorm how we will meet them. And remember that you may have to be part of that solution!
Accept the Things You Can’t Change
If you can’t move right now because of finances, then you need to accept it. Be loving to his mother and sisters. Pray about how you can bless their lives rather than seeing all the problems they’re bringing to yours. Make it a goal to save some money and to start educating yourself. But don’t be miserable and decide, “I can only be happy once we move and once he gets a good job.” That’s not fair to anyone. Shine where you are now. Love where you are now. And then you can work towards some other goals for your family.
I’ve got some other posts that can help with unmotivated husbands/in-law issues:
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