Dear Penny: How Do I Motivate My Boyfriend Who’s Refused to Work for 4 Years?

A lazy man sits on the couch as his spouse has a conflict with him.
Adobe Stock
Dear Penny,

My boyfriend of eight years stopped working four years ago. At the time, he told me it was because he needed to complete a remodel of a house his mother purchased. I believe the agreement was that she would buy the house and he would remodel it and then they would rent it out. He told me he didn’t have time to do the remodel and also have another job. 

I reluctantly agreed, despite the fact that he and his son moved in with me only six months prior, and my sole income was from a small business that was only 2 years old. The business is one that he encouraged me to start, and it has taken over my life completely due to the tremendous demand of time and energy required to run it, particularly during a pandemic.

For the past four years, I have continued to work 50 to 60 hours per week earning a living and running the business, while he has not even come close to completing the remodel. He never went back to work, and his son is now nearly 13 years old. His son spends about 50% of his time at my partner’s mom’s house, so it’s not like my partner is even a full-time parent. My partner’s mom continues to pay the mortgage on the “rental” every month, and she also puts money into the house here and there, although it has never been rented this entire time.

I pay for the entire cost of our housing because I own the house we live in. I also pay for all utilities, and he pays for groceries. He doesn’t pay rent. For about a year and a half, I paid for 100% of our cost of living while he was “working on the rental,” but I demanded that he start paying for something after all that time, which is how we settled on just household groceries.

He has a part-time seasonal job on weekends for two months out of the year, and the rest of the time he works on hobbies and spends time hanging out with friends. Whenever I try to ask about “the rental,” he blows up at me and it turns into a huge argument.

I am becoming extremely resentful of the situation, and I’m afraid it will go on forever. It’s not like he’s home taking care of the household and preparing dinner when I’m at work. He’s 100% focused on his hobbies and seems to have no motivation at all to complete the remodel or go back to work. What should I do?


Dear C.,

The reason your boyfriend blows up at you when you ask about the rental is that he never intends to be done with the rental. He’s lived the sweet life for the past four years. Being a gentleman of leisure is way more fun than setting your alarm and going to work and paying bills. Can you blame him for milking this arrangement as long as he can?

You have three options: You can absolve him of all responsibilities and support him for life. You can give him an ultimatum. Or you can end this relationship. Please, please, please take Option 1 off the table.

Since we’ve nixed the first option, let’s focus on the other two. If you want to make this relationship work, give him an ultimatum and a deadline. Tell him he has 90 days to find a job, or he can move out. Should he choose the latter, it sounds like he has a convenient place to go, which is the empty house he claims to be remodeling.

I have to ask, though: Do you really want to make this relationship work? Maybe you failed to mention that your boyfriend has some wonderful qualities. But I’d rather be alone than stay with a partner who’s content to watch me work 50 or 60 hours a week while he gets to do whatever he wants. His claim that he couldn’t do the home remodel while staying employed is nonsense. Even if doing both was truly impossible, any mature adult would choose the job.

Accept the fact that you have several big arguments with your boyfriend ahead. Conflict is never pleasant, particularly when it involves someone you live with. But don’t back down on this one. Even if he claims he’s doing his best. Even if he claims the time is wrong. Even if he calls you a nag. The fact that you feel resentful is a sign that you’re a rational person.

Once you’ve solved this problem — meaning your boyfriend finds a job or you kick him out — you might want to reevaluate your own career choices. It doesn’t sound like running your business is making you happy. Perhaps if you’re not supporting 2.5 people, you’ll have more freedom to work less or pursue traditional employment instead of entrepreneurship.

This situation isn’t changing until you put a stop to it. So let your boyfriend know that his free ride has ended.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].