Dear Penny: Should I Dump My Girlfriend if She Refuses to Work?

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Dear Penny,

My girlfriend can't keep a job. This has been going on for a few years, and I have been  understanding, but it's holding me back. She’ll get a job for two or three months, then quit because someone said something or she realizes it’s not her dream job. Then she’ll be out of work for several more months. Since we live together, I wind up paying all the bills when she’s not working, and it’s setting me behind on my goals.

Recently, the job market seems like it’s getting worse in her field. She will not switch her career path. In the past, you’ve told women to break up with their husbands or partners when they can’t hold down a job. Since I am a man and she is a woman, do you have the same suggestion of dumping her?

— B.

Dear B.,

I like to think my advice is gender-nonspecific — though it may not seem that way since I get far more letters from women than men. When one person refuses to work or take finances seriously, that’s a completely legitimate reason to dump them. Gender is irrelevant.

It’s one thing to support your partner during a tough period, like if they get sick or laid off. But when your live-in partner quits their job because it isn’t perfect or refuses to look for work, they’re putting you in the role of breadwinner. That’s a job you didn’t sign up for.

Dear Penny

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Even when your girlfriend is working, I’m sure her work-shy tendencies put a lot of pressure on you. I’m sure your job isn’t always perfect, but you stick it out because that’s what adults have to do sometimes. But her refusal to hold down a job could make it harder for you to pursue new career opportunities because, ultimately, you’re the only one expected to pay the bills.

As you build a life together, that will continue to hold you back. It’s increasingly difficult to support two people on one paycheck, even if your expenses are modest. The challenge compounds when you want to actually have fun. It’s hard not to become resentful when a partner’s aversion to work makes it so you can’t afford to go on vacation or enjoy a night out or pursue your hobby.

We owe it to our partners to be compassionate when they’re going through a rough patch. But compassion can have a shelf life.

If you want to stay in this relationship, tell your girlfriend that you can’t continue to be the only one with a steady job. Be candid about your frustration. It’s great that you’ve been understanding until this point, but I do wonder if you’ve been too understanding. Holding out for the perfect job is a luxury most people don’t have. Your girlfriend has been able to do so because she can count on you to step up and take care of her needs when she isn’t earning money.

This is also a good opportunity to discuss your financial goals. Be honest about the goals you’re falling behind on as the result of being the only one with a consistent paycheck. But also ask your girlfriend about her goals. It could be that financial security and improving your living standards are important to you, whereas maybe your girlfriend doesn’t care much about money as long as this month’s rent is paid. If that’s the case, think carefully about whether you two are compatible for the long term.

I’m guessing that your girlfriend isn’t working right now. After you have this conversation, look for any signs of change. Finding a full-time job may not happen overnight, but in the meantime, is she willing to take a part-time job or a side gig to take some pressure off you? Is she applying for jobs and updating her LinkedIn profile?

Continuing things as is may seem easier, but you’re not doing your girlfriend any favors in the long term. By quitting every job after a couple of months, she’s not building real skills. Maybe if she’s forced to support herself, she’ll have no other choice but to stick around and gain the experience she’ll need to eventually get a job she likes better.

Listen to your girlfriend’s actions, not her words. If she isn’t actively looking for work, are you willing to accept that this is what your life together will look like? Likewise, if she finds a job and then quits a few months later, you may need to move on from this relationship. This situation has gone on long enough. Without an impetus, nothing will change.

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