I’m in a Relationship With a Great Guy Who Just Won’t Change. What Should I Do?

I’ve been in a relationship with a really great guy for over a year. He’s warm, thoughtful, considerate, loving, and completely accepting. But there is one problem, he overthinks everything and often tells me he’s “getting ready” to do something, though I’ll never see action of what it is he’s getting ready to do.

For example: He lost his job in August due to the company closing. Since that time, he’s put in applications and turned down job offers because the pay wasn’t in line with what he thinks he’s worth. He knows he needs to have more income than what unemployment offers, though due to his lack of bills he can actually live on unemployment alone, he just will not get ahead. And for the last three weeks, he’s been “getting ready” to put in more applications anywhere in order to work; although, once again, no action has been taken to do this nor can he tell me when he thinks he might do it.

This happens in many areas, not just with his job, but I should add that he can make decisions. It doesn’t take him three hours to decide where to have dinner. But the big decisions, like his job, or school, or where to live, he will seem paralyzed by and spend what I personally consider an inordinate amount of time contemplating before moving forward.

I really enjoy him, and there are so many good points, but this prolonged process of “getting ready” to do things wears on me. I wonder if this is something I should just learn to deal with? Am I being unreasonable or expecting someone to be too much like me? Or should I expect more?

Shari

Dear Shari,

You’re screwed.

It’s the unfortunate and immutable truth about people. THEY DON’T CHANGE, no matter how much you want it, no matter how much it would be good for them.

Wait, I should rephrase that.

If you’re looking for a man who will make the big decisions in a manner that satisfies you, then keep looking. Your boyfriend has given you an important glimpse into his soul, and you are right to be alarmed by the way he’s handling this situation.

This doesn’t negate his many good qualities. Just read this blog every week and you’ll know how lucky you are to have found a guy who is warm, thoughtful, considerate, loving and accepting. But a person who is always “getting ready” will never stop “getting ready”. It’s the unfortunate and immutable truth about people. THEY DON’T CHANGE, no matter how much you want it, no matter how much it would be good for them.

Look around. You’ll see. Overweight people making New Years Resolutions to slim down, only to lapse back into old comfortable habits. Why? Because they would rather eat things that taste good and watch TV than consume bland salads and use the treadmill for 45 minutes a day. As a result of this decision, they will never, ever, ever lose weight. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people or stupid people or weak people. It just means that they’re people. And people do what they want, presuming there’s nothing stopping them from doing so.

Take a man who has dated a woman for three months without committing to her. Is he indecisive? Is he scared? Is he confused? No! He just doesn’t want her as a girlfriend. If he did, he would say, “I want you to be my girlfriend.” It’s no more complex than that. He has no incentive to change, so he doesn’t change. This explains pretty much all behavior.

I was a Hollywood screenwriter during my twenties. And although I didn’t make it beyond a few freelance jobs, awards, and random accolades, I knew that I was, in fact, a real writer. Why? Because I WROTE prolifically. 15 sitcoms and 13 screenplays in 10 years. My philosophy was that if I failed, it certainly wasn’t going to be because I didn’t try hard enough. Contrast that with other writers I knew, some of whom tinkered with their work for years, and still never completed a first draft. We could make the argument that they were perfectionists, that they were picky, that they were afraid of rejection, but none of that matters. By not finishing any screenplays, they were making their dream of writing for a living completely impossible. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

Your boyfriend is a writer who doesn’t write. A fat person who won’t lose weight. He would rather passively continue on his wayward path than get tough and affect a real change. And yet, if you express anything but abject support for him, you will be perceived as cold or selfish. Don’t get me wrong: losing a job is rough. It beats up on a man’s ego like nothing else in the world. But it’s within his power to do something different, and his paralysis is just a mechanism that justifies his laziness.

He has no incentive to change, so he doesn’t change. This explains pretty much all behavior.

So understand, I couldn’t be more sympathetic to you. I’m a believer in change, a believer in action. I think that your boyfriend would be ashamed if he ever read an Ayn Rand book because it would illustrate his very insignificance as a contributor to the planet. But I also have to point out that his passive nature goes hand in hand with his other good qualities – loving, accepting, considerate, etc.

To parallel this with my own life: I am far more Type A than my wife, who has spent the past 14 years at the same company, and literally spent three weeks going through 5000 songs on my iPod just to choose a wedding song. Does her deliberate and conservative nature drive me a little nuts at times? Sure. However, I’ve never been more loved and accepted by anyone in the world – and that became more important than a having a partner who was identical to me.

As a woman who may be counting on her man to provide a measure of financial security, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s smart to stick with this guy. But I will say this: your boyfriend is not going to change. Not for you. Not for him. Not for anyone. This is who he is. You just have to ask yourself how you’d feel if you were married, had two kids, and a mortgage, and he still refused to get a job.

I think your course of action, at that point, would be crystal clear.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Steve

    Shari;

    Your boyfriend has a problem with fear, frustration tolerance and procrastination. If he wants to change suggest to him that he find a psychotherapist. Preferably one who specializes in rational emotive behavioral therapy ( REBT ) or cognitive behavioral therapy. On that subject, I highly recommend the book “Guide To Rational Living” by Dr. Albert Ellis. Make sure you get the latest edition and that he reads chapter 20 first.

    Procrastination has been a well studied subject among psychologists for years. Even if individual psychologists in your area know very little, the profession of psychology knows a lot about it. I highly recommend that your boyfriend read these two books:

    Do It Now: Break the Procrastination Habit by Dr. William J. Knaus
    and
    The Now Habbit by Neil Fiore

    There are many more good books out there on the subject as well if these two do not do much for him.

    Now, all of that advice assumes that he wants to change. Even if he is highly self motivated to change, it will take him a lot of effort, a long time and he is going to have many relapses.

    Don’t count on your boyfriend changing, changing 100%, or changing quickly as a solution to your dilemma.

    Don’t issue ultimatums unless you want to become his mother.

    I have heard HOURS of complaints from girl-friends about “big things”- lazy SOs. Issuing ultimatums gets the SOs to panic, temporarily clean up their act and then slide back into the same frustrating pattern.

    You are going to have to live with him the way he is.

    Your task is to determine if you want to live with it or try your luck with someone else.

    If you are strongly bothered by this trait right now, you aren’t going to learn to accept it better over the years.

  2. 2
    Karl R

    Shari,
    I agree with Evan. This man won’t change.

    Whenever I’m in a relationship and I discover a major flaw like this, I have only one question on my mind: “Can I change my attitude and accept this person just as she is?” Sometimes the answer is yes; sometimes it’s no.

    I learned long ago that I can’t change other people. I can only change myself.

    But in some ways, I can identify with the situation that the boyfriend is in. I have a low cost of living. I’ve taken extended breaks from working after losing jobs twice in the past. In one case it was about 5 months, another time it was 8 months. But eventually the luxury of slowly shopping around for a job disappears.

    I assume you’re not supporting him financially (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it). If you’re on the fence, see what happens when unemployment starts to run out. Does is he remain paralyzed, or does he suddenly get a lot more industrious?

  3. 3
    starthrower68

    While I’m not without compassion for the poster’s turmoil, it seems there’s always a “my significant other is kind, loving, etc. BUT”. There is no “but”; you accept someone as they are or you move on. That’s not to say you can’t give it time to see if a situation is a deal-breaker or not, however if you choose to stay, you can’t come back and complain about how someone is.

  4. 4
    Jennifer

    I agree totally with Steve. If people want to change ,and are self-motivated, they can but it’s a lot of work. and their motivation to make the change isn’t based on what another person wants for them…it’s on their timetable.
    Shari with your guy it seems like he’s not frustrated with his life, like he is okay as is. That means he is likely happy as he is; people have to feel some level of serious discomfort, discomfort that overrides their fear ofthe unknown and inertia, before making a major change.

  5. 5
    Brenda

    I was married to a man like this – 14 years of his “working when he felt like it” – me carrying the big financial burden, then finding out that he was doing online “affairs” with Russian and Ukrainian women who were still living abroad, etc. and he then sunk me into huge debt that I was not aware of since he paid all the bills.

    I could not live with this – he was a procrastinator in every other way- and it drove me crazy.

    I filed for divorce 16 months ago and he is delaying the divorce- i.e. not providing his attorney with documentation – etc bc of his procrastination.

    The man I have been dating for the past 8 months is completely different – very masculine, a decision-maker, someone who lives life and takes the “bull by the horns”. Much more my type and someone I can see myself with, as in being married to.

    If your boyfriend’s behavior drives you crazy now, these things become much more magnified after marriage. I regret not being more prudent when I decided to marry because these attributes were definitely present before marriage, but I just really wanted to get married!

  6. 6
    CasualEncountersBlog

    I’m outraged by your suggestion that people don’t change.

    Change is possible. I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. This guy? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. Shari is whining.

    I mean, let’s face it. No one person is ever going to have all the qualities you want. This guy sounds fantastic apart from his penchant to procrastinate; I think she should stick with him. Her abandoning someone she loves over something so minor reeks of “issues” to me.

    CasualEncountersBlog´s last blog post…The Ultimate Sex Guide – Part 1 What Women Want From Men

  7. 7
    BreezyGal

    Evan and Shari,

    Let me preface my concerns by saying I agree that you cannot change someone else, so if you cannot accept your partner as he/she is, then it is best for both of you to move on. That way you can find someone who meets your needs the way you deserve, and your partner can find someone who accepts him, warts and all, in a way he deserves.

    However, Evan wrote about the boyfriend as follows: “But it’s within his power to do something different, and his paralysis is just a mechanism that justifies his laziness.” While this may be true for many people, it completely ignores the fact that lack of motivation, procrastination, and inability to make decisions are very common symptoms of MAJOR DEPRESSION, and depression is a disease, not a moral failing.

    As someone who has struggled with depression since I was a teen, was finally diagnosed in my late twenties, and since then has diligently been in therapy and on medication for it for over twenty years with mixed results, I can personally testify to how insidious and discouraging this disease can be. For much of my life I have been a so-called “high achiever”: National Merit Scholar, attended a top college, excelled at some jobs. But at other times I have been virtually paralyzed, unable to make decisions, barely able to motivate myself to seek help or do anything more than go through my days like a zombie. What makes those times even more difficult is when people leap to judgment about why I lack motivation.

    I am NOT saying that everyone who procrastinates or is indecisive is depressed, nor that Shari’s boyfriend definitely is depressed, nor that she should stay with him even if he is. And I am not qualified to diagnose the difference between someone who is depressed vs. someone who simply has an indecisive personality, although it seems logical that one indicator might be whether the indecisive, unmotivated times have alternated with periods where he/she has been happier and more productive.

    What I AM saying is that indecisiveness and lack of motivation/action may be symptoms of a larger problem, and Shari may want to consider that before giving an otherwise pretty great guy the heave-ho. Moreover, even if Shari decides she cannot live with that indecisiveness regardless of its cause (which is a perfectly reasonable choice), she may at least want to lovingly suggest to this guy in parting that he get evaluated for depression–lovingly being the key word.

    A final note for those who would like to learn more about depression and other mental illness, since it can profoundly affect relationships: while many websites, including WebMD and NIMH, discuss depression, by far the most thorough information I have found is on the Mayo Clinic website. It includes detailed information about different types of depression, including treatment-resistant depression, and also goes in depth about the different types of anti-depressant medications. (And no, this is not a paid endorsement, nor am I affiliated with Mayo Clinic LOL.)

  8. 8
    Kenley

    From the tone of Shari’s letter, I think she needs to move on. She’s not a good fit with him…that’s how it is sometimes. We like people, but they just aren’t right for us long term. Many people make mistakes staying when they should leave.

    However, I must say that Shari seems to be a bit controlling to me. Why should a boyfriend have to report his progress to her. The way she wrote that he hasn’t told her when he plans on doing stuff just hit me the wrong way. She doesn’t sound sympathetic or supportive at all.

  9. 9
    Maria

    WOW!! Give this guy a break!!! C’mon people!! A lay off is difficult enough, but coupled with a poor economy AND a girlfriend with expectations???!!! The bottom line in Shari’s letter is this:
    “due to his lack of bills he can actually live on unemployment alone”
    The man is still taking care of himself. He is not married yet, I assume no kids. He doesn’t NEED to accept a job under what he was making. He should continue doing what he is doing: continue to look for work. Eventually unemployment will run out and he may have to take a position for less. But, why settle now? We are all waiting for the economy to be stimualted.
    I may have a different slant to this subject because I am a Human Resources Manager. I know the laws (ie someone on unemployment does not have to take an offer for less than what they were earning prior to lay-off.) Also, employers are offering FAR LESS right now, because so many people are DESPERATE to work. And employers know this.

    Due to our economy, just give this man some encouragement, a hot meal and have zero expectations. Practice acceptance, vice expectance.

  10. 10
    anonymous

    I’m really annoyed at the comment about fat people never losing weight. Lots of fat people lose weight.

  11. 11
    Kenley

    Amen, Maria!

  12. 12
    JuJu

    I lost my job a little over a month ago and haven’t even started looking for another yet. Why? This is the first chance I ever had in my life to go to school without having to work! Unemployment is sufficient to cover my bills, and having worked since age 16, I really do want a break.

    Nor am I planning on starting the job search until the semester is over. I’d much rather use this period of unemployment as an opportunity to do some of the things I never get around to doing when I work.

  13. 13
    Honey

    To those who say we should give the guy a break – maybe we should. But that doesn’t have much if anything to do with whether she should stay with him or not. If he is consistently this way, he will remain consistently this way, and if it consistently bugs her, it will continue to consistently bug her. Maybe “give him a break” means break up with him so he can find someone who will appreciate him instead of be critical and unsupportive.

    Honey´s last blog post…Thought Leader Interview Series: Evan Marc Katz

  14. 14
    Steve

    CasualEncountersBlog Feb 12th 2009 at 03:08 pm 6 wrote:
    I’m outraged by your suggestion that people don’t change.
    Change is possible. I’ve seen it and I’ve done it. This guy? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. Shari is whining.

    I’ve changed myself and I have seen people change too.

    Having seen what it takes and how many people bail out, I agree with Evan that you can’t count on the likelihood of any particular individual making a major turnaround, and doing so in a relationship saving manner.

    If you have ever had to deal with the results of someone who is not actively taking care of their life you wouldn’t say Shari is whining.

    I say that as a person who never being accused of being a “Type A”.

  15. 15
    Selena

    I’m with Honey #13 on this one.

    The guy has apparently done okay supporting himself thus far and will likely find something to keep himself afloat when his unemployment runs out. But if his procrastination bothers Shari so much not just on this issue, but others as well, the problem is hers.

    Better for her to acknowledge she needs someone – “very masculine, a decision-maker, someone who lives life and takes the bull by the horns like Brenda #5. And leave this “warm, thoughtful, considerate, loving, and completely accepting” man free for someone who would truly embrace those qualities.

    I’m not unsympathetic to Shari, but for some reason I get the sense that in time she will be nagging this fellow into the grave over his shortcomings as she perceives them.

  16. 16
    CasualEncountersBlog

    You can’t count on them changing, of course not. I just think that leaving someone because they’re sort of in no hurry to get a job and don’t need to be when you still “really enjoy him and there are so many good points” is weak. It speaks to an unhealthy preoccupation with all the wrong criteria.

    If his procrastination bugs you more than you love him, leave him. If it doesn’t, quit whining. It’s not rocket surgery.

    CasualEncountersBlog´s last blog post…Meet Perseus

  17. 17
    Colin of Day Game dating

    I think that everybody has a way of doing thngs. This guy sounds like he is unsure about what he wants out of life when it comes to his job. Perhaps he is not honest about this.

    I would try to communicate this with him before making any brash decisions.

    I personally am not a relationship expert but Ihave being in a couple. I think communication is key as at least you attempt to get things off your chest.

  18. 18
    hunter

    I have heard women say, some of the best lays they got were from unemployed men.

  19. 19
    the Datective

    I think I may have dated this man before ;) Sweet, loving, kind, generous AND completely incapable (or maybe unwilling) of making big life decisions. He could not handle set backs with any level of perspective and mismanaged his finances, which of course created perpetual set backs that he couldn’t seem to get past. After playing “rescuer” for months (including long talks, helping him find a good life coach, etc.), I finally had to make a very painful decision to leave the relationship. Not because I didn’t love him, but because being with a “victim” was completely draining. I think ultimately, each person needs to determine what they can and can’t live with. Wishing Sheri lots lots of luck!

  20. 20
    hunter

    I am sorry, you had to end it. I have been told they are good lovers.

  21. 21
    CasualEncountersBlog

    I agree with the Datective, but I think Sheri needs to realize that this is about her and what she wants, and not about the guy and who he currently is.

    No one can tell her what her expectations should be, or whether her feelings are “reasonable”. To ask for same is to ironically mirror her partner’s experience.

    CasualEncountersBlog´s last blog post…Wibblings

  22. 22
    Shari

    I do appreciate everyone’s thoughtful insights – thank you! This letter was written while I was in the middle of deciding what to do, and as Casual Encounters mentions, yes, I did know this was about me, and this is exactly what I told my boyfriend. I didn’t want to ask him to change, I’ve already been on that end of a relationship and it’s painful, to say the least, when things that are just you become unacceptable to the person you’re with and they can’t accept you and want you to change.

    Naturally, there is MUCH more to this relationship than what I wrote. The job issue is the biggest, which is why I made it an example, but the procrastination permeated everything, including infringing on the time he spent with me, and returning phone calls, or e-mails. There was also a lack of motivation that meant a two year degree which is gateway to a better job was taking six years to complete (and it’s still not done), and a lack of self control that found him losing jobs because he didn’t get to sleep on time and overslept his alarm day after day.

    After a year and a half of this I had to ask myself if I could be okay in the long run with someone who could regularly become too busy at just about anything and forget an obligation to me until the last minute, or had no self motivation, and little self control and discipline. I realized these things were deal breakers and as wonderful as he is in other areas, I had to tell him there can be nothing romantic between us. I did tell him that this was about me, not him. There are certain basic things I need to have to sustain a romantic relationship and while we have this great friendship, with the lack of those other things, a great friendship is all we could have. He seemed relieved when I brought it up, having already come to that conclusion but as is just him, he had been getting ready to bring it up, just hadn’t gotten there yet. So we’ve decided to remain friends.

    I’m a regular reader of Evan’s Blog and have always liked the honesty that not just he displays, but in the comments by his readers. So thanks again.

  23. 23
    A-L

    Thanks for the update, Shari. Glad things seem to have turned out well for you.

  24. 24
    casualencounters.com/blog

    Just curious, Shari. Have you really remained friends with the guy? Like, do you still see him and hang out and stuff? Or is it more of a “I bear you no overt ill-will and would probably say hi if we bumped into each other in the street” sort of friendship?

    casualencounters.com/blog´s last blog post…Casual Encounters Web TV Show, Episode 2

  25. 25
    Shari

    Casual E,

    Our relationship is long distance, one of the reasons his lack of a job, thus lack of money, thus lack of resources so we could see each other, bothered me so much. We never could just bump into each other, or hang out, we always had to schedule time to be together. At this point, because he’s still out of work, any face to face time will have to wait because I can’t afford to pick up the tab. But we still e-mail, text, and talk on the phone. There’s no romantic overtones any longer. Will this continue? Hard to say. We might eventually fizzle out, or it could become like another relationship I had where it just wasn’t going to work and we remained friends. To this day, four years later, we still spend time together. It’s just with a different set of feelings.

  26. 26
    truth

    Uh, actually, people do change! Just not for other people.

  27. 27
    hunter

    Truth, truth behold, maybe you speak the truth, but, truth being, relationships are not always about the truth…..

  28. 28
    sil

    If the guy procrastinated at EVERYTHING (as in the post on Feb 20th 2009 at 04:13 am) then he either had major depression or didn’t love the woman he’s dating. And a third (!) possibility: he did love her (maybe even quite a lot), but his depression was just too awful and probably connected to other personality issues (past traumas, introversion or some similar interpersonal inhibition, as in: “procrastination permeated everything, including infringing on the time he spent with me, and returning phone calls, or e-mails”). Maybe the solution could have been to admit these psychological ills and get proper treatment or advice/counselling.

    sil´s last blog post…Review and wishlist for Media Player Classic 6.4.x.x

  29. 29
    Sara Malamud

    ”You do not change what you do not acknowledge” says Dr Phil. Nobody but him can help himself. So if it bothers you, move on. Maybe he is happy the way he is and he just needs a woman who also procrastinates! Do not waste time playing Florence Nightingale. Unless you enjoy it ?!

  30. 30
    Debbie Maez

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write again soon!

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