A few questions to ask before you judge him

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • I've been nudging my live-in boyfriend to get a second job to bring in more income. I make at least three times what he makes. He has a college degree, and we're both about 30, but he's been stuck in low-paying restaurant work for five-plus years. In order for us to have any future stability, move out of our low-income rental apartment, afford a mortgage to a modest home, or even get engaged and married, he's going to need to bring his income way up! Unfortunately, he's extremely slow in achieving results. He means well and wants better, but apparently suffers from self-esteem issues and a lack of role models or successful male peers. While I'm happy I have this earning power, I still feel resentment that we're "stuck" because he is not living up to his potential. What advice do you have for turning the switch on in his mind to more urgently seek higher-paying, stable work, and to help him achieve more?


Dear B. • Whip? Blackmail? Powdered bull testicles in his food? "Nudging" has failed so you're on to "turning the switch" — and while you might mean well, too, escalating is not the answer. Taking your hands off is — and stepping back, and thinking. This marriage-mortgage-vacations plan — his, or yours? Is "stuck" his word or yours? Loving someone, even a life partner, does not constitute permission to remake him to suit your ideals. Even if it were, how's that going? You may not think you're the one pulling all the levers here but as long as you care more about his income than he does, that's exactly what you're doing. He is not potential, he is a person. Maybe you need to consider that low self-esteem and low-paying jobs don't correlate as strongly as do low self-esteem and others' impatience with low-paying jobs. But first, I think you need to ask yourself: Do you want (a) to marry this man as-is, or (b) to marry this man only if he becomes what you expect him to become? Don't answer it the way you think you're supposed to — big mistake. If, in your most private heart, you refuse to live like this much longer for anyone, then you need to concentrate on making your own choices — not his — reflect that defining truth.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.