“What would you recommend I do about a girlfriend I live with who has stopped contributing to our relationship, and is no longer making any effort?” writes Paul P. from San Francisco. “Although she seems to be functioning normally at work and socially, the past two years she has progressively quit pulling her share of the load around the house. She can spend whole weekends and most of her days off reading, napping and just taking it easy.”
“We both work, but I pay for virtually everything, including our vacations. I am the one doing most of the work around the house—inside and out—and the vast majority of the responsibility for getting things done falls on me. I get considerably less time off from work than she does, and I am the one who is pursuing closeness and intimacy in the relationship far more than she is.”
“I am growing angry, frustrated and very resentful towards her. I care about her, but I seem to be failing in having a close relationship with her.”
“It feels like I have been looking out for her best interests, but she hasn’t been looking out for mine. I try to spoil her, but she isn’t spoiling me back. I have repeatedly told her what I need from her, or what I’d like, but to no avail. It feels like she has quit trying entirely, and is content with sitting back and watching me work harder and harder so that she can have an easier life. Could you help me understand what is going on here?”
Well, for starters you cannot do anything to change her behavior, You can tell her how you feel, and what you would like for her to do differently, and then you have to decide when you’re going to draw the line and quit accepting her behavior.
You have several dynamics operating in your relationship with her. First, you have an “unequal contribution” issue with her. You feel like you are contributing more to the relationship, and to the household, than she is. You are trying hard while noticing she is barely making effort at all.
You’re not feeling reciprocity coming from her—the feeling that the relationship is a two-way street—and that both of you are giving to the relationship and both are receiving. Indeed, it doesn’t sound like you think she’s acting like a partner to you at all.
Second, you have a “respect” issue with her. It sounds as if you are not respecting how she is handling herself right now, and you’re losing respect for her.
Third, you have an “I’m not getting enough out of this relationship” issue, where you don’t feel sufficiently acknowledged, appreciated, nurtured, taken care of and loved by your partner in return.
Lastly, it sounds as if you are in an “overfunctioner/underfunctioner” relationship. In such a relationship, one person accepts the role of “overfunctioner,” being extra responsible, working hard to maintain the relationship, and often taking on far more than their share of chores and responsibilities.
Conversely, the other person takes over the role of “underfunctioner,” taking very little responsibility for the relationship—or what happens in the relationship. This person typically feels disempowered, helpless, dependent and childlike.