He is on Social Security disability benefits. I understand that in order to reach a healthier place in life, some people need to go on disability benefits to make ends meet. I have empathy, given that at one point I almost went on benefits myself. My concern, however, is that he hasn’t made any steps to get off of it. I’ve used a number of support services to help myself find and maintain employment, but he just doesn’t bother trying them out. It does frustrate me that I’ve worked my butt off and dealt with so many horrible employers over the years and he hasn’t even applied for a job, ever. How does he know he can’t work if he has never tried?
The type of disability benefits he is on, SSI, are means-tested. In other words, to qualify you need to have a low-income household (if you’re an adult who lives with your parents or other people, their incomes are still factored in). Since his parents are upper-middle class, I honestly don’t know how he qualified. I’m not going to say that he tried to game the system, but the program is designed for people who are financially struggling, and his family does not fall in that category. He goes on some big trips and isn’t hurting for money. I have respect for people who need benefits to survive, but that’s not the case here. I almost feel like his parents are enabling him.
Being a motivated individual who is determined to improve my life circumstances, I am concerned that my boyfriend has not taken concrete steps to become employed – or even involved in his community outside of the workforce. I am concerned by the prospect of spending my life with someone who doesn’t demonstrate much initiative.
Is it selfish of me to feel this way? He is a caring guy with a good sense of humor, and I enjoy spending time with him for the most part. Are there ways that I can help motivate him to start thinking in general about joining the workforce? I don’t want him to feel bad about himself since shame is never a good motivator. I know he must feel awfully overwhelmed, but what can I do to encourage him to at least take some first steps?
If he continues to not make strides to at the very minimum investigate what employment options are out there, is there a way I could let him know that, for us to stay in this relationship, I need to see him show more motivation? Would it be awful if I were to break off this relationship if he fails to change? — Motivated to Improve Circumstances
It would not be awful at all for you to end a relationship with someone with whom you don’t share common values. You have a strong work ethic and are motivated to live up to your potential and be independent. It would seem from your description of the situation that your boyfriend does not share those values, but perhaps you need to do a little digging to find out for sure. I would ask him why he feels he can’t work. I know people with Asperger’s Syndrome, or as it’s diagnosed now: simply autism spectrum disorder. Because it’s a spectrum, there’s a big range in intensity of symptoms, but many people on the spectrum — especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome — can live perfectly “normal,” functional lives, albeit they may be a little quirky.
I imagine you’ve probably done your own research into ASD and have talked extensively with your boyfriend about his symptoms and the impairments the disorder poses for him (common ones are social impairment, anxiety, and sensory processing issues, which could very well make the idea of applying for and holding down certain jobs overwhelming). If you haven’t addressed these issues with him, this would be a good starting point in discussing why he thinks he’s unable to hold down — or even apply and interview for — a job.
It may be that your boyfriend’s parents enable him and have enabled him for as long as they’ve known about his diagnosis. They may be to blame for creating a dynamic of dependency in your boyfriend. Maybe he didn’t get the support and services as a child that would make living as an adult with AS a little easier. Maybe his particular gifts and interests — people with high functioning autism or Asperger’s often have distinct gifts and intense interests that can even border on obsessions — weren’t fostered and celebrated, and perhaps he never realized (because no one ever told him) that some of his gifts could help him earn a living. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t know. But you can certainly talk with your boyfriend about his childhood, his family dynamic, how his disorder was addressed growing up, and the gifts and interests you’ve noticed in him and how they may be applied to a job, job training, or even just being more involved in his community.
If your boyfriend was told, either directly or indirectly, that there were things he simply could not do and that was that, you may have more empathy for why he is the way he is. You could imagine how different he might be if his parents had, instead, taken the approach of telling him he could do anything anyone else could do — including maintaining happy, satisfying relationships — but that he would have to learn specific tools and work a little harder to achieve the things that might come more easily for his neuro-typical peers. Maybe it isn’t too late to tell him these things now. But he has to have interest. He has to WANT to be more independent, to change his circumstances, to live to his potential. You can’t make him change. You can’t make him want to change. He has to show initiative on his own, and if, after talking with him, you don’t see that spark of initiative — that interest to change his life — it would not be the least bit inappropriate or unkind to end the relationship. Staying in it because you feel sorry for him or because you’re willing to settle for the parts of him you do like despite overwhelming parts you don’t respect makes you the enabler. And from everything you’ve shared about yourself, I can’t imagine that fits your identity or matches your values.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.