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My unemployed boyfriend is bringing us down

The question

I recently moved to another province with my partner. Because we moved for a transfer within my company, he had to leave his job and is now unemployed and looking for work. He's slow to apply for EI and resistant to even applying for part-time work that isn't "ideal."

I don't make a huge amount of money, and he's got sky-high debt, so right now all financial activity is fuelled directly by my paycheques and savings. I never nag him about a job search, and I tell him this could be an opportunity to take time for himself, but he insists on fretting all day, every day and bringing the proverbial rain cloud to the after-work party. When I come home from work it's all I hear about, or he chooses to remain on his computer looking for a job in every nook and cranny of the Internet.

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I asked him to maybe offer me a smile and some relaxation time together in exchange for the financial responsibilities I'm carrying, and he seemed to think that was out of line and harsh. And yes, I did identify with his struggle and mention that I recognize how stressful it is to be in that position. So what do you think - should I keep my yap shut and carry on floating the boat with a sunny disposition?

The answer

First of all, to put it in mathematical terms, zero flow + sky-high debt = credit doom.

You/he/the two of you have to find a way to get at least a trickle of dinero out to his creditors pronto.

I don't know if you're prepared to cover his monthly credit-card nut with part of the proceeds of your "non-huge" income. I could see that becoming quite onerous and leading to a lot of teeth-grinding and door-slamming in your relationship.

If you're not willing to go this route, is there perhaps a relative who could swing a "bridging loan" to cover this transitional period?

(Meanwhile, unless I'm missing something, if your partner quit his job, he's not eligible for EI, so you can kiss that potential income stream goodbye.) Second, I don't understand anyone in his position turning up his nose at work. He needs to get off his duff and make some moves. It's 2010; times is tough. You gotta hustle or die, now more than ever. Me, I turn down nothing but my collar these days.

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And pardon me, call me old-fashioned while you're at it, but while I am aware the Internet is an excellent job-search tool, it's not enough on its own.

He's got to get out there, hit the bricks, network, call up contacts, wear out shoe leather, all the other old-school tools by which to chivvy the elusive bird of work out of the underbrush - alongside his regular Net-surfing.

While we're on the topic: I take it you have mainly his testimonial that what he's searching for "in every nook and cranny of the Internet" is, indeed, work?

You may want to put a pin in that one, and attach a small red flag to the pin for possible future discussion.

At the same time, having said all the above, you should bear in mind that he gave up whatever position he had to be with you.

Be patient with your partner as he goes through what may be a difficult period - and not just because of the money. Everyone needs to feel useful, engaged. People are always asking Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, why he continued to bust his hump after making something north of half a billion dollars on the sitcom's syndication.

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His answer: His mother always instilled in him the notion that "everyone needs somewhere to go" to feel worthwhile.

Help your partner find the get-up-and-go to get himself somewhere to go. You say you don't "nag" him to get a job, and that's probably for the best. But there are ways other than nagging to goose a flagging partner, e.g. using gentle encouragement and frequent pep talks. Help him find his own motivation, a.k.a. the stones to get out there and grab the world by the, ahem, tail.

Meanwhile, consider that a) it's tough to go out into the world with your hat in your hand; b) even tougher for him, I would imagine, to come to you with his hand out; c) by quitting his job to relocate with you, he non-verbally declared it's you two against the world, and he was willing to take one for the team.

He made this sacrifice for the two of you. Now it's your turn to return the favour by putting up with occasional bouts of moodiness and poopy-pants behaviour, and helping him get back on his feet, back to work, and back in the black.

Let me leave you with two quotes from the immortal tennis champion Jimmy Connors: 1) "People don't seem to understand that it's a damn war out there." 2) "Rather than viewing a brief relapse to inactivity as a failure, treat it as a challenge and try to get back on track as soon as possible."

Words to live by, babies.

Update: Many of my esteemed readers have pointed out I may have erred when I wrote in my last column: "Meanwhile, unless I'm missing something, if your partner quit his job, he's not eligible for EI, so you can kiss that potential income stream goodbye." In fact, I was missing something: apparently if one quits to relocate for the sake of a committed relationship, one may in fact be entitled to EI benefits. (Truthfully I'm glad this clause is on the books-- as one reader pointed out, in a world of restrictions and red tape it's an area "where a little humanity can be shown.") Mea culpa, people: you're smart, I'm dumb: I wasn't aware of this clause of the EI statutes, and should have run this statement past an expert. Usually I do with these types of things. I promise to do better in the future. Meanwhile, I change my tune and urge this woman's partner to run not walk to his local EI office and apply for benefits asap!

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published in March.

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