When do you know it’s time to call it quits?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have been in a relationship for 18 months with a guy who is 6 years older than I am. We do not live together, and we have no kids together (although he has two older children from previous relationships).

I knew when we first started dating that he had some bad habits – he drank alcohol frequently, smoked marijuana, and smoked cigarettes – but at the time that we met, he was employed full-time and had lots of plans for his future that he really seemed to be starting to work on.

Fast forward to about four months ago – his marijuana habit was (in my opinion) out of control, he got fired from his job for excessive absenteeism, and he was drinking more and smoking more cigarettes than ever. I tried to be supportive when he was fired, and to help him turn it into a positive, getting him enrolled in adult education classes and helping him with homework, and I have also been a source of financial support for him, even though I am a full-time graduate student myself and am already barely making ends meet. When he started school, he gave up marijuana and alcohol, and I thought he was really going to get back on a positive track. However, it’s now about four months later, he’s about to get kicked out of school (again, for excessive absenteeism), and he’s smoking $100 worth of marijuana a week. The drug problem is so bad, it’s eating up his entire unemployment check every week, and I’m stuck buying him food and cigarettes, even when it means I can’t afford things that I need, like gas for my car to get to school and work.

To compound this, he’s become hypercritical of everything that I do – dinner’s never cooked right, I’m never home early enough, and he’s refused to have sex with me for the past seven weeks. (He claims this is because there are no curtains on his windows, and then blames me for not going out to buy curtains, even though I do not live with him and the windows are not mine.)

He’s asked me not to leave him, because he’s having a really hard time and claims to want my help getting his life together, but when push comes to shove, he ultimately refuses to do anything positive for himself. My question is, how much of this do I have to put up with? Is it wrong to leave someone who is so obviously struggling? Or am I just enabling him by sticking around? I want to leave, and have been thinking about it for some time now, but I am afraid that to do so would be unfair to him, and that it is selfish to put my own happiness above his. How do I know if it’s okay to leave?

A: You must really love this guy to even have a question. I’m sorry that the situation is breaking your heart. But you’re right to call it quits. It seems that this man doesn’t want a partner, he wants a care-taker. Even though you are supporting him financially and emotionally, he refuses to do his share – even for his own benefit. He’s not even grateful. He is almost 30. It’s way past time for him to get it together.

Yes, you’ve been set up as an enabler. No, you are not obligated to continue doing it. No, you are not being unfair. He most definitely is. His first love is his habit, not you. From what you’ve written, I can only support you in leaving – for both your sakes. He needs to be confronted with reality. You deserve far better than this from someone you love.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Jan 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). When do you know it’s time to call it quits?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/01/19/when-do-you-know-its-time-to-call-it-quits/