I'm tired of my boyfriend's lack of ambition — and his gaming habit : Life Kit Can you successfully motivate someone else to change? Clinical psychologist Jody Adewale shares advice with a letter writer feels put off by her partner's lack of direction.

Dear Life Kit: I'm tired of my boyfriend's lack of ambition — and his gaming habit

Dear Life Kit: I'm tired of my boyfriend's lack of ambition — and his gaming habit

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Photographs by Ussama Azam and Clay Banks/Unsplash; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR
Collage of a pair of feet with sneakers on them, kicked up. Overhead hangs a colorful arrow that&#039;s trending downward signaling a lack of ambition.
Photographs by Ussama Azam and Clay Banks/Unsplash; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR

Need some really good advice? Look no further than Dear Life Kit. In each episode, we pose one of your most pressing questions to an expert. This question was answered by Jody Adewale, a clinical psychologist who specializes in family conflict. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Dear Life Kit,

My boyfriend and I live together, and we both work from home. He doesn't like his current low-paying job, but he doesn't know what he wants to do long term.

Because he works remotely and doesn't have much to do, he spends hours of every workday playing video games. I feel like he's wasting an opportunity to learn a new skill or [take part in job training programs]. I've voiced this a few times and he half-heartedly agrees, but he never acts on it. He swears he only plays one or two video games a day, but I know this isn't true because I can see his account activity online. Beyond the fact that I don't think [his video-game habit] is healthy, I'm starting to feel a little put off by his lack of motivation and the additional household labor I do on top of my full-time job while he games. 

How do I talk to my boyfriend about his professional motivation and his problematic gaming without starting a fight or making him feel bad? I just want him to reach his potential and feel good about his occupation. — Game over it

Jodi Adewale is a clinical psychologist who specializes in family conflict and has written about everything from adult male psychology to mental health in the workplace. Jody Adewale hide caption

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Jody Adewale

There's no quick fix for trying to motivate someone. Most long-term behavior change comes from intrinsic motivation. [You can also try to motivate people with] positive reinforcement. You can give him praise for behaviors you like. For example, you can say, "Thank you so much for spending time with me" or "I appreciate you submitting that resumé."

You could also try [joining him in a positive behavior]. For example, you might say: "Come on, let's look at some of these training programs together."

I would consider gaming like drugs, gambling or porn — in excess, too much can create a problem. Is it causing problems with your physical health, your work, your finances or your relationships? Is it causing legal problems? If gaming isn't causing you problems in any of those areas, I would say keep going.

But it sounds like gaming is starting to cause problems in your relationship. Excessive gaming, just like excessive alcohol, can be a sign of an underlying mental health condition that might need to be addressed. Could there be some depression or anxiety there? Is this a form of avoidance that's helping him get through the day? Try to understand what's motivating the behavior.

I hear this from couples all the time: "I don't want to say anything because it's going to turn into a fight." But there needs to be more assertive communication where you stand up and speak your needs while respecting his needs.

[And remember], it's important to understand your boundaries with your partner. Are you trying to create a life for them that they don't want?

Couples therapy would be good for you as a couple. Having a safe space to talk about where both of you are at can help facilitate a more constructive conversation.

Listen to Jody Adewale's full response in the audio at the top of the page or on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Have a question for Dear Life Kit? Share it anonymously here.


Dear Life Kit is hosted by Andee Tagle and produced by Beck Harlan and Sylvie Douglis with help from our intern Jamal Michel. Bronson Arcuri is the managing producer and Meghan Keane is the supervising editor. Alicia Zheng produces the Dear Life Kit video series for Instagram.

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