Linda Lewis Griffith

Fixer-upper boyfriends leave you in a fix

I’ve done it again,” the 40-something woman sighed in my office. “I’ve picked another loser boyfriend.”

This high-functioning female is the top producer in her firm. She owns her own home and several rentals. She is an overachiever in nearly every aspect of her life.

But when it comes to choosing partners, her standards take a nose dive. The men in her life are classic underperformers. Several have abused drugs and alcohol. Most have been unemployed. The most recent lived with her rent-free for two years, all the while promising he’d get a job very soon.

My client is certainly not alone. Many women fall for low-functioning men, then find themselves trapped in relationships going nowhere. They may nag, threaten and plead with their hanger-on guys. Still, unacceptable behaviors never change. And the exhausted, frustrated caretakers face two unenviable options: break up with the slacker or keep the status quo.

Women are attracted to fixer-uppers for a variety of reasons. Some dream of rehabilitation. They fantasize that their acceptance and support will be enough to work life-changing miracles on their lackluster beaus. Others feel they see admirable characteristics that elude the less observant eye. Still others believe they’re unworthy of anyone more productive. They’re convinced they’d better take whoever comes along, even if he’s a deadbeat.

Of course, every human being deserves kindness and compassion. Each one of us has untapped potential. We also have the capability of becoming needy at a moment’s notice. Illness or accident can render us helpless, relying on the care of tender hands.

That’s why it’s essential that we make wise choices. In the dating process, we’re selecting a partner who is up to the task of co-running the family business. We want someone capable of contributing to the household finances, raising offspring, purchasing insurance, funding an IRA. Spouses should be emotionally strong enough to shoulder upheavals or crises. They must be equal helpmates, not card-carrying psychological burdens.

When potential mates show signs of underperforming, that’s a signal to flee ASAP. Don’t wait until your lives and emotions are further entwined. By then, it may be too late.


Wondering if you’re involved with a fixer-upper? Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you pay most of the bills?

Does it feel as if you do the majority of the work around the house?

Is he at home during the day while you go to work?

Do you dislike his friends?

Are you concerned about his alcohol or drug use?

Is he chronically unemployed?

Do you make excuses about him to your friends and family?

Do you frequently argue with him about his behavior?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Take steps now to set things right.

What to do if you’re involved with a fixer-upper:

Get out now. Don’t wait. If you’re not married, ask him to leave if he’s living in your home. Things aren’t going to change.

Be strong. Yes, he has some good points. But he’s not good partnership material. Listen to your rational voice that says this relationship is bad news.

Don’t worry about how he’ll survive. He’s a grown man and can take care of himself. Don’t make it your problem.

Don’t let him try to change your mind. He’ll probably plead with you to give him another chance. Don’t fall for it. You’ve heard it all before.

Get support from your friends and family. You’ll need their help when you’re feeling alone and vulnerable. Join friends after work. Keep your schedule full.

Make better choices in the future. Watch for telltale signs of low-functioning men. Then avoid them like the plague. You deserve a top-flight partner. Set your sights on nothing less.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit