Penny For Your Thoughts: My Disabled Girlfriend Is a Financial Deadweight

This post is part of our “Penny For Your Thoughts” column where readers can write into Penny for answers to their toughest dilemmas on money and relationships.

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depressed coupleDear Penny,

My girlfriend Amie was injured two years ago while working at her job in a greenhouse. She’s now considered partially handicapped at 26 and receives a disability check (which isn’t even half of what she made when she worked).

We’d been together about a year when all of this happened. I invited her to move into my place to help her out as she recovered and to help her stabilize financially.  Things were okay at first, but after about six months of living together after she got hurt, Amie became depressed and withdrawn due to her injury and inability to work. I’ve tried everything to bring her out of it – from trying to exercise together to going to doctors appointments with her and trying to get her into physical therapy. I’ve even offered to pay for professional counseling. After all this, she still refuses to snap out of this “depression” and get on with her life.

I’m ready to have my life back and our relationship seems over. I hate going home after work because she’s there and she’s miserable. And paying for everything while she stays home and does nothing is driving me nuts. I’m not sure what to do next.

Not to sound callous, but since I offered to let her move in and help financially when all this first happened, am I stuck with her?

Where do I start?


Dear Stuck,

Part of the issue here may be your quotes around “depression.” It sounds like she is genuinely depressed, and honestly, I probably would be too if at the ripe old age of 26 I was told that I was disabled. That said, this isn’t really about her depression or the fact that she’s not holding up her end of the bargain financially. It’s that your relationship is over. If you were madly in love with her, her emotional state and the financial inequities would be issues that you would be willing to work through.

At this point, you don’t owe her anything other than your friendly support. It’s not fair to you to have to shoulder her burdens for her, and it’s not fair to her to go without at least the opportunity to find a partner that will love her and be there for her through thick and thin.

You need to talk to Amie directly – there’s no getting around this! You should have an honest conversation and talk about how you feel – that neither of you is getting anything out of the relationship anymore and you should move on separately. Because, really, that’s where this is going. Don’t bring up financial issues or where she’s going to live. If you’ve got a good relationship with her parents, friends, or any relatives that live in town, you could offer to talk to them for her and ask if she could stay with them for a while. If she has a social worker that handled her disability process, you can also talk to them to let them know what’s going on with her life and where she’ll be, and to see if there are job training opportunities she could qualify for, or self-help groups for the recently disabled that she could attend.

If Amie is going to make it as a functional adult in the world, she will have to learn to take care of herself, which it sounds like she hasn’t been doing much of lately. She may rise to the occasion or crumble under the pressure. But as much as you may be rooting for her, she’s the one who’s going to have to make that choice. Just as you have to make the choice that’s right for you – which appears to be moving on from Amie.

Readers, a penny for your thoughts! How do you deal with supporting someone who won’t help themselves? How much can one partner lean on the other financially?

Yours Truly,

Today’s letter-writer won a $20 Amazon gift card! Congratulations!

Do you have a question about relationships and money? Write to Penny [at] moneycrashers [dot] com and win a $20 Amazon Gift Card if your question gets chosen! And one commenter on this post will win a $15 Amazon Gift Card!

  • Shari

    Wow, that’s a toughie.

    My situation is a bit different than yours. I was married for quite a few years prior to becoming disabled, and I do get a decent disability check. I’m sure she gets less because she hasn’t been in the work force nearly as long. Is she getting workmen’s comp or anything like that, since her injury occurred in the workplace?

    My husband has stuck with me through thick and thin. However, again, he is my husband, not my boyfriend. I think the biggest question you need to ask yourself is, “Would I still be with her if she hadn’t been injured?” If the answer is yes, I wouldn’t give up yet. I would, however, strongly consider couples’ counseling. You may even wish to make it a stipulation to continuing your relationship.

    If it helps you, I had a very difficult time about a year out from my injury. It has gotten better for the most part, but that is with a LOT of therapy, frank discussion, and old-fashioned grit. I do still have dark days, of course, but they are a lot fewer and far between.

    Any way you look at it, you need to sit down and have a frank talk with her. Does she have other family support or is she depending solely on you? Has she discussed this with her primary care provider? Is she suffering from chronic pain and if so, is it being treated? (Chronic pain often causes depression.)

    Bottom line, I don’t think you necessarily owe her anything. I would hope that she was at least somewhat financially independent prior to your relationship. It may be that she needs the nudge out of the nest to cause her to realize that there IS life after disability.

    I wish you both the best!

    (This comment hands down is the longest comment I have EVER posted on a blog! LOL)

  • Jason


    You are in a tough situation, but I must first commend you on being a good person and a good friend to Amie. There are many guys I know that would have cut and run when their “optimal” mate might not have turned out so great. As said by others, I would highly suggest talking to Amie and reassuring that you are her friend, you genuinely want to help her and be there for her, but she must begin the process to help herself. If she continues to not help herself, I would look to her friends and family to help in the support process of bringing her out of her depression. Sometimes a person just knowing they have a strong support system in place can help to overcome mental hurdles. Also, sitting down with her family, which can be awkward in itself, and explaining the situation may aid in both of you moving on in your lives. I hope your situation improves so both of you can live happy lives.


  • Jackie

    I don’t have an answer to your actual question, but I want to point out that you don’t “snap out” of depression. If she had cancer would you be asking why she won’t snap out of it? Believe me, no one wants to be depressed.

  • nosogirl

    I agree with Penny’s advice 100%. It’s time for both of you to move on. You, to get back to a normal life and Amie, to figure out how to handle the life she has now – all on her own. Hindsight is 20/20, but your first mistake was immediately offering to take care of her after the accident. That’s when, with support of friends and family, she should have taken the first step to figure out what she can and cannot do moving forward. I further agree with Penny in that there has to be some sort of job training or something that Amie can do. It, unfortunatey, sounds like her physical condition won’t be changing. So needs to figure out how to make a life with the situation she has been given. It’s very sad, for both of you. But people are responsible for their own actions. Amie needs to start on the road to recovery.

  • David Bibby


    While I don’t know the extent of her disability, I can say that your girlfriend is missing two (maybe three) important things in her life. These things…if given to her…may gradually a-wake her out of the depression she’s in.

    First of all…she needs FUN in her life. Anyone would be depressed if all they did was stay home all the time. So instead of anticipating a boring night when you get home from work, why not come home energetic and in a very positive mood and INVITE her to do something fun with you. You may have to be creative here given some limitations, but take her out of the house and have fun and avoid and heavy conversations for a couple of nights.

    Second…she needs to know that she is still important to you and special to you. She needs you to validate her as a person…and as a woman. She needs YOUR strength, your positive energy, your encouragement, and she needs you to lead her out of this “funk”.

    Third…she needs purpose in her life. If she can’t “work”, maybe there is a way for her to help others over the computer or contribute some other way. If her life has no meaning, it’s hard to experience the little joys in life.

    What does SHE want anyway? I’m sure she doesn’t want to feel guilty about the fact that she’s not contributing to your relationship or your finances. It might be easier for her to push you away so that she doesn’t have to feel guilty anymore. So let it be her decision, does she want to get well and be a contributor again with your help or does she want to be alone?

    If she decides that she’s rather be alone. Then give her what she wants.

    I’m not saying this to be callous either…if you feel that you’ve tried everything to help her and she refuses the help, then you can let her go knowing that you’ve done all you can do.


    I absolutely disagree with your advice, Penny.

    I think the relationship is going through a tough patch — but ALL relationships go through tough patches, when one partner or the other feels like they’ve fallen ‘out of love.’ Tough circumstances (and Stuck definately has a tough circumstance!) can accelerate, or intensify, the tough patch.

    Nonetheless, I think you have to see this as a temporary rough time in your relationship, and pull through it. That’s the “commitment” and “work” of being in a relationship.

    Now Stuck, the thing you really need to understand is that she isn’t “refusing to snap out of” her depression … depression isn’t something you can just “snap” out of. The chemicals in her brain that create happiness have probably slowed down as a result of this injury and her new life circumstances; she’s probably got less serotonin pumping through her brain than before.

    My suggestions:
    1) Find a way for her to be physically active, in whatever manner is possible given her limitations. This creates endorphins in the body, which lead to happiness.

    2) Find friends with whom she can socialize — maybe there’s a local group of other injured or disabled people that she can become friends with, and get emotional support from. Call local nonprofits, or check

    3) Help her come up with some type of “mission” or “purpose” or “goal” — whether it’s starting a blog, writing a book, planting a vegetable garden at home, or whatever else she’s able to do. This will give meaning to her life.

    4) If she likes animals, and it’s possible, try to get a dog or cat — this will give her love and companionship while you’re gone all day, and contribute to her happiness.

    5) If she’s open to the idea, consider joining a church or temple or spiritual group. She’ll find both community (with the other members) and strength to help get through this. If religious orthodoxy is a turn-off, search for less-dogmatic or less-strict religious or spiritual groups, such as the Unitarian Universalists.

    6) Keep trying to get her to a professional counselor, or at least a support group (the support group will probably be cheaper).

    7) Do something for yourself! Try a support group for caregivers. Join an intramural sports team, or a hobbyist club of some kind. Have something in your life that’s not JUST work and caregiving.

  • JP

    As somene who suffers from clinical depression, it is possible that making Aimie become responsible for her future, will force her to get medical help. It is unimaginable when you are in the depths of depression that there is anything that can help you feel better. But if she is pushed, she will hopefully find a doctor that can get her on the right anti-depressant. Finding the right medication can make such a difference. She just might need this to nudge her in that direction.

  • Laura

    This is definitely a tough situation, however what popped into my head first was would you feel like this about your girlfriend had she not gotten disabled. Relationships are not easy, and of course this will not make it any easier but how about talking directly to her about how you feel and see if she also has been feeling the distance. Also ask her if she’d Like to work on it & then decide if you’d be interested on working on the relationship.

    Counseling is expensive but if this is a relationship you think is worth saving then invest in it.
    Then if after all this things still do not progress for the better sit down together & decide how to end this relationship. Will she need 3 mos to get herself together and move out, were you sharing any savings, which family and/or friends will step up and help.

    Good luck!

  • Marla Davis

    I’m a female and have been disabled, so I hope you know my comment comes with compassion for your girlfriend, but also concern for your life. It sounds like both of you need some space. Each of us has to be “whole” and able to sustain our lives by ourselves before we can sustain a healthy relationships with a partner. I feel since your girlfriend has just started down the road of learning how to live as a disabled person, she has quite a ways to go emotionally and mentally and even has to go through a sort of grieving process for the loss of who she was before the injury. Millions of disabled people across the U.S. have leaned to live happy, healthy and contributing lives even taking their disability into consideration. In fact, your girlfriend may learn a new way to make a living that is even better than her work before the injury. But it takes time. Essentially though, she will have to learn this for herself. Your attempts to help her are admirable but she may not be ready. It seems she needs to find another place to live, and you two may need to bracket your relationship down to friendship, at least until she can get the help she needs. As we all know, one person can not fill another person’s total needs. You all also may want to try to visit a church of whatever your beliefs are, for more help with faith and for support.. I pray you and your girlfriend find a way to be happy and prosperous together or apart. Every type of relationship we find ourselves in can be a learning opportunity for all involved that can be turned into applicable guidelines for our futures.

  • Kevin

    I’m am struggling with a similar situation. About 3 months after we were married my wife was diagnosed with central nervous system sensitization syndrome. A rare condition that most people have never heard of. She lives in near constant state of fatigue, random bouts of physical pain from her condition, and problems with her ability to think clearly and remember things. The medical condition is legitimate, and was diagnosed by a specialist at the MAyo clinic after over a week of testing.

    She was an award winning teacher before this and has since lost her job.
    SHe has also become severely depressed. She had been a teacher for seventeen years, and that was how she identified herself. She is stuck at home, and other than getting her out for physical therapy it is hard to get her out of the house.

    There is also, of course the financial issue. SHe has had no income for six months. and while her condition is legitimate and throughly documented, the insurance company continues to drag out the process, and after fighting with them for 100 days on a claim that should have taken thirty days we are finally getting a disability lawyer.

    She will not work again for a least 18 months and there is no promise that she will ever earn an income again.

    THis obviously has been devastating for the both of us.

    We are both in individual and couples counseling, trying to keep our relationship healthy.

    I am a LPC, a masters level professional mental health counselor. and though I have never met your girlfriend and can’t say exactly what is going on with your specific case.

    I can say that
    1. It sounds as if your partner does have significant and likely legitiimate clinical depression.

    2. It also sounds like your are being drawn into a complex co-dependent role in the relationship.
    Where you do things for her because she “can’t” and then become resentful of her because she “chooses not to”.
    She is not in a place to have healthy boundaries right now. YOu will need to develop clear and healthy boundaries in order to keep yourself healthy and not enable her behavior.

    Also, if she is not already on anti-depressant medications, there are many available that would likely help. She could easily have one prescribed by her family doctor. This could some relief in the short -term without feeling “forced to ‘get professional help'” which she would likely be resistant to doing.

    ALso many of those medications are available in generic forms, which work just as well and have only a nominal fee. Generic prozac for example, is about $5 per month.

    Hope this helps you buddy.

    I can really relate.
    We are both trying our best to do the right thing for the women we love, and that is commendable.