The Lawrence to your Issa: What happens when your partner is not ambitious?

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Being with a partner that matches your ambition is great because both of you can succeed together. But, what happens when they don’t feel the need to work harder? Should you run in the opposite direction?

There are certain traits almost everyone lists when they speak of the type of partner they would like to date and marry. Characteristics like honesty, kindness and ambition seem pretty standard, but they are never guaranteed.

With ambition being a key driver in creating the life of your dreams – where you achieve your goals through hard work and sheer determination – having a partner who lacks ambition can cause problems.

“Ambition, like other characteristics, isn’t a quality everyone has. It’s not even a quality that everyone desires, but it’s been given a lot of importance in modern society. When there is an imbalance, it can cause resentment in the partner who feels that the other’s lack of ambition is slowing her down,” says life coach Caroline Da Costa.

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Traditionally, men are expected to be ambitious because of their traditional role as the main provider. Reality doesn’t always match this expectation.

“Not all men are ambitious and neither are all women, but there is a difference in how society views lack of ambition in the different sexes,” says Khanyisile Xaba, a KwaZulu-Natal-based counsellor.

“When women are not ambitious, there’s an expectation that they can at least find themselves an ambitious guy who’ll take care of them. Men, however, are viewed as useless and a burden because theirs is meant to be a different role,” Xaba adds.

Managing your expectations

The reasons that some men lack drive are many and they are person-specific. It can be a personality trait, fear of failure, depression or just not having the drive to chase goals.

“If you are someone who values ambition, then it’s a trait you need to look out for from the onset,” Xaba warns.

 “It’s unlikely that someone will, all of a sudden, start to be ambitious down the line, so you need to investigate for yourself. Have you met someone going through a rough patch? That can be fixed, but if the issue is deeper than that, chances are that it won’t improve,” she adds.

When a woman is ambitious, it isn’t unheard of that the man starts to feel threatened. This can often lead to abusive ways to try “put the woman in her place”.

“When someone feels insecure about your ambition as a woman, it’s likely that he will act out in ways that try to put you down. That can range from trying to shut you up, telling you that your dreams are making you a bad wife and mother, and other tactics that aim to break down your self-esteem. This is usually easy to pick up in men who aren’t driven, but the truth is that even ambitious guys can act out in the same ways. The root of the issue is that he feels your ambition is a threat,” Xaba explains.

When attempts are made to kill your go-getter spirit, it’s important to decide whether that’s someone you want to partner up with for the long term, because sabotaging of your plans is inevitable.

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Brewing resentment

If, for whatever reason, you’re dating an unambitious person, there are two common ways the situation could unfold. One is accepting that your partner has other qualities that you value and that ambition isn’t going to be one of them.

“This acceptance allows you to move forward realistically. Your expectations can then be in other departments. I’ve found that this only works if the unambitious partner is secure within himself and doesn’t try to deter you from your path. It’s also important to remember there are other ways your partner can bring something to the table – that will allow the relationship to have some balance,” Xaba says.

The other route is that you’ll get resentful of having to pull along someone who doesn’t match your drive.

“If you feel you have to do everything in your relationship, there is no way you can escape resentment. The same goes if you feel your man is slowing you down because he never strives for more. When you start feeling that way, it’s an option to consider ending the relationship,” Xaba adds.

While ambition is a key ingredient in a relationship, it’s important to not lose sight that it isn’t the only quality you require.

“I always warn women not to just date men because they appear ambitious. On it’s own, ambition can still leave you feeling lonely and unloved. Make sure you check for other qualities that help you create the love life you desire.”

There is also a difference between lacking ambition and being a taker.

“Someone lacking ambition doesn’t mean you must provide for and take care of them while they do nothing. That isn’t lacking ambition – it’s being a taker and that’s a whole other conversation,” Xaba says.

Da Costa says if your partner feels emasculated by your ambition, there’s very little you can do to salvage the situation.

“Making yourself smaller to try please a man who feels emasculated, is a recipe for tears and pain. If your ambition is a threat to your man, he’s not the man you need to be with. As women grow into their careers and dreams, they have to do the hard work of weeding out potential partners who want to kill their dreams. A man who wants complete control over you, will kill your ambition and confidence over time – and that’s too high a price to pay for love,” she adds.

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A chance for love

It’s possible for there to be a happily-ever-after even when your man is unambitious.

“If you’re able to be honest about the situation and tackle it together as a couple, then there’s hope. There are a lot of mismatches in personalities among couples. If he supports your ambitions, pulls his weight in the relationship and finds other ways to contribute to the unit, then you can still have a healthy and happy relationship. There’s no one-size-fits-all – the important work is to be honest about what you can and can’t live with,” Xaba concludes.

5 signs that you need to leave them behind

When your partner's lack of ambition starts to border on being abusive, it’s time to consider ending things.

Here are some reasons to consider:

1. When they no longer bring anything to the table when it comes to your relationship.

2. When they expect you to pay the bills and do all the work because you are the ambitious one.

3. When they become resentful of your success and finds a way to sabotage your success.

4. When they start to erode your self-esteem by being abusive.

5. When their lack of ambition makes them depressed and they won’t seek professional help.

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