My Retired Partner Isn’t Motivated. Will He Drag Me Down?

These tips are inspired by a reader who asked for relationship advice about her older retired boyfriend. He’s a widower who isn’t ambitious or interested in a future, career, goals or even more than a part-time job.

You have career goals and plans, but your partner is retired and idle. You can’t make him more motivated or ambitious, but you can still be successful. Or can you?

“I am deeply in love and in a relationship with a man who is ten years older than me,” says Cheryl on Are You a Liberal in Love With a Conservative?

“I focused on my law career for the past 25 years, and he is in more of a retirement mode. After losing his wife he lost his ambition and just wants to coast. My biggest problem with him is that I feel like I have so much to achieve as a lawyer but he has NO goals, NO ambitions, and NO passion. I appreciate that he doesn’t need to work and is more focused on retirement and enjoying life than working hard, but I’m ashamed to say that I’m embarrassed to bring him to professional functions. He says he is past the age of dreaming and just wants to live quietly retired.”

Not being ambitious in midlife or retirement is different than being idle or unmotivated as a younger person. Nevertheless, a partner’s outlook on life affects our own goals, dreams and even our successes. Here are a few thoughts on how handle a retired boyfriend’s lack of motivation.

My Retired Partner Isn't Ambitious. Will He Drag Me Down?

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t change your boyfriend. Remember what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks! You can’t motivate your boyfriend – especially an older retired widower – to be more ambitious, get a better job, or make more money – especially if he’s contently living in retirement mode.

Also, remember that widowers have experienced a depth of life and grief that we can’t know – especially if we’ve never been married or lost a spouse. Your boyfriend’s experiences changed who he is and how he sees his own life.

Release your expectations

The more you unsettled or unhappy you are with your boyfriend’s view of life and retirement, the more stress you create for yourself and your relationship. If you were both younger and starting to build a life, family and even a business together, I’d encourage you to be honest. Tell your boyfriend that his lack of ambition and motivation affects your progress and your view of him.

However, loving a middle-aged or older widower is different. I don’t think it’s productive or helpful to expect him to change. If he’s truly content living in retirement and has no motivation to further his career or join you in your own professional aspirations, then all you can do is love him for who he is.

Separate your personal and professional goals

As a lawyer, you specialize on changing outcomes and affecting future events, decisions and plans. Your professional perspective is ambitious and motivated. You graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, and have built a successful career as a woman in law.

Your personal life is a different matter. If your boyfriend loves and accepts you for who you are – and if your relationship is healthy and loving – why not accept him for who he is? Maybe your personal goals should be separated from your professional drive to succeed.

You can’t change your partner. And even if you could, you might not want to. You fell in love with him – a lovely retired older man who doesn’t need to be ambitious or pursue career goals. If he changed, your love for him may change as well.

Embrace your different perspectives

At this point in life – as a couple in midlife or later – you may not need to be compatible in terms of professional career goals. Younger couples in their 20s and 30s might be better off if they have the same mindset in terms of ambition and motivation for their professional lives, but mid to later life couples are on a different path.

I’m sure you’ve noticed other differences in how you perceive life. Perhaps your political beliefs aren’t the same. Maybe your politics are even in conflict or opposition. These differences, whether it’s different levels of ambition and motivation professionally, socially, politically or even spiritually, don’t have to separate you. If you embrace the fact that you’re a younger lawyer in love with an older retired widower who isn’t interested in being ambitious, you’ll both flourish.

Notice if your partner drags you down or holds you back

Respecting, honoring and valuing your partner’s outlook is important. Equally important is noticing if your boyfriend’s values, opinions, and character traits are rubbing off on you. If your retired partner’s lack of ambition is affecting your professional goals – especially if you’re embarrassed to take him to work functions – then you may need to rethink your relationship.

Don’t let your boyfriend’s lack of ambition hold you back from achieving your future goals. How you balance your love for him and your motivation to further your career depends on your relationship.

My relationship with an unambitious older man

I was once in love with a man 11 years older than me. He was in his mid-fifties, and had no ambition or motivation to do anything but work part-time at the post office. He said he wanted to be a writer, but he lived like he was retired.

My sister’s relationship advice was to stay with him despite his lack of ambition. She said he was like a wall in a swimming pool and I was a swimmer; I could “push off” him to achieve my own goals and dreams.

I couldn’t bring myself to stay in that relationship.

Fifteen years later, that boyfriend (who I broke up with shortly after my sister gave me that advice) is still doing nothing with his life. He is in the exact same position as he was back then. I’ve earned three university degrees, lived in Africa for three years, started businesses, wrote ebooks, bought and sold a camper van, married and left my husband, and moved to a new city in a new province. I could never have done all that if I’d stayed in a relationship with an unmotivated older man who was retired.

Draw clear boundaries for yourself

If your retired partner isn’t ambitious, will he drag you down? It depends on your boundaries, strength and courage. Being aware of your boyfriend’s lack of ambition will help you stay motivated to achieve your career goals.

You are the sum of the people you spend the most time with. If I stayed with my semi-retired boyfriend who had vague dreams but no specific plans to achieve them, he would’ve dragged me down and held me back. I wouldn’t have achieved half the things I did. We absorb the traits and values of the people we spend  the most time with, and I didn’t want to absorb his idleness and inactivity.

Is your partner unmotivated because he’s bored? Read 7 Ways to Keep Busy When You’re Bored of Retirement.

Are You Bored & Retired? 7 Tips for a Meaningful Midlife

Being in a relationship with a retired partner who isn’t ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t achieve your goals, but his perspective will affect you. What will that effect be? It depends on you and how determined you are to achieve your own goals and plans for your life.

What have I missed?

Feel free to share your thoughts below. What advice would you give a woman in midlife who wants to achieve her career goals, but is in a relationship with an older retired man who has no ambition?

I think I missed the partner’s perspective. If he’s supportive and encouraging, his own career path or life in retirement doesn’t matter. However, the reader who commented said she’s embarrassed to bring him to professional functions. That tells me that somehow he is holding her back from achieving her career goals.

Sometimes a lack of motivation or even laziness is due to physical or mental health issues. If your partner struggles with memory or reasoning, read A Surprising Warning Sign of Dementia: Money Problems.

Need encouragement? Get my weekly Blossom email




  1. Hi Laurie, I’ve just finished reading your latest tips on retired boyfriends who are going no where. I’ve been best of friends with a very special person who,s been in my life a good few years now. But this past couple of years things seemed too have changed between us and he,s just not the same kind and helpful person he used too be! He retired and has no motivation to do anything. I feel like he’s dragging me down with him.

    Other so called friends of his keep causing trouble between us and he doesn’t seem too believe me when I mention what that say. I don’t want too lose my dear friend but, I can’t carry on like this anymore because it’s making me ill.

    So after reading your latest blog, I came too a decision! And made my mind up too slowly cut back any contact and days out with him because it just doesn’t feel enjoyable any more. He is slipping deeper into retirement mode I have too do it for my own well being!

    I hope it works out for me. Best wishes and thanks. Jillian😊

  2. My sister once told me to use my unmotivated boyfriend as a foundation for my own success. His lack of motivation wasn’t a problem, she said. It was actually a benefit because his groundedness and stability would give me a strong position from which to achieve my own goals.

    My sister was wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *