I have a friend, Jane, mid-twenties, who is going to get married to Joe, mid-thirties. Joe has a good job, owns a house and generally has things 'in order'. Jane had several (short, low paying) jobs and an education without many job prospects.

She moved in with Joe a couple of years ago, and while he is working she does cleaning and cooking and held some part time jobs. She left these jobs for reasons like "The colleagues were not nice", "the manager was not nice", "the rules were not nice".

Because of Joe earning enough money, they have a generally comfortable lifestyle. They are definitely not having any money problems.

Currently she is without job as she has a burn out, and has two things to do: cleaning and cooking. She is seeing a psychologist and has group therapy.

She tells me:

  • group therapy is not working, as when she doesn't do the homework, there's no consequences
  • she can't focus on one thing, she gets distracted a lot and doesn't get work done
  • a 'to do'-list doesn't work
  • she can't get government support because her future husband makes too much money and she thinks this is unfair
  • she's very tired because she read comic books for hours/played games until 2 am
  • she can't do the cleaning and now hired someone to do it for her (leaving only cooking to her)

I am in my mid-thirties, have a good job and had good education. I have had my hardships in life, but a burn out has (luckily) not been one of them. Obviously I would rather play games all day, but I understand there's things in life that aren't as fun as others but need to get done anyway, like paying the rent.

I have a very hard time understanding her, as I find most of what she tells me a result of her not having the discipline to do something/her being lazy. I understand she can have a burn out, but I don't feel like she's doing much to make it better. In my opinion she blames other people for her problems ("the colleagues/manager/rules were not nice", "there's no consequences if I don't do the homework") and wants other people to solve her problems ("it's unfair I don't get government support", hiring someone else to do the cleaning for her).

I don't want to agree with/confirm everything she tells me, as I just have a very different view on life than her, but I do understand that "just do it, you're home doing nothing all day!" is not going to help our friendship and could be understood as condescending or not believing the burn out is real.

I absolutely think her burn out is real and I would like to give her some different views on what she is saying. I especially disagree on the government support part, they don't need it, since as a family they earn enough to (comfortably) pay for everything.

How can I talk with my friend about her problems without being condensending about it, but not just agree with everything she says?

Note: I am not looking to sit her down and start a talk with her, it's just when she brings these things up when we're hanging out.


Answer to a comment what my relationship to her is: she's my friend for over 10 years. We used to work together. She moved away (~1 hour drive) to live with her future husband a couple of years ago. We don't see each other often because of this and possibly this started with me asking how she was doing (in a general greeting kind of way). Later that day we were just talking and the subject came to this.

edit2 In the comments it was pointed out I might not actually believe the burn out. This might be, thank you for noticing. There are some situations Jane is in which could definitely cause great stress, but I have left out of the question. Think of family issues and the wedding coming up. I could easily understand these issues, but this question is about things I think should could easily change.

  • Why is she telling you these things? That is not clear from your question (the only thing you say about your relationship with here is she is a friend, not the context/interactions when this comes up). Does she feel she needs to defend against you? Or is she just complaining; then why to you?
    – user10085
    Aug 14, 2018 at 14:10
  • What kind of relationship do you have with Joe? Have you discussed, or would you be open to discussing Jane's situation with him?
    – DaveG
    Aug 15, 2018 at 12:47
  • 1
    Just a side note on the "no governmental support due to wealthy partner" part: is it possible that she finds this unfair because it makes her realise how much her current life depends on him (definitely economically maybe also in other aspects)? She might fear to lose him or secretly doubting whether he's Mr Right out think she's a burden to him or similar. Have you ever asked her, why she wants gov. support? Just to have more money or to have "her own" money?
    – Arsak
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:18
  • @Marzipanherz: In the Netherlands we're very much for splitting costs (even when going on a date!). She feels like she should carry some of the costs they are making for the house, insurances, groceries, etc. Without job she doesn't have an income and thus cannot contribute. This is why she feels she has the right to government support, to pay her part. However, government support is based on the family (same address), not individual income. Doesn't matter if the income is 50/50 or 80/20 or 100/0. She wants "her own" money.
    – Caroline
    Aug 16, 2018 at 8:36
  • 1
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. (cc @Misamoto)
    – Mithical
    Aug 17, 2018 at 8:37

2 Answers 2


The first and most important thing you have to understand is that
Burnout looks like lazyness on the outside but is very different on the inside.

Think about people like rechargeable batteries. Your own battery gets somewhat drained during work, slightly recharged during lunch break, even more recharged during freetime activities and fully recharged at night. Her battery operates at 10% capacity. Cooking for 1 hour drains her completely and she needs a very long time to recharge. Reading comic books and playing games is her way of recharging but she needs to do those things for a very long time because her battery is broken. Cleaning the house might be in her capacity, but will drain her completely again. To you this looks like lazyness, but she honestly doesn't have the energy.

I know this because one of my family members suffered from burnout. During her 30s and 40s, she was a mother of 2 children, worked 40 hours/week, did the household and cared for her elderly mother. Now she can mop the floor or cook for 1 hour before being completely drained and needing several hours of rest.

Her therapist explained to her that burnout needs the same amount of time to "heal" as it developed. So if your friend suffered from burnout for 10 years, she needs at least another 10 years to get her battery working again.

This is hard to understand (at least it was to me). If you tell her something like "You should do the cleaning on your own" she might feel bad or even worthless, in the worst case she could become depressed.

The best thing you could do is show your understanding for the things you do understand and show her positive alternatives to the things you don't agree with.

  • Group therapy is not working? Why don't you look for a therapist that can really help you?
  • You can't get work done because you get distracted? Split one task into smaller sub-tasks. It feels so good to know you completed one of your tasks and have accomplished something.
  • You can't do the cleaning? With the right therapy you feel better and have more energy. Then you will be able to manage the cleaning without paying someone else for that.

In a usefull comment Evargalo added:

[T]he way out of burn-out is to give yourself little goals everyday, and enjoy the satisfaction of what you have accomplished. The goal can seem very tiny (Do the dishes / get up before 8.30 / switch off any game at 11pm / whatever), what counts is that there is a goal and that it is reached. She can be more ambitious the next day, and hopefully she will even want to.

A word on government support:
I don't know the social system in the Netherlands, but in Germany you can get a pension when it's proven that you are no longer able to work for more than 3 hours a day due to medical or psychological reasons. If something like that exists in the Netherlands, she could try to apply. In the case of my family member it took 10 months to get evaluated and approved, so they surely rat out the lazy ones and offer support only to those who are genuinely unable to work.


It sounds a lot like Jane has a real problem, a medical issue of some kind, not just "laziness". I'm not even going to begin to diagnose but inability to focus, lack of energy, unable to accomplish even simple tasks, sounds like a lot of possibilities: depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.

I was "Joe" (Jane's soon to be husband) in a previous relationship. My ex-wife had some of the same symptoms but I suspect different issues. Given what you say about Jane's past, I simply don't believe this is a case of overstress / burnout that will require years of idleness to recover from. A bit of Googling shows that it's accepted that high stress causes problems and lowering stress will help, but no indication that this needs to be a lengthy process, and you haven't noted any periods of high stress in the past for her.

Based on my experience, Joe probably is quite worried about all this. I think the best thing you could do, if you feel comfortable doing so, is having a talk with him about your concern for Jane. Joe getting feedback from other observers that Jane has a serious problem and needs more help is important. And together the two of you may be able to convince Jane to get medical diagnosis and treatment.

From rereading your question I understand this answer is a lot more work than what you asked for. So maybe just something to consider.

  • I appreciate you take the time to answer my question. The suggestion to talk with Joe is a good one. As I live too far away to speak with her on a daily basis, he is in a better position. I do believe Joe is worried as well, as I know he has called her mom for advice. She is already going to a psychologist and having group therapy, but she's not doing the homework assignments. Perhaps conveying my concerns to him is best, he also in a better position to judge if she 'actually tries'. Thank you.
    – Caroline
    Aug 16, 2018 at 8:26

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