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‘When we go shopping, my boyfriend – who earns a considerable salary – will always steal one item’

Tell Me About It: Addressing his behaviour needs to be seen as a joint project for the two of you


When I first met my boyfriend, just before the pandemic, I noticed something a little strange about him. When we would go food shopping together, which would be extremely rare, he would always steal one item from the shop, something small like a banana or an apple. He would either stick it in his pocket or eat it as we walked around the shop, and he would never pay for it when we got to the self-service checkout.

It might sound unusual, but I did not confront him or really give it too much thought. I had waited a long time to meet someone as amazing as him. He has a very good career, earns a considerable salary, has disposable income and no significant debts or any issues that I am aware of. I am now in the early stages of pregnancy, and we are both over the moon. For the first time in ages, we have been shopping together and inevitably going to baby shops. When we arrive home, he always pulls something out of his pocket like a baby grow, or a rattler.

I did mention it to him and he became quite animated telling me that these big retailers exploit their workers in Ireland and those working in factories abroad and that large numbers of people like him stealing something minor was the only collective way of hurting them. I had never heard such drivel from someone so intelligent and apparently level-headed. I do not know if he is a kleptomaniac or not, but he has essentially destroyed this happy occasion.

I need someone now more than ever that I can rely on. I have been imagining our future toddler walking around toy stores being followed by security guards as daddy fills his pockets with games.


I do not know what to do, his thoughts on this matter are unchangeable.


That your boyfriend is so defensive about his stealing is telling. He is clearly very attached to it, is reluctant to give it up and it appears to satisfy something in him. It is important to discover why this is the case. You haven’t said if he suffers from anxiety and this should be considered as it is often the basis for such actions. However, even if he does have anxiety, the reason for the stealing would still need to be investigated so that the underlying problem can be discovered and understood. Then the habit would need to be challenged if behavioural change is to occur.

All this depends on his willingness to face the issue as being a serious one that needs his attention. As you say, he seems immovable on this habit and your current approach is getting you nowhere so perhaps you could first look at the message you are delivering and see if it could do with adjusting. You use the word ‘drivel’ and this suggests that you have a derisive attitude and consider him stupid and careless in behaving like this. Perhaps this that is contributing to his belligerent response. Changing your attitude is fully in your control and you can immediately change it to one of openness and curiosity. The first thing to check is your belief in him and your conviction that he can take on this issue with your help.

You know that your boyfriend is not pilfering out of a sense of need, so this behaviour is rooted in something else. You could begin by discovering when it started and what was happening in his life at the time. It may have been that something was going on that he felt he could not influence or have any control over, and successful stealing gave him a feeling of power that he did not have in his life. His family story would need to be included here. Is there any history of mental health issues, hidden secrets or addictions (most families have these somewhere in their history so it would not be unusual for these to emerge)? It would be good if such facts were brought out into the open and discussed without any condemnation or censure.

You have a good reason to talk about family stories now as you are about to bring a person into the world who will be affected by both your histories, whether hidden or not. If you simply demand he stops, or if you begin monitoring his behaviour, you may well (unintentionally) be repeating a pattern that caused the behaviour to start in the first place.

Addressing his behaviour needs to be seen as a joint project for the two of you, so if you continue to be stuck in your conversations, then both of you attending a family therapist might well be the action that begins the unravelling. If you ask him to attend sessions to help you manage your rising levels of worry it may allow him to accompany you without feeling he is being sent to the headmaster.

Taking action now, while there is no business owner or Garda involved, will offer the best chance for change and has the added advantage of creating a pattern in your relationship of challenging issues with fortitude and determination.