#883: “My husband hates his job and I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Hi Captain & Goat Lady,

My husband is a wonderful, smart, well-educated and hard working man.
We both have careers and make about the same amount of money at
separate jobs, but it might be worth it to note that I used some
connections to help him get the job he has today. He used to enjoy his
job very much, but over the last two years has come to loathe it
thanks to a terrible boss.

The problem is that he doesn’t think he can find another job. He’s not
very confident in himself and keeps pointing to how I “had to” help
him get this job in the first place. Yet he’s been promoted twice and
is clearly an asset to the company.

He’s hardly applied to anywhere, and the last time he sent out
applications he declined 2 of the interviews he got because he really
just wants to stay where he is, but have it get better.

It’s not getting better.

I love my husband and admire how dedicated he is to his work, but now
his hostility toward his job has become toxic. Every day he complains
about it, and I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to hear the
same things over and over again.

I want him to quit, to find something else — ANYTHING that will make
him happy. Even if it’s staying home for a while and job hunting. But
I know he feels a lot of pressure to contribute to the household,
while I’d rather tighten our belt for a while and make everyone happy.

He brings his negative attitude home, and it’s becoming difficult to
be around him sometimes. I’ve suggested therapy, but he shot that
down. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.

How do I show my husband what a great person/worker he is? How can I
handle the constant negativity?


It’s awful that your husband is in this situation and it is also okay for you to hit your limit of how much you can be listener/cheerleader/career-coach around this one topic. Your husband doesn’t have to go to therapy, but he does have to find an outlet that is “not you” to deliver the daily download of complaints & process his feelings about his work situation. Whether that’s calling a friend, writing a diary made of Strongly Worded Letters that he never sends, a career coach, an online community where he get anonymous peer support, a daily run or swim or bike ride or after-work kickboxing session where he pounds out his frustrations, a hobby totally unrelated to work, or a daily session of cathartic blowing things up with a gaming controller is totally up to him. I don’t know what will make him feel better, but we do know that telling you about it all day every day is not making the situation at work better and it is also draining the life out of the time you spend at home.

Nothing’s going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a couple of serious talks and then some day-to-day boundary-setting  & reminders (& the ongoing discomfort that goes with that) before it gets better.

You’ve had Serious Talk #1, but if you want to try it again, it might look something like this:

You: “[Husband], you are so competent and talented & I believe in you utterly. I know you feel very stuck and frustrated by work, and I want you to know that if you need to [leave your job and take some time to regroup][work with a career coach][take a class to upgrade your skills][have some more time, space, & resources to pursue a hobby or side project] I will do anything I can to make that happen, including carrying the financial responsibilities for a while. In fact, let’s cut back on [expenses] for the next month or so and build up a financial cushion so that we have some peace of mind if you end up taking some time off later this year.


Husband:You are so good to me but in fact I suck also if I could just figure out how to to [change the thing that’s obviously not changing] it would be so perfect” (In other words, he will start to cycle through his current grievances and reservations in an all-too-familiar way).

You: [interrupting the cycle before it gets going]Okay, I just want you to know that the offer is open. Can you put some time into thinking about it? 

Serious Talk #2: 

The way this has gone down in my house in the past couple years only less coherent and with a lot of crying:

Me, to him:Babe. BABE. Did you realize that you come home every day and rant for hours about work, sometimes using the exact same words in the exact same order as the day before? I have never seen you so unhappy and also the ranting is freaking me out and making me super anxious – I DON’T EVEN WORK THERE, WHY DO I HAVE TO HATE EVERY SECOND OF YOUR JOB WITH YOU? I can’t take it. You have GOT TO find someone else to talk to about this and another way to manage it, because I CANNOT listen to this every single night.

Him, to me:I don’t care what you do next, but you have GOT to quit that job. I have been listening to the same rants about adjuncting for 4+ years now and it’s not going to get better. It grinds you down and makes you crazy and you have to stop. Just stop.” 

He has long since quit that job and I’m still an adjunct professor so the end results have been mixed here obviously but the message WAS delivered that there is a limit to how much we can each listen to the same exact cycle of complaints about work. Either change the situation or find a way to put up with the situation; whatever you decide, find another outlet for processing the situation.

If you want to adapt this in a less “freaked out/at wits end/YELLING!” way, try this:

You:[Husband], I know work is terrible lately and I’m sorry your day/week/sleep was ruined by [AssBoss] again. But right now, we’re not at work, we’re at home, and I need us to set some limits on how much we talk about work at home. Is there [a friend you could call][ a way you could write down your frustrations and try to get them out of your system?]” 

Or: “[Husband], that sounds really frustrating, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that. I’m going to stop you there, though, because you’ve told me all of this before and you already know what I’m going to say. I’m so sorry, but I’m out of bandwidth for talking about work stuff today.”

After you say stuff like this, it will very likely be awkward for a little while. You will have just violated the unwritten rule that partners should be each other’s sounding boards, and you will have disrupted a ritual that has become “normal” in your marriage. It might provoke a shame cycle [I am not good at anything/why are you even with me/I can’t do anything without you] or a why-can’t-you-be-more-supportive cycle [I listen to YOUR work issues/sorry if I’m boring you with my LIFE/you are being selfish].

Try to ride out whatever the immediate reaction is without getting drawn deeper into a discussion about work you don’t want to be having – by which I mean do not argue the specific points that he brings up, even if they are really unfair or problematic. Picking a fight about a side issue, or being manipulated into hearing about work YET AGAIN because you want to prove you’re not “selfish” or reassure him of his value is the thing we are trying to avoid. So if he comes back with “You’re so selfish! Can’t you see I’m hurting?” or “You’ll probably leave me because I’m not good at anything, ” try to de-escalate:

You: Sweetheart, I know that’s not the answer/support/response you wanted from me today, but I want to [watch some dumb TV with you][go for a walk together][read quietly and unwind from my hard day alone for a little bit][have sex with you][beat you at Soul Calibur]. I’m not saying I don’t care about you, or the situation, but I am saying I need a break from processing every work detail with you at the end of every day.

In other words: “I’m sorry you are hurting/frustrated, you’re not doing anything wrong by wanting to tell me about it. You need someone to talk to!  Totally fair! But I need a break from hearing about it/I need a break from spending every evening & weekend talking about this/I need this to not be the central thing we talk about when we spend time together.”

That’s a fair request, made lovingly. You can’t control whether he’ll get a new job or how he feels about himself at work or in his career. You can’t control whether he goes to a therapist. But you can say, “Hon, I’ve reached my limit for the day” and “My dear, I really think you’d benefit from talking to someone besides me about this. I know you’ve vetoed a therapist, but can you call your brother/a friend/your work’s EAP support line/your D&D group/your old mentor from grad school and get a good sounding board?” and “Hey, we said ‘no work talk’ remember?” + [plays “zombies” on a triple word score].

I hope it gets better soon.


159 thoughts on “#883: “My husband hates his job and I’m tired of hearing about it.”

  1. I totally agree that partners should be each others’ sounding board MOST of the time. However, in situations such as this, I think it’s the loving thing to do to help the husband break the cycle of misery and call his attention to how bad things have gotten. Sometimes spouses should be a sounding board, and sometimes they should be a REALITY CHECK.

    1. Right. My rule is that my husband can loop on the same complaint three times (with me providing either sympathy or advice, depending on what he’s looking for), and then he has to either do something about it or stop complaining. The number eventually resets–it’s not that he can only, for instance, complain about the car three times in our marriage total; if he complains three times in a couple of days and then doesn’t talk about it and then complains two weeks later, that’s fine. It’s just that after three repetitions in a relataively short period of time, I tell him, “Sweetie, love you, but you’ve talked about this exact same thing three times in two days; I have nothing new to give you and it’s not good for you to keep looping on it, so I’m going to execute plan: subject change. So what did you think of that new Jon Stewart bit?”

      It took a while for him not to get a little miffed at that, but he adjusted, and we’re a LOT happier for it. (And he gets to do the same to me, although it comes up less–not because I’m better-adjusted or anything but just because I’m an introvert and tend to want to go brood on things rather than talk them out.)

    2. And there is also a different between being a sounding board and a black hole for negativity.

      My (very recent) ex-boyfriend was doing the exact same thing as the LW’s husband – endless complaining about the same work issues for anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour every single night. He literally ruined every night with his constant negativity about work. I tried to use the Captain’s strategies, but he would derail me with, “but I listen to YOUR problems and they’re ALWAYS THE SAME TOO” or “you’re the one who pushed me to talk about work!”

      Yes, I do tend to complain about the same kinds of things because my work problems tend to be the same kinds of things just different people. BUT I have learned that being stuck in a loop of complaining actually makes it worse, so I try to talk it out a few times (to different people!) and then let it go. And for pushing him to open up, it was the same problem but opposite – he would come home and be silently negative for 30 minutes to several hours every night, so I wanted him to talk to me, hoping it would help him let off some steam and feel better more quickly. Alas, it turned into the complaining ritual like the LW.

      My favorite part is even though I tried talking to him about it more than several times in several different ways, he never got it. AND he would actually get mad at me for being in a bad mood after he finally got “positive” – as if I was in a bad mood all on my lonesome! He would take his bad mood out on me along with the complaining, so needless to say, I would not be very happy after a while. I would dread going home and stay later at work than I had to just to avoid him to give him time to decompress on his own. It never worked. It is one reason of many why we are now broken up; I just couldn’t take it anymore.

      Tl;dr version: LW, the Captain’s strategies are awesome. I really hope your husband listens. It sounds like the root of his problem is insecurity, which only he can fix with hard work (and therapy with a good counselor, in my opinion – it’s hard to do on your own).

      1. I had an ex like this too. It was a real drain on the joy I had once felt to spend time together! Her cycle of negativity about her shit job was so bad she would often muse on the possibility of doing herself harm (up to and including suicide) so she didn’t have to go back the next day. When I expressed the anxiety I felt due to this (it could go on for hours, every day!), she often responded that I didn’t understand how terrible it was. You’d better believe I did so understand! After the part-time job I had listening to her explain it to me!

        We are not in that relationship anymore. That is not strictly why, but a nice benefit of us breaking up was that I never have to hear about life in the call center ever, ever again.

  2. Excellent advice, except I would steer away from suggesting kickboxing or another aggressive activity in this situation. Putting on my rather snappy psychologist’s hat: the research shows that far from being cathartic, this actually increases anger. (If anyone wants a reference, here’s one from Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin: www-personal.umich.edu/~bbushman/PSPB02.pdf)

    1. Yes, my psychologist dad has said the same thing many times. When I asked him what actually could help, he said it would be better to do something calming, for your definition of calming; I’ve found about the only thing that actually helps me is to sit somewhere quiet/alone and take concentrate on taking deep breaths for a few minutes.

    2. I’ve been wondering, what about other physical activities like, for example, swimming? As in doing laps. Something where you could get the… physical tension or something (not sure what to call it) out, wear yourself out, without it being an aggressive activity as such. Would that still increase anger?

      1. The study does show kickboxing won’t increase aggression if the mind isn’t focused on an object of anger. Running could increase aggression too if the runner imagines they’re chasing their boss down, for example. Running, swimming, kickboxing are all really active exercises that should purge stress, but source of that stress shouldn’t be focused on during the exercise.

      2. I actually don’t think that a GOOD martial art class will be that conductive for anger, because a good trainer will devise exercises that improve your technique, and punching/getting punched really hard, unless your technique is already really good, will hurt your progress. I’ve been taking krav maga classes for two years, and even on days I come really pissed off and hoping to blow off some steam I let go of my anger really quickly – otherwise you can’t concentrate and train properly.
        But, of course, some people just go too hard regardless of what’s appropriate. If LW’s husband is the kind of man that will listen to his trainer then a martial art class might be good for him, because it requires concentration in a way that swimming or running doesn’t and it might help take his mind off things.

      3. Baking works for me. A simple cake from boxed cake mix will do the trick: mixing the powder with eggs, butter, and milk does wonders. There’s plenty of activities that are great for this purpose and that don’t involve any kind of “violence.”

    3. I see that point. But my experience (with a fairly violent martial art) has been the opposite.

      I have a lot of rage issues stemming from helplessness and martial arts has been a literal life saver (as in, pulled me out of a suicidal spell). I had tried to meditate (fighting off panic attacks), yoga (getting more and more furious at how calm and centered I am *supposed* to be but most definitely am not), taking baths (feel antsy and bored the entire time). I still couldn’t sleep, felt restless and anxious most of the time, and was working constantly to control my Ragebeast.

      Then I started kickboxing and muay thai and my anger is super manageable now. Martial arts really helps me to be moment physically and mentally rather than stuck in my head with my brain weasels (something it sounds like the LW’s husband could benefit from). Plus my boundaries, self worth, and assertiveness have soared since starting muay thai. Martial arts isn’t meant to be used as a reaction to anger. It’s not “I feel angry – must punch something.” At least, good places won’t teach that nonsense.

      The LW doesn’t mention that her husband is behaving violently or aggressively. To me, he sounded helpless and frustrated + fixated on this “but if ONLY” mindset + low self esteem. So I wouldn’t rule out martial arts/kick boxing as it could benefit him by helping increase his confidence while working out his frustrated energy. Also, introducing a tangible disrupter (like a class where he HAS to focus on something Not His Job) to this cycle of: work, go home, vent to wife; repeat, might also help disrupt this mental cycle he is seems stuck in preventing him actually solving this problem rather than merely fixating on it. Though a pottery class would function just as well if martial arts isn’t is his thing.

      Martial arts has been really vital to my mental health. So if I come off a bit prosthelitizing – my apologies. By no means do I think it’s for everybody, but I don’t think it should be written off either because of a misunderstanding that it’s only role is an anger outlet or aggression fueler.

  3. I was your husband. Finally at dinner one night my son said “When are you going to quit complaining about [terrible boss] every night and go get a new job.” Wake-up call for me, and I went and got a new job. Maybe it will be just the wake-up your spouse needs? Hoping so.

    1. There’s a lot of good advice here generally, and the variations on the theme of “your resilience and strength in the face of these awful circumstances just proves how competent and employable you are and how much you deserve an employer who appreciates that”

      But LW, I’m going to say this as gently and kindly and not-scarily as I can, and I’m not internet-diagnosing, but offering information and perspective from, unfortunately, my own experience.

      “I want him to quit, to find something else — ANYTHING that will make him happy. Even if it’s staying home for a while and job hunting. But
      I know he feels a lot of pressure to contribute to the household,”

      This? This, specifically, is toxic masculinity shit. This is why good men have heart attacks in their fifties.* Loyal, conscientious, hardworking men who feel they have no choices because PROVIDER (even when choices are staring them right in the face), and so they just internalize, internalize, and stew in stress. Please, please, if you can, have your husband go get a routine general physical. Do it SEPARATELY from any discussion about your feelings about his work stress. If his physical health is fine, great, and you’ll know, but if it’s not, the person who can most effectively tell him to get out of that shit job might be his doctor.

      *There is medical research to back up that statement.

      1. My husband finally decided to leave his job earlier this year when he started having chest pain and his doctor put him on blood pressure medication. He’s 30. It was bad.

      2. Yes, this. My dad’s own job nearly killed him; when he finally retired, the change for the better in his health was so obvious we had old workmates and Shrine friends (he’s a Mason) stopping him and exclaiming about how GOOD he looked, and what had he done to improve his health so much?

        Stress literally kills. I hope with all my heart it doesn’t get that bad for your husband, OP.

    2. My previous comment was actually supposed to be a new thread, not a reply to Debby! I started to reply to just n+ – I was in a situation where my partner and I were BOTH in horrible shit jobs and we pinged off of each other in a horrible shit-spiral of after-work venting, until a similar comment from my 14-year-old daughter shook us up. I started jobhunting the next week; it took him a lot longer, because of many of the same points of anxiousness LW’s husband seems to be feeling.

  4. Man, I’ve been there. For years, at two consecutive jobs, my husband would go off to work like it was a crucifixion/dental appointment combo. When he would come home there would come a torrent of the day’s misery. Eventually I would point out that, every single day, he was repeating the same words about the same things and the same people. It helped when I started asking questions about who was NICE that day, what GOOD things happened, instead of a more general ‘how was your day?’, so if you haven’t tried that I’d suggest it. Eventually this was the kind of information he’d volunteer, instead of how Jerk jerked around like a jerk all day, like he was being paid by the jerk, so that I felt I knew Jerk and hated them.

    Seriously though, I kept offering to my husband that I would support us while he found another job, too. He insisted this was impossible, even after I showed him my income and did the math with little columns of bills minused against it. I would explain that there might be some ramen-eating involved but that literally nothing earth-shattering would happen. No savings would be made but no savings would be drained. NOPE. He had a sworn duty to return to these jobs to be destroyed by them.

  5. I went through this with my partner. It took some really difficult conversations that were along the lines of “I love you, but I’m running out of bandwidth to process this with you, and if you want me to continue to be able to be there for you I need a break to recharge.” But each conversation got easier, the point was made, new jobs were found, etc. Holding your boundaries can be really hard when you want to be there for your partner, but doing so means you can be there a lot more in the long run.

  6. To OP, I was recently in your husband’s shoes, and for a whole year I was constantly talking to my parents about my frustrations. Recently, my Mother just straight up cut me off, “Please, I don’t want to hear about your boss if you aren’t going to do anything about it.” It hurt initially, but it took a very short while for me to realise I was indeed suffering from work Stockholm Syndrome and making all my loved ones suffer with me.
    I would suggest that you let your Husband talk to his peers. If the situation is not good, I am sure he would have a lot of ex-coworkers who quit (LinkedIn is great for this). If they share their successful second jobs and job searching experience, it would take the fear out of the job finding process.
    Although I had kept worrying quitting is taking the easy way out, learning that I had a whole group of friends also in the construction business who eventually found jobs in both unrelated and related fields and led happier lives really pushed me forward to resign too.

  7. I have been there with my husband. His depression brings spirals of negative thoughts, being employed in toxic/uncommunicative places makes it all worse and there was nothing I could do. Leaving his job helped – though the resulting unemployment wasn’t fun. It was more fun than the job though… Having a great doctor who sent him to a great counsellor was the icing on the cake. The counsellor taught him ways to stop those negative spirals, and gave ME some words to use when his self-hatred really ramped up (man, that self hatred was the worst). I no longer tolerate him talking down to himself – which means that he can no longer talk down to himself. It’s such a relief to us both and his contentment and acceptance of himself is at an all time high.

    The thing is, the more he talks about it, the worse he feels about it and the faster the spiral spins. What my hubby learned was that disconnecting and telling himself not to get involved in the politics and not to take his boss’ awful communication style personally, actually helped when it came to the next job where things were not wonderful. He also came to the point of telling whining colleagues that they had 5 minutes to vent about their issues and then he was changing the subject – and thereby he didn’t have to hear all THEIR issues, on top of his own. We knew the situation sucked, we knew his bosses were pitiful at communication and were being unfair and ineffective – but the coping mechanism was to do his job and then come home to me and change the subject.

    I agree with Katamari and Debby – I have had to be that reality check for my husband a couple of times, and when it comes to the point of ME being miserable in this cycle and ME being unable to bear anymore, he usually grabs the lifeline to a moment of sanity and makes the change.

    I saw an article recently and sadly I can’t remember where it was, that talked about 4 things you have in life – this is my very rough interpretation of it:
    Job – the thing you do that pays the bills;
    Career – not always connected to the job, something you plan and work on for the future;
    Hobby – something fun, no pressure;
    Calling – doesn’t have to be related to the Job or Career, doesn’t have to be anything work-related at all but it’s the thing that lifts you up and fulfils you separate to everything else.

    I mention this because maybe your hubby would benefit from a change in mindset – maybe he’s just in a job which pays the mortgage right now. Maybe he needs a hobby to help him relax? Maybe he knows what his calling is and can’t figure out how to make it work. Maybe just changing the way he thinks about his job right now will help his frame of mind a teensy bit.

    I wish you and your husband a breath of fresh air and all the rose petals you need to give you oxygen and beauty as you both work through what happens next.

    1. This is awesome…I love the four part matrix of looking at life. Job, Career, Hobby, Calling. Love love love

    2. I saw this posted by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, right around the time I was finishing grad school. I’m assuming she wrote it? But I’m not sure. It was such a perfect way for me to think about things as I was starting a new chapter professionally.

  8. LW, one of my best friends was also trapped in an intolerable work situation. One jaw of the trap was his immediate supervisor, who was horrible both to him and many other people. I went to one of his work parties as his plus-one and witnessed incredibly demeaning and bigoted things said and behaviours from that person. Among other nasty stuff, at one point this supervisor fired my friend only to be overruled from above on the grounds that my friend was vital to the success of the project. Without his particular rather rare combination of skills and experience, the project would fail. Being overruled enraged his supervisor, of course.

    The other jaw of the trap was that the project my friend was working on had high humanitarian potential and could have literally saved many lives if it had been completed. My friend believed in that project to the bottom of his heart.


    This made me wonder if something similar is happening in this situation: “He’s hardly applied to anywhere, and the last time he sent out applications he declined 2 of the interviews he got because he really just wants to stay where he is, but have it get better.” This seems to me to be more likely to be his real problem about getting another job and the lack of confidence, “you had to help me get this job,” etc, are just the dust bunnies floating around the core issue of, for some reason, really loving the company or really loving the project he’s working on or some such thing.

    You may have already thought all this out, of course. But just in case… If this rings true for you, does your spouse see it as well? If he isn’t consciously aware of the trap, part of his frustration may be that he isn’t seeing how to get the part of the job he loves somewhere else or isn’t willing to try for a sideways move with his current employer to get out from under the terrible boss.

    1. Yeah, you can hate a job and still have tremendous loyalty somewhere or other. My husband is also exploited and unhappy in his job. The trouble is that a series of people at his level have left because of the toxic environment, and the new recruits are at a lower skill level. His concern is that if he goes at best the remaining workers will be thrown into a terrible situation where nobody knows what they’re doing and at worst the whole organisation may implode because nobody knows what they’re doing. Either way he’ll have to deal with the guilt of that. He’s a very loyal person and feels obligated to his collegues. Combine that with the normal human fear of change and uncertainty, the eternal hope of things improving (always a potent force when things have been much better in the past) and the fact that he quite likes the work itself… And you’ve got someone who’s going to keep working stupidly long days then collapsing afterwards while muttering about finding another job that never seems to actually happen.

      1. The thing is, when it’s gotten that bad, the organisation has already failed, and quite frankly it deserves to. If he is all that is keeping the place together, they have no “bus factor” and that is a structural problem that is not his to solve.

        1. Exactly! A company cannot succeed without its employees – and he is just one man towards the bottom of the ladder, so there is really nothing he can do (nor is it his job to).

      2. “Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone” Neale Donald Walsch

        The fear of changing jobs can be immense. I left my last job two years ago which was The Definition of Toxic. I had managed to survive there for 15 years despite bad management and a horrible department head because I really loved my clients – that and I had a lot of independence on my projects – and that Toxic Firm is in a small town where alternate employment was scant. But then things got Really Bad and I couldn’t deal anymore. A number of us left in a short span of time during that Really Bad time. It amazed me though the number of really talented people that stayed. It amazed me more when I was able to offer jobs at New Firm to some of those talented people and they turned me down! I could not understand why until someone pointed out that fear of the new / fear of changing jobs is a huge deterrent.

        A heart-to-heart with your spouse as to why he is staying would be good. What’s really holding him there? Also, a frank discussion on the potential of “things getting better” as his current job would be good. Is he just hoping things will change, is the company about to go through a hiring phase / expansion / re-organization where things will change, or is he in a position to actually be a change agent? Having that discussion and really seeing if change is a possibility or if it is just a wish may act as a reality check.

  9. I 99% agree with these scripts, but I would avoid things like ‘every single day’ or ‘out of bandwith *for today*’. It so easily invites ‘it’s not everyday’ or ‘xyz particular unusual thing happened today so it’s not the same’. These are cheap derails of the kind that are warned about in the Captain’s advice, and it would be Husband’s fault not LW’s if he went there, but it’s probably better not to offer it up.

    The therapy suggestion may not have gone over well because Husband, perhaps entirely rightly, doesn’t think he is the problem, and sees himself as the wronged party. Would it help to frame it as ‘Assboss has ruined your work day, now take back the rest of your day/Assboss is living rent-free in your head/bad enough seeing Assboss at work now he’s coming home with you’, so that *not* fixating on work issues is a kind of victory over Assboss, or the job in general. That way you are a team with a common enemy.

    1. And I just noticed that I automatically made Assboss a dude, which is stupid since Assbossing is an equal-opportunity career field in my experience.

      1. Word. The worst boss I’ve ever had was when my best boss (a seriously great dude) got fired and his boss took over for a few months. OMFG. I got screamed at for a good half-hour not wearing mascara and high heels to a conference… while 8 months pregnant, during allergy season. Yeah. There’s a REASON I didn’t go back to that job after maternity leave.

        To the OP: in that situation, I was actually stuck: you can’t really well job-hunt while visibly pregnant in a place where you’re getting a year-long maternity leave, but you need to work to the end of your pregnancy to access that year-long leave. So. Stuck in a crappy job? I 100% feel him.

        From my experience, though: there’s a difference between ranting (‘OMG this happened today WTF’) and leaving it alone, vs processing (‘So this thing happened, and I need help brainstorming whether my plan for handling it is actually gonna work’), vs wallowing (‘this is always so horrible and never gets better and I hate this and waaaaaah’). Roughly. My feelings at the time (and my husband agrees) are that ranting is a 10-minute deal reserved to new events and then you move on to another topic of conversation, vs processing that is productive and part of what a partner is there for, vs wallowing, which is unhelpful and unpleasant and not actually helping practically or emotionally (and doesn’t solve anything, but has made you feel like you’ve never left work because you’ve been thinking about it all evening).

        AKA: if your partner is saying ‘this specific thing happened today, wtf, that’s ridiculous’, then that’s kind of talking about your day. But a ‘this is never gonna get better and I’m stuck and life is horrible’ can absolutely get an answer of ‘Hon? I love you, but I can’t be your sounding board for this. You can look for another job; you’re not stuck. You’re choosing* to stay there, and as long as you’re choosing to stay there, you can’t let your job take over our evenings together, that’s not fair to either of us.’

        *Note that I use ‘choosing’ deliberately but cautiously: OP, you specifically mentioned that he could take time off to search for another job, and that the last time he sent out CVs he got 2 interviews right away. To me, this implies options, aka, he’s got an in-demand skill-set and the financial leeway to not need to bring in this amount of money to pay the mortgage ASAP. I wouldn’t tell someone who was strapped to the bone and actually financially or practically stuck in a job that they were ‘choosing’ it.

        1. Yeah, I have sympathies because I’ve been job hunting for ….four+ years now and have gotten nowhere. Unfortunately my industry has become very specialized, you have to have every single qualification and I’m never 100% perfect enough…I’ll stop ranting, but suffice it to say I’m really super stuck and the problem has only gotten worse (we now have very few staff at all thanks to medical leaves).

          It’s a very good thing I have no one at home who has to listen to me after work. But then again, I’d be homeless without the job and I sure as heck can’t live off someone else. And frankly, I’ve heard so many stories about people who haven’t been able to get jobs for years that I can’t really blame her husband for not wanting to quit.

          But that said…you can’t just blab about your shitty day, every single day, period. Sometimes you just have to realize you can’t abuse someone else’s ears all the time and shut your trap and go find booze instead. Heck, I’d like to call a moratorium about hearing about certain people my mom goes on about all the time, but she doesn’t listen to me when I beg her to stop, so…yeah. I think husband needs to realize that if he’s staying in this job forever, he can’t share every shitty feeling he has every single day like a rerun. It gets OLD.

          1. Yeah, I’m stuck too because in my current job I can work from home and that’s pretty much unique in my field. If I worked in town or earned any less or spent a significant amount of time or money on commuting, I wouldn’t be able to afford childcare. I’m not a huge fan of my job. There are so many reasons why someone could be “stuck” in a job but in the case of LW’s husband I wonder if the sticking point is more psychological. Only he knows why he can’t leave, but he is contradicting himself. He says he couldn’t find another job because he isn’t good enough, yet he’s being offered interviews. There must be something he really loves about his current job, like my home office and awesome colleagues.

          2. I think it’s also important, as a speaker, to note the mood of your listeners and how often you’re doing it. For instance: my old college roommate has a hated coworker, and we talk about “OMG what has Julie done NOW” almost every time we see each other, but I *love* hearing about Julie, and we don’t live together anymore so it is not a regular occurrence. When you live with someone, or you see them 4+ times a week, you have to be more circumspect. You have to pay attention to whether your conversational partner is bonding with you over this experience or being driven away.

  10. This exact scenario happened in my marriage, except I did not help my spouse get his job. He had the job when I met him.

    For us it was also part of a larger problem around being stuck, not wanting to change old patterns, fearing change, fear of each others’ emotional reactions, and a cycle of negativity that in the end was only broken by talk therapy, first mine, then his at my insistence. My friends got tired of listening to me vent, over several years, about how negative he was. I got tired of listening to him endlessly stay in the same tape loop. His anger and negativity and unwillingness to change eventually became a deal breaker for me and I basically forced him to get therapy as the price of my continuing to live with him.

    Luckily the therapy was successful and it’s three years later. He has the same job but he’s coping much better. Our relationship has revived.

    I don’t know that the LW is as fed up as I was, but we definitely needed some professional help to help me stop being so reactive and codependent, and to step out of the myth that I was his only support system, and to help him deal with his toxic habit of constant anger and negativity. It was not just about work any more. It was poisoning everything, to the point that when I tried to talk to him on the weekends, to have the Serious Talks the Captain talks about, his reaction was, “This is my only down time. Why are you ruining my weekend?”

    Yeah, it got bad.

    So anyway. I hope the LW can arrest things before it got as bad as it did with us. I hated to give the ultimatum, Therapy Or Divorce, but for us, that was what worked.

    Best of luck to you, LW. You can’t make him believe in himself. Low self esteem is a bitch and my spouse is not out of the woods with that yet. But the therapist gave him some wonderful tools for arresting his cycle of negative self talk and doom. So now I know there’s hope. But I still hope he changes jobs one day. Because his job is sucking out his soul. I can’t be in charge of that, though. I know that now.

  11. I don’t know if it would help any to say so, but MOST people hate job-hunting and don’t consider themselves any good at it, and MOST people need connections to find good jobs at all easily. So LW’s husband really isn’t at nearly as much of a disadvantage as he thinks — especially as he has more experience now and has proved himself as a hire where he currently is. Moreover, he’s done really well while putting up with Assboss. That’s not nothing.

    1. The current numbers are that 1 in 200 cold submissions to job postings will get you a step farther in your job search, and 1 in 12 leads acquired through networking will do the same. And yet most job-seekers want to know what *besides networking* will advance their job search.

      So…nobody wants to network, nobody wants to admit networking is necessary, and most people still get farther faster in their job search by networking than through any other means.

    2. Very much this. I’m sure there’s somebody out there who just loooooves job searching, since as Mallory Ortberg says, life is a rich tapestry–but I’ve never met any of them. It’s tiring and discouraging for everyone, and requires hard work and putting yourself out there in a way that can feel deeply uncomfortable. But the good thing is, that means that feeling tired and discouraged and not-good-enough isn’t a sign of anything much, beyond simply that you’re job searching. And sometimes the ‘yeah, this sucks, but it’s necessary and not infinite, and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with me, this is just a thing that sucks for everyone’ mantra can help get you through. (I also use the mantra for going in for dental work or pap tests….)

    3. I’m a careers adviser! And oh god, I still mean like anything when I have to do the uniquely awful and tedious process of writing CVs and cover letters for myself. Other people’s CVs and job-hunting are literally fascinating to me; my own are the work of the devil.

      LW, if your husband has a strong aversion to seeing a therapist, a careers adviser might be an easier sell. But we can certainly help with someone who feels stuck and lacks confidence and motivation. We are trained and experienced in asking questions that divert people away from “I suck, everything sucks, nothing can change” to “let’s figure out a plan”, and obviously, I’m not going to claim a 100% success rate but we can definitely make a difference to a lot of people.

      (NB: In the UK, where I am, a careers adviser/coach/consultant would all be the same thing: I suspect that in the US, a careers counsellor is a qualified counsellor and a carers coach is a non-regulated profession? Someone who knows the US system better may be able to clarify what you should be looking for!)

      1. In the US a career counsellor is going to have a counselling degree of some sort (a lot of career counsellors have seminary degrees), but there’s an alternate path to career counselling that is a certificate program through the national association, and those people will have “CDF” in their credentials somewhere (Career Development Facilitator).

  12. I don’t know if this would be helpful, but there are career counselors — psychologists and licensed professional counselors — who basically specialize in helping people figure out what their options are when it comes to work-related Stuff. (Too many “regular” therapists are not really trained in helping with career-related issues, unfortunately.) So, that might be a good resource for your husband, especially if he is very worried about his job searching skills — that is something a career counselor would be able to help with!

    Best of luck!

    1. As a note: LW, if your husband has a degree obtained at a traditional university or college, he should qualify for career counselling through their careers office as an alumnus. Most universities have a careers office at this point, many of them offer ongoing appointments to alumni (although he will probably have to pay at least a little), and if that resource exists for him, they will almost certainly do phone or skype appointments.

      He could also check with his alumni association(s) to see if they offer career counselling. Joining your alumni association is actually a great networking tool even if you don’t live in the same area as your alma mater. Most alumni associations have very active branches outside the town their university or college is in, and alumni associations are great for networking, as are some fraternities and sororities and many other formal organizations.

  13. Slight derail – I am worried that I am turning into the letter writer’s husband. Thoughts, tips, tricks for not bringing work home and keeping positive momentum on my job search are very gratefully appreciated!

    1. This may seem like a slightly oddball suggestion, but one thing that sometimes helped me when work was frustrating and I wanted to let it go, was to have clothes that were very clearly and specifically for work, and clothes that were only for home and fun, and to change clothes immediately upon getting home. It was like I was taking off work and putting on home, and it did help a bit.

      1. Clothes change is good! One of my friends is big on the “work’s done, bra’s off!” level of post-work comfort clothing and that works well for her.

        I have also found it helpful to have a thing to do between work and seeing my home-people. When I was a student had a long walk/bike ride/bus ride between work and home so I wasn’t likely to bother my roomies about work. It would have already ended an hour ago and I would have spent that time either working things through in my head or turning my thoughts elsewhere.

        When I had access to a car I didn’t find the commute as helpful a time and had to work in some other activity between work and visiting with people. Driving kept me in work brain, just one more task at the end of my shift, so I didn’t exit work brain until I stopped driving. I still needed a time to finish work and put it behind me. So I started taking a shower after every shift, and maybe farting around on the computer or reading a book. I didn’t go visit with roomies (or later, husband) until I had definitely left work brain behind.

      2. I do that too, though nowadays it’s mostly to keep the cat hair to a minimum on work clothes… But when things were bad at a previous job, it helped a lot. So did washing my face and hands as soon as I came in, it felt like I was getting rid of the layers of crap I’d endured doing the day.

        Additionally, if at all possible, finding a hobby that is about creating or building things is also useful. Because then, even if your job is crap, you can point to the chair or shelf or sweater or rug or picture that you have made with your own hands, and that gives a sense of achievement.

      3. …And my boyfriend wonders why I immediately strip everything off when I get home from a long work day.

        Granted, the fact that I walk 15 minutes home in 100° sunshine a lot probably contributes, but I think mostly I just need to get work AWAY FROM MY PERSON.

        So yeah, depending on how comfortable you are in the nude, you may not even need home clothes.

      4. It’s not oddball. It makes perfect sense.

        If you add in that commuting in my city is always feet or public transportation, you’ll understand why I usually change as soon as I walk in the door.

      5. Another person who immediately changes from work to play clothes when I get home. (It’s super hot here so currently play clothes are usually a romper. In the winter sometimes they’re a onesie.)

        I’m moving at the end of the month, and my current roommate and I work for the same very large employer doing tangentially related stuff, and while it was nice during recent PeopleSoft travails to have someone who got it to commiserate with, I think living with my boyfriend, who has a completely unrelated role and workplace to me, will do a lot to facilitate leaving work at work for me.

      6. This. When I get home, the work bra comes off and the sports bra goes on, as do the yoga pants. I may or may not change my top- today I did because it’s so hot out.

    2. I, too, read this question and wondered, “Is this me?” So I read it to my husband and asked him. He said, “Wellll. You do seem to have the same students and situations over and over. Maybe I don’t need all the details.”

      So then things got silly, and we decided I could assign numbers to various scenarios and come home and say, “Today it happened again. I had a 3 and a 7.” And if 3 stands for a student plagiarizing and 7 for the dean’s office screwing up, I could maybe provide the best (stupidest) detail.

      Now I’m looking forward to making the coming term into a giant Bingo game the same way I get through department meetings. The situations may be just as frustrating, but assigning and keeping track of numbers may give me some distance. Only one way to see.

      YMMV; the LW’s husband sounds so miserable that an attempt at lightheartedness may come across as mockery.

      1. It cracks me up that your problems are so standardized you can number them. I think my work gets too weird at times to do that, but I kind of want to try it now anyway. God knows yes, some things just do repeat.

      2. I. LOVE. this. What number have you assigned to “Student asked me for advice on applying for this major scholarship I’ve worked with for a decade and know the award admin and some of the panel readers, then came back and told me why everything I said was wrong because HE read the scholarship WEBSITE ?

        1. LOL, Cora. I might put that in the general category of “Being mansplained by a student.” Haven’t assigned any numbers yet; I may just do that consecutively this first time round. So — probably #1, when a (male, always) student tells me why my wait list policy is wrong.

          I lurve my job, BTW. It is also my career and my calling. But every term I start out thinking THIS is the class that gets it! And then they take the first quiz and my husband asks why I’m surprised so many scored worse than chance.

          So that’s probably going to be #2.

        2. Oh my….this is me every day. I have just chosen “8” as my number for “the Chair of my department has just asked me to design and implement a conference in my field, while also making sure that I realize that this will not come with a raise or a promotion beyond adjunct status. I continue to do as much work as you [Mr. Cabbages] do while being paid a third as much, getting no respect, and all of the most work-intensive and unrewarding teaching assignments.”

          Trailing spouse blues.

          Though, at second thought, me getting home and yelling “Eight! EIGHT EIGHT EIGHT” is not much of an improvement.

        3. Ahhh! If I had a person like you who could give me good information like this I would be so grateful!

      3. From one driven-up-the-wall prof to another, Proffie Galore, thank you very much for this idea. A bingo card might be just what I need to get through the next few years of having to deal with our toxic dean.

          1. ooh, yes. Just the thing, whether it’s Danke Schoen or something else: a song whose melody I can sing as stress release, so I don’t swallow my tongue so much it’s choking. They won’t know what words I’m thinking. Thank you!

    3. Find something else to do after work.
      Asking for some quiet time when you get home to detox alone instead of spreading your misery about.
      Distracting book or TV show.

    4. Do something that forces your brain to shift gears odn the way home at least some of the time. For me going shopping for things I need on the way home distracts me well. Sometimed i just kind of window shop like “oh hey, this cute store is new.” Stop in at a cafe, explore a neighborhood you haven’t seen yet, walk through the park or do an organized activity like a sport or workout, meetup or class.

    5. Do you have someone or something to be accountable to/get positive reinforcement from in your job search? It doesn’t work for everyone but some people find it really helpful to verbalise a commitment and then have someone to report results to.

      I’ve been the ‘someone’ for several friends. They define their daily or weekly job search goals and my role was to be the cheering section each time they hit their goal and their encouragement source when they didn’t manage to hit their goal. I would never, ever scold or give negative feedback if ‘my’ job hunter didn’t hit their goal and I’ve been told that is one of the reasons I’m trusted to be the accountability source.

      May well not work for you or you may already be doing this but just in case, that’s my idea for you.

    6. Heh. I also worry about this. A lot. It doesn’t help that husband is doing it too.

    7. This was me (combo of Terrible Year for Company, and Terrible First Year of Marriage). A gratitude practice was very important to my recovery from the complaint cycle. I keep a list of “Why this job is good” on a laptop sticky note, and I make separate daily gratitude lists as Facebook posts. Bonus – everyone loves those FB posts, and people have told me how much it helps them be more happy on their own crappy days.

      I still work at that job, but I have a very different, healthfully detached perspective on it as a result of realizing that I was in a complaint cycle.

      Extra bonus: the gratitude practice is a key to improving our rollercoaster marriage, and is slowly but surely changing my husband’s hyper-critical, feelings-are-stupid-and-my-feelings-are-your-fault attitude. Worked for me, worked for him… still a small sample size, but these are strong results for anec-data.

    8. When I’ve been in the middle of a difficult job search, the thing that has helped me most is coming up with a project that I can work on outside of work/job searching (this time around, it’s been marathon training, but in the past I’ve done things like restore old furniture, collect old family recipes into a family recipe book, convert my mom’s 30+ years of old VHS tapes to digital, you get the idea) – basically the only rules for the project are that it has to be something that (a) requires consistent, nearly-daily effort; (b) can definitely be completed as long as the effort is put in; and (c) is, by nature, time-limited, so I will arrive at a point 2-4 months in the future where I will be able to point to something and say “I did that, go me!”

      I find projects like this both help to keep my mind off of things over which I have no control (like whether or not a given application will lead to an interview/job) and also help to keep my self-esteem up during what can be a tough and lengthy process (because hey, I may not have a new job yet, but LOOK AT MY SHINY RECIPE BOOK THAT I MADE ALL BY MYSELF!). Basically, do whatever you need to do to keep your spirits/confidence up while distracting yourself from work/job-searching when you’re not actually at work or actively job searching. Hope this helps! (And to the LW – maybe your husband needs a hobby? Sounds counterintuitive, I know, when he’s already feeling overburdened at work, but it could do a lot to boost his self-esteem, give him something to look forward to, and give him something other than work to talk about at home/in social settings/etc.)

    9. Two thoughts:

      – complaining into a journal or notebook or something; this helps me feel ‘heard’ without dragging the complaint into every conversation.
      – having some kind of small ritual to mark both the start AND the end of the day. My starting ritual is making my first cup of coffee as my computer boots; that means ‘work is beginning.’ My ending ritual is coming home and lighting a candle. Anything could do, even a Mr. Rogers-esque changing of shoes and sweaters, say. But having the ritual be something physical that I do helps a lot.

    10. A couple of things.
      1) Find some other engaging but not frustrating project outside of work. Something you control, which will end with feeling of achievement. For me this has involved large scale baking projects, or doing some knitting, or decluttering my house – something *tangible*.
      2) Doing more exercise which raises your heartbeat. This is proven to help decrease stress and anxiety. Ideally 30 minutes 3 times a week, but even a bit helps. Walking is also good but sadly not as effective.

    11. For me, just knowing that I was actively applying to get out of there was really helpful. It’s the #1 thing I’d recommend. So good job on that!

      I kept journal entries for a while chronicling all the ridiculous things that were happening. I have a tendency to turn every story into a joke, so it took on the tone of a comedian’s autobiography. It helped me remember that the situation was actually ridiculous and broken, and I was not the problem. (I don’t know where it is now. I don’t ever want to see it again, TBH. That was not a good time and I don’t need to be sent back there.)

      Also, exercise. Both my husband and I have found that something as simple as going for a 20 minute walk in the evening is really helpful. I’ve also done an intense sport that left me physically and mentally drained, which was good as long as the stress was moderate. When the work stress got too bad I didn’t have enough energy to do the sport. That was a good sign that it was time to leave the job, actually.

    12. Hard jobs exert pressure and unload toxins in lots of ways on us, and I think only a few of them get emphasized in the standard conversations. Our social capacities, our patience, our muscles and bones and whatnot– these are real and important. Also, stress and frustration and the inability to argue with leadership dance a scary dance with our bodies and our hearts.

      For me, the thing I lose that seems hardest to pinpoint is my sense of myself-as-I-want-to-see-me, as part of the world I want to live in. I have a few exercises I do to maintain that, mostly along the lines of spending time with trees and water (in non-horrible weather) or sitting by my favorite window with tea, looking out (during storms) and taking a moment to be grateful for the life of the world around me, for the rain and the trees, and remind myself that I am a part of the ecosystem still, even if I spent all day biking through sleet to bring sandwiches to exhausted nurses, or taking shit from people because my country seems to expect that of employees, or whatever it is with that job. I have animals and plants at home and tending to them helps me ground into myself too.

      Creating is super important, and personally I think that in the US we put an emphasis on “objective” quality and output where the real gift is just the act of creation itself. For me it often takes the form of making my house and clothes more beautiful, but cooking and whistling and painting and cutting my hair a little differently all have helped me a lot too.

      The Cap’n has an idea that comes up when she talks about repairing hurt or toxic relationships, and it’s about creating positive shared experiences to help balance out some of the hard stuff. It’s so, so important to do that with our lives when our jobs become overwhelming. If our day is preparing for a job we dread, unwinding from a job we dread, and sleeping to be rested enough to face a job we dread, we are fighting a losing battle to remember ourselves and how we love what we love. For a lot of us, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room here. Some of us really have little choice but to spend all our waking hours dealing with work, one way or another. But, whatever you can do, even if it’s making yourself CD’s to sing along to if you drive, spending five seconds thanking the plants outside your apartment when you come home, missing a bus on purpose in order to walk down your favorite street of town– finding things to be happy and grateful about is powerful stuff.

    13. I had a toxic job once. I never did learn how not to think about work outside of work, and I got a better job mostly through luck, but I did manage not to alienate all my friends through constant complaining. My trick was to only let myself tell a toxic-boss story if it was a new story. If it was the same story with different names attached (e.g., he yelled at the admin assistant for going to the restroom instead of one of the sales guys), then nope. “How was your day?” “Oh, the same. Yours?”

      I still complained too much, mind you. Just not enough that they wanted to run screaming every time they saw me.

    14. Well….. this may sound slightly bonkers, but sometimes, soon as I’m in the house and the door is shut, I just let myself fail a bit and yell “AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!”, a la Kermit the Frog. Sounds stupid, but it works……. (Then again, I live alone, and the cats are well used to Mom being weird.)

      1. Not bonkers at all! One of my favorite authors (sex researcher who studies sexual trauma/guilt/shame) calls it “closing the loop” — she recommends dancing, intense exercise, a primal scream, a good cry. All of which can help your brain/body complete the cycle of stress so you can move on.

  14. Yeah so wow, this is my situation with my partner MINUS the expressing of the angst and stress. He just stews in it. How in the entire hell do you disrupt the cycle when it’s… inaudible?

    1. Your question probably applies to this situation to. Even if the husband stops voicing his frustration, that doesn’t mean underlying angst is going to just evaporate. You can ask someone to stop venting, but asking someone to stop feeling their feelings is a lot trickier.

    2. My partner was so emotionally exhausted by work that he’d come home and pretty much go right to bed. Wasn’t working late, wasn’t late getting home, just straight to bed. I had to carefully pry him open enough to talk about it before we could get to the “you have options/do you want to go job hunting/talk to me about where you are”. I used some of the same script, though, about how it wasn’t fair to me that he was always asleep or too grumpy to talk to me, and since he told me that I had done nothing wrong, then we needed to work on ways for him to be present with me when we were spending time together.
      He now works at a coffee shop, and is much calmer and happier. A little tighter financially? Sure. But he’s actually paying attention to me again, and I’ll skip the extra expenses for that any day.

    3. Your partner must be doing something that indicates to you what is going on inside or you wouldn’t know (I’m skeptical about mindreading). Or he’s not doing something that he usually does when his work situation is going acceptably. Can you pinpoint how it is you can tell and how his emotional state specifically affects you?

      If you can pinpoint those two things, then one possible way to deal with it is some form of “we’re a team and what each of us experiences independently can affect the two of us as a team. When you (fill in how you can tell), I feel (fill in blank). I’d like to figure out with you how we can address this so that our little Team Us stays strong.”

      For whatever it may be worth, my husband and I don’t believe in compromise in important matters. We believe in consensus in the form of finding solutions that both of us like better than either of us like our separate solutions. This may not work for other couples but it works really well for us.

      1. Oh, he will tell me he’s stewing, he just struggles to verbalize his thoughts. And he gets a very particular kind of silent and angsty-faced.

        He definitely knows it affects me, which makes it so much worse for him — he really struggles with guilt and shame over his reactions to things, so it just compounds the problem when I get upset or sad because he feels like he’s ruined my day or is to blame for hurting me. That’s definitely tough.

        1. Oh my, I so empathise with your husband because I really struggle with expressing any negative emotion as well.

          I have one friend who really helps me when she asks how I’m doing and adds the clause “in more than three words, please.” Because she is a smart woman who figured out quickly that “oh, I’m fine” can mean anything and some of what it means when I say it is far from any objective standard of ‘fine’. Struggling to verbalise my emotional weather in that moment is helpful to me, even though it is always a struggle. Unless I really am fine in the more universally accepted sense (rather than my “if I’m not going to die in the next hour, I must be fine” reflex).

          Something I do to help myself is go through all my music and all of Youtube if that’s what it takes and find a song that matches my mood. Then I find another song. After a few songs, my selections kind of organically drift towards happier or more soothing or more upbeat selections. I might have to play the entire output of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Tyson, Yo-yo Ma or any of a bunch of musicians to get there but given enough time, I can often work out my negative emotion with music. Perhaps your husband has something like that he can use to express what he can’t verbalise and then lift the mood, such as looking at or creating music, art, videos or whatever.

          Maybe you have something similar to use on yourself.

          I also tend to get stuck brooding, running the same mental track over and over. Sometimes without quite realising it because my tricksy mind changes just enough details in each iteration that I think I am getting somewhere when I’m really just doing the same circle with slightly different landscaping. One thing that sometimes disrupts the circle for me is to write down what is in my head and then ceremonially burn it with a pinch of incense for a (temporary) exorcism.

          For awhile, I used http://750words.com to do a variation of this, where I would just write whatever words were in my head, even if it was just “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write” for 750 words. There is a $5/month subscription fee after the first month, so it eventually became too expensive for me. Now I open a blank email and spend a minimum 15 minutes banging out whatever is in my head. I keep those email drafts until the issue is gone, then I delete them. Sometimes I ask my husband to read them, sometimes I prefer to obliterate them unread by anyone else.

          Somehow getting words out of my own head and into tangible reality changes my perception, helps me see the issue(s) differently or just lets me break free of the circle for a few hours (or days!).

          1. Are… are you my husband? That music stuff sounds exactly exactly perfect for him. And the brooding. And the same mental track with slightly different landscaping. (We do periodic counseling with a therapist couple who do marriage mentoring and it is awesome, so I do get occasional insights — the husband of the other couple is gangbusters at drawing people out.)

            The typing stuff up, not so much. He tends to get stuck and just type out the self-loathing and then feel crappy about the self-loathing. It’s real cool. But I will absolutely suggest the music thing!! He is actually a musician so that would be *kisses fingertips*

          2. parParenthese, I couldn’t reply directly to you because nesting. It is uncanny to read about another human who apparently shares some of my traits, particularly since I’ve gotten the message that I’m weird pretty consistently throughout my life.

            For me, music is like doing brain surgery on myself or something. If I have the time, I can really change my mood and my whole frame of reference via music. Maybe it goes with being inarticulate in certain ways, who knows?

            I hope it is as effective for your husband as it is for me… or more.

    4. I’m in exactly this situation and getting quite worried about my husband’s psychological well-being. He just gets quieter and sadder over time and won’t talk about it and it’s really affecting me too.

      What I’m doing now is not trying to make him talk about it, but looking out for things he can do in his spare time that would make him happy (“oh hey, I just found a pub quiz night entirely dedicated to [his favourite TV writer], wanna go?”) and trying to find people who know people in his work field who might be able to find something better (which I haven’t managed yet). I just try to be nice and supportive in every way I can, which is admittedly really hard when he’s spending the evening lying in the sofa sulking and barely glancing in my direction, but on evenings like that I just bake him some cookies or something. It is a lot of effort though and I’m not convinced I can sustain it long term.

      1. Do you have a “date night”? Because I have found it really helpful when one or the other of us was stuck, that we’d meet for dinner or drinks once a week. And we weren’t allowed to miss that.

        (Unless sick in hospital or out of town separately)

          1. Oh, that isn’t a problem. We have a thing where every Saturday we take it in turns to do our own thing, sans offspring, while the other parent does stuff with her. Sunday is our family day. And if one of us wants an evening out, we just check with the other to make sure they don’t have plans. Little one goes to bed at 7 so there’s no actual childcare to do most evenings.

            So that part is fine. It’s just a) spending quality time together, just the two of us and b) getting husband to do something meaningful with his time to boost his mental health and make him feel more happy and fulfilled. He used to cycle, go to the gym, play online games with friends, go to quiz and poker nights and movies and all sorts but he never does any of them any more. And I recognise I can’t actually “get him to” do those things, only point him vaguely in the direction of cool events I think he’ll like.

          2. Sigh.

            It’s rough that he’s withdrawn from all joyful activity. Yeah, you can’t make him do stuff.

            If the two of you could get a sitter for a couple of hours a week, that might give you at least a start on alone time.

            But yeah. That’s rough.

      2. That sounds exhausting and I can’t imagine how it would be sustainable. You’re trying to feel better for him, almost. When do you get to be grumpy and tired? Ever?

        1. Oh I do…sometimes we both are. I hate that, though. The exception is when our little daughter is around and then his face lights up like a Christmas tree 🙂

  15. I could’ve written almost this exact letter last year, except that the boss wasn’t the only problem at my husband’s job. The Captain is right—breaking the cycle is going to be awkward and uncomfortable at first. My husband definitely had some grumpy responses to limits being set.

    This may or may not be applicable to the LW, but one of the big things that helped for me was not engaging. I realized that when my husband would start complaining about something that had happened at work or telling me how bad he was at his job, I’d gotten in the habit of trying to come up with solutions or convince him that he was doing a good job. That would prompt him to tell me all the other reasons why the job was bad and why he didn’t deserve it, and the cycle just went on and on. Once I stopped responding as much and just let him vent, he got it out of his system much more quickly.

    This story has a happy ending: a much better job opportunity dropped in my husband’s lap. With a lot of support he decided to go for it and now he’s much happier (and so am I).

    1. I’ve found that I get better results when I tell my frustrated partner that I’m going for a walk and asking if they’d like me to pick them up anything while I’m out.

      That way, they get space to feel grumpy and I get a walk. Asking if they’d like anything also breaks up the pattern of being told to do things, which can break them out of a negative cycle.

  16. My big point about job hunting is this: If you were as shit at your job, as your job is shit, you would be fired.

    The company you work for doesn’t sit around thinking about how you’ve hurt it emotionally today, and failed to do things that would make it happier. If it does it is more like, you aren’t making it money and that makes the company sad. And if that happens, you are fired. There are no months of agonizing and complaining and being sad before making a move. There are some HR processes and a termination.

    The only real control we have as employees of our workplace is our ability to leave. There is all kinds of bullshit about wanting to foster team work and make a good environment and blah blah blattity blah blah blah corporate jargonspeak blah.

    When your job sucks, you have to fire it. Fortunately you have the advantage of finding a replacement in advance.

    I would encourage him to update his LinkedIn profile if he has not, and possibly look at sending his resume along to a recruiter in your industry. (Maybe check out hired.com?) The Muse.com also offers online sessions with various career coaches, you can even give them as a gift! (https://www.themuse.com/coaching)

    I have been in your husbands shoes. It took me about 9 months to get out, and I was depressed and miserable and horrible to be around the whole time. All I could do was complain about work and I resented all the people who weren’t as miserable as me. (To be fair they did get to spend all day playing WoW while I was at work…soooo)

    IT IS SO WORTH IT. Sadly I still have occasional flash backs to my former shit job where I get paranoid that my coworkers are having meetings about my incompetence and at any second I will be fired. But the difference was night and day. And the best part, I was 100% honest in my interview and got my old total shit boss taken off of supervisory jobs so he couldn’t torture any one else.

    Your husband can make it better, it will get better. I hope that your encouragement, or counseling, or something, pushes him to take the next step.

    1. My big point about job hunting is this: If you were as shit at your job, as your job is shit, you would be fired.

      Oh man, that’s so good! I am going to share this one with others.

    2. Yep. YOU can FIRE your SHIT JOB!!

      That was a revolutionary realization for me back in the day.

  17. I don’t know if this would be helpful, but there are career counselors — psychologists and licensed professional counselors — who basically specialize in helping people figure out what their options are when it comes to work-related Stuff. (Too many “regular” therapists are not really trained in helping with career-related issues, unfortunately.) So, that might be a good resource for your husband, especially if he is very worried about his job searching skills — that is something a career counselor would be able to help with!

  18. To be super brutally honest with you, LW, I’m kind of resentful of your husband that he’s locked himself into a Shit Cycle and TURNED DOWN JOB INTERVIEWS so he could STAY IN THE SHIT CYCLE. Do you know how much I would kill for ONE of the places I’ve applied to to call me back? I work a shitty job, too; it’s just my only option.

    My idea is to kick him in the butt a little.

    “Baby, I love you, and I get that you wish your job could go back to being awesome. Here’s the thing: it’s not going to go back to being awesome. And in the meantime, hearing about how unhappy you are is sucking me into a pit of unending despair. Instead of dwelling on how terrible your job is, can you PLEASE revisit the idea of DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT? Or else, my love, I will literally murder you with my bare hands.”

    Okay, don’t threaten him. But, like, DUDE! PAL! TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR DESTINY!

    1. I have a lot of feelings about this, too. Because having been in a situation like the OP’s with close friends, what it came down to is: “You would rather use me as an emotional dumping ground than put out the effort to change your situation.”

      Sometimes (as with my friend) that shocks people into thinking about what they need to do. And sometimes they make it clear that they’re perfectly fine with that.

  19. I’ve been there — in my case it was my secondary partner who had several jobs, over the time we were together, which started out stressful (because he always got stressed about change) and were then usually okay for a little while — and then turned awful (from his perspective) which meant he’d spend ages every time we met bitching about work. It was, eventually, what drove us apart; I couldn’t deal with spending half of every date listening to him stressing about something I could do absolutely nothing about, and any conversation always turned back _to_ that stress. I hope you can get through this, LW.

  20. Something I really like about being in a committed relationship is that my partner and I can call each other on our bullshit. We do it lovingly, and we do it because we want the other person to live their best possible life, but we do it.

    Your husband is a good person and worker who has been in a bad situation for so long he doesn’t realise it’s possible for him to walk out that toxic office door and ride off into the sunset (aka another job that won’t destroy his soul). I’ve been that person and so has my partner at different points in our relationship.

    He’s rationalising his self-doubt and inertia – things that would be coming out of my mouth:

    ‘Sweetheart, I know you want your job to go back to the way it was, but you’ve been miserable for two years and there’s no sign that’s going to change. If you want to be happy, you need to leave, and I think you should. Of course I’ll support you if you want to stay put, but we need to work out a way for you to do that without dumping all over me every day because it’s affecting our relationship.’


    (Husband complains) ‘You are really unhappy there, but you still choose to be there, even though there are lots of options for you to do other things. Why do you choose to be somewhere that is making you so miserable?’


    (Husband self-loathes) ‘It’s really sad to me that you can’t see how awesome you are, even though everyone else can, which is why you’ve been promoted twice since you were hired. I think it would be really good for you to take steps for you to improve your self-confidence, maybe even speak to someone who could help you’.

    I’m seeing a therapist and working on my issues because my partner, lovingly, said the last one of these to me. I’ll always be grateful for him to supporting me while refusing to turn a blind eye to stuff I really needed to work on.

  21. This is such a common cycle when you’re in a toxic environment. Could you nudge your husband in the direction of Ask a Manager? This is a very, VERY regular thing that pops up there (you might even be able to do some searching and pull up a few articles where AAM addresses it). Basically, you start to think that your work is so shitty that everywhere else must be the same. So a) why would you bother and b) you are also shitty so why would anyone else want you? I’ve fallen into that trap myself and still struggle with it. It’s difficult to wrap your head around the fact that it’s not true.

    1. About the toxic environment: this might sound super mean on the surface, but LW — instead of encouraging your husband to get a distracting hobby what if you got one? Like what if you were just not there for him to complain to? I know that sounds really heartless and unsupportive (and he would probably experience it that way). But I know from my own personality the whole cycle of INJUSTICE! COMPLAINING ABOUT INJUSTICE! Is deeply compelling and might be part of what keeps him in a job he hates. Like, surely the goddess is going to smite everyone eventually and in the meantime I am here to take careful notes about misbehavior! I know I have definitely gotten into that loop in jobs and relationships and what cuts it off is not having anybody with whom to share that carefully curated “serious injury notebook”. I think the Captain has talked about this in terms of not being the audience for friends complaining about significant others who do one shitty thing after another and yet they never break up with them or confront them, just use their friends as a venting mechanism. Your husband probably won’t stop complaining to you unless you are not available directly after work (or whenever is the habitual time for him to complain). If you could even notice the pattern time-wise: like, go to a class or club during that window and then come home full of stories about said class or club. He’d be frustrated but it might break the pattern (and prompt him, finally, to be truly done with the job).

      1. Yeah, the CYCLE OF COMPLAINING can be incredibly addictive. It doesn’t mean that the complaints aren’t legitimate, or that you’ll magically feel better if you stop, but it does mean that endless venting about the same things, day in and day out, doesn’t generally make people feel better either.

  22. First, Captain, can I say how reassuring it is to hear that you have conversations in which you are not always immaculately poised, thoughtful and assertive?

    I had this situation for a long time with my partner, and a couple of things helped us to break out of it. One was that he started walking home from work, which means that the journey takes longer and he’s cleared his head to some degree before he walks through the door.

    The other was setting actual appointments to talk about this stuff. I got to the point where I couldn’t hear the cycle every day any more, so I suggested that we set a time to sit down together and talk it through properly. I took notes, and we wrote a list of all the things he’d like to change about his job situation and then identified which of them were non-negotiable (ie would have to change to make it bearable). We also wrote a list of possible future career moves – not because my partner had any enthusiasm about moving, but because it was important to me that he could see that he did have options. We also made a list of out-of-work things that would help with his self care. He picked a couple of things to start working on straight away, and then we set a date (a few months in the future, because that’s the pace of our lives!) to review everything.

    This process has contributed to some really significant changes which I won’t go into here, but it also meant that whenever he started offloading again, it was easier for me to listen because I didn’t feel as if I needed to try to help him solve everything straight away; and when I’d had enough, it was easier for him to hear that because I wasn’t saying ‘I don’t want to help you with this’, I was saying ‘I will help you with this at x time on y date which we agreed’.

    1. This is a really excellent comment — thank you for sharing what worked for you!

      (And I agree — while I love the Captain for her many good in-the-moment solutions and scripts, and sharing things that HAVE worked really well for her, it’s also helpful to occasionally get the reminder that her advice can be followed by ordinary, fallible human beings, because she shares anecdotes that tell us that she is one, too. If that makes sense. Not that I think that she’s ever expressed otherwise, just — it’s helpful to hear this stuff, sometimes.)

  23. Oh thank heavens that my spouse is in a totally different industry. I have a sibling that blames me for not being able to get a job.

    (I am older with an extensive network, all of the interviews he’s had have been at opportunities I’ve tipped him off to, and he’s burned bridges with other friends by NOT EVEN SUBMITTING A RESUME when they told me that a position he would be a fit for would open up in a few days/weeks. One of those friend’s companies went from start-up to everyone cashing in their options in the last three years.)

    There’s so much everyone hates me – I can’t do this – So I won’t even try on his side that I am no longer speaking to him about it. If he goes “have you heard about anything” the answer is always a cheery “nope.”

    But he’s LW’s husband, not a sibling, and they’re in the same house as families of choice. So that level of disengagement may not be possible. It’s not your job to find him a job (Unless you’re being paid to do it as a reverse-headhunter or by social services, it’s no-ones job to find someone else a job. If you think this person is a good friend/employee/fit, you can recommend them to the hiring manager, or work your contacts for them, but it’s not OWED).

    And LW, I hope he declined interviews when they called, and not set them up and then cancelled. Still … to put in a resume and not want to even go through a phone screen/initial interview – as someone who’s been a hiring manager – it seems weird. Not weird enough I wouldn’t consider him if he applied again, but weird. It sounds sorta like he’s doing it to tell you he’s doing it, but has no intention of following through. My 2c is that he shouldn’t do it until he’s ready, until he can really be willing/excited to go to an interview and learn more, see if the company is a good fit.

    Over at Ask-a-Manager, Allison will remind you that interviewing is a two-way street –

    I’ve had phone interviews – usually from companies headhunting me – and I can tell them after our talk (15min to an hour) that “I’m sorry, but I have amazing benefits/time off/etc. here, and although that sounds like a great job, I don’t think it’s right for me and I wouldn’t want to waste your time by coming in.” These are jobs that would offer more money, more prestige, more challenges and chances for growth … but … I really do need my 3x the normal number of vacation days and gold-plated health insurance to have the time for my family. Maybe someday I won’t, but right now this is the right job for me, and when I need to complain, I complain to my therapist.

    Stick to the scripts. He doesn’t get to complain to you, and when he’s ready (if you’re still willing/able), support him in his search.

    1. I like this.

      It sounds like both LW’s husband and your sibling aren’t REALLY ready to job hunt, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, sounds like they’d both put up with their situation than try to leave it.

      1. Which is 100% a valid choice, but it means that the option of whining about it all evening kinda goes off the table once you realize that it’s a choice. Like… if it’s bad enough to need a full evening whine, you need to make different choices.

  24. It does seem like there are three kinds of help that you can offer:

    1) How can I help you get out of this job? (And wow, having a partner who’s willing to do that for him is a gift beyond measure)
    2) How can I help you put boundaries around how unhappy this job makes you so that it doesn’t get all over everything? (Changing activities when he gets home, support to have more non-work stuff in his life, appointment-venting as opposed to unbounded venting)
    3) How can I help you find someone else to talk to about this? (A job coach, a support group)

    And then there are some kinds of help you can’t offer anymore:

    1) Being the person who listens to the work complaining all the time always forever
    2) Offering the kinds of help you CAN give and having him bat those suggestions down

    It’s not that you’re not willing to do support, it’s that some kinds of support are Too Much/asking you to suffer along with him in near-realtime without giving you any choices about changing the situation. You love and care about this person; watching someone you love suffer and not being able to offer meaningful help can be a really lousy feeling, and it’s really hard to feel like your attempts to help are getting shot down. Maybe there are very real reasons why he doesn’t feel like the help you can give will change the situation, but that feeling is only as equally real as your feeling that you can’t listen to the venting always and forever anymore, not more real than your feeling.

  25. Just a point to make to your husband, LW: Many people get their jobs through a connection. Not “Oh, I know so-and-so so I will hire their friend/sibling/spouse/old colleague.” But you could argue that many of us had friends or colleagues who “got” us our jobs.

    My friend/old coworker “got” me my current job. I had clear indications I was going to be laid off, she heard of openings in her org (in my field of expertise), and put me in touch with the director of the department where I’m now working. They wouldn’t have hired your husband if he wasn’t any good. He wouldn’t have kept his job for this long if he wasn’t any good.

    I’m not usually a fan of logicing out of emotions but it might be helpful to him to point that out!

  26. I had a similar experience with a partner, where his ranting about his bad situation made every evening something to dread. Eventually I suggested we use a kitchen timer, and take turns to set it for an agreed length of time (we fixed on five minutes) to get all our kvetching about our jobs off our chests. First one person then it’s the second person’s turn – five minutes of venting each. Then, the crucial third step, we each took turns to say – and write down! – what one small baby step we were going to take in the next day or week to get the ball rolling on improving things. We would each get a herb tea or another drink we liked ready to sip while listening to the other’s ranting, so that made the whole thing slightly less unpleasant. If anyone started to vent later on in the evening, the other would gently remind them to save it for tomorrow’s session. This little ritual may or may not work to get past the logjam of crappiness. But it certainly puts a limit of the amount of crappiness to which one has to listen. And everyone feels like they have been listened to and that they matter.

  27. I agree that a partner can be a sounding board…but there are limits. Early in our relationship my husband used to use me as his “sounding board” and dump all of his stuff on me and then get frustrated that I couldn’t help him with it. I quickly set up boundaries about what was and wasn’t appropriate to dump on me and when he used that “but you’re my sounding board” argument when he’d hedge into what I deemed not appropriate areas I would rattle off the 800 number to a local mental health program and tell him he needed to call them. He stopped assuming that a partner was a free therapist really quick!

    My husband now works in a state run residential treatment facility and when he shares his frustrations about his job he can go on and on…and because a lot of the stuff he does involves bureaucratic red tape, the mental health of others, and a lot of employee burnout he can get really frustrated with his complaints. He likes his job but it’s hard and sometimes listening to it frustrates me and angers me and I have to remind him of that. All it takes is “I can’t listen to this. Can we please change the subject?” and he does. He knows that I love him and respect him but he also knows that his job is frustrating for him and so it would be for the person who loves him to see him so frustrated.

  28. I am in a somewhat similar position. I have a long history of starting a job, liking it and then a long slow decline into despising said job. I usually sabotage the job and get “laid off” eventually. Currently, I’m in a job that I thought was going to be the first stepping stone in a career that I have decided against. In fact, it was this job that made me decide I don’t want to pursue that career. I’m middle aged, and the career/job I had before this one has changed so much in the 7 years I’ve been away from it that I don’t know what I can do anymore. Prior to that, I had another career/job (secretary) that has REALLY changed. People don’t seem to need secretaries anymore, thanks to more folks being computer literate, voice mail, email, etc.
    I am 52 years old I don’t know if I should just sit in my brainless, barely-paying-enough but easy job with an egomaniac Assboss, or try and put together a new career. I’m scared to death of job interviews. Maybe I need to talk to those Muse people?
    I complain to my spouse a lot and while he hasn’t objected, I’m sure it is not pleasant for him to listen to me day after day. Sometimes I don’t even wait till I get home. I call him on my lunch break.
    I’m open to advice…tea…sympathy…whatever. Thanks for listening

    1. I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. Jedi hugs if you want them.
      May I suggest figuring out how to make some changes? Job in the long run, ranting to spouse in the short run.
      No matter how much your spouse loves you, listening to ranting constantly is not pleasant. Maybe, as some readers have suggested, set a time to rant, and then a timer? And the rest of the evening or lunch break talk about a book/tv show/project/hobby/volunteer work that you or spouse is doing. If nothing else, breaking the cycle of venting might give you some much needed positive emotional experiences. Even if your shoulders are back around your ears tomorrow morning, perhaps tonight they can come down and let your back relax a little.
      In the long run, even if you don’t want to find a new career, finding a new boss might be a good idea. I know nothing about the job or industry, but can you find the same job elsewhere? New job doesn’t have to mean new career.

    2. My husband has had a similar pattern of liking jobs at first and then beginning a cycle of complaints which eventually ends badly. What has helped him the most was going on medication for anxiety and depression. It took a very, very long time to convince him to do it, but now he can’t imagine trying to live life without it. I would gently suggest maybe talking to your doctor, or finding a therapist?

      In addition, you are ONLY 52! I would guess that you have a lot of work experience that you can use to get a better job that’s less “brainless.” (More brainful?) Use your lunch break to read AskAManager.org for some job searching and interviewing advice, and then start hunting. Good luck to you!

    3. This is relevant only to this post, but I’d like to say people do still need secretaries, just they’re called “virtual assistants” now. I’ve employed one part-time for more than 10 years to do billing, shipping, restocking, and be the main email and phone contact for my small retail business. Being computer literate doesn’t mean I want to write every email, pack every box, track every package, enter every transaction, and if I did those things I’d never have time to develop new products, so my VA is pretty darn important to me.

      1. Called “Executive Assistants” here and they are in charge of doing the all the things that the Brass are way too busy (and paid way too much per hour) to do themselves – scheduling meetings, answering emails, etc.

        A good EA is worth her weight in gold – when the Executives at my place of employment find an EA they can rely on, they tend to bring (usually her) along with them as they move up the corporate ladder. And working for a more important boss means pay rises for the EA at the same time.

        1. I think the thing is that clerical jobs will ALWAYS be needed and a lot of it is learning on the job. Receptionists and PAs too. I suppose it depends what level you need to move into – experiences counts r a lot so I’d try keep an open mind and check ask a manager.
          I would say that computer literacy should be something you can self teach too and a lot of it is just a bridge into having to learn work-specific systems anyway. In the uk you can order free ‘which?’ Guides, some banks teach computer literacy classes for free, you have local libraries and if you understand how to do a basic Google search then there are lots of tutorials on google and YouTube to walk you through Excel and MS Word which will likely be all you ever need.
          Good luck!

        2. Agreed, I did that job for a while (as holiday cover for a full time EA) and they can be incredibly important. In any organisation if you can build a good relationship with the EA’s of important people that connection is priceless. Because if they are the ones who will get you through the door and sat in front of the important person.

          Busy people use their EA’s to filter what is and is not important. That is probably their most important role. Important business types get buckets of emails and calls and other requests for their time and attention every day. Deciding which of those is actually worth paying attention to takes a lot of time and that is what an EA does. So if their EA tells them something is important they listen. If you can get an EA to decide that your email/phonecall/meeting request is important? Then it will go into important person’s diary.

          When I was an EA I was the only person in the company who was allowed to go and disturb my boss when he was on a call or had someone in his office with him. People who were technically senior and definitely earning more money than me came had to come via me to get in to speak to him when they needed to.

          Also be nice to EA’s and always find out their email and copy them in when you need to email someone important. Then if you need to chase things up, email the EA directly. If they put your email on their boss’s desk then it will get paid attention to. Be nice to EA’s. It pays huge dividends.

  29. I was your husband, and my boyfriend ran it of patience. I started to keep my rants down, maybe a few sentences a night, and to consciously not think about it after that. It didn’t always work, but it did enable me to enjoy my off time significantly more. If you hate your job so much, why would you want to mentally spend time there on your off hours? The quality of my life improved, even when I was still at the hated job, once I stopped focusing so much on the negative.

    Currently at another hated job, working very actively on extricating myself (finally, after paralysis due to a mix of misplaced loyalty and lack of direction), and it sucks to be at work but doesn’t drag down my off time to the same level it used to. Making sure I have time for other hobbies so hated job isn’t the main thing in my world is also super helpful.

    Good luck to you and your husband. It’s a tough place to be and I hope he makes an exit soon, one way or another, and that you get a break from being mentally dragged to the hated office with him.

  30. I don’t think it’s fair for your husband to complain all the time, but I also think it’s important to be honest with yourself about how much you know about your husband’s current employability. In my personal experience, a huge frustration in changing jobs is that you get flooded with a lot of advice that is off target and impractical. When you don’t take it, you are perceived as not trying hard enough or not being willing to make a change. For me, even friends with my exact educational background and skillset sometimes have wacky suggestions because they haven’t had to search in a long time or don’t have experience in my area. Maybe your husband knew enough about the interviews he turned down to realize he’d be leaving one mountain of stress only to start climbing another.

    1. I’ve had the well-meaning advice, and some of it was simply not-applicable, but some of it was downright toxic, and while it feels wrong somehow to counter advice with ‘no, that *isn’t* how it works, your advice WILL NOT WORK’ (you feel like a spoilt brat when you think that) very often only you know YOUR circumstances and other people see only a part of it. So I can emphasise.

      On the other hand, I left a toxic job, could no longer pay my rent, had to put all my belongings in storage while scrambling for work/accommodation, and _despite_ ending up technically homeless it so, so SO was the right thing to do because that job was killing me slowly in a way that sleeping in a tent/on friends’ sofas for a month did not.

      Employability is a funny thing. Some people you think should get jobs in a heartbeat don’t, people you wouldn’t hire do. But if you have the money to survive without a toxic job, that’s the way to go, and sometimes even if you don’t, walking out is a Good Choice.

  31. I was there. I have had a number of jobs that I hated, but one was the worst. I just- came home and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for hours on end because I had no energy to do anything else. My spouse was concerned, my roommate was disappointed. My husband offered to (mostly jokingly) burn the building down. I knew it got bad when my roommate said she would provide the alibi. I worked there for about a year and a half, and finally asked my husband if I could “ask for a break- see if I could take a sabbatical”. His response? “Only if the sabbatical is permanent”. He didn’t care that we were tight financially, he didn’t care that it had taken me 5 months to get that job in the first place and I had no foreseeable prospects- he wanted me OUT of there.

    Happy ending- quitting gave me time to volunteer at our library. After volunteering, I had a foot in the door and got a job there. Much happier.

  32. Wow, I don’t remember writing this letter! In my case, my husband complained so much that I eventually told him if he didn’t quit that job I was going to leave him. He did quit, he was unemployed for nearly three years, and now he’s in a great job . . . which he complains about. This time around, when the complaints started, I had already figured out that there were some underlying issues that needed to be addressed so I again pulled out an ultimatum and told him either to see a doctor for his anxiety/depression or I was going to leave him. (That sounds harsh, I know, but I had asked and asked and asked and asked and asked for years and no amount of asking could get him into a doctor’s office. He now says he can’t imagine how he lived life without medication and he’s so thankful for it, which only makes me want to strangle him a tiny bit.) Now he still complains about his job but NOTHING like before, and he actively tries to keep the complaints to a minimum.

    Having had my own horrible job at one time, I can sympathize with the OP’s husband somewhat. I know that it’s difficult to think or talk about anything else when your boss and/or coworkers are making your life a living hell. But staying in that situation is a no-go; the only way out is OUT. It may take the OP giving some sort of ultimatum to convince Husband to make an actual effort to get out.

  33. Handling this kind of stuff from the spouse became much easier for me when the kidlet pointed out, “You know how we process our THOUGHTS outside our heads? So we have to take walks together and work out plots for the stories we’re writing? He has to process his EMOTIONS outside his head.”

    So the Captain’s advice is still valid and excellent, but you might also find it easer to handle the repetitive negativity if you think of it is “processing today’s emotions in my general direction” rather than “saying something specifically to me.”

    (Also, processing requires less input from the other person than conversing; when I’m processing thoughts out loud, I’m fine with the other person saying, “uh-huh … uh-huh … still stuck on the bit where they leave the village, eh? … uh-huh,” while continuing to play Who Stole Me on their phone.)

  34. The job that brought me to my knees was incredibly important to me. I was an engineer at the time, working for a military contractor, and was leading a very large and difficult technical project that I’d thrown my heart into. Things at home were difficult; Husband was trying to work full time, get an advanced degree part-time, and work on an important personal project. He had zero time to care about me. (This changed, very much, after a few years, and things at home got much better.) But meanwhile, I was dealing with undiagnosed depression; fear that seeing a mental health professional would deprive me of my security clearance and take my project away from me; there was concern that my project would fail — though by all metrics we were totally on track — because previous similar projects had failed; one of my bosses was a jerk; a few of the engineers I led were jerks; and on top of that were all the frustrations of handling secure documents. Left to my own devices, I worked from about 9 am to midnight, for three years. I wasn’t being paid spectacularly; the benefits weren’t that great; I simply had a chance to see a vision of my own implemented well.

    There was no way I could look for another job. I was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. My husband knew something was wrong, but was too wrapped up in his own list of things to do to help me deal with it. A good friend served as a sounding board, but he agreed that if I saw a counselor I’d lose my clearance and my project. As far as everyone around me at work knew, I really suffered from allergies, because I was always sniffling and my eyes were running. They were tears of misery and depression, not allergies. Finally the company pulled the rug out under me; they closed the West Coast facility. I had the unenviable and rather hopeless job of training my East Coast replacements, who were too junior for the job. Then I was unemployed, depressed, and still teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

    I offer all this, not for sympathy (I got diagnosed, treated, re-employed, repaired my marriage, and life went on) but to share how it sometimes can be excruciatingly difficult to look for a new job. The mind set of “I can’t give up now” is extremely strong. It can foster very bad decisions. Were I the spouse of someone who can’t leave a job, I would very, very strongly encourage counseling… NOT implying that there are mental health issues like mine, BUT having someone help you figure out why you’re stuck is invaluable. It’s difficult for spouses to do that.

  35. Dear LW,
    I’ve been the person in the job from hell. Leaving, voluntarily or otherwise, is the only real fix. That doesn’t help you, sadly, because you know that, your husband probably knows it – and he’s still stuck.

    I’ve also been the person listening to the stuck miserable partner. It’s awful.

    I haven’t seen this, yet so I’ll say it explicitly.

    You don’t have to do all the emotional work.

    Even though he’s miserable and stuck.
    Even though you love him.
    Even though you’re married.
    Not even all the work of getting him another sounding board.
    Not even calming him down when he says he’s worthless.

    Let me say it again:

    You don’t have to do all the emotional work.

    1. +1 It’s ok to take a break, to set a boundary, to say “I’ll help you with this but I won’t further look into that.”

  36. This is similar to where I’m at with my husband. I am awful at sweet and supportive. I inherited bluntness from my mother. So my typical response to “bluh bluh bluh everything sucks” if I’ve heard it more than once is “yeah babe, that sucks. What are you gonna do about it?”

    And if the answer is nothing, or more whining, then “This self pity party of one you got going on here is the worst party ever. Come talk to me if you want ideas or help. I’m going to [make dinner/train/watch show/etc].”

    It’s not perfect LW. No strategy is. If you’re anything like me, you’ll disengage and then not be able to relax because worrying and anxiety for him. The idea is to entrench in both of you the idea that action is greater than wallowing. And it’s useful both ways. Shortly after husband got a better job and mine tanked, I was having yet another panic attack over something I forgot to do at work.

    Husband drove to work with me at midnight so I could sneak in and fix it.

    Did this fix my shitty toxic job? No. But I slept that night, and instead of ranting we traded pyjama ninja jokes.

    Action, any action, beats wallowing in rants and angry feelings.

  37. I have been the Daily Complainer About Shit Job person, and not just once but at least three or four times, because I have had Many Crap Jobs and Many Assbaton Bosses. You’re right that it doesn’t get better, and the answer is to find a different job. But I am glad you also pointed out that if your Shit Job and Ass Boss have been eroding your self-esteem steadily for a long time, especially if you already have Personal Issues (in my case, introversion, lack of confidence, depression with occasional bouts of anxiety, job-and-unemployment-related PTSD, etc.), actually leaving the Known Bad Thing (that might, if a miracle occurs, become less bad) for an Unknown Possibly Better/Possibly Worse Thing can be extremely difficult.

    Whether it is worry over finances holding him back (worries that bills won’t get paid, cue anxiety over starvation, homelessness, shame, you name it), or lack of energy to actually dig out of the complaint-hole he’s in (depression makes getting out of bed and basic self-care like brushing your teeth hard sometimes, so uprooting your entire professional life is, like, maybe unthinkable at the time), or whatever, you don’t have to be the dumping ground for his (perfectly valid and reasonable) complaints.

    Here’s what helped me, though it by no means is guaranteed to help anyone BUT me:
    1. My roommate or boyfriend was OK with telling me when they were “full” and couldn’t deal with more Shit Job Ranting. I was honestly happy that they cared enough to tell me they had heard enough, rather than suffering silently as I dumped all that emotional poison into the room and feeling quietly resentful and dreading my return home every day.
    2. I did shame-spiral a bit because I hated it being brought to my attention that I was being a huge drag, but trusted my roommate/boyfriend still cared about me as a person, just not my Shit Job Stuff
    3. I found other outlets to express my frustrations. In my case, it was a journal. When I could afford a therapist, I made appointments.
    4. I checked that I was keeping up with my self-care. I made lists. (Even now I make sure I have a “take meds” reminder on my calendar daily.) I was never noticeably gross or smelly or unsanitary, but I did get a little raggedy around the edges (realized I’d run out of floss eight months earlier and hadn’t given a crap, went through a couple of cans of dry shampoo one month, if that gives you an idea) because I was so emotionally drained.
    5. I did something nice for myself that was in no way related to work and did not exacerbate bad habits (i.e., I didn’t go emotional-eat my way through half of a frozen chocolate cream pie or go buy $200 dollars worth of don’t-really-need-it-stuff like books or LEGOs or art supplies or yarn or make-up or whatever, though I wanted to badly and would have felt great for maybe about ten minutes after). I went to the library and checked out seven huge bags of books, most of them fluffy detective / fantasy / sci-fi kinds of things. I got treats for my pets. I bought ONE lip gloss at the grocery store in a cute color. I got ONE order of fried tofu and broccoli AND a crab rangoon appetizer, which normally was a bit too pricey for my budget. I borrowed some new music and films I hadn’t heard or seen yet from friends. I visited friends. I did whatever I could to not wallow in “My Job and Boss Suck”-land.
    6. I changed my depression medication from the pill I was on that was not helping any more, to one that (at least for now) does seem to help.
    7. I made more lists, this time of stuff I could cut from my budget
    8. I updated my resume, and tried to make it more of a “hey, I’m really good at all these things” chore than a “look at all the shitty jobs I have had” mopefest, and I asked friends what they thought I was good at in case I overlooked something. I told them up front that hell yeah, I WAS totally fishing for compliments, so hit me with them.
    9. I put out word that I was looking for a new job.
    10. I looked at a BUNCH of job-hunting sites.
    11. I signed up with every temp agency in town that also had a good track record of placing people in permanent jobs. Temp-to-perm has worked out for me multiple times, I highly recommend it.
    12. I went back to school got my Master’s.When that failed to help, I went the other direction and went to a different school and got an AS in legal studies, which was pretty much unrelated to anything I had ever done before.
    13. I stayed away from my mother, who enjoys when I feel terrible about myself, and likes to “help” by asking me what I did wrong to cause my job to suck and my boss to be a jerk, then lecturing me about things I haven’t actually done, all based on her never having been in the same work force for the past thirty years, as her field is completely different from any I have worked in and she has gotten every job through personal connections and has not been unemployed since ever. (Example of helpful advice included just showing up without an appointment at a business which may or may not have security guards and passes required to enter, and then lurking there (not actively searching for advertised jobs while you lurk, of course) until someone interrupts their busy day to tell you they have no job openings or they’d advertise them and showing up without an appointment does not show moxie and gung-ho-ness but nerve, impoliteness and entitlement.)
    14. I continued to vent to people who were not my boyfriend/roommate, continued to job hunt, and continued to maintain self-care and take my meds. It wasn’t easy, and it took a long time, and I backslid and ranted once or twice after work instead of using the above tools, but every step away from the Shit Job was progress.
    15. I got a less shitty job.

    The situation isn’t going to change, so he’s probably going to have to find another job. Which sucks. (Man, I have dug my heels in and stuck it out at so many shitty jobs because I felt it was a personal failure on my part, and blamed myself and strove hard to fix what I was doing wrong, only to finally, finally get out and feel immediate relief. It has never once gotten better because I suffered harder or longer or told myself more often and more emphatically that clearly I was the only problem and thus I could somehow change just the right way and the toxicity of the boss and/or job would vanish immediately!)

    So, finding a new job sucks. But he can slice the upcoming scary change into smaller, more manageable tasks. Like, “I will start saving $X out of my pay now, as will my spouse, which will ease my anxiety about bills. This weekend, I will update my resume, and ask my friends and loved ones to tell me good things about myself, and to remind me of my skills. Next week I will sign up for X job-hunt sites and apps, and just look at what is out there. The week after that, I will make sure I have a good interview suit and I will get a haircut, and make sure I am still nurturing myself, because this is hard but I can do it. The week after that, I will apply to X jobs, and it is OK if I don’t hear back. I am just getting in the habit of looking and applying.” Et cetera.

    Good luck to him and to you.

  38. While not available in every field, I recommend a stretch at a temp agency to friends that are looking for work or looking for a change. Not everyone is cut out for it but it has the advantage of a paycheck while you’re checking out the employers in your field, padding your resume and networks, and the stretching yourself at jobs that are a little different on a regular basis. It can be a great confidence booster, particularly if you’re getting asked to stay at the end of your contracts.

    1. I’d always thought temping would be a great fallback. Then I tried to get it.

      In 2001 when the US economy fell apart, I applied at a temp agency for clerical work. They agreed that my many years of self-employment was relevant (I did all my own admin, and I was good at self-presentation to new clients, etc). I aced their tests on software use and typing speed.

      Nonetheless, I never got contacted by them about opportunities. I speculate that there simply weren’t that many people hiring even for temp work (my state had the second highest unemployment rates), and the work went first to the people the agency had already worked with.

      Perhaps today’s economy is not that bad.

      1. Making temping work for me in that same period required: 1) registering with multiple agencies 2) calling them every week to remind them of my availability. Sorry it didn’t work out for you.

  39. This letter and the comments are super topical for me right now. I’m on my twelfth month of a job search, and haven’t found the job yet. My current company is profoundly broken in ways that I don’t have the tools to handle. And I don’t want to remake myself into a person who can handle this broken, awful, pointless place, if there’s any humanly possible way I can find another job.

    It fills me with joy to think about not having to deal with certain things here ever again. It also fills me with joy knowing that this place is on its last legs and that my leaving will hopefully accelerate its collapse. Sorry if that’s unkind, but it makes me smile to consider it.

    However, I don’t know how to support and take good care of myself during the search. Does anyone have suggestions for surviving a difficult and emotionally painful job search?

    I’ve been on literally a dozen interviews, and I could tell you stories that would curl your hair about what some of those interviews were like. There were the folks who wanted five rounds of interviews for a Sr. Whatsit position (I won’t fall for that again. Three and I’m out), the two, count them, two, different places where men screamed at me for their entire interview slot (don’t ask me why, but if that’s your best behavior I am not here for your worst.)

    Then there’s the one where they made an offer and ghosted me after I gave them a salary requirement (which was 100% in line with industry, region, and experience), and the real heartbreaker, the one where they wanted me, I wanted them, and after a four month long process, the requisition was removed because budget.

    It feels like job hunting is just a way to torment myself and hurt myself by exposing myself to not only rejection, but also some deeply toxic behaviors. And yet, without it, you can’t find a new job.

    Please help me figure out some good ways to take care of myself and minimize the harm that this search is doing?

    1. It’s harder when you’re in a job so your job search is your extra, unpaid job. One thing I did was stop getting invested. It reached a point where my boyfriend, to whom I reported my numbers of applications daily so I could get some praise for doing this incredibly draining thing, would ask “oh, any good ones?” and I would literally have no idea, because the process of application had become so routine. I didn’t get invested til the second interview. Also: make things as easy on yourself as possible. If you can automate parts of the application process, do so. Keep a file of answers to screening questions, that sort of thing. Set aside time to work on applications, and then outside that time, try to avoid thinking about it too much.

    2. Jumping off from Novelator Furiosa’s comment:
      Make a time that is decidedly not thinking-about-anything-job-related time, especially not job search. If it’s not job hunting time of day, redirect your thoughts anytime your start thinking about it.
      If you don’t have that already, get a person who’ll encourage you, who you can say to “I sent [number] applications this [timeframe]” and they go “Yay.”
      If 2 is difficult right now or simply if it sounds like something that would work for you, figure out a reward for doing job search activities. Finish your daily/weekly applications with a hot shower, a cute sticker going on your Done list, whatever else makes you feel good/happy.
      Take a break from job huntin for a few days if you feel it’s totally overwhelming right now. I know you can’t really quit it, but if it doesn’t stress you out more not to look, it can be time to take a breather.
      Remind yourself that this is temporary. Yes, it may take days, weeks, months until you get the offer that will stick, but after these 3 months, 1 week and 4 days (or whatever), you will be out of shit job. And it will be great. This is temporary.

    3. Thanks – that was helpful. When I add it up, I’ve spend 12 interviews at 2 days each (one day for the interview, plus a day worth of prep activities spread out over multiple days) = 24 days. Plus, 40 applications at a rock bottom minimum of one hour each = 8 workdays.

      So I’ve spent 32 workdays, or six and a fraction extra workweeks, while working full time.

      That works out to a twelve percent increase in my workload, not even considering the emotional aspects. Dear God. There is a real reason I’m exhausted and burned out.

      The hardest part about this for me is that the pacing is uneven. Some weeks, nothing happens except banging out applications, which at this point is automatic. Find opening, send application, fill out form. Bang. One hour and done. Some weeks I’ve had two interviews scheduled, and didn’t want to say no to either. Those weeks are really draining to recover from.

      At this point, I don’t start feeling invested till I’m in for the in person interview. So that helps some.

      I think from here, I just have to prioritize pacing and self care, because I literally cannot do more. So I may have to go slower on the search, and find ways to survive the current clown car from hell.

      I appreciated both your comments. thx for the validation.

      1. You’re welcome! I’m glad it helped. It really is an extra unpaid job, and I feel like it’s important to realize that and to be kind to yourself as much as you can through the process, because if you won’t, no one else will!

  40. LW, I cannot help on the partner interaction portion of your situation, but I have felt stuck in a job I hated so much that I felt doomed, and I figured out a number of things that transformed that job by transforming me, and I’m still at it. I’d still rather be independently wealthy, and I still despise my employer (giant corporation a lot of you have probably heard of), but I like my job.
    So maybe my experience can help your husband?

    The number one thing I realized when I was half-heartedly starting to job hunt was that as miserable as my job situation was, I was a fucked up mess with a lot of issues, and if I changed jobs, I’d be the same fucked up mess with a lot of issues in a new job. And once the excitement and newness wore off the new job, I’d be the same fucked up mess with a lot of issues and probably hating my job all over again.
    So step one was dealing with my own issues, including adjusting me in relation to my work.

    In no particular order, somethings that helped me were:
    Adjusting my whole perspective on working. I want to do so much, see so much, create so much, I really resented all these hours of my life given to something so mundane as a job. Then one day I realized that as a human animal, this job is no different from my ancestors’ hunting and gathering. I’m sure they had things they’d rather do, but dammit, they had to spend hours looking for roots and grubs and other nomnoms, instead of painting cave walls. All animals spend the majority of their time trying to feed themselves, and I’m just one of many on this biosphere, and I’m not so special that I get out of doing what life demands. I tend to think in terms of non-human animals, so this connection to the reality of life somehow makes me feel better about it all, because when it comes down to it, when working on this project I’m really just putting a grub in my basket.

    I also figured out what I hated about my job. I hate this corporation and the way it treats its employees. If I saw the CEO having a heart attack, everything I’ve ever learned about CPR would disappear from my head. They are 1%-ers, all about squeezing out the extra fraction of a penny for the stockholders. But I like my actual job, I like what I do, and I work on something that I believe in, that I believe is right. I never feel guilty about what I do. So I have separated my opinion of the company from my attitude about my job. Because the company isn’t changing, so I either have to leave the company, or stop letting it get to me. I get pissed off and complain when they do stupid shit, but I remain aware that I am *choosing* to remain here because so far the advantages outweigh the negatives. I can quit, or I can deal. So far, dealing is working for me.

    I hated one of my bosses. He’s very high ranking, a jerk and a screamer and everyone hates him, but I felt sick with fear around him. Without going into the psychology behind it, I realized why I reacted to him like I did, and I mentally cut that connection. I also trained myself to act happy when I saw him. I literally made myself smile and say hi when ever I saw him. Fake it til you make it worked. I now actually kind of like him. He’s still an asshole, but he’s an asshole I can get along with.
    It also helped that my other boss – whom I adore – quit. They HATED each other, and since I was lower ranking’s right hand, #1 boss looked at me pretty much as an extension. I was devastated when my adored boss left, but honestly, no longer being in the middle of their animosity has really helped. That was a “lucky accident” in that I did nothing to bring about that improvement, but it helps to see that part of your misery is radiated misery from a situation you’re on the perimeter of.
    I worked to change my relationship with Bossman from adversarial to cooperative and it has made a world of difference.

    I do what I can to make my work better for me by treating people well, and in return people help me when I need it. I’ve found my fellow spirits here and we support each other. I enjoy the fun parts, laugh at the stupid parts, and allow myself to be proud of the How the Fuck Did I Pull That Off? parts.

    LW, obviously, I don’t know your husband’s exact situation, so a lot of what worked for me might be totally worthless for your husband, but if he can’t change his job, all he can change is his reaction to his job. Which might just change his job in turn.

    Easier said than done, I know, but totally worth it.

    Best of luck to both of you!

      1. Oh I’m glad!
        Another habit I adopted very early in my working career is when the work doors close behind me at the end of the day, they CLOSE. I do not take work home with me, literally or mentally. I do not contaminate my home with work. If I have to work nights or weekends, I go in to the office.
        The elevator doors closing behind me were a force field that shut it all off.

        It’s not simply better living through denial, although it started that way. I finally learned that if i can’t *do* thing about it at that moment, it’s a total waste of time and energy to even think about it.
        The story that got it through to me was in some book about dealing with fear, and she told about how they were frantically building a fence around their pool because their toddler granddaughter was coming to visit and it wasn’t going well, and she was lying in bed one night fretting that they might not get it done in time, and then she’d really freak out, and now she’s not able to sleep because she’s so worried and that means next day she’ll be worthless, which means the fence is even more likely to not be finished, and finally she realized if she wasn’t going to get up out of bed right now, and go in the back yard and dig post holes in the dark, she was completely and totally wasting her time. Shut it down, get some sleep and deal with it *when she could do something about it.*

        Now when I find myself starting to stress about something, I ask myself, can I grab a shovel and start digging *now*? If not, shut up! The “shovel” can be many things, including just making a plan. But usually, when you’re at home, there’s very little you can do, so don’t waste your time. If something occurs to me that I forgot to do, I’ll shoot an email to my work, or a msg on my work phone “Do this!” and then it’s out of my head, because that’s *all* I can do *right now.* Sometimes an idea hits me and I can mentally plan something, I write a note,or send email/msg *to work* and I’m done.
        If it’s really so bad I can’t put it out of my mind, then get in the car and go to work where the damn shovels are, because if you’re going to expend the energy, you might as well spend it on actually using the shovel.

        Hey, maybe it’s related to spoon theory: If you can’t shovel anything where you are right now, don’t worry about the hole. Save your energy for when you have a shovel in your hands and the hole in front of you.

  41. OP, I recommend referring your husband to Alison over at the Ask A Manager blog if he finds job searching to be overwhelming or if he wants another opinion on how to navigate his work issues. She is a wealth of advice about workplace problems, how to tell when to look for a new job and trying to find a new job.

  42. This is so my husband and me, except that I’m a stay at home mother and he makes all the money. So, I feel an added layer of guilt when I have had enough of the stream of job hatred and despair, because I’m here having fun with the kids while he is suffering. I’m getting off point.

    One thing that I’ve realized is that, for us, there is some serious family culture stuff at play. In my family, when you complain, the first thing you’re asked is, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” The only time I ever remember getting sympathy was if I was hurt or ill or had lost a loved one, because in those situations you can’t really *do* anything except feel bad.

    My husband’s family is pretty much the exact opposite of mine. Complaints are met with there-theres and poor-babies and loving words and sympathy, but nobody ever DOES anything at all to make the thing that is bugging them better. My in-laws have been complaining about their doctor literally since I’ve met them. Like, it’s 14 years at least that they have been unhappy with their doctor! They shop at the most expensive grocery store in town but nearly panic over the cost. My father-in-law hated, hated, hated his job, retired early a couple of years ago, but still talks about how much he hated the job and how they mistreated him nearly every time we talk to him.

    It drives my husband bonkers, but he’s learned to do the same thing? And he sort of expected me to take over where his mother left off, with the there-theres and poor babies and got mad when I skipped straight to, “So, I get that you’re miserable. What are you going to DO?!”

    It’s gotten better in that when he starts spiraling, I give a brief there-there and then I get the fuck away from him. Sometimes I grab my kindle and say, oh gosh! That sucks! Hold that thought, I’ve got to go potty! And then I sit in the bathroom for a few minutes. Sometimes I just say, “Yeah I hear ya! Hey, that reminds me, I wanted to ask you about [totally unrelated thing]. If my coping mechanism sounds manipulative, I agree. It feels manipulative. But, I was at the end of my rope. I tried the talking route, but talking about me being upset about his spiraling seemed to scratch the same misery-loving itch that talking about the job did. Totally unproductive. At least this way, I’m not spiraling with him.

  43. Well, this thread became rather suddenly relevant. I’ve been freelancing for a few years. Today I unexpectedly lost a steady client for reasons I don’t understand. It’s worrying because my other steady client hasn’t had much work for me in a while, and I’m screwed if I can’t drum up more business. It’s depressing because the company that fired me (to the extent that you can fire a non-employee) shared my values and goals—I loved working with them.

    How long is it okay to wallow in self-pity before trying to shake it off? 😛

    1. I’m so sorry that is happening to you. That sounds super stressful and frustrating.

      I don’t know the answer to that question, because I frame it differently. It’s entirely possible to be full of self pity, and still doing the job search, I find that if I waited till I was not feeling the pain and the sad and the self pity, I would be waiting a very very very long time, far too long to be practical. I have big feelings. They last a long time. It’s just a thing and I have to live with/around/thru it. Sometimes is it super not easy!

      I’ve been working from a place of: I feel lousy and upset and feeling feeling feeling, and yet, here is a a gig I should apply for. Can I put my feelings aside for a little while and do this application? Awesome! Can I put them aside and do this interview? Maybe. Lemme try. Awesome!
      And so on and so on. So for me, I’ve never managed to shake it off, I’m just trying to train myself to act as if, for a little while.

      I don’t know if that is a useful perspective, but I wanted to share in case it was.

      1. Your approach is a good one. For sure, I wouldn’t want to give in to my self-pity so much that I lost opportunities and gained even more self-pity. My impractical wish was to take a day or two off; hopefully I’d get bored with wallowing before my mini-vacation was over.

        As it happens, I can’t really take a day or two off because of non-work-related obligations. And today I got a better explanation for why I got dropped. Still sucks, but at least I know it wasn’t an outcome I could’ve changed if I’d done better somehow. Now I’m ready to get out there and try to drum up more work.

  44. Maybe a little off topic, but what do you do when you have someone in your life who does this, but with multiple things that they have much less control over than a job?

    I recently had a very close, long friendship wither and die because Ex-Friend became so draining to be around, and I had no idea how to ask them to behave differently without grievously offending them.

    1. With friends, sometimes that’s the sign to take the next exit. I had a very long friendship end because the now ex-friend was hopelessly negative, would call or IM just to complain about other people (in very mean ways!), refused to be derailed into less depressing topics, and there was also some hinky financial stuff, and some other things that just made me reassess one day and start slowing scaling things back. I had tried all the usual boundary setting stuff around ending conversations if the person started gossiping meanly or spiralling, but in the end I just had to stop being available.

      This is one of those things that sometimes what you need and what the other person wants are so incompatible they can’t be reconciled. Requests for different behaviour are one of those things that are *probably* going to offend someone, and you just have to let it be offensive if you really value them and want to keep them around, but need them to stop doing the thing that is killing your regard for them.

      1. Thanks for your response. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I parted ways with Ex-Friend, and I just can’t see a way that our friendship could have survived, given what my issue with it was. It’s validating to hear from someone else that, yeah, I probably couldn’t have tried to change Ex-Friend’s behavior without alienating them immediately.

        I do wish I’d spoken up and said, “Hey, your negativity is overwhelming me,” but I think I would have been immediately painted as unsupportive, selfish, etc., and then our friendship would have ended far more messily. It’s probably best that I didn’t.

  45. In conversation #2 CA presents her version of how that conversation goes in her relationship and then also a “less freaked out / less yelling” way. And it’s interesting to me that the former sounds like a conversation opener that I could both use and hear, while the second feels terrible. I read the first one and the caring of the speaking partner for the other is so clear to me, while in the “calmer” version it feels really cold and distancing? I wonder how other people responded to those different phrasings?

  46. Something I haven’t seen on the list yet, so I’m offering it as an option:

    * Your husband is allowed to vent the crappiness of the day at you – but for every thing which went wrong/was negative/is impossible to deal with, he has to find one thing which went right/is positive/was dealt with.

    I’m offering this one because I suspect your husband is slipping into one of the nastier traps of the depressive mindset – the “always look on the gloomy side” trap. The one where not only is the glass half-empty, but it’s also got a chip in the rim, it hasn’t been washed recently, and they’ve given you the wrong drink to boot. Or in other words, because he’s so used to spotting the bad things about his workplace, he’s focussing entirely too tightly on those, and it’s getting unrelenting.

    I’m also right there with the group of people who are effectively saying “if he isn’t willing to do anything about changing the situation, he doesn’t get to use you as a permanent dumping ground for his negativity”. This may be a good way of breaking him of the habit over time – or at least limiting the amount of negative input he’s dropping on you.

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