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.