Would you like to read about nice people with good problems today? Good! Me too!
This question may fall under “general conversation skills,” but as I haven’t seen it on the blog, I’m writing. My spouse and I are both academics, in the same discipline. Her career is hitting some bumpy spots (high teaching load, few publications, not a great institution) whereas mine is going gangbusters (low teaching load, books & articles, awesome institution). That’s stressful, but we’re working it out (we have a distance situation, to compound things). What is really challenging is a conversational pattern we’re falling into, where talking shop feels like an emotional minefield. And our work involves a lot of our respective personal identities and time, so it’s hard to avoid discussing.
The fuller picture: I prefer “talking” about my area of expertise in writing. I avoided talking about it in grad school with my peers, really dislike Q&A at conferences, and kinda work alone, except when I read with other people (my work is pretty textual). My wife likes to talk in person, at conferences, and over post-conference dinners, and she likes to puzzle through ideas out loud. I often don’t want to, though I will–but she can tell that I’m not into it, and it makes her sad. Sometimes I feel like she’s talking a lot, and not listening to my desire to stop, change conversation, or to tell her that I just don’t know (and am not interested in figuring out the issue at the moment).
But she has expressed feeling not only sad, but feeling like my reticence is a signal that her work isn’t good, that I don’t respect her, and so on. But that’s not true–she’s awesome! And in fact, despite some outward success, I have the “imposter” feeling lots of academics do, and I feel unintelligent when she talks about things I don’t know, and I bet it translates into a defensive tone, or dismissal. I sometimes share stuff, too, but it’s more “hey, I read this cool thing” or “I got this article done,” and not a give-and-take. Sometimes we can manage, like if we trade things we’re writing, or have a very clear focus. But casually bringing up work often turns into hurt feelings and an argument.
One more piece of (perhaps not relevant) info. Despite being in the same area, we work differently. She agreed the other day that I would not be the person she would normally seek out to chat about her work, because of our methodologies and focus. But we respect each other’s work–though given our conversational patterns, she doesn’t feel like I respect hers.
We do pretty good communicating elsewhere, I think, but this pattern is starting to get embedded, and I don’t want to hurt her. We’ve talked about just not having work be a shared topic of conversation, but that feels like cutting off big parts of ourselves.
Not good at catchy sign-offs