For a long time in our marriage, I was not a very happy camper. I was working two jobs, one of which was as a nurse on the night shift at our local hospital. As we grew our family, I was frequently pregnant and had little ones at home, so I struggled with balancing it all and feeling exhausted.
But more than the every day struggles of work and motherhood, I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into an ugly, dark hole of depression, largely due to the fact that I was so unhappy in my work.
I felt so guilty in even admitting my unhappiness to myself — I should just be happy to have a job at all — I told myself. I chose this career by going to school for four years, I have no one to blame but myself. It will get better, I thought.
But it didn’t. In fact, it got worse — to the point that I was crying even seeing my work days on our family calendar. And after one particularly grueling night shift when I was exhausted beyond belief, I picked a fight with my husband. “You don’t understand!” I screamed at him through hot tears. “I’m so miserable!”
As he slammed the door behind him, he stopped and delivered the words that would change my life: “Find your own happiness, Chaunie,” he said coldly.
With his words, my husband inadvertently started me on the journey to doing just that by pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. And although it was a journey I had to take alone, my husband was a big part of starting and supporting that journey, and someday I hope to return the favor by seeing him realize his own dreams.
Supporting a spouse through a job change can be a tricky endeavor, but the experience can be a rewarding and enriching one, for both of you. Here are some tips to make the transition work, from Dr. Carla Greco, a clinical psychologist in California.
1. Understand the frustration.
If your partner is coming home exhausted, stressed, and miserable, it can be hard to understand the effort it requires for him or her to get through a work day that is completely draining. Unfortunately for you, however, this might mean that your partner puts a smile on his face at work — and comes home to take out the stress on you. “We are socialized to remain calm and even-keeled at work no matter how negative the job environment might be,” Dr. Greco explains. “As a result, many people bottle up their emotions during the day and feel that home is the only safe place to voice anger and disappointment.” Understanding why your partner may be so frustrated when he or she comes home from work may help you to displace that emotion — and talk about what is really going on.
2. Become a team.
Showing your partner that you are on his/her side is the key to successfully navigating a job change, says Dr. Greco. “Many people stay in negative work environments due to a fear of change,” she explains. “Even when a job may feel stagnant or unrewarding, people often prefer to accept familiar — if uncomfortable — environments rather than setting off to forge a new pathway.” To help your partner overcome that fear, show a united front. “When both partners feel that a new job search is beneficial, it is much easier for a mutually invested partners to face — and overcome — any hurdles that might arise,” she says. “Teamwork is everything.”
3. Offer tangible support.
While emotional support can be the essential boost that your partner might need to pursue a job change or start looking for a dream job, Dr. Greco also suggests that it may be helpful to offer your support in more practical ways. For instance, leave daily notes of encouragement or offer to help spruce up his resume. “It is vital that genuine support be offered on a regular basis,” she notes. Other suggestions to support your partner on a practical basis include offering him or her more “alone” time, encouraging exercise, or hosting a brainstorming session.
4. Don’t forget to tend to your relationship.
Work issues are often among the top issues that negatively impact marriages cautions Dr. Greco, so it is essential to keep the lines of communication open and guard against a prolonged and potentially stressful job-hunt impacting your relationship. “Open communication is critical,” says Dr. Greco. “It’s never too late to set aside time on a weekly basis to talk about vital issues such a job fulfillment. Once a couple gets in the habit of approaching such topics in a team-oriented manner, the ongoing communication ensures that both partners are on a track toward personal fulfillment.”
5. Change your attitude.
Unfortunately, not all dream job hunts pan out in the end, so how can you safeguard your relationship if the happily ever after doesn’t end so happily? “As with any setback in a marriage, a positive attitude makes all the difference,” says Dr. Greco. “If a new job doesn’t work out as planned, a couple can use the situation as an opportunity to grow.” She suggests asking what went wrong, and examining what steps a couple can take in the next round to achieve better success. “ Partners can move to work together — without blame or judgment — to find out the next right step,” she explains. “When a couple looks at a disappointment as an opportunity to grow closer and refine goals, the setback is less upsetting—and the eventual positive outcome is far more rewarding.”
Image via j&j brusie photography
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