All the signs are there with your spouse: late nights home from the office… texts at odd hours… all-too-frequent business trips with that spry young team member… increased emotional distance and aloofness… lack of interest at home (i.e. with you). Is it an affair? Oh, maybe. But it’s likely the makings of a career crash.
Since two thirds of us aren’t engaged at work, chances are high that your spouse can be found somewhere on the spectrum of career disenchantment – ranging from mild “I’m just not that into it anymore” malaise to moderate “I spend most of my day trolling Monster.com” discontent, to flat-out “How can I fake my own death to not have to show up on Monday” vitriol. If and when the person you love is not feeling the love at work, what kind of role do you want to play?
Sometimes we have to look at our partner through fresh eyes.
Maybe you’ve gotten used to a spouse who complains about her job, and you think it’s normal because almost everyone complains about their job. Maybe your spouse complains about everything, and it’s hard to tell if it’s his job that’s making him miserable or his mother or his muffler. Maybe you’re miserable at work too and you’re immersed in a misery-loves-company-comfort-zone. Maybe your partner’s career demoralization has happened so gradually that while she doesn’t seem that much more horrified by her job this week compared to last, it’s a different story when you reflect on the slow and steady decline over the years. If you met your partner today for the first time, would you describe them as happy at work? How does your partner’s attitude towards work compare to the day you met him or her?
Get clear on your intentions. What do you want for your spouse?
Yes, it can feel risky when one half of the earning engine wants to make a career change. Yes, it can feel worrisome when your other half starts fantasizing out loud about a job you’re not so sure about (one client came home to find ‘How do I become a professional bassoon player?’ in the Google search bar, typed by a significant other who wasn’t feeling so significant at his day job anymore). If you’re able to suspend your fears and doubts for a moment, what would you really like for your spouse? What is his or her fulfillment worth to you? How much are you valuing financial stability or prestige or opportunity (or any one of the 873 things that make it easier to ignore your spouse’s career conundrum)?
I confess that I campaigned pretty hard once upon a time for The Husband to take an 18-month overseas assignment with his then-company because I valued adventure and the chance to live somewhere with year-round palm trees not bought from IKEA. I wanted to overlook that he had zero interest in the job itself, and I wanted him to overlook that too. “Can’t you just put up with it for 18 months?” I pleaded. Such blasphemy! Hang on while I rinse my mouth out with soap. I think the ultimate question here is, what would you want your spouse to want for you if the tables were turned?
It’s okay not to know what to do.
Most of us can’t even manage our own careers, so why should we be on the hook to help our partners solve their work woes? So many of us feel frustrated with ourselves because we can’t help the ones we love to figure out what they love. It’s not an easy task, and there are people out there who can do it for them (ahem). Your job, should you accept it, is to emotionally support your spouse through their career-fix journey (in an, “I believe in you,” kind of way, especially when your spouse feels stuck and is more afraid of change than a lifetime of mediocrity). Sometimes your job is to provide financial support (in an, “It’ll be tough, but I’ve got this while you go get that degree,” kind of way). Most of the time the best role you can play with your spouse is to be the one to call a spade a spade. If you won’t tell them to fix the thing that’s making them miserable, who will?
Many of my clients have been inspired to finally take their careers by the reigns because of a supportive spouse who cared enough, and was brave enough, to say, “Honey, I love you and I want you to be happy in every area of life. It looks like your job is really not the right fit for you and I want to support you to figure out what to do about it.” Life-altering words.
Hope is really never a strategy.
Hoping for the best in your partner’s career is sweet, but it’s never really practical, is it? You can hope that your wife’s boss ends up getting transferred to Antarctica so she becomes a happy person again. You can hope your husband snaps out of his severe and utter job boredom so he shows signs of life again. You can hope your significant other gets recruited out of their dead-end job. Or you can shift from the passive place of hope to a more active place of taking actual action.
Approach your partner about how this seems like a more serious issue worth addressing. Research a coach who can help map out a plan. Become clear on the role you want to play. Talk with your husband about what used to make him happy at work. Brainstorm roles that your wife might be excellent at, given all the strengths you know she possesses. Get the ball rolling and let momentum do its trick.
Sixty percent of first marriages end in divorce. Don’t let a crappy career be the thing to steer your relationship off track (that’s what kids are for). For better or for worse, you play an instrumental role in helping your loved one enjoy the way he or she spends most of their waking hours. Happier employees make happier spouses.
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