August 23, 2009 in Features

Show compassion with fearful friends

 

Dear Carolyn: With the economy in the toilet and rampant job loss, a number of my women friends have become the main breadwinner of their households. I am also the main breadwinner of our household, but not because of the economy; before everything fell apart, my husband and I made a mutual decision that he would pursue his dream job, which comes with low pay in the first few years but will jump significantly with experience. I feel lucky to have a secure job and a high income, which also happens to be my dream job.

My girlfriends use me as a sounding board frequently to express their fears and frustrations with their husbands’ job situations. Some are openly resentful, while others are just fearful because they feel a lot of pressure. I am happy to listen, but they also appear to project their feelings onto my situation and try to egg me on to join in the griping.

When I explain that while times are tight, we are very happy with our trajectory, they are skeptical.

How do I respond to them compassionately? I want to communicate that I hear them and I support them, but that I don’t want to rag on my husband, without sounding smug about our financial situation. – State of Frustration

Openly resentful of what? That their husbands weren’t recession-proof?

Wow. When you say “respond to them compassionately,” I hope that includes responding compassionately to the husbands.

The guys can’t win here. Either they’re the ones with the everyone’s-counting-on- my-paycheck pressure – it’s always there, no matter how secure the job is, even if it’s just a speck on their mental wallpaper – or they’re under pressure for not living up to others’ expectations.

How about as a response: “Maybe there’s a good side to the pressure – spouses don’t always get the chance to walk in each other’s shoes.” Or if they’re not ones to appreciate bright-side commentary from high-income sources, just: “How’s Bill doing through all this? It must be so tough on you both.” That works especially well when the crowd is a mix of the resentful and the just-fearful, and a soapbox would be out of place.

If and when anyone tries to recruit you to join their I-wanna-be-supported club (seriously – how can this sit well with you?), please skip the happy-trajectory arguments and keep it simple: “Why should I expect (Husband) to be the one to earn more?” I’d actually like to hear what they say.

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend is fabulous, but in the pit of my stomach I feel that I’m not ready to settle down. I’m in my mid 30s, so it’s not like I’m 20.

Where do I go from here? – Washington, D.C.

To a conclusion that this isn’t the girl for you; or to a brutally honest, not to mention darn good, argument for being unready to commit, one that includes concrete steps you can take to get ready. Admit your fears out loud, backpack alone through wherever, get counseling for the mommy issues, finalize the divorce, get a better job (sorry … see above), establish a mental timeline (“If I’m still unsure at the two-year mark, I’ll leave”), or whatever else it takes to give her a chance without dragging it out. Imagine yourself in her place.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.


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