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Carolyn Hax: Starting to resent bad-luck wife

Hi, Carolyn: My wife is hunting for a new job and has been for two-plus years. She keeps getting close and then getting turned down after two or three rounds of interviews. She has a graduate degree in her field and is doing everything “right,” from networking with alumni to talking to a career coach to asking for feedback from rejections.

Somehow, though, she keeps losing out, and it is beginning to put a major stress on our marriage. A promotion for her would allow us to move on in our lives in major ways (buying a home, starting a family). I am already working overtime and am at the top of the pay scale for my job. I try to offer her suggestions and leads, and when I do, it leads to a fight.

Meanwhile I feel resentful and I am ashamed to say nervous, like she has some bad-luck cloud over her head or isn’t really trying or something. It seems lately all we talk about is job hunting, savings accounts, and planning for the future. We are both annoyed with each other.

I suggested marriage counseling, and she snapped that it would cost money and time she could spend looking for new work. She thinks I resent her for holding us back and resent putting her through school with no result, and maybe I do. I also care about her and hate that our life is one nonstop fight lately. Any ideas? – Bad-Luck Spouse

Which sounds more like a choice to you: failing to get several jobs after several rounds of interviews despite years of visible effort; or seeing this failure as her fault, giving her “suggestions and leads” despite clear signs they’re not useful or welcome, and resenting her “bad-luck cloud”? (Seriously?)

More than marriage counseling, you need a refresher on cause and effect. By my count, you’re laying your lack of a house and children, your resentments, your nerves and your nonstop fighting all at the feet of your wife and her job situation, when in fact the limits on her income are just one wedge of your marital pie.

Other wedges are the limits on your earnings; your location and the cost of housing there; your current expenses and other demands on your two incomes; the insufficiency of the savings each of you brought to the marriage; your mutual lack of investment-income sources; the absence of extended-family support … and, if I were in that kind of mood, even in each other’s taste in spouses, since you’d both have better-padded lives had you each found higher-earning mates.

Is that really where you want to go, though?

I have to think not – and if you don’t want to prop the door open to wholesale blaming, then you need to stop the arbitrary, selective blaming now.

Instead, you and your wife, together, as a love-based team, need to revisit your plans, and limit them to things you two can control. And since you can’t control what hiring managers do, “wife upgrades job” has to come off the table as a solution to any/all of your problems.

She can continue looking, sure – perhaps after a restorative break from the hunt? I don’t doubt you’re feeling a money pinch, but the kindness pinch you currently feel is hurting you both even more. Try throwing some of it around; it’s free and it never runs out.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.


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